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Beyond The Rhetoric

“18 Years, 18 Years” or so the Song Says – Part 2

My first night was spent in the Houston city jail.  It is basically a check in point.  They process your DNA, finger prints, photos, etc.  The guards are friendly except for the guy in the property section.  He says, “These items on the counter is your property. Sign here!”  I noticed a pack of cigarettes and stated that they don’t belong to me.  “Just sign the paper!” he stated.  I replied that I cannot sign for something that is not mine.  He then put my property in a bag and walked away. 

Another guard tells me to go down the hall and find a cell to sleep in.  All the cells were occupied except one.  I stepped in and laid down.  I found it odd that I walked right in and found a completely empty cell. Later, a guard came over and informed me that I was occupying the HIV cell.  I immediately got up and found another cell with two others in it.  They told me that we would be there until tomorrow.  At around 1:00PM they came and took us to the Harris County Jail.  Unlike the city jail, these guards were downright mean.  It wasn’t long before our lawyer started the process.  She came to jail to meet me and give me process steps.  We took a long walk into a court room.  There I met the judge – a very nice guy.  My lawyer told the judge that the $16,000 had already been wired to Detroit but the office there would not reopen again until Monday.  The judge concluded by saying “Let’s have Mr. Alford return Monday morning and see if we can release him”.

From there my lawyer returned me back to the processing station.  This is where you exchange your civilian clothes for the jail issued orange jumpsuit.  It wouldn’t take long to figure out that it was going to be a while before I would ever see sunshine again.  The very large building was all enclosed – not even a window.  However, it was very clean and my new friends were conscious of keeping the place that way.  Each cell had a toilet but no one would use it.  You went out in the open area and did your business there in front of everyone. There was something about my appearance that told my fellow inmates that I didn’t belong here.  Every one of them was so nice.  It didn’t take long to figure out the warm reception.  They figured out that I had access to money and when I get out I just might send some of my money to my new incarcerated friends.

Everyone in my section was not violent.  The roughnecks that we were teamed with during processing went to certain centers.  Every one of the approximately 50 guys in my center was peaceful and over forty in age.  I don’t recall seeing any whites in my center.  A couple of Asians and maybe five Hispanics.  95% of them were there for one of two reasons.  Drug offense or verbal abuse of a girlfriend.  It is amazing how an irate women can place a call to 911 and her boyfriend gets locked up.  Repeat offenders get 2 – 5 years.  Just like that.

The highlight of my brief stay was dominoes.  They were shocked that “Old School” (my jail house nickname) knew how to play some serious “bones”.  I didn’t lose one game.  Many of my new neighbors would tell their life story to me.  I showed empathy and that was therapeutic to them.  It was just a shame the way the guards would yell at each and every one of them.  They would play mind games with them.  One night (I guess it was night) they have half of our cell go down a hall and take off all of our clothes.  Then they lined us up against a wall and had us just stand there.  They would start laughing as they took out some guys from the gay center (aka Punk Tank) and have them stare at us.  Another time they put us in a waiting room and had a couple dozen female offenders walk in front of us.  Yea, real funny.

The fact is jails in this nation care nothing about rehabilitation.  They figure repeat offenders mean job security for them.  I knew this when I interned at a girls reform school in Wisconsin as part of my degree requirement.  Our nation should do better.  We are the richest nation on earth but yet incarcerate more people than anyone else.

Finally, Monday came around and my lawyer came and told me that the Judge is ordering my release.  I will be officially released the next morning before him.  Happy time – right?  Well, Harris County Jail plays a game on the federal government.  They get paid by a funny clock.  I was “released” from my cell but not from the jailhouse.  I and others being released exchanged our jumpsuits for our civilian clothes that we came in with.  Then we went to the checkout room.  We were there from 5:00PM – 11:55PM.  After cursing at us nonstop we got our property back and a fifty dollar check from them.  They let us out just before midnight but the records would show it was after midnight.  That way they can bill the federal government another day for “baby sitting and feeding us”. 

We walked out into Houston.  I had a court date the following morning.  Here I was with a total of $100 in my pockets.  I hailed a cab and asked to be taken to the cheapest hotel and near the courthouse.  After finishing with the judge I took a cab to the airport.  There my wife sent me a first class ticket to return to her warm arms. Quite an experience!

Mr. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®.  Website: www.nationalbcc.org  Email:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

DATED: August 8, 2016

Disparity Studies can improve Business Activity

For the last few years, most states and major populations have had Disparity Studies done to ensure that no apparent discrimination is happening in the procurement activities.  They aren’t doing it to be fair.  It is the law!  A few challenges against minority business programs cases were presented to the US Supreme Court.  The first one, Croson Decision from Richmond, VA, appeared to go against our programs. This wasn’t a loss.  The decision gave local governments advice on how to construct a proper plan.  It took a while for all of us to understand this advice.  The term “Strict Scrutiny” was the tool that is required when constructing a viable plan.  For instance, if a city sets contracting goals of 30% Blacks and 10% Hispanics, the city should be able to show that it has similar percentages in business ownership.  A government cannot demand those percentages if there are only 15% and 2% in business ownership.

The next court challenge to a minority business program was the Adarand Decision out of the State of Colorado’s Department of Transportation.  The Supreme Court was brilliant in explaining their decision.  Again, Strict Scrutiny was the major issue.  Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, if an entity receives federal money or is regulated or if it benefits from the money or regulations then it must not discriminate in its business activities.  In order to comply a disparate impact analysis must be performed and updated every five years.  It took a while but with the State of Colorado leading the way via a court settlement from the Adarand case most states began their Disparity Study.  Today, the US Department of Transportation demands all states, counties and cities utilizing USDOT funding and/or regulation must do a Disparity Study every five years.  Working under the state’s umbrella this includes all cities, counties, airports, rail and bus systems, universities, Public Housing complexes and public colleges.

There can be one catch to this.  The federal agency responsible for enforcing Title VI is the US Attorney General.  If the Attorney General turns his/her head away from the subject at hand, there is nothing we can do but go to the President or elect a new and better administration.  Right now the current administration is not going to enforce Title VI when it comes to complaints against strongly democratic states such as California, Minnesota, etc.  Recalcitrant states, cities, airports, etc. should become political issues. Believe me, we have tried.

There are good examples coming from various states.  The State of Indiana includes their gaming casinos in their Disparity Study.  The State of Illinois has taken it another step forward.  Not only do they include their casinos, but every procurement entity which the State overseas but they all must have at least 20% goal.  If some industries seem to be lacking in their goal performance than it is claimed as a “Sheltered Market”.  Which means that set-asides can be enacted and remain until it reaches 20%.  As an example: “The University of Illinois has issued the state’s first “sheltered market” request-for-proposal (RFP), for temporary information technology systems and services, in an effort to attract greater contract participation by businesses owned by minorities and females.”  This is serious!  Governor Bruce Rauner is fulfilling his commitment.  

Do any of you have a governor who has shown such commitment?  If you do then we want to know about it.

Now, please be aware that some powers that be will assign a “fox” to oversee the “hen house”.  Who will be the consulting firm that manages your Disparity Study?  Since compliance with the Adarand Decision such consulting firms have become a growing industry.  There are some who will downsize the disparities.  Some will read into low numbers of contracts as low availability and will justify low goal setting.  The problem could really be that there is oppressive discrimination.  It is important that you do a background check on each competing consultant.  Be sure you don’t hire a “monster”.  Study one of their completed Disparity Studies (don’t try a rookie).  They are typically 700 – 900 pages for a statewide study.  Google for any complaints or contact an applicable elected official.

A bigger problem will be to insert white women businesses into a sheltered class.  This will open up a can of worms.  What reason should white women businesses be protected?  From my experience the vast majority of such businesses are directly tied to a relative doing the same type of work.  Many even have the same address and employees as their female counterpart.  In most government entities that choose to include white women owned businesses into their protected business programs their contract numbers will dominate those of Blacks, Hispanic, Asians, etc.  Those who manage or oversee these programs must be vigilant.

If done properly, business growth and jobs will improve and that enhances our quality of life and future for our children.

Mr. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.  Website: www.nationalbcc.org  Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

DATED: August 15, 2016