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Our Inevitable, Everlasting ‘Racial Divide’

The flurry of polls released last week revealed that sharp disagreements exist between Black and White Americans about the killing of Michael Brown by a White police officer in Ferguson, Mo. on August 9, about the street protests that have followed, and about several issues of how police interact with civilians.

In surveys conducted by, among others, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, by the New York Times and CBS, by the Huffington Post and YouGov, by the Washington Post, and by the Gallup Organization, Blacks were much more likely than Whites to: declare that the shooting of Michael Brown was unjustified; support President Obama's response to the killing and the protests; believe that the incident raises important racial issues; be sharply critical of the conduct of the Ferguson police since the shooting; and have little confidence in the subsequent local and state investigations.

All of which, of course, recalls the racial divides of similar or greater dimensions over the Trayvon Martin killing, trial and verdict; over the Jordan Davis killing, trial and verdict, and on and on all the way back down the well of America's tangled racial history.

But, don't get me wrong. I'm not one for wringing my hands at the latest display of our racial divide. Indeed, one cannot expect otherwise of a nation founded and maintained for so long on the stark "racial divide" of Negro Slavery and then a pervasive, brutal legalized segregation that lasted deep into the 20th century. Hallelujah for all the progress that's been made since the 1960s, though a raft of data show a massive backsliding on the economic progress Blacks made in the 1990s. But a stark "racial divide" on numerous serious questions remains just as it was in the 1960s: as American as apple pie.

And, just as was the case in the 1960s, our stark racial divide on these issues is White America's doing. Or rather, to be precise, it's the doing of a diminishing but still significant segment of White Americans who resent the expansion of opportunity to Blacks, other Americans of color, women, gays and lesbians. In that regard, it's very much worth noting that the Pew survey found that 62 percent of White Democrats also believe the Brown killing raises important racial issues – while 61 percent of White Republicans claim it does not.

There's a great deal about the surveys' findings that makes them all worth pondering. So, too, does one extraordinary event that occurred last week outside of Ferguson that should be used as "reference reading" to them.

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Do’s and Don’ts of Charge-Off Debts

With 19 of the nation's banks annually selling $37 billion in charged-off debts, the absence of clear guidelines for banks and debt collectors has led to many consumers facing lawsuits, harassing telephone calls and threats over debts that they may not even owe. Even worse, debt collectors have coerced or sued the wrong people, overstated the amount, or even collected illegitimate debts.

Now, thanks in part to the efforts of advocates, a federal regulator has taken an important first-step towards holding banks accountable for the businesses they sell debts to and the threshold information that must now accompany those sales.

On August 4, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) issued guidelines that 1,729 national banks and federal savings associations must now observe. As of June 30, these institutions collectively held $7.76 trillion in assets.

According to the OCC, "Banks that engage in debt sales should do so in a safe and sound manner and in compliance with applicable laws – including consumer protection laws. . . Banks should be cognizant of the potential for fraud, human error, and systems failures when selling debt to debt buyers."

At the crux of OCC's guidance is a trio of concerns: consumer protection, accountability and accuracy.

Fair treatment of customers must now be part of the structure of debt-sales agreements.

Banks must provide timely notification to customers when their past-due debts are being sold. And these notifications must clearly identify the dollar amount of the debt that has been sold, as well as the name and address of the debt buyer. At the time of sale, banks must provide accurate and increased information for each debt.

"This guidance is one of the first actions taken by a federal regulator to address the way banks sell off their old debt," said Lisa Stifler of the Center for Responsible Lending. "The agency sent a strong message to banks that they must no longer sell debts without proper due diligence, risk management, and attention to the fair treatment of consumers."

OCC also identified specific types of debt that are not appropriate for sale. The list includes:

Deceased account holders;

Borrowers that have sought or are seeking bankruptcy protection;

accounts lacking clear evidence of ownership;

Account holders currently in litigation with the institution;

Debt that has been otherwise settled or is in the process of settlement and

Debt incurred as a result of fraudulent activity.

By advising banks of the dos and don'ts of debt selling, the hope is that consumer harms stemming from these transactions will disappear.

"For years, debt collectors have gotten away with flooding the courts with frivolous debt collection lawsuits and fraudulently obtaining judgments, when they have no proof that the debts are actually owed," said Susan Shin of New Economy Project. "The OCC's guidance should help stop this wrongful transfer of wealth from low-income people and communities to debt buyers."

Instead of debt buyers rushing to courts to sue consumers for debts owed, OCC's guidelines and ongoing monitoring will stem – if not end — consumers having their paychecks surprisingly garnished, or a court finding in favor of a debt collector simply because the affected consumer never received a notice of the impending action. Unfortunately, many default judgments have been based on inaccuracies, incomplete or outdated personal information or questionable claims.

"The OCC guidance will help bring banks and debt collectors into compliance with federal and state consumer protection, as well as other laws," said Rob Randhava of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 groups.

For advocates, the hope is that this first step towards consumer protection in debt sales will not be the last.

[Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .]

 

 

Policing the Police

julianne malveauxExcept for the Good Lord, everybody has someone or something to "check" him or her. Unfortunately, President Obama has an unresponsive Congress to check him, and Supreme Court to do the same. Elected officials are checked by voters (when they vote), and the Securities and Exchange Commission usually checks corporate crooks. Reputable media sources correct their errors and plagiarists lose their jobs. Everybody has to answer to somebody. There are consequences for everyone – except the police.

At least that's part of the story Sunil Dutta tells in an article he wrote for the Washington Post:

"If you don't want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don't argue with me, don't call me names, don't tell me that I can't stop you, don't say I'm a racist pig. Don't threaten that you'll sue me and take away my badge. Don't scream at me that you pay my salary, and don't even think of walking aggressively towards me. Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it cooperate for that long?"'

This is the police mentality — I have the power and you don't so just shut the hell up and submit to any outrage. I have a badge and you don't, so I have the right to stop you while driving because you are too black and too young to have this new car. I have a right to stop you while you are running for the bus because you might, just might, have been running from a robbery. I have the right to harass you while you are standing still, just because. I have a right to talk to you rudely and belligerently. My badge gives me the ability to violate your rights.

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Differences in Black and White

george e curry 2011Public opinion polls confirm a fact that has been documented in instances ranging from the O.J. Simpson verdict to recent events in Ferguson: When it comes to race, Blacks and Whites largely view events through a different set of lenses.

Several recent polls provided yet more proof of this disheartening trend.

According to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, more than half of Black Americans polled – 57 percent – said the killing of the unarmed, 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson, Mo. Police Officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9 was "not justified". Among Whites, 25 percent said the shooting death was unjustified.

In addition, 31 percent of White Americans, and 71 percent of Blacks, said they think police are generally more likely to use deadly force against a person of color than a White person.

The performance of Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, also received mixed reviews, so to speak. He mobilized the Missouri State Highway Patrol and then activated the Missouri National Guard after declaring a state of emergency and imposing a curfew. Blacks were twice as likely as Whites to say involving the National Guard only made matters worse.

Only a quarter of Blacks nationally are satisfied with Gov. Nixon's actions, while nearly half said Nixon's performance in the aftermath of the shooting was unsatisfactory. In contrast, Whites were divided: A third were satisfied and a third dissatisfied.

Not surprisingly, Blacks, Obama's most loyal bloc, continue to back him by large margins.

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