On The Chopping Block, Afro-Am Commission Visits

Thomas MacMillan PhotoWith its very existence threatened by proposed state budget cuts, the African-American Affairs Commission journeyed to New Haven to try to drum up support—and found a couple of dozen interested people.

“We could not get this showing in Hartford,” said Fred Pierre-Louis (at right in photo), chair of the statewide commission. He gestured at about 25 people seated in a function room at Gateway Community College, where the commission held its monthly meeting on Wednesday evening.

In his view, that was a good sign for the African-American Affairs Commission, one of several minority commissions that Gov. Dannel Malloy has proposed be consolidated to save money.

As it turned out, many of the people who showed up to Wednesday’s meeting were Gateway sociology students who had been instructed to attend by their professor, April Capone (pictured), erstwhile mayor of East Haven.

A handful of local African-American activists and officials also attended. New Haven cop Shafiq Abdussabur, head of the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers, said he left the meeting convinced that the commission should not be folded in with other minority commissions. If anything, the commission should be given more money, he said.

Pierre-Louis said the commission won’t know its fate until the state budget passes.

Malloy’s budget proposal calls for saving about $800,000 per year by consolidating the legislature’s commissions on women, African-Americans, Latinos, children, Asians, and the elderly. Malloy’s plans calls for the consolidated commission—dubbed the Commission on Citizen Advocacy—to also represent the interests of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

The proposal has prompted criticism from existing minority commissions, including charges that the plan is “insulting.”

Pierre-Louis said the African-American Affairs Commission has made a case for continuing to exist as a separate entity.

“Our issues are unique,” he said. For instance, the achievement gap between high- and low-performing students affects black students disproportionately. “It’s huge for us.”

The role of the commission is to “articulate needs” to the General Assembly, Pierre-Louis said. The commission makes recommendations to the state on new legislation. Asked for an example of legislative victory, Pierre-Louis mentioned the 2008 modification of hate crimes legislation to include a ban on displaying nooses.

“We played a key role in making that illegal,” he said.

Wednesday’s meeting was the first time in his memory that the commission has met in New Haven instead of Hartford.

“Coming here is an effort for us to gain support,” Pierre Louis said.

As the meeting kicked off, six commissioners sat at a horseshoe of tables. Another four attended via speakerphone.

In addition to Gateway students and Abdussabur, New Haven activist Barbara Fair was at the meeting, along with civil rights attorney Clifton Graves, and plumber and mayoral candidate Sundiata Keitazulu.

The commission heard a presentation from Rev. William Mathis (pictured) about the implementation of “Project Longevity,” the city/federal campaign to end gun violence.

After the meeting, Abdussabur called it “a productive start.”

“But I think the commission needs to take on some of the tougher issues,” said Abdussabur (pictured). “I would like them to be more assertive.”

To tackle problems in “communities of color”—like violence, crime, unemployment, high drop-out rates—the commission will need to do more, and shouldn’t be combined with another commission, Abdussabur said. “That requires often more money, not less money.”

“The commission should continue to exist independently and full financial support to create and agenda to tackle the issues,” Abdussabur said.

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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on April 4, 2013  9:02am

How come the African-American Affairs Commission
does not call for a march on Dan Malloy.

posted by: Atwater on April 4, 2013  9:29am

Malloy is right to consolidate these groups into one. Although the statistics concerning achievement of black students compared to white students are mostly true, it is incorrect to assume that “race” or, more appropriately skin colour has much to do with the disparity. In 2012 what causes this difference is economic. Sure, there are pockets of bigotry within the system, but the system is for the most part unbiased in regards to colour, ethnicity, etc. The greatest bias that now exists is one in regards to socio-economic class. The black leadership in this state should recognize this (much like MLK did) and begin to work towards a greater economic equality for all citizens. The politics of race has been replaced by the politics of wealth, corporatism and oligarchy. Now the only colour that matters is green. This committee (African-American Committee) is anachronistic in its present form and substance, it’s time to either abandon it or reform it so that it addresses the new enemies of liberty, equality and justice.

posted by: Walt on April 4, 2013  9:31am

Why no Irish-American Commission?

I’ll come out of retirement and run it if the pay is high enough.

Please call PUG MAHONY (781 324 6691)

posted by: Noteworthy on April 4, 2013  10:01am

We do not need any of these commissions. Forget consolidation, just whack them. So much of what they do is not original research, is not outstandingly helpful to legislation - it’s a warm fuzzy to a special interest group.

posted by: tomago on April 4, 2013  11:00am

You have got to be kidding.  It is long overdue for people to stop labeling themselves and others by random categories such as race, gender, sexual preference, etc.,...we are Americans.  We all have issues particular to our circumstance, we don’t need commissions to sit around and perseverate at the taxpayers’ expense. Everyone interprets events through the prism of their own experience.  By fostering splintered groups of “special interest”, we fracture our nation.  Our personal experiences are “special interest”....to ourselves.

It is to get together and celebrate our differences, not create commissions to break us apart.  Finding commonality is unifying, and America needs that now more than ever.

This responsibility of unity falls on our leaders and ourselves for electing them.  Political correctness and feigned empathy gets politicians elected…how about competence and integrity?  Electing leaders by sound bites or appearance gives us a myriad of systemic dishonesty.

In other words, the voters usually get what they deserve.

posted by: Walt on April 4, 2013  11:55am

Sorry,I guess, for slipping a Gaelic not-so- nice comment above past the editors as a fake phone number.