fresh voices from the front lines of change







At Michael Brown’s funeral, Rev. Al Sharpton lamented that America has “money to give military equipment to police forces,” but not to train and employ young people. Sen. Bernie Sanders is making good on a promise to remedy that.

While eulogizing Brown, Sharpton issued a warning: “America is going to have to come to terms when there’s something wrong, that we have money to give military equipment to police forces, when we don’t have money for training, and money for public education and … our children.”

Sharpton was referring to police use of paramilitary force in response to protests and unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, following Brown’s death. The Ferguson police department is one of many to obtain paramilitary equipment via a Pentagon program that has dispensed “excess” military gear worth $4.3 billion to law enforcement agencies since 1992 — $450 million in 2013 alone.

Meanwhile, unemployment among black men ages 16 to 19 is over 33 percent, compared to 18.9 percent among white youth. As I wrote in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death and the ensuing unrest in Ferguson.

Young blacks and Latinos will play an important role in our economic future. Yet most contend with segregated, poorly funded schools, while America spends $4.3 billion on “surplus” paramilitary gear, and then gives it away. If we had invested even a fraction of that $4.3 billion in education, job training, etc., how great a difference might it have made by now?

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I, Vermont) was among the first to recognize the economic story behind events in Ferguson. In a letter to the New York times, Sanders wrote of the employment gap between black and white youth, and proposed a shift in America’s priorities.

If there is anything that we can learn from the Ferguson tragedy, it should be a recognition that we need to address the extraordinary crises facing black youths. That means, among other things, a major jobs program, job training and vastly improved educational opportunities.

When the Senate returns, Sanders will introduce a bill to address the national crisis of black youth unemployment. The Employ Young Americans Now Act will:

  • Provide $5.5 billion in immediate funding to states and localities to employ 1 million young Americans between the ages of 16 and 24, and provide job training to hundreds of thousands of young Americans.
  • Provide summer and year round employment opportunities for economically disadvantaged youth, with direct links to academic and occupational learning.
  • Provide important services such as transportation or child care, necessary to enable young Americans to participate in job opportunities.
  • Award $1.5 billion in competitive grants to local areas to provide work-based training to low and moderate income youth and disadvantaged young adults.

In a letter to his Senate colleagues, Sanders made a direct connection between the unrest in Ferguson and the lack of investment in job training and employment for black youth.

“”If we are going to address the issue of crime in low-income areas and in African-American communities, it might be a good idea that instead of putting military style equipment into police departments in those areas, we start investing in jobs for the young people there who desperately need them.”

If America can spend $4.3 billion on unneeded military weapons and gear that ends up getting handed out to police departments, shouldn’t we invest just as much “in jobs for the young people … who desperately need them”?

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