Monday, September 5, 2016

Black Entrepreneurship and Black Lives Matter

     Two years after Michael Brown's demise, which awoke a generation, the black and white largely middle class millennials who arose to leadership have yet to face and focus on the foremost underlying factor that devalues black lives - poverty.  The ultimate solution to America's racial discord - eradicating impoverishment - was the final agenda of Martin Luther King, who came to recognize that the social equality brought about by ending segregation rang hollow without economic equality.  I thought about this as I learned of the recent passing of Tom Person.

     Tom, the owner and founder of Person's Heating & Cooling symbolized this solution.  He was a burly man, whose physical appearance left no doubt that he had literally built his heating and air conditioner repair business, and his soft-spokenness belied a keen intellect that was the foundation of his entrepreneurship.

     Tom was in many respects representative of the black men entrepreneurs I encountered and worked with when I returned to St. Louis from law school at the beginning of the 80's.  Black entrepreneurship was seen then as the solution, the key to the economic enfranchisement and upliftment of the black community.  Tom and a cadre of other black men constituted a new wave of black leaders, who envisioned black progress being led by black businesspersons, rather than preachers and politicians.     They had become emboldened by national and local laws newly put in place that set aside government contracts and resources for blacks and minorities, and they had the savvy to see the connection between political and activist action and economic advancement.  They realized the independence entrepreneurship afforded, and how their business proceeds could fuel the black political apparatus.  They worked hand in glove with black elected officials, demanding that blacks get a fair slice of the economic pie.

Tom was a core member of the St. Louis Minority Contractors Association, a raucous and rebellious organization composed of hard core men who made up for a lack of formal education with an acute and bodacious knowledge of their particular trade.  In the late 80's, they both protested and successfully sued the City of St. Louis to achieve a minority inclusion law that still stands. 
The black contractors, though, were not alone among the black businesses pushing the envelope for change, seeking an economic revolution.  Three black men - an owner of a beauty supply business, another who owned a railroad car repair business, and one who owned a newspaper - united to form perhaps the most formidable black organization of that era, the Black Leadership Roundtable.  They forced the powers that be to include blacks in the construction of the domed stadium, and they defeated a racist group's attempt to control the school board.  They were not just businessmen, they were modern day freedom fighters, who were as determined to serve their people as make a profit.

There's an old saying that "they don't make 'em like they used to."  And that's what I think about when I juxtapose the millennial movement leaders of today with the generation of black men leaders exemplified by Tom Person.

Eric E. Vickers, Attorney and Community Activist.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Trump, Muslims and a Local Hospital

  The day after potential president Donald Trump gave his speech portraying Muslims as a threat to the U.S., I found myself, while in the waiting room of a local hospital, witnessing his message being put to the test.  I happened to be there because a medical condition of my proudly eighty-nine year old father was being treated.     
  In the waiting room with me and my younger brother were two elderly white men, who I sensed felt my same sense of cautious confidence that things would go right for our loved ones, though knowing that nothing is certain.  And then the most unexpected thing happened - a group of Muslims walked into the room.   From their language, conversation, skin color, ethnicity, and even dress it was apparent that they were Muslims.  And also apparent was that they were there to also stressfully await a medical procedure on a beloved family member.  It was what they did next that brought a shock to the place.   
  After unpacking some carry out food that some other Muslims brought them, they sat down on the floor, spread out the various containers of food - an East Indian food scent emanating - passed out paper plates and plastic utensils, and then invited everyone in the room to eat with them, or just have some food.  Their gesture of kindness and sharing - as well as an eerie comforting aura they brought into the still and solemn room - is why I have faith that America will never succumb to the covert attack on Muslims heralded by Trump.  
  Because the good they will see in Muslims will always and forever outweigh the fear and hate caused by a few.

Link for this article in St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "Gesture of kindness and sharing from Muslims"


Eric E. Vickers, Attorney and Community Activist. 

Profile

ERIC E. VICKERS, Doctor of Jurisprudence

EDUCATION
1975 B. A. Political Science Washington University – St. Louis 1976 
 M.A. Urban Studies Occidental College – Los Angeles, Ca. 1981 
Juris Doctorate University of Virginia School of Law – Charlottesville, Va (the law school ranks eight in the nation-click the link) 

CHRONOLOGY OF CAREER EXPERIENCES 

1970 – Graduated from University City High School following parents moving to U. City from East. St. Louis, Ill. in 1967. 
1970 – 1973 Forest Park Community College 
1973 – 1975 Washington University St. Louis 
1975 – 1976 CORO Foundation Fellow St. Louis. CORO annually selects thirty-six (36) “Fellows” nationally and prepares them for leadership in public affairs through providing month-long internships in government, business, media, labor, and community organizations - in addition to providing intensive training in group dynamics. 
1976 – 1978 Monsanto Company – Director of Training; Labor Relations Specialist 
1978 – 1981 University of Virginia School of Law 
1981 – 1983 Associate Attorney Bryan Cave law firm. St. Louis, Mo. 
1983 – 1990 Vickers, Moore & Wiest law firm. St. Louis, Mo. 
1990 – 2000 Vickers & Associates law firm. St. Louis, Mo. 
2000 – 2002 Founder and President, Coalition for North St. Louis Economic Development, Inc. (“CNSLED”). CNSLED created strategic alliance with major banks to invest $100 million in north St. Louis to spur inner city economic development through providing minority businesses access to capital and technical support services. 
2002 – 2003 Executive Director American Muslim Council. Washington, D.C. 
2003 – 2008 Founder and Spokesperson Rosa Parks Minority Inclusion Initiative, an economic initiative that targeted eleven (11) major construction projects in the St. Louis area totaling $3.6 billion in construction for inclusion of minorities and women. 
2008 – Present Eric E. Vickers & Associates law firm. Licensed to Practice Law: State of Missouri; U.S. District Court Eastern Division of Missouri. 

VARIOUS ACTIVITIES
Board of Directors Gateway National Bank St. Louis 
Board of Directors St. Louis Gateway Classic Sports Foundation 
Chairman of Board Islamic Center of Greater St. Louis 
Board of Directors American Muslim Alliance – Fresno, California 
Special Counsel Minority Business Enterprise Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. Washington D.C. - Founded by Maryland Congressman Parren Mitchell
Had two private meetings with President George W. Bush, the first at the White House in 2011 -two weeks following 911 and regarding the 911 attack. 
Made Muslim ritual Pilgrimage to Mecca (Saudi Arabia) known as Hajj - February 2002 
Associate Professor History Department University of Virginia – 1979 -1981 Lecturer to Bar on Constitutional Law 
Candidate U.S. Congress - 1994, 2000 
Initiated and represented minority contractors in federal lawsuit resulting in 25% minority and 5% female goals being established as the law on all St. Louis City contracts pursuant to 1989 Federal Court Consent Decree. See St. Louis Minority Contractors Association v. City of St. Louis et al., Cause No. 88-1587-C-4 (U.S. District Court Eastern District Missouri 1989). 
First attorney to successfully sue a Missouri judge for violating a constitutional right. See Carol Davis v. City of Charleston et al., 915 F. 2d 1502 (8th Cir. 1990). 
Established legal rights of minority and women businesses with precedent setting litigation in West Palm Beach and Orlando, Florida; Austin, Texas; and Oakland, California. 
Author of book, And Men Don’t Talk, a compilation of short fictional stories, poems, and essays, with title derived from my upbringing of men being about action, rather than talk.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Black Power Commentary St. Louis American

The Black Power Movement provided the energy and talent for black progress for 30 years.  Whether you're talking about affirmative action for higher education, minority participation in economics or the expansion of black political representation, they are products of the sea change in black political and social thinking during the '60s."     
These insightful words were penned by Mike Jones in a recent Commentary in the St. Louis American newspaper.  In comparing the now of the Black Lives Matter movement with the then of the Black Power Movement, Jones, a respected intellect and holder for decades of various positions of power, went on to state:
"But the generation that produced that effort is now old and tired.  Worse, we didn't prepare the next generation of leadership."
     Being of the generation of the Black Power Movement, I was struck by Jones' analysis, and thought even more about his words while viewing a picture in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper of a Black Lives Matter protest.  Holding protest signs and linking hands to stop traffic were seven individuals, four white and three black.  This, I thought, is the difference between now and then that will make a difference.
     The Black Power Movement was an unadulterated black movement.  Whites did not chant "Black Power."  The movement was a rejection of the integration idea that was the foundation of the Civil Rights Movement, a rejection of Martin Luther King's strategy of non-violence, a rejection of the belief and imagery of Jesus being white, and a rejection of the name Negro.  It was a movement wary of white involvement, with one black leader going so far as to say that the only white man he could trust was one who would shoot another white man. 
     The Black Power Movement was almost necessarily a black narcissistic movement.  It was a generation that found pride purely in being black - countering American culture instilling that white represented good and black evil - as opposed to the pride of succeeding in breaking through the color barrier.  King's dream was of blacks and whites living together in harmony, while the mission of the Black Power Movement - which King rejected - was for blacks to grab control of power from whites to determine their own fate.  Its anthem was "Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud," not "We Shall Overcome.
The Black Power Movement remains the most in-your-face to whites movement in American history, having even gone to the extreme of advocating armed resistance.  The Black Panther Party openly displayed weapons, and when two policemen were killed by blacks in Baton Rouge in 1972, the mayor warned other cities of a planned takeover of their governments.  The brazenness of the movement left white America with little choice except to crush it.  And by the mid '70s, the loudest voices of the Black Power Movement had either been murdered, incarcerated, or forced to flee overseas.
     As the Black Power generation evolved from its revolutionary aim and fervor, it focused on capturing positions of power, like mayors and police chiefs, by organizing the black population into a voting bloc.  This led to a quantum increase in the number of blacks in elected positions, which led to expanded economic opportunities for blacks.   
     I'm not sure if I agree with Jones that the Black Power generation didn't prepare the next generation of leadership, because I'm not sure how you prepare a generation to handle being discriminated against.  Do you teach them the proverbial "The Talk" - which is to surrender to racism for the sake of security - or teach them that change requires the risk of defiance?   
     Maybe the only thing the Black Power generation can prepare the Black Lives Matter generation for is what Jones notes: "This is lifetime work."
Eric E. Vickers, Attorney and Community Activist.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Ramadan & Messenger

In his column in this Sunday's Post-Dispatch, Tony Messenger, a white American Christian, describes his delving into the experience of Ramadan As many in this country now know, Ramadan - the ninth month of the lunar calendar - is the holiest time of the year for Muslims, the time in which they abstain from food and drink from dawn to dusk each day of the month.

 It is the month in which the first verses of the Muslim scripture known as the Qur'an came as a revelation over fourteen-hundred years ago to a forty-year old Arab businessman while he was sitting alone in a cave in Saudi Arabia, meditating and contemplating the problems in his society.  Over the remaining twenty-two years of his life, other verses came as revelations, and all combined constitute the Qur'an, which has since remained completely unchanged.

These revelations are considered by Muslims as the word of God, and they were revealed to the human being who Muslims regard as the messenger of God's word, Muhammad. The word Qur'an in Arabic means "the recitation," and Muhammad's role and purpose was to recite the word of God revealed to him to mankind.


Messenger describes in his column how for one day he "refrained from food or drink from 3:39 a.m. until 8:31 p.m.," and how that "one day of fasting in the Muslim tradition brought me closer to my Christian faith."   Muslims would say that this was God's purpose in bringing Islam to the world - to bring human beings closer to consciousness of God.  Ironically and sadly, with all the attention now paid to Islam in the context of ISIS and terrorism, no attention is given to its spiritual essence.  

This Ramadan marks my thirty-sixth, having come into the faith of Islam - which in Arabic means "submission to God" - while a second year student at the University of Virginia School of Law.  It was a turbulent time externally, with the Iranian revolution bringing Islam to America's attention, and internally a soul searching time, as I was contemplating what was my true purpose in becoming a lawyer.  Was it to pursue the path of being an attorney with a corporate law firm, which I felt I and my classmates were being programmed for, I wondered.  Or was it, I asked myself, to use the education and credential for the benefit of my people.

I would never have expected that during this time, in of all places, Charlottesville, Virginia - the home of Thomas Jefferson - that I would encounter three individuals - an undergraduate student, a UVA professor, and an attorney - who would guide me to a profound closeness to God, the same God I had worshiped and prayed to as a Christian, and who in Arabic is called "Allah."  

From the Muslim student I learned the principle and practice of the five daily prayers, giving God a constant and continuous presence in my life; from the Muslim attorney I learned the excellence and fearlessness the faith demands in our everyday work; and from the Muslim professor I received these words: "The first duty of a Muslim lawyer is to seek justice for the oppressed."

     Messenger wrote of his one day Ramadan experience that, "It was a reminder of how distracted I often get, allowing other priorities to get between me and the practice of my faith."      Ramadan, with the test it puts the human being through, is a reminder to Muslims, and to those with the open mindedness of Tony Messenger, of the importance of the remembrance of God.


Eric E. Vickers    


Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Next Mayor IV - Black Voter Power

If the demographic data in the reportauthored by P. Frances Gouzien and David C. Kimble still holds, a black can become mayor of St. Louis without getting a single white vote (click the link).  In fact, given the pattern of racial voting discussed in their report titled, "Race and the Reelection of the Longest Serving Mayor of St. Louis," the only way a black can become mayor in a contest against a white is to focus the campaign on the black vote.

     The twenty-three page report is an analysis of the 2013 mayoral campaign that pitted then three-term incumbent Mayor Francis Slay against an African American, Lewis Reed, the President of the Board of Aldermen.  The report, in observing the entrenched racial polarization in city elections, notes that: "According to the 2010 census, the voting age population in St. Louis is 49 percent African American and 44 percent white."

If this census data, which reveals that blacks are the majority of the eligible electorate, remains substantially true today, then if black and white voters in the next mayor's race turn out to vote in numbers equivalent to their respective percentages, the majority of the votes will be cast by blacks.  Of course, this is largely only theoretically true because of the historic pattern of lower voter turnout by blacks as compared to whites.
     Slay defeated Reed, the report notes, "by a margin of 54 percent to 44 percent," with the actual numbers being 23,968 votes for Slay and 19,496 for Reed.  The overall turnout of voters was just 22 percent of the eligible voters, with the report stating that "our exit poll suggests that white voters comprised about 55 percent of the electorate" in the election.  

     If, according to the census, 49 percent of the approximately 200,000 eligible voters are black, then had just a third of these blacks turned out to vote for Reed he would have beaten Slay without needing a single white vote.
     The report also brings to light that raced based voting exists on both sides of town.  Despite Slay outspending Reed $3.2 million to $650,000, and despite having the endorsements of some prominent black politicians, the report notes that only "approximately 22 percent of African Americans voted for Slay, just surpassing the mayor's goal of 20 percent," while also noting that "Reed was not far behind Francis Slay in cross-racial voting appeal, receiving approximately 17 percent of the white vote."  Thus, the data bears out that in a race between a black and a white, blacks will overwhelmingly vote for the black candidate and whites overwhelmingly for the white one.

     This seems to be common knowledge.  It also seems to be the pitfall that Reed fell into, as he geared his campaign to try to capture that small percent of the white vote that is not locked into racial voting, instead of targeting his campaign message and funds toward increasing black voter turnout.  He ran, as the report analyzed, a cross-racial campaign, chasing the white vote, while assuming he had the black vote. 

     Historically, black candidates seeking city wide offices have been gun shy about making an overt appeal to black voters on the basis of their blackness - like the way women candidates appeal to women voters on the basis of gender - for fear of being accused of "playing the race card" and turning off white voters.  Such an appeal, though, would spark enthusiasm and turnout by black voters.  Moreover, the numbers suggest that a black candidate has more to gain by a strategy that turns blacks on and some whites off than one that tries to appeal to white voters.

     We have to ask, would this not be a better city if black voter participation reached a higher level?  And further, is there anything that would more cause blacks to turn out to vote than the chance to be led by a mayor who is one of their own?

Race and the Reelection of the Longest Serving Mayor of St. LouisP. Frances GouzienDavid C. Kimball (click the link)


Eric E. Vickers, Attorney and Activist.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

MSD & Muhammad Ali

Of all the many protests I have been involved in, none was more fun than the one in September 1990, when we marched Muhammad Ali up into the Metropolitan Sewer District.  And actually, we sort of tricked The Greatest into participating in the protest.

      Our core group, consisting of black contractors and activists like Eddie Hasan, Anthony Shahid, Tiahmo Rauf, and Larry Ali, had been protesting against MSD's lack of minority inclusion for a couple of weeks, including one action in which we barged up into MSD's office in the middle of the work day, chanting protest songs and being, frankly, unpeaceably disruptive. 

     Through their contacts with the Nation of Islam, some members of the group had arranged for Ali to come to town to do a book signing and make some public appearances.  We were all with him in the limo after picking him up at the airport, and we were on our way to a hotel where he would rest up before his engagements when we hatched the idea to take him to MSD.  I don't recall us exactly telling him that he was about to join a protest action, just that we had to make a stop before going to the hotel to meet with some folks we had an issue with.  He good naturedly obliged.

     When we arrived at MSD we just started walking through the office, saying we wanted to meet with the Director.  The look of shock and amazement on the faces of the MSD employees as the Champ walked past their desks with us as his entourage was absolutely priceless.  It was hard not to laugh.  All the work came to a standstill as all the hundreds of workers became transfixed with his presence.

     The Director came out of his office because of the commotion, and was just totally dumbstruck at the sight of Ali.  He hastily arranged a meeting room, and called in his top staff.  On one side of the table sat the MSD officials - all white - and on the other side we sat - with the greatest of all times at our side.

     Some back and forth arguing then ensued, with us laying out the discrimination by MSD and our demands, and the MSD officials showing little resistance.  Ali was completely silent throughout, as though he was studying the situation, until the end.  With a smile and twinkle in his eye, he then pointed his big balled fist at the Director and said in a quiet, almost gentle voice: "Give them everything they want."

     Muhammad Ali, my hero since almost as far back as I can remember, travelled and was known all over the world.  And he never forgot his people.

Eric E. Vickers, Attorney and Activist.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

MSD EMPLOYMENT INCLUSION EVASION

Below are emails regarding the attempt to obtain from the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) under the Missouri Sunshine law information about MSD's employment diversity:

From: eric vickers
Sent: Thursday, May 12, 2016 12:40 PM
To: Susan Myers, Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) General Counsel

Susan M. Myers

Good morning. You might recall that at the last meeting I requested MSD to provide information about the diversity in its employment, such as the number of African-American engineers employed by MSD, and MSD agreed to provide such. So please advise when we will receive this information. Thanks, and have a good day.

Eric

From Susan Myers
Sent: Thursday, May 12, 2016
Eric, 
I do recall your request and since it is not related to the Community Benefits Agreement 
I will consider it a Sunshine Request pursuant to Missouri Sunshine Law, 
Chapter 610 RSMo. With that being said, since there are key MSD individuals currently 
out of town that need to be involved in the evaluation, MSD will commit to providing 
you a response by May 25, 2016.

Sincerely,

Susan M. Myers

From: tsnoke@stlmsd.com

To: eric_vickers@hotmail.com

CC: SunshineRequests@stlmsd.com; SMYERS@stlmsd.com

Subject: Re: Employment Diversity Sunshine Request

Date: Wed, 25 May 2016 21:03:46 +0000

Mr. Vickers,

Good afternoon. As MSD's Secretary-Treasurer, I am the Official Records Keeper of 
District Public Information and my office is responsible for tracking and responding 
to sunshine requests. As requested, attached is the public information available on 
the diversity in MSD's employment.

Tim R. Snoke
From: eric vickers 

Sent: Wednesday, May 25, 2016 9:03 PM
To: Tim Snoke

Mr. Smoke:

Good evening. Thank you for this information. However, it is not sufficiently responsive 
to my request for information concerning the diversity in employment at MSD. While 
the simple graph you have provided shows a global picture of African Americans 
holding 25% of the jobs at MSD, there is no breakdown as to how many of these 
jobs are, for example, held by janitors versus engineers. And I specifically requested 
information as to the number and percentage of black engineers employed by MSD.

Consequently, please provide me the data as to the number and percentage of blacks 
in management positions; the number and percentage of blacks in professional 
positions; and the number and percentage of blacks in non-management and 
non-professional positions. Since you have a figure for the total number of black 
employees, I assume you have information as to the position held by each.

      Thank you.

Eric


From: tsnoke@stlmsd.com

To: eric_vickers@hotmail.com

Date: Tue, 31 May 2016 21:00:57 +0000

Mr. Vickers,

Thank you for clarifying your request. The records you have requested, however, are 
closed under 610.021(14) RSMo since they are protected from disclosure by laws 
such as, but not limited to 18 U.S.C. Section 1905, Exemption 4 of FOIA, and the 
confidentiality provisions of Section 709(e) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

To: Tim R. Snoke
Date: Tue, 31 May 2016
Mr. Snoke,

With all due respect, what I am requesting are not records that violate any 
confidentiality or  privilege, or are records for which there is an exemption under 
the Missouri Sunshine law or FOIA.  In fact what I have requested is commonly 
provided in EEO reports, namely, a racial breakdown of job classifications by an 
employer.  How, for instance, does it breach some confidentiality or privilege for 
MSD to inform the public how many engineers it has on staff, and how many of 
them are black?

 You were quite willing to provide a global number for the MSD's African-American 
employees, representing that they are 25% of the total MSD workforce.  Yet you 
claim that you cannot give a breakdown of this 25% by job classification.  In the 
manner of speaking of  a current apparent nominee for president, this is bullshit.

What triggered me seeking this information was MSD management stating in a 
meeting that it looked into the level of African-American employment by companies 
seeking contracts with it as part of MSD's determining whether the companies were 
making a good faith effort to comply with MSD's M/WBE goals. 

With MSD examining the houses of others, I think it important that we examine 
MSD's house to see if blacks are being included in its workforce, because this sends 
a signal to the marketplace whether MSD is only talking a good game about inclusion, 
or practicing one.      

Hence, can you respond to this simple request: How many engineers are employed 
by MSD, and how many, if any, are African-Americans?

    Thank you.

Eric


Monday, May 30, 2016

The Next Mayor III - A Woman's Touch

     "He has no soul," she said, explaining why she had no misgivings about wanting the black man who had robbed her incarcerated.  As she recounted the horrifying story, my mind flashed to a recent conversation with a cab driver, whose seventy years on the planet made him remark: "the black community has lost its soul."  And with the community's future at stake with the upcoming mayoral election, the thought then came that maybe only a black woman could restore it.

     "It was late evening, and I had just gotten off the Metro," she said, her voice shaking in recalling the incident.  "I called myself being cautious, going home before it got dark, and walking in a lighted area after I got off the train."

     "I know I maybe sound like an old fool," he said, "but back when all you heard on the radio was songs with love lyrics - like Stevie Wonder - instead of this cussin' and fighting and fuckin' you hear today, black folks weren't shootin' and killin' each other."

     "Before I knew it, from out of nowhere, he was walking beside me," she continued, "saying 'Hey sista, you sho' looking good.'  Next thing I know a gun is pressing against my stomach."

     St. Louis has never had a woman as its mayor, and the only woman in recent history to vie for the position was a black woman, Irene Smith, who was soundly beaten by the incumbent mayor.

     "I heard him click the gun chamber," she went on, and I could only imagine her fear, which vividly showed when she recalled his words: "Bitch, don't look at me!  Get on the ground!  Gimme every fuckin' thing you got - your purse, your cell phone, and whatever you got in that damn bag!" 

     "You can have everything, please don't shoot me, I ain't got nothing but three dollars on me, I swear," she pleaded, lying face down on the grass, the gun against the back of her head.  "In the bag," she said to me in detailing the terror, "I had some construction paper for the children I tutor to write on."

     "Remember when black people used to call each other "soul brother" and "soul sister?" he asked me while steering through the streets.  "Well, soul ain't just about being black. It's about the conscience inside you that makes you respect and care about other folks.  These young folks have lost they soul."

     Irene Smith had grown up hard, a product of the projects.  She had gone on to become the first black woman to graduate from the law school of the University of Missouri.  Having meager funds, her run for mayor was a bridge too far.  Undaunted, she sought to give the black majority populace power, describing her campaign as a mission.

     "It was only by God's grace that I lived, and that they caught him," she said, while showing me on her phone a Facebook posting.  "You see these four young and beautiful black women, they were all murdered in the past month.  At first I thought about not trying to come down hard on this brother because I know how black men are mistreated by the system.  But then I thought about what he had done to me, had done to women before me, and what he would do if he was set free." 

     Maybe this kind of attitude is how our crime crisis should be dealt with, I thought.  And maybe, I thought, no person could better have this attitude as mayor than a black woman.


Eric E. Vickers, Attorney and Activist.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Next Mayor II - Reconstruction

      With St. Louis being in the funnel of the black tornado that upended Ferguson and swept across America, the upcoming mayor's race is probably the most significant in the city's history.  All the combustible elements that combined to ignite Ferguson - principally poverty, race, and an oppressive legal apparatus - exist undeniably in the Gateway City.  And undeniably, the next mayor will have to offer solutions to this urban explosiveness.     Equally important, the next mayor will have to re-instill in the black community the brotherly and sisterly love that once made a black harming another black person an intolerable act and an unspeakable shame.     
The usual campaign rhetoric of "bridging the racial divide," or "healing" the racial strife, will not suffice.  For the African-American community - an essential organ of the entire community - faces in the Ferguson era an evil equal to the evil of racism.  Namely, inner destruction.
     It is virtually impossible for black leaders, particularly the millennial leaders, to openly discuss the terror and horror blacks are subjected to from their own because it distracts from addressing the horror and terror whites inflict with racism, both overtly and systemically.  In fact, the first wall of defense whites erect when confronted with white police violence against blacks is the "black-on-black crime" argument.     Thus, whenever a black is shot down by a white cop, whites almost instinctively turn a blind eye to that as a crime and reflexively focus on the statistics of blacks killing other blacks.  And whenever a black shoots an innocent black mother or child, their response - and even that of some blacks - is to ask why there are no protests of that kind of killing.     Although the only logical connection between a white police officer shooting an unarmed black and a black shooting an innocent black is violence, the fact that the problem of one is not the same as or even tied to the other does not alleviate our imperative to solve both.
     Due to protest actions, the next mayor will have at his or her disposal all the post-Ferguson implemented or suggested tools to solve the problem of police excessiveness, such as body cameras, civilian review, and increased and independent prosecutorial scrutiny.  The tools to eradicate the violence that blacks wreak on themselves, however, have yet to be forged.  And protests will not form them.
     A protest against blacks killing blacks is impractical, if not irrational.  Because unlike a protest against a cop shooting, in which a demand is being made on the authorities to bring him to justice, a protest against a murder in a carjacking crime, for example, has no effect on such perpetrators.  The only protest that would make sense in that situation would be one against the police, demanding that they more effectively perform their obligation to protect the public from criminals.
     The next mayor will have to turn instead to social engineering and cultural tools to end the destructiveness blacks perpetrate on the black community.  He or she will have to construct a livable environment and an economic foundation that provides more than the subsistence survival that engenders crime in a society where wealth abounds.


Eric E. Vickers, Attorney and Activist.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Next Mayor

    When Mayor Francis Slay announced that he would not seek a fifth four-year term - ending almost two decades of his arguably racially polarizing imprint on the city - it set off a near hysteria of speculation about who would inherit his reign. With the open discussion among the media and the civic and political establishment centering on the plethora of possible candidates, the unspoken discussion was whether the next mayor would, or perhaps should, be black.    I would suggest that this city has never had a black mayor. I say this knowing, of course, that two men of African descent have served as mayor, the first for four years in the mid nineties, and the second immediately following for one term to close out the twentieth century. Neither, however, quite fit my sense of a city run by a black mayor - like the black mayors who ruled in Atlanta or Washington, D.C., for example, during that era - because neither saw the key to their being in office or their power being determined primarily by the black community. Hence, neither made blacks their first and foremost priority.
    The first ascended to City Hall with the campaign message and symbol that he would govern a racially divided city through playing both the black and white piano keys, metaphorically meaning that his policies and programs would target both black and white residents. To the chagrin of the black community, his fingers stayed mostly on the white keys; and to the revulsion of many whites, he played too many black keys.
    That revulsion led to the white community orchestrating his ouster through plucking a person of African descent from atop his perch as chief of the white dominated police force to run against him. This tactic adroitly avoided a mayoral contest between a black and a white, which would have put to the test the voting power of the city's then majority black population, and also avoided unmasking a racially oriented electorate.
    In this unusual race, which pitted an African-American political veteran supported by the black community against an African-American political novice backed by the white community, the incumbent was toppled. Four years later, the new incumbent mayor was humiliatingly tossed from the office when all the white backers who had catapulted him to the position threw their support to a white candidate, Francis Slay.
    Thus, for an eight year stretch St. Louis had the appearance of having progressed like other major cities to having a black mayor preside over a predominantly black city. Yet beneath that appearance lay a black populous not exercising the political power to make and shape policy beneficial to the black community. The result of the inattention to and seemingly willful neglect of the city's black community - politely referred to as "the northside"- has been a cancer that has infected the entire city as well as the region, as the black community's impoverishment and decay has migrated to south St. Louis, Ferguson, and other parts of north County.
  Crime that negatively impacts the city's national image and business growth emanates mostly from the black community. Stratospheric unemployment and underemployment that depletes the city's revenue and stagnates its economy resides mostly in the black community. Educational dysfunction that is the pipeline to incarceration is housed mostly in the black community. While conversely, the creative and entrepreneurial potential that could elevate this city lies largely in the black community. In short and frank terms, the condition of the black community is simultaneously St. Louis' top problem and its best hope.
  This is why St. Louis needs a mayor who thinks black. Because eliminating the city's biggest liability and utilizing its most untapped asset requires someone, irrespective of their ethnicity, who will put the black community first.

Eric E. Vickers, Attorney and Activist.


Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Power of Fear and MSD

As I watched this week the scant news coverage of the press conference held by several community organizations to denounce the Metropolitan Sewer District's minority inclusion on its billion dollar project, I thought about the owner of a construction company who sat in my office during the genesis of this city's movement for inclusion.

     His hands were noticeably shaking, and his voice quivered as he spoke from across the table to me and the leaders of the black contractor's organization.  His fear was obvious.  Not fear of physical safety.  Rather, fear of economic loss, and fear of his business as usual peace being disturbed.

     He was there in response to a letter I had sent him on behalf of the group - which was to become our standard opening salvo - giving him ten days to either increase the minority subcontractors on his job, or face our shutting down the project.  He acquiesced to our demand, and diligently implemented it.

     I learned valuable lessons from that encounter, which stayed with me as we marched forward over the years with a movement that involved disruptive protests and cutting edge litigation, and which achieved milestones such as the city enacting a law mandating minority and women inclusion.  I learned first and foremost that if the white power structure does not fear blacks exercising power, it will not change the status quo.

       In saying this I realize that there are those who argue that comity yields more results than confrontation.  My experiences - and I think history - cause me to beg to differ.  And I think the MSD situation presents a case in point.  For despite MSD and these organizations having negotiated an inclusion agreement, and despite their having had rounds of intense talks about the inclusion deficiency, MSD remains entrenched in espousing that all is essentially well.  MSD views them as partners with whom they have a difference, not adversaries who pose a threat.

     I also learned that engendering fear in the power structure has consequences.  One being that it causes it to gravitate towards the blacks who seek to work with and inside the system in order to evade and undermine those confronting it.  The head of one black institutional organization once told me that "there are tree shakers, and there are jam makers."  His metaphor's meaning was that there are blacks who shake the tree of the white establishment, while other blacks make jam - i.e. benefit - from the fruit that falls.

     Another consequence I learned is that the power structure will strike back at those who strike it.  The fear the black contractors organization struck in the construction industry emanated from their being fearlessly driven by the cause of economic justice.  We see that kind of fearlessness in the millennials - black and white - in their struggle against the police and criminal justice system. 

     One wonders if, in the enduring black economic struggle, the organizations sitting across the table from MSD will make it shake and quiver.

Eric E. Vickers 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Beyond race hatred

    
Attorneys Eric E. Vickers, W. Bevis Schock and James Schottevickers teamed to fight injustice in St. Louis City.
 Fourteen years ago this time I was over seven thousand miles from my native land, America, performing the Islamic pilgrimage known as Hajj in the city in Saudi Arabia regarded by Muslims as the holiest place on earth, Mecca.  I think about this as I watch this country being put to the test from within by the Black Lives Matter awakening, and from without by a religion perceived as an existential threat.  If the two forces - black consciousness and Islam - ever joined, America might find the racial reconciliation Malcolm X  witnessed over five decades ago:
     "There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world.  They were of colors, from blue-eyed blonds to black skinned Africans.  But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe could never exist between the white and the non-white. America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem."
     The problem of race has been an issue in my life for more than a half century now, like a cloud that never goes away, despite all the days of sunshine.  It is as American as television.  And my enduring challenge - and I think that of most black people - is to not hate white people.
     "You may be shocked by these words coming from me.  But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to re-arrange much of my thought-patters previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions."
     I don't know from whence came the hatred.  I vividly recall as a kid, growing up in East St. Louis, me and my friends throwing rocks and shouting racial epithets at a car full of white people, who had apparently gotten lost and ended up driving through our neighborhood.  I also remember my parents, teachers, and other black adults constantly stressing that it was wrong to hate people because of their color, though I could sense their struggle to contain their animosity towards the white race.
     "Each hour here in the Holy Land enables me to have greater spiritual insights into what is happening in America between black and white.  The American Negro never can be blamed for his racial animosities - he is only reacting to four hundred years of the conscious racism of the American whites."
     Moving from the almost exclusively black and impoverished world of E. St. Louis to the virtually all white and affluent suburb of University City in my sophomore year of high school did little to alter my feelings about whites.  For although it was true that some neighbors greeted us with pastries as the first blacks on the block, it was also true that our windows were shattered before we arrived, and "for sale" signs immediately began popping up.
     And while it is also true that genuine individual friendships that I formed with some whites gave credence to my being taught that "all whites are not bad," it came during the time of the Black Power movement, a period when my intellect was awakened to the sordid history of America's racism and the systemic race discrimination still in existence.  My now sharpened and mature mind was telling me one thing about the evil from the white race, while my heart was speaking another about my white buddies, who were like brothers.  
     "During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept in the same bed (or on the same rug) - while praying to the same God - with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white...We were truly all the same (brothers) - because their belief in the one God had removed the 'white' from their minds, the 'white' from their behavior, and the 'white' from their attitude."
     The black power and pride movement - crystallized in my junior year by James Brown's "Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud" anthem - only seemed to complicate race relations.  Whites, even friends, felt put off and threatened by our asserting love for our blackness.  They sincerely embraced equality, yet somehow felt this meant our being equal as humans - one color blind human family - rather than equal as different races.
     When years later in law school I decided to become a Muslim, race was not the factor.  Instead, it was a spiritual craving for a purpose beyond the materialist world and lifestyle for which I felt I was being programmed.  It was then that I understood Malcolm's metamorphosing into El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.
     "But as racism leads America up the suicide path, I do believe, from the experiences that I have had with them, that the whites of the younger generation, in the colleges and universities, will see the handwriting on the wall and many of them will turn to the spiritual path of truth - the only way left to America to ward off the disaster that racism inevitably must lead to."
Letter from Mecca, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X)

     The lesson of Hajj:  You can't be Muslim and not love God, and you can't love God and hate a race. El-Hajj Eric Erfan Vickers.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

News Flash: NAACP Declares MSD in Default of CBA

On Tuesday, February 8, 2016, the President of the St. Louis Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Adolphus M. Pruitt, II, delivered a letter to the Metropolitan Sewer District declaring that MSD was in default of the Community Benefits Agreement, to which the NAACP was a Signatory along with seven (7) other community organizations, stating in pertinent part that:

"this is to provide MSD Notice of Default for its breach and repudiation of the CBA, more particularly as follows:"

The letter then specifies six (6) provisions of the CBA that MSD has breached, including stating that:
"MSD has breached Article III of the CBA by:
     (a)  failing to achieve the percentage goals for hiring minorities and women and for contracting with MWBEs set forth in the Disparity Study; and
     (b) failing to make a good faith effort to implement the percentage goals set forth in the Disparity Study."

The letter concludes by stating that:
"Per Article XI, MSD is hereby advised that it has sixty (60) days to cure this default.
As a Signatory we are willing and prepared to meet and confer with the Board of Trustees to discuss a manner in which the default may be cured."


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Metropolitan Sewer District Inclusion Campaign

The Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) is planning to spend $4.7 billion over 20 years to cut sewage overflows into area waterways per a 2012 Consent Decree with the Environmental Protection Agency.   In December 2013, following the completion of a disparity study, which identified historical discriminatory contracting and hiring practices by MSD, and negotiations with several community groups, MSD and those groups entered into a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) that was to extend to 2033.  The eight (8) community groups that are signatories to the CBA are the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), Metropolitan Congregations United (MCU), the Construction Prep Center (CPC), the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), MOKAN, the Metropolitan Clergy Coalition (MCC), and the Universal African Peoples Organization (UAPO).
In 2015, the Signatories began publicly questioning and criticizing MSD for, among other things, failing to meet the 30% minority and 7% women hiring goals that had MSD had committed to under the CBA.  In December, one of the Signatories asked me to attend a couple of meetings being held with MSD’s management and board to address the controversy, and the following is an email I sent to the Signatories. 

To: Community Benefits Agreement Signatories
    After attending the last two meetings of MSD concerning its minority and women inclusion program, including today's three hour meeting, I would like, while it is fresh in my mind, to share with you my thoughts and perhaps the benefit of my experience in this area.
    First, I commend you for forming such a coalition and obtaining an agreement with MSD for inclusion on this billion dollar construction initiative.  And I commend you for your thoroughness and professionalism in seeking to hold MSD accountable for inclusion through the Community Benefits Agreement ("CBA"). However, the meetings I have attended leave me with some concerns.
I.  Countering MSD Propaganda and Institutional Inertia
    It is in the nature of institutions like MSD to propagandize their inclusion efforts by presenting paperwork and power point presentations that shows them/data in a light most favorable to them, that negates or minimizes their shortfalls, and that creates an impression of steady progress.  MSD's staff maintained this posture throughout their presentations the past two meetings, notwithstanding the facts and figures, paperwork, and power point presentations provided by the CBA signatories demonstrating that MSD's efforts to date have been, as one signatory stated, "ineffective."
     I point this out because it is my experience that organizations advocating for inclusion cannot out paperwork or out power point institutions like MSD.  And I advise you to be wary of falling into this trap of playing by their institutional rules because it will compromise your greatest weapon - action.
     Institutions like MSD are by their nature comfortable with their inert action; they have no inborn sense of urgency unless confronted with a crisis that forces them to activate.  Consequently, whatever MSD will do for inclusion will depend on your actions causing them to act, and it would be a mistake to think that they will ever act - or act right - without pressure.
II.  Keep the Focus on the Three Essential Elements for Inclusion Success.
    1.  Commitment by the Owner of the Project.  Inclusion flows from the top down.  If the owner of a project demands inclusion, then the general contractors and unions will fall in line. I have not seen the leadership of MSD communicate in stern and unequivocal terms that MSD has virtually a zero tolerance for contractors who do not meet the inclusion goals. One of the best examples of this kind of commitment to inclusion by leadership that I ever witnessed was the manner in which Bob Baer directed the Sports Authority when it was building the dome stadium.  He was firm and hard nosed in making it clear to the contractors that he expected them to meet the minority goals.
     With MSD, I see almost the opposite from the leadership.  At the previous meeting the MSD Director publicly stated - and gave written handouts stating - that the CBA signatories were "dysfunctional."  He further stated that the criticisms of MSD's inclusion efforts that were stated in the CBA signatories' power point presentation were "absurd" and "not based on reality."  These words - and the tone and tenor with which he has attacked the CBA signatories - send a clear signal to the contracting community that MSD is tolerant of non-compliance and even resistant to inclusion. Contractors seeking to circumvent or evade the inclusion requirements will feel they have an ally in the Director.
     There is an ingrained historic resistance to inclusion built into the construction industry here, and though it has markedly improved from some years back, that legacy persists and pervades, and the owner of a project has to send a clear and unmistakable message that that will not be in any way tolerated.  I do not think that MSD is currently communicating this message, and the very fact that MSD is now involved in this strenuous fight with the CBA signatories over inclusion reinforces the notion there is a lack of strong commitment to inclusion by the MSD leadership.
2.  Good Faith Defined.  From a legal standpoint, the good faith requirement is the key to inclusion. Because quotas are unconstitutional, "goals" is the terminology used in the inclusion industry.  However, bear in mind that goals are mandatory requirements absent a contractor demonstrating that he cannot meet the goals, in which case they must obtain a waiver from having to comply with the goals.  For a contractor to obtain a waiver they have to show that they have made a "good faith" effort to meet the goals and been unable to do so.  
     However, good faith is not an abstract concept.  Under the federal regulations, for example, there are about 16 factors - like a checklist - that are used to determine whether a contractor has in fact made a good faith effort.  From what I observed, MSD has no real definition or criteria for determining whether a contractor has made a good faith effort in order to obtain a waiver.  What I heard at the meeting today was that MSD would determine whether a contractor has made a good faith effort to comply with the minority workforce goals by asking the unions and SLATE if they had available minority workers.  That is wholly insufficient to determine good faith.  Consequently, the CBA signatories need to have MSD tighten up and rigidly enforce the good faith element.
 3. Monitoring.  Frankly, I have been astounded that in neither of the meetings I attended was the third party monitor present.  Their role in this process is integral and indispensable.  I think the project should also be monitored by the CBA signatories, and I think they should be resourced to perform this function.  
III.  From Rhetoric to Action.  
The rhetoric of the CBA signatories about the importance of inclusion to the black community and the history of racism is vital to provide context, sensitivity, and energy.  However, without action the rhetoric is not only meaningless, it becomes counter-productive to bringing about the change sought.  The continuation of meetings criticizing MSD will become self-defeating.  MSD's objective with the CBA signatories is, as one trustee stated, to "continue the dialogue."  The signatories objective, on the other hand, should be closure on the points of contention and criticism.

     The mechanism for this lies with the CBA.  If MSD's efforts are as ineffective as the signatories have repeatedly stated in the meetings, then under the CBA, the signatories can and should notify MSD that, per Article XI of the agreement, MSD is in default.   Not only does that then demonstrate to MSD the seriousness of the situation, it sets a 60 day timetable for them to cure the default.  Or alternatively under Article XI, the signatories can waive the default notification and proceed immediately to court to enforce the agreement by showing that MSD's failure to abide by the agreement is causing irreparable injury.
     This provision of the CBA provides the signatories with a means to transform the dynamic of the discussions with MSD by taking action.  Too often during the meetings I heard the signatories say to MSD that  they were "asking" for or "requesting" changes, when I think the signatories have the power to demand that MSD comply with the CBA.

Just my thoughts.  Thank you.

Eric