Upon your election, you told the world that you intended to be a president for all Americans. We welcomed and were somewhat relieved by that statement. However, since making that statement, some of your supporters have made it clear that they do not honor your pledge.
According to the latest numbers released by the FBI, anti-Muslim hate crimes in the United States rose by 67 percent – from 154 incidents in 2014, to 257 in 2015. This recent uptick in hate crime across America is widely viewed as a consequence of the divisive tone and statements that characterized your presidential campaign. Classroom teachers have openly intimidated Muslim children by calling them “terrorists” and telling them they would be deported once you took office. All of this is happening in your name.
Vicious attacks have been perpetrated on African Americans, Hispanics, and Muslim people on the streets. Women in hijabs have been physically assaulted and threatened as they attempt to do nothing more than go about the business of their lives. Places of worship have been desecrated with hateful graffiti. Again, all in your name.
While we applaud your recent entreaty to your supporters to “stop it,” we believe you must go further and acknowledge your role in inspiring and uplifting their animus in the first place. You have consistently given tacit approval of these provocative actions with the divisive and hateful rhetoric you relied upon throughout your campaign. Your calls to “stop it” should at least be as strident and loud as your campaign rhetoric.
As municipal leaders, the members of the African American Mayors Association build relationships across party lines to serve our constituents. Our mayors, as part of a diverse bipartisan group of elected officials, recently met with Republican National Committee leaders to hopefully foster a shared vision of America’s future. Our country’s success must be inclusive, and encourage all Americans to live their hopes instead of their fears.
In the early days of your transition to power, a very disturbing trend has already emerged. This includes your appointment of Stephen Bannon, a White nationalist, as chief strategist and senior counsel to your administration, drawing up a plan to register all Muslims, threatening mass deportations, and naming Jeff Sessions as your choice for U.S. Attorney General.
As president-elect, you must act decisively before the country spirals further into discord. Now is the time for you to make uniting the country an urgent priority, not to sit idly by while hatred and intolerance rage.
We call upon you to appoint people to your transition team and to cabinet-level positions that represent the whole of this nation, rather than extreme factions. We ask you to work with mayors and other policymakers to ensure that the policies that your administration pursue lead us collectively on a path to prosperity and indeed make America great. We, the members of AAMA, representing over 500 mayors from across this great nation, offer our help and support in making America greater than it has ever been.
We are watching and waiting for you to act as the leader you claimed you would be. Count on us to hold you accountable on behalf of our constituents.
Mayor Sly James
Kansas City, Missouri
President of the African American Mayors Association (AAMA)
The African American Mayors Association (AAMA) is the only organization exclusively representing African-American mayors in the United States. AAMA exists to empower local leaders for the benefit of their citizens. For more information, visit the AAMA website
See the letter on JetMag.com (Dec 6, 2016): http://www.jetmag.com/talk-back-2/trump-aama-open-letter/
On behalf of the 500 African American mayors across the country, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the Mayor of Baltimore and the head of the African American Mayors Association (AAMA) clemency initiative issued the following statement in light of AAMA submitting a letter to the President highlighting a priority list of clemency applications:
“Black Mayors across the country applaud and strongly support President Obama’s administration’s significant initiatives to address policies confronting the criminal justice system, many of which disproportionately impact African American men and women who reside in our cities. This is President Obama’s last window of opportunity to provide clemency for the next four or possibly eight years.
Working with the Justice Roundtable, a collective of over 100 organizations working to reform criminal justice laws, we have identified a priority list of clemency petitions from individuals whom we would welcome back into our communities. We feel that special consideration should be given to certain categories of applicants as well, such as the elderly and women. There are also non-citizens, some of whom wish to return to their home countries, where our tax-paying citizens are paying for their continued incarceration.
We are thrilled with President Obama, the White House Counsel’s Office, the OPA and the DOJ with the accelerated pace of commutations and we submit that there be an “all out all hands on deck” policy to commute the sentences of as many people consistent with public safety before January 20th. The President can take this action without the need Senate confirmation as in Supreme Court nominations, and he doesn’t have to rely on Congress to pass legislation.
We as mayors have witnessed firsthand the devastation drugs have caused, but we also bear witness to the harm that has come from the war on drugs. Harsh and lengthy sentences have snatched mothers from children, men from loved ones, furthered the destabilization of families and communities in our cities, and caused the displacement of our constituents in federal facilities throughout the country.
Our staff has reviewed the petitions of each of these candidates, and we implore the President to give them consideration as he winds down the last two months of his historic presidency.”
The African American Mayors Association (AAMA) was launched in 2014 to represent over 500 African American mayors and their 48 million constituents across the United States. We are a premiere organization representing black elected officials, and we focus on empowering mayors in their communities and elevating their voice on a national stage. We strengthen the executive abilities of our member mayors, and we advocate for public policy positions that benefit our constituents.
Mr. President, we applaud and strongly support your administration’s significant initiatives to address policies confronting the criminal justice system, many of which disproportionately impact African American men and women who reside in our cities. One such policy is your use of clemency to review and remedy lengthy sentences, particularly where newer law has discredited old sentences. With the abolition of parole in the federal system in 1984, there are extremely limited options for review of sentences, resulting in prisoners not having the opportunity to show they have reformed.
To date, you have beneficially changed the lives of over 900 people, most of who never thought they would ever see life outside of prison walls. You gave them a second chance, allowing them to return to our communities to show they can be productive citizens. Your initiative reinvigorated the policy discussion around widespread incarceration and the proper role the executive can play to alleviate harsh punishments via clemency. This is helping to bring balance to a justice system that for decades has meted out extraordinarily lengthy sentences that often have not fit the crime.
Mr. President, we as mayors have witnessed firsthand the devastation drugs have caused, but we also bear witness to the harm that has come from the war on drugs. Harsh and lengthy sentences have snatched mothers from children, men from loved ones, furthered the destabilization of families and communities in our cities, and caused the displacement of our constituents in federal facilities throughout the country.
Because of the slow pace of legislative change, correcting the injustice of severe, fiscally unsound and often racial discriminatory sentences through clemency is imperative.
We know that you have set forth specific criteria for release pursuant to the clemency initiative, including a ten-year threshold, conviction of a non-violent offense, and having a clean institutional record. We want you to know that we welcome back to our communities all those who no longer present a threat to society, whether they fit all the parameters of the criteria or not. This would allow consideration of deserving candidates whose prison term may not have reached ten years, those whose crimes may have been misleadingly not characterized as non-violent, as well as a serious consideration of increasing numbers of elderly applicants who have aged out of criminality.
The spiraling growth of the prison population must be stunted. We reject the “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” narrative, and recognize the executive power of clemency as a key safety valve in correcting the injustice of harshly severe, fiscally unsound and often racially discriminatory sentences.
It has often been said that “each of us is more than the worst thing we have ever done.” We believe in mercy, forgiveness and fairness.
We respectfully submit the attached list of clemency petitions to you from individuals whom we would welcome back into our communities. We feel that special consideration be given to certain categories of applicants as well, such as the elderly and women. There are also non-citizens, some of whom wish to return to their home countries, where our tax-paying citizens are paying for their continued incarceration. Our staff has reviewed the petitions of each of these candidates, and we implore you to give them consideration as you wind down the last two months of your historic presidency. They may or may not come from or plan to return to our specific cities, but because circumstances are similar across the board in Black America, we are united in calling for their release.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake
City of Baltimore, Maryland
AAMA Member, Clemency Initiative Chair
Mayor Sly James
Kansas City, Missouri
Mayor William Johnson
Holly Hill, South Carolina
Mayor Steve Benjamin
Columbia, South Carolina
AAMA Immediate Past President
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson
Mayor Petrella Robinson
Town of North Brentwood, Maryland
Mayor Bill Bell
Durham, North Carolina
Mayor Tony Yarber
Mayor Kevin Johnson
Mayor Toni Harp
New Haven, Connecticut
Mayor Leon Rockingham
City of North Chicago, Illinois
Mayor Patrick Green
Mayor Ras Baraka
Newark, New Jersey
Fmr. Mayor Johnny Ford
Mayor McKinley Price
Newport News, Virginia
Mayor Wayne Hall
Hempstead, New York
Mayor Lovely Warren
Rochester, New York
Mayor Mario Avery
Mayor Lee P. Walker
Landover Hills, Maryland
Mayor Jacqueline Goodall
Forest Heights, Maryland
Mayor Bradley Sellers
City of Warrensville Heights, Ohio
Sean Andre Wilson (Fed. Reg. #52945-080 F.P.C. Lewisburg, PA). Filed petition for Clemency on May 17, 2016 with the Office of the Pardon Attorney.
Alice Johnson, Mandatory Life Without Parole, 1st Offender
William Underwood, Mandatory Life Without Parole, 1st drug offender (Attorney Nkechi Taifa)
Mark Myrie, 10 years, 1st Offender (Attorney Nkechi Taifa)
non-citizen – upon commutation wants to be deported back to Jamaica
Michelle West, Mandatory Life Without Parole, 1st Offender
Robert Shipp, Mandatory Life Without Parole, 1st drug offender (Attorney Mark Osler)
Cheryl Howard, Mandatory Life Without Parole
Possession with Intent to Distribute Crack Cocaine and Conspiracy
Michael Holmes, Mandatory Life Without Parole
LaShonda Hall , 45 years, 1st Offender
John Knock, Mandatory Life Without Parole, 1st offender for marijuana
Eric Wilson, Mandatory Life Without Parole (Attorney MiAngel Cody)
Conspiracy to distribute drugs
Troy Lawrence, Mandatory Life Without Parole (Attorney MiAngel Cody)
Steve Liscano, Mandatory Life Without Parole (Attorney MiAngel Cody)
Corey Jacobs, Mandatory Life Without Parole (Attorney Brittany Byrd)
Trenton Copeland, Mandatory Life Without Parole (Attorney Brittany Byrd)
Media Contact: Donald Gatlin (firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Washington, DC). On behalf of the 500 African American mayors across the country, Mayor Sly James of Kansas City, MO and President of the African American Mayors Association, released the following statement in response to the election of Donald Trump as President-Elect of the United States of America:
“Now that the election is over, we must turn our attention to working together to address the most important issues in America – job creation, criminal justice reform, healthcare, a quality education for every child and national security. Importantly, improving our nation’s transportation and infrastructure is equally critical, and it will be a top priority of the African American Mayors Association to work with the new administration to bring American infrastructure into the 21st century.
Currently, American communities are facing crumbling roads, failing bridges, and lackluster broadband access. This is an unacceptable paradigm in a time when over 63 percent of the nation’s population live in small and large cities. Mayors are on the front lines of addressing infrastructure challenges where they are experienced every day—in our local communities. We need resources and flexibility to appropriately invest where we know it is most necessary to keep our communities vibrant and thriving, and to avoid a repeat of the devastation that came to Flint, Michigan when local leaders were not empowered to fix the water system there.
Donald Trump has said he will make new investments in infrastructure one of his top priorities. We look forward to working with him to make that goal a reality.”
(Washington, DC), On behalf of the 500 African American mayors across the country, Mayor Sly James of Kansas City, MO and President of the African American Mayors Association, released the following statement in response to the first presidential debate:
“Last night’s debate highlighted how the next president will influence some of the most important issues in America – criminal justice reform, transportation and infrastructure, job creation, and national security. These issues impact the everyday quality of life of our constituents and are top priorities in every city. It is our moral and civil imperative to participate in the election process, and all our voices must be heard.”
“We were particularly proud to see the acknowledgement by both candidates of the role mayors play in decreasing gun violence. It is one of the most urgent issues facing our nation, and it will indeed take all of us—the federal government, state legislatures, local leadership and grassroots organizers—to end the gun violence epidemic in this country. In subsequent debates, we hope to hear how the candidates will spur entrepreneurship and support early childhood education.”
(Washington, DC), On behalf of the 500 African American mayors across the country, Mayor Sly James of Kansas City, MO and President of the African American Mayors Association (AAMA), released the following statement following the terror attack in New York City:
“Our thoughts are with the dozens injured in this week’s bomb attacks in New York City and Seaside Park, NJ as well as the officers injured while apprehending Ahmad Khan Rahami, the primary suspect in bombings. The African American Mayors Association also applauds our colleagues Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City, Mayor Derek Armstead of Linden, NJ, and Robert W. Matthies of Seaside NJ for their exemplary leadership over the past week. They have endured a civic leader’s worst nightmare, and did so while maintaining transparency and open lines of communication, and working in coalition with local and federal partners to help quickly identify and apprehend the suspect. This has been a model for the rest of us in our response to emergencies.”
(Washington, DC), On behalf of the 500 African American mayors across the country, Mayor Sly James of Kansas City, MO and President of the African American Mayors Association (AAMA), released the following statement in response to the deaths of Terence Crutcher and Keith Scott:
“My colleagues at AAMA, and I, extend our deepest condolences to the grief-stricken families of Terence Crutcher and Keith Scott. They are in our thoughts during this incredibly difficult time.
Every day, more than 89 people are killed by gun violence. The violence in cities across the country coupled with the shooting deaths of citizens, whether armed or unarmed, fosters anger and mistrust between the police and the communities they serve. Though we are still learning more about these particular incidents, what we know for sure is that improving community policing is a national imperative. We must work together to improve trust and communication between police officers and citizens. Police officers have to possess the agility and desire to nonviolently de-escalate and disengage tense situations before resorting to deadly force. It is an essential skill in their daily work, and the only way to fulfill their duty to protect us all.
We applaud the U.S. Department of Justice for its swift response to these incidents. The African American Mayors Association is committed to improving communication and trust between citizens and law enforcement. We will continue this work, more committed than ever, to making our towns and cities safe for everyone.”
We all know the stories of crumbling roads, failing bridges and broadband access that lags behind our international peers. The last few decades have been hard on our urban centers but Americans are falling in love with cities again. Cities all over the country are experiencing major influxes of new residents.
In fact, today, over 63 percent of the nation’s population lives in a city. That number is even higher — 70 percent — in the Midwest, where the city I lead is located. Despite this, an agenda to revitalize and restore the infrastructure of our cities has been shockingly absent from our presidential political discourse. That is, until recently.
The Democratic Party, in its Cities Agenda amendment to the platform, is now the first political party to develop a comprehensive plan on city infrastructure during this election cycle. And this week, the Republican party also made cities an issue in their campaign. Donald Trumpentered the conversation with a speech in Detroit outlining an ambitious infrastructure agenda, declaring “We will build the next generation of roads, bridges, railways, tunnels, seaports and airports that our country deserves.” We look forward to seeing the details of his plan.
Indeed, public transportation, roadways, highways, bridges, electricity, and waterways are at the very core of the services our citizens need to thrive. Our infrastructure is the skeleton that supports cities and improving it lifts up local economies. It’s a major factor in where people decide to work and businesses decide to locate. From the creation of bike paths and making safe water accessible to all, infrastructure impacts public health and quality of life outcomes.
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) releases an infrastructure report card every four years. The last one, published in 2013, was grim. ASCE gave the nation a cumulative grade of D+ on its infrastructure and that was slightly higher than the results of the previous report. But another ASCE report detailed the enormous positive economic impact that is possible through an increased investment in infrastructure.
In “Failure to Act: The Impact of Current Infrastructure Investment on America’s Economic Future,” released in 2012, ASCE found that investing $157 billion in infrastructure each year until 2020 could protect 3.5 million jobs, $2.4 trillion in consumer spending, and $3.1 trillion in GDP. $94 billion in transportation investments alone would protect 877,000 jobs. We clearly cannot afford the status quo.
Mayors are doing everything we can to maintain the integrity of these foundational services. Some have implemented innovative public-private partnerships to partially fill the resource gap the federal government’s inaction has left. But, too many of us are forced to navigate a patchwork of state laws that limit our ability to allocate the resources necessary to modernize local infrastructure.
The water crisis in Flint, Michigan is a devastating example of what can happen when local leaders are not fully empowered to maintain the infrastructure in their cities and towns. That’s why I could not agree more with the Cities Agenda’s basic premise that “local leaders are best equipped to create a better future for their residents — but need the resources and flexibility to get the job done.”
The Cities Agenda recognizes that local economic progress can only be achieved by addressing multiple, seemingly intractable, issues simultaneously. It calls for increased investment in housing and schools, jobs, transportation and health in cities across the nation. Specifically, it will build on game-changing programs like the Neighborhood Stabilization Program and the Hardest Hit Fund, which have revitalized communities overcome by blight.
And, the Cities Agenda promises to foster community vibrancy by expanding programs that leverage private sector investment to combat poverty, such as the New Markets Tax Credit and the State Small Business Credit Initiative. These programs are critical to the health and stability of our nation. The benefits are enormous and exponential.
As the president of the African American Mayors Association, which represents the over 500 black mayors in the country, I can tell you that mayors are driving this critical conversation on investments in infrastructure. Mayors have seen, first hand, the impact of federal underinvestment in cities and infrastructure for too long.
Although the Cities Agenda was initially adopted by the Democrats, there is no reason that this should be a partisan issue. Republicans entering this dialogue is good for advancing the conversation on infrastructure investment. Business leaders need to weigh in just as much as labor and community members. All of us sit in the same ditch when something breaks and repairs need to made.
Regardless of who wins the White House, or the majorities in Congress this November, we must increase the pressure on our federal leaders to fix our cities.
Sly James is mayor of Kansas City, M.O., and President of the African American Mayors Association.