Unlike Shirley Chisolm, many Black leaders are ‘Bought and Bossed’

CHARLES BARRON | 2/13/2014, 12:02 p.m.
Charles Barron, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Mayor Chokwe Lumumba Jackson Miss. (Bill Moore photo)

“It is incomprehensible to me, the fear that can affect men in political offices. It is shocking the way they submit to forces they know are wrong and fail to stand up for what they believe.

“Many of the men in Congress are not their own bosses … not owning themselves, they cannot be independent.”—Shirley Chisolm, “Unbought and Unbossed,” 1970

I recently attended an unveiling of a Shirley Chisolm postal stamp at Brooklyn Borough Hall. Chisolm must be turning over in her grave to see so many Black leaders prioritize their personal ambitions, interests and agendas over the interests and needs of our beloved Black community. These Black leaders prioritize the “party” over the “people,” human greed over human need, selfishness over selflessness. Our communities are suffering from a Black leadership and organizational crisis.

OK, we have plenty of Black leaders and organizations, but not many that are like Chisolm, who was “Unbought and Unbossed.” Recently in Congress, some Black leaders voted for bills that cut food stamps, failed to extend unemployment benefits and deregulated banks so that they can maximize their profits while our poverty levels increase.

On the state level, some Black leaders voted for budgets that cut Medicaid, which led to hospital closings. The state also continues to refuse to give the city the billions of dollars that the courts said it must pay for due to discrimination against Black and Latino children. On the city level, some Black leaders have voted for budgets that cut summer youth jobs, day care services, senior programs and much more.

Of course, they will say that politics is the art of compromise and that you never get all that you want, and that may be true to some extent. However, there is a fine line between “compromise” and “selling out.” Far too many Black leaders have crossed that line.

Many Black leaders were either supportive or silent when Bill Bratton was appointed New York City police commissioner by Mayor Bill de Blasio. They knew Bratton was the architect of racial profiling through stop-and-frisk and the supporter of the “broken windows theory” (arresting every Black and Latino youth for minor offenses, i.e., littering, loitering, no identification). Now those same youth have records thanks to Bratton.

By the way, don’t be fooled by Bratton saying that stop-and-frisk is over because the numbers are down. The numbers are down because the police are not filling out the stop-and-frisk forms. The practice continues; it is just unrecorded.

They know that Bratton was a recycled Mayor Rudy Giuliani commissioner who had blood on his hands—the blood of Nicholas Heyward, 13, who was killed by Bratton’s police; Anthony Rosario; Anthony Baez; and many other innocent victims of Bratton’s police and their use of unjustifiable deadly force. Nevertheless, Black leaders still supported him or remained silent because they were making deals with the mayor for jobs for their people at City Hall or programs they want funding for.

James McGregor Burns, in his book “Leadership,” makes the distinction between “transformational leadership” (let’s make a change) and “transactional leadership” (let’s make a deal). Too many Black leaders are transactional leaders, making deals for themselves and not for the betterment of our communities. This is partly because some Black leaders are guided by the philosophy that says, “There are no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, only permanent interests.” This philosophy leads to a lot of double-talking, double-crossing and double-dealing.