Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fighting Discrimination 100 Years On

By Ellard Spencer Manjawira, Malawi (SUSI scholar 2014)

I have fond memories of my African American lecturer who taught me The African diaspora course module at the University of Malawi almost fifteen years ago. He used to narrate the experience of blacks in America since the abolition of slavery and how they have suffered from racial discrimination. That memory was rekindled during a visit Call and Post Newspaper in Cleveland, Ohio.
Editors of Call and Post
Scholars reading Call and Post newspaper

According to the newspaper’s  associate Editor and publisher Constance Harper, the weekly, was established almost a century ago to  propagating the rights of African Americans.  Harper who has worked for the paper for the past 50 years explained that the Call and Post with a circulation of 25,000, also fondly known as the people’s paper by its admirers was set up to compete with national and local papers which are predominantly pro-white.

It was a unique media set up, with all editorial staff of African American extraction, a direct opposite to other media organizations I visited during the Study in US institutes program such as CNN, Budget newspaper, Columbus Dispatch, and News 19 Television among others.   Was such a set up by design? Harper put it that they have had experience of recruiting white reporters but did not stay long. She was was  non committal when asked to elaborate on what drives them away.

Because its audience was predominantly African American community which is under-priviledged, the paper has continued to be in print form.  However despite its orientation, the paper’s editorial policy is non –partisan. Its advertising targeted both white and African American clients. The editor put it that it avoids derogatory and discriminatory terms to refer to any race and does not  print any “inappropriate words.”

When asked what issue dominate coverage in the paper, harper was quick to mention crime  especially  gun violence.

According to her, crime rate especially gun violence in particular  was dominant in African American communities in Cleveland. “African Americans are victims and victimizers of crime, two or three people get killed every day, its pathetic and leaves a lot to be desired” Harper lamented. Almost every edition carry stories of brutal killings and other forms of violent crime in the community. Concerned with the high rate of gun violence, the faith community in the city has raised an alarm and called for an end to the vice.  Call and Post  carried a front page story in its June4-10, 2014 edition titled ‘Greater Cleveland Congregations calls for an end to gun violence”. The story reported that the largest interfaith, multiracial organization in Greater Cleveland organized its members from 40 congregations, schools and associations to call for a stop the flow of illegal guns into the community. So acute are cases of crime and violence that the paper has a special ‘police blotter’ section dedicated to major criminal cases of the week most of them violent gun shootings.   

One violent gun shooting issue that has dominated debate in front page coverage for some months was that of a couple shot by police inside a car. This, according to the editor has led to a protracted battle between the family of those two killed and the African American community on one hand and the state prosecutor and the white community on the other. Going through stories on the saga in the back issues of the paper , I got touched by how the case had dragged without prosecution of the perpetrators of the crime for over one and half years 

It is reported in the paper that on November 29, 2012, 13 officers fired their guns in a 23 minute police chase in Cleveland that ended up with 137 shots fired at shot range into a car killing a couple, Mellisa Williams and Timothy Russell. The African American community has been seeking for answers why such brutality happened. The community believed the delayed justice is a form of racial discrimination since the perpetrators of the crime were white while the victims were African Americans. 

When in 2 years time Call and Post will be commemorating 100 years since its existence , it will be time of celebration and reflection. It will be  celebrating the hard battle it has fought and endured for rights of African Americans. It will also be time to reflect and realize that the battle is far from over and ‘aluta continua’.

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