Posted onFebruary 27, 2014
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The recent announcement of Michigan Democratic Congressman John Dingell’s impending retirement brings to mind the need for national debate on the merits for and against term limits for our Senators and Congressmen.
Dingell, who took over his father’s seat in 1955, indeed is a living legend. He’s served with distinction as the longest serving member of Congress in the history of our nation. He played a significant role in the introduction and passage of landmark legislation that has helped shape contemporary America, the most important being the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Unlike many politicians, his career has never been marred by scandal or highly objectionable rhetoric, save a racially loaded comment in 1982 blaming the falling fortunes of the Big Three on “the little yellow men,” meaning the Japanese. I’d say that’s a heck of a run.
Nonetheless, I still believe that we need term limits for Congressmen.
As much as Washington needs politicians with principles, it also needs persons that bring forth new ideas and are not beholden to the politician establishment. I’m not saying that Dingell was controlled by special interests, but there are far too many on the Hill, who have served too long, who are.
Moreover, the American political project is based upon the idea that our nation should have fresh political voices and that the people should not feel beholden to political dynasties or political family machines. Hence, President George Washington stepped down voluntarily after serving two terms out of not wanting to appear as he was like a new king. After President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected for four terms, the 22nd Amendment was ratified in 1951 under President Harry Truman to make sure that we’d have no such executive dynasties or de facto kingships in the White House.
Just last year, Rep. Matt Salomon, R-Ariz., proposed a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on federal lawmakers. It went nowhere, as other such proposals have not gone far in the recent past.
Given that Congress has one of the worst approval ratings in our lifetime and is unable to get much done, partly due to due some career politicians in D.C., Dingell’s retirement is an opportune time to reinvigorate a national discussion on term limits in Congress. As much as I respect the works of Dingell, I long for the day when we don’t see federal lawmakers serving in the House past two decades.
The following video is from last Thursday at Michigan State University.
Today’s khutbah was given at the IONA masjid in Warren, MI.
Another high-profile trial in Florida continues to fuel a national discussion regarding the impact of race in America.
On Saturday, Michael Dunn, a middle-age white male, was convicted on attempted murder charges for shooting into a car of black youth, who were playing loud music.
Oddly, a murder charge against him for the same incident was ruled a mistrial for his fatally shooting Jordan Davis, who was a black teenager. Davis and his friends were unarmed.
Dunn, who claimed he was threatened in the incident, said to fiancé according to jailhouse phone recording audio that “I was the one who was victimized.”
Dunn is articulating a position that many black Americans know well. That position is that young lack people, who don’t meet a particular standard of appearance and behavior, are thought to be inherently dangerous. In effect, Dunn’s argument resides in the position that he had the right to shot an unarmed teen because his mere presence was enough to be pose a risk to Dunn’s safety.
The shooting of Davis wasn’t about loud music. It was about deeply-ingrained racism. Knowing that white kids play loud music, which I’m sure Dunn saw on a regular basis, is but another sign of this.
We’ve seen this script over and over again in post-Reconstruction America. From the unarmed black teen Emmett Till, who was brutally murdered in 1955 in Mississippi for whistling at a white woman, to another unarmed black teen, Trayvon Martin, who was more recently shot to death in Florida, black folks have repeatedly seen justice delayed or denied for young blacks killed by whites for not knowing their place.
This is not simply a Southern phenomenon. The same has historically happened up North, too, including in Michigan. As Muslim human rights leader Malcolm X, whose Christian pastor father was murdered in Lansing once said, “Long as you south of the Canadian border, you’re South.” Renisha McBride, another unarmed black teen who was shot and killed through a locked door by a white man in Dearborn Heights, is but a recent example.
There continues to be something awry when it comes to cases such as this, where unarmed blacks are the victims of violence by white perpetrators. When it comes to Stand Your Ground-type defenses, whites are 250 times more likely to be found justified for shooting blacks than the other way around. I can point to other stats as well. Whites are also acquitted at higher rates or get lesser sentences for shooting blacks than when the other finger is on the trigger.
Blacks are primarily the victims of gun violence at the hands of other blacks. Whites are primarily murdered by whites too, though.
That’s not the point. The point is that there’s an institutionalized issue of racism in our country which adds up such that black lives are not seen as valuable in comparison to whites. This goes from how shooters such as Michael Dunn and George Zimmerman dehumanize their black victims to the actual mistrial and acquittals.
We can’t legislate or convict our way out of racism in America. What we can do is do a better job at having frank discussions in the wake of this verdict to the upcoming trial of Ted Wafer in the Renisha McBride case, and beyond. Perhaps this will bring us toward a more humane view of each other, which may avert some of these needless shootings in the future and/or produce more aware jury pools, which hear such cases.