Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Economic development and civil rights by Attorney Eric E. Vickers, courtesy of St. Louis American

"In December the City of St. Louis will reach a 25 year milestone – the law requiring that 25 percent of all city contracts be awarded to minority-owned businesses and 5 percent to women-owned businesses – which presents an opportune time to assess the economic status of African Americans in our city. 
On December 11, 1990, U.S. District Court Judge Clyde Cahill – the sole black federal district judge at the time – signed off on a consent decree that was the result of a lawsuit I filed against the City of St. Louis on behalf of the St. Louis Minority Contractors Association, as special counsel to the Washington, D.C.-based Minority Business Enterprise Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc.

Under the terms of the decree, the city established these percentages and a minority and women business enterprise (M/WBE) program through a mayoral executive order, which was to remain in effect until such time as a similar M/WBE ordinance was enacted by the Board of Aldermen. Because of vehement opposition from South Side aldermen, such an ordinance was never passed, with the decree thus remaining in effect through subsequent mayoral administrations renewing the executive order.
This law, which has become known in the construction industry simply as "The 25/5," established for the first time in the city's history an institutionalized mechanism for M/WBE inclusion. Prior to the decree, the level of minority and women business participation was negotiated on a project by project basis, with black politicians, like then Comptroller Virvus Jones, pressing the issue.
It is worth noting in this Ferguson era that the decree came about through the process and combination of litigation, agitation and negotiation. The lawsuit was filed in 1989, and as it was being litigated – with vigorous opposition from the city – protest actions were being carried out by the association, including one that entailed a group of us being arrested for blockading a construction site.
The protests reached a pinnacle point when then Mayor Vincent Schoemehl was confronted and verbally assaulted by demonstrators one morning in front of City Hall.  He dealt with the situation head on, inviting us to meet in his office that afternoon. After that rancorous and name-calling meeting and a series of follow up meetings, we were able to come to an agreement. We carved out the terms of the decree, crafting it from the best M/WBE programs in place in other cities.
More important than establishing this as the policy of the city, however, was the tone for minority economic inclusion it established for the region. It had an immediate ripple effect, with other institutions, like the St. Louis Public Schools, following suit to establish M/WBE mandates. Moreover, it staked out black economic development as a critical civil rights issue.
With the Ferguson Commission report noting our dire, racially disparate economic climate, we should pause at this 25-year juncture to evaluate the decree's impact and the effectiveness of its enforcement. The theory underlying it was that the development of minority businesses would create jobs for minorities, who would be employed by these businesses, and hence enhance the economic condition of the black community. 
Promoting black entrepreneurship was seen as key to what the founder of the Minority Business Enterprise Legal Defense and Education Fund, U.S. Rep. Parren Mitchell, said was the final phase of the civil rights struggle – the struggle for economic parity. Arguably, until that phase is completed, black lives will remain devalued.y of 
Eric E. Vickers is an attorney, activist and former chief of staff for state Senator Jamilah Nasheed."

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Eric Vickers, Executive Director, American Muslim Council, courtesy of C-SPAN

Muslim American Issues

Mr. Vickers discussed the American Muslim Council’s annual national convention, which took place in Washington this weekend, and Muslim American issues. Telephone lines were opened for audience. Watch the video/click the link

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Public accountability and power sharing, By Eric E. Vickers

    "Why are you here,” I inquisitively asked the woman who had sat down beside me at the church located two blocks north of the city’s racial dividing line – the boulevard name Delmar.  She was white, slightly middle-aged, and one of the many whites who predominated the packed meeting called by a coalition of organizations for the purpose of holding elected officials accountable for the recommendations of the Ferguson Commission. 

     The meeting, which began at 6:00 p.m. and concluded at almost exactly its schedule ending time of 7:00 p.m., was called a “Public Accountability” meeting.  The highlight was to be public commitments made by the Missouri Attorney General, the Mayor of St. Louis, and the St. Louis Police Chief to the agenda prescribed in the Ferguson Commission report.  These three – all of whom are white - had been publicly shamed by the coalition for failing to show up at the first Public Accountability meeting held several weeks earlier, and on this occasion the Attorney General and the Mayor showed and pledged their support for the report’s recommendations.

     “My minister is the reason why I am here,” she pleasantly responded, smiling and pointing to her pastor, who was also a woman - and also white – while mentioning that her church was located in the suburban city that happens to be the County’s wealthiest.    Although I wanted to probe more into her possible motives and motivation for caring about an issue that clearly affects blacks more than a white woman from the suburbs, the program commenced, saving me from the discomfort I felt in even calling her involvement into question.

     I freely admit to my bias of being instinctively initially suspicious of whites who involve themselves in the black cause, despite having personally experienced and interacted with many who were unequivocally committed to this cause - often times even more so than blacks - and despite knowing from history that whites have participated in the freedom struggle of African-Americans since at least the abolitionist movement.  Moreover, I know that they have throughout history played a vital role in the black struggle, and have even made the ultimate sacrifice, as illustrated by those slain during the civil rights movement.

     Still, in gazing out over the audience and thinking of the woman next to me, I wondered:  what inspired and vested them in the movement ignited by the Ferguson uprising?  Many were either middle-aged or senior citizens, and I could easily picture them as college campus activists during the sixties and seventies.  It was as though they were returning to finish the movement they had departed from to join the status quo following college.   I could sense their sincerity and their feeling re-energized.  Others were young, untainted by racial history, and refreshingly idealistic about fighting a just cause.

     I wondered, however, whether their involvement, despite being critical to creating the change called for by the Ferguson movement, could substitute for a movement predominated by blacks and led by blacks.  I found myself juxtaposing the quietly assertive spirit that permeated the church that evening with the brazenly audacious spirit evident when blacks packed a church in north St. Louis some sixteen years ago to rally to shut down a highway.  The latter invoked a feeling of black pride and self-empowerment, while the former, though arguably a more potent force for change, invoked a feeling of black dependency.

     Ideally, the two should co-exist.  That is, the movement to make black lives matter should be led by blacks and predominated by blacks because blacks’ feeling and realizing they have the power to change their condition has lasting value.  And conscientious whites should be involved not so much because of the impact their presence automatically brings to the table.  Rather, because their involvement gets us to the ultimate objective of power being shared." Courtesy of St. Louis American.

Eric E. Vickers is an attorney, activist and former chief of staff for state Senator Jamilah Nasheed.