BlackBox Radio

May 23, 2006

BlackBox Radio for May 23, 2006

Filed under: Weekly Show — blackboxradio @ 5:49 pm

On this week's show: Max Sussman discusses the links between the immigration debate, the US economy, and the war in Iraq with two local activists.
Plus, local, national, and international headlines (after the break)

Listen to the show: lower quality | high quality

Local Headlines:
17-year-old Dies in Adult Detention Facility
Far Right Protest Immigration in Grand Rapids
English as the "official language" of Michigan

National and International Headlines:
Largest Urban Community Farm at Risk
UN urges US to Take Appropriate Action on Police Torture
Increased Food Insecurity Exacerbated by Decreased Food-Stamp Participation


Local Headlines

The family of a young man who died while in the Wayne County Jail is demanding an investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death.

The Michigan Citizen reports that McClain, a 17 year old African American from Inkster, died April 29 while serving a one-year sentence for escaping from juvenile boot camp, where he had been incarcerated for an unarmed robbery at age 14.

Jail officials told his family that he had committed suicide. However, McClain’s mother is suspecting foul play. She says that when she viewed his body, she saw bruises on his face, bruises which had not been there when she saw him a few days before he died. A family member stated, “if it was suicide they would have shown us pictures. They did not show us any picture.”

McClain’s family is also demanding an explanation about why Maurice was transferred from his earlier detention facility, where underage inmates are confined, to the Wayne County jail, an adult detention facility.

Ron Scott, of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality who has taken up the case, also told the Michigan Citizen that police and jail officials have offered several different versions of how McClain died.

Earlier, the detective who informed the family of the death told them that Maurice McClain was found hanging in his cell. A later version said he was found outside his cell. “The family saw bruises on his face. That does not reflect a simple suicide,” Scott said. “Judges must stop the practice of sending juveniles to adult detention facilities.”


On May 6, a protest was held in downtown Grand Rapids against quote “illegal” immigration. Media Mouse reports the protest was organized with assistance from a variety of far right and racist groups including the Michigan chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens (a white supremacist organization) and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

Reports show connections between these organizations and the Minutemen, an extremist vigilante anti-immigrant group that has received attention for it’s racist and violent “border patrols” along the US/Mexico border.

Though it has received much less media attention, the Minutemen’s program of patrolling the US/Canadian border in Michigan has been happening since April of 2005. The project is called the Michigan/Ontario Minutemen Border Neighborhood Watch and is under the leadership of the Outreach Vice Chair for the Michigan Republican Party, Kevin Fobbs.

It is also worth noting that the Minutemen have ties to neo-nazi groups and that the organized anti-immigrant movement is becoming increasingly violent with several different armed vigilante groups operating in the United States.


The Michigan House of Representatives passed legislation last Thursday that makes English the “official language” of the state of Michigan.

The bill, which passed by a vote of 73 to 32, makes the English the official language of the state and exempts state agencies from being obligated to provide documents, publish written materials, or provide website content in any language other than English.

Media Mouse reports that the effort to make English the “official language” has deep roots in Michigan, with Michigan native and resident John Tanton founding the group “US English” in 1983. This organization has close ties to the anti-immigration movement, and counts among its victories the passage of “English-only” laws in 27 states.

The bill must now pass the Senate and gain the support of Governor Jennifer Granholm before becoming law.

In the national arena, an amendment to make English the national language was approved by the US Senate last week.

Media Mouse reports that the amendment would effectively ban federal government ordinances and services in any language other than English. Proficiency requirements in English and United States History would also increase while no additional funding would be provided for English as a second language (ESL) classes.

The measure passed the Senate by a vote of 63 to 34, with the majority of Republican Senators voting for the measure and the majority of Democrats voting against it, including Michigan Senators Stabenow and Levin.

Currently 43 million Americans speak a language other than English in their homes and 336 languages are spoken throughout the United States. Critics see the recent focus on English as an official language as part of the larger campaign of racism and xenophobia being directed against immigrants and people of color in the US.



National and International Headlines:

Farmers of the largest urban community farm in the country stand to lose their rights and see their land bulldozed this week unless popular protests and fundraising are successful in thwarting their eviction. South Central Farm in Los Angeles, a 14-acre urban plot, was bought by city fiat in the 1980’s from developer Ralph Horowitz for use as a waste incinerator. Local opposition quashed the incinerator project. Following the 1992 riots caused by the acquittal of white police officers in the beating of Rodney King, the city of Los Angeles dedicated the land as a community farm for the use of the area’s poor residents.

In the 14 years since that decision, over 350 families have turned the barren plot into a rich and productive community farm where individual families can grow vegetables and sell their extra produce. In addition to raising the living standards of the community, the farm also provides a place for area youth that is free from drugs and gang violence.

Horowitz, who wants to raze the farm and build a large warehouse on the property, says the city had no right to retain the land after deciding not to build the incinerator there. After years of legal pressure from Horowitz, the city agreed to resell the land to him in a closed meeting without notifying the community. Community activists were able to get a temporary injunction against the sale, but it will run out this week, opening the way for the immediate destruction of the farm. Community members and celebrities, including anti-war veteran Ron Kovic, author of Born on the 4th of July, have organized protests, hunger strikes, and fundraising drives in order to save the farm. To learn more and see how you can help, visit


In addition to calling on the US to denounce torture and close the prison camp at Guantanamo, the UN has also called on the US to investigate thoroughly and take appropriate action on police torture in Chicago, reports Infoshop News. A preliminary investigation uncovered at least 67 cases of physical abuse and forced confessions conducted by Police Commander John Burge and other officers and detectives in his and a neighboring police unit. Torture apparently included suffocation techniques and mock Russian Roulette.

After a 1993 Illinois Supreme Court ruling conclude that Burge and others had carried out years of systematic torture, the city of Chicago forced Burge to retire. Neither Burge bnor any of the other officers have faced any criminal liability, and every attempt to reopen cases, including murder verdicts, based upon forced confessions, has failed.

In a victory for activists working for justice in these cases, Chief Criminal Courts Judge Paul Biebel last week ordered the release of a 2002 report investigating the alleged torture of 192 black men by Chicago police. However, a UN anti-torture panel called on the government to do more to ensure that such abuse cannot occur and to bring the perpetrators to justice. The report also criticized American policies in its war on terrorism.


According to the US Department of Agriculture, the rate of US homes facing food insecurity has risen from 10 percent in 1999 to almost 12 percent currently. Food insecurity means that these homes were" at times, uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food for all household members because they had insufficient money and other resources for food." The federal government's primary response to this growing problem is the food-stamp program. The NewStandard reports that to qualify for food stamps, citizens and immigrants who have lived in the United States for at least five years must earn a net monthly income that is no higher than 130 percent of the federal poverty line – currently $20,000 for a family of four. Unless they are children, elderly or disabled, food stamp recipients must also be working or training for a job.

But according to a recently released study by the California Food Policy Advocates (CPFA), the state does not reach out to people who may be unaware of their eligibility, and long lines and inconvenient hours of operation make the process burdensome to working people. These combined factors result in tens of thousands of residents not receiving food stamps. The California Department of Health Services estimates that only 45 percent of residents who meet eligibility requirements receive assistance, with 2 million eligible residents doing without. The NewStandard reports that these numbers represent a drop in statewide food-stamp participation rates in recent years, even though food insecurity has risen in the state at the same time. The CPFA study's major recommendation to make applying easier is to offer "out of office" applications online or by telephone.

The director of food-stamp outreach for the California Association of Food Banks, Jessica Bartholow, said that requiring office visits, among other state policies, reduce the number of people who apply for and receive benefits. "The process isn't really set up for the people we're providing outreach to," Bartholow said. "It's about punishing poor people for being poor."



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