By Leslie Lyons
‘Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power’ — Abraham Lincoln
I was born in Kentucky, a fact that I put forth not as a disclaimer for the present leadership of that state in contrast to my current politics, but to establish my connection with Abraham Lincoln. No truer words than those of Lincoln could resonate through our bones this week as citizens. Buried on the front page of the Business Day section of the May 14th edition of The New York Times you will find the headline: Five Big Banks Expected to Plead Guilty to Felony Charges. I use the word “buried” because the acknowledgement that grand-scale corruption goes unpunished in the United States of America rates more significant placement. This article should appear on the cover of the Times. Business News or the biggest story of the day? Worse, the article actually states in its opening paragraph that “for most people, pleading guilty to a felony means they will very likely land in prison,” unless you can afford to pay off the government and buy your freedom.
Sadly, the Justice Department routinely allows such criminals to avoid jail time. If our Justice Department will not imprison these criminals, if our free press doesn’t deem such a story to be worthy of a front page, above-the-fold headline, and if we, as citizens, don’t demand better, where do we go from here? Will the next election really matter? What will our children learn from all this? Do we even care?
I recall my upbringing in a suburban White neighborhood of Louisville, KY. My generational contemporaries and I came into political and social consciousness through hip hop. Strange, but true. When Lauren Hill won her Grammy Award in 2000, she said, “This is crazy, this is hip-hop music.” I distinctly remember thinking, “Who does she think is listening to hip-hop music?” The answer: We all are.
The economic wasteland of urban centers in the late 1970s and early to mid-1980s — devoid of prospects for upward mobility for young, mostly Black citizens — gave rise to hip hop. By contrast, White suburbia during this period can best be described as an ideological wasteland. As young people, we knew that something was rotten in our Denmark–that our power structures weren’t honest. The knowledge that Grandmaster Flash spit our way made our minds explode. We felt solidarity with our contemporaries everywhere and got together with them to define a new set of values. We may joke about MTV now and its irrelevance, but, as a tool, it was revolutionary. Just like youth culture before us, we took on the pressing issues of our times and politics changed, popular culture changed, and the social mosaic changed.
Along the way, we took our eyes off the ball. Today, I ask myself “Where is the ball?” If we intended to recognize ourselves in our leaders, to put people in power who reflected our collective values of togetherness, fairness, community, innovation, diligence, creativity, style, and honor, then we either failed or have been hijacked by lesser men with too much power. The Justice Department is us. The free press is us.
This is still our country. As a citizen, I demand the imprisonment of anyone convicted of felonies for anti-trust or fraud activity from the following banks: Barclays, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup and the Royal Bank of Scotland. Please stand with me and sign the petition at the following link: