Don't Sleep Sat, 04 Aug 2012 18:15:14 +0000 en hourly 1 Flashing Lights – part 3 Sat, 04 Aug 2012 16:30:26 +0000 tjholmes OK, OK.  I was driving a red 2012 Maserati GranCabrio Sport convertible.

I guess I was just begging to be pulled over.  Of course, that’s a ridiculous assertion.  Almost as ridiculous as the very idea of me owning a Maserati.  Really, what difference does it or should it make what I was driving? [a Maserati or a Camry...]

What you should know is that officers have broad authority and discretion when deciding to pull someone over, and they should in order to do their jobs.   They can pull you over for speeding, swerving, a busted taillight,  a smoky tailpipe, whatever.  They only have to have a suspicion of criminal activity, a traffic infraction, or that the car is not in good condition.  The suspicion has to be based on more than a “hunch” but it doesn’t necessarily have to be hard evidence either.  They can pull you over for just about any reason, but they can’t pull you over for NO reason.

Officers have to have what’s called reasonable articulable suspicion that a crime or violation is being committed.  This can be anything, but has to be something.  Officers generally can’t randomly stop drivers to check to see if you’re doing something wrong, rather the suspicion that you’ve done something wrong has to come first.

If you get stopped, cooperate. Whatever the circumstances surrounding the stop, don’t make matters worse by being belligerent.  Remember, at this moment, the officer has the law on his side and a gun on his hip.  You WILL lose this battle.

The only time to fight back is after the fact.  In my case, I sent letters of inquiry seeking clarity and, if needs be, an investigation.  I also placed a call to the department and asked about their policy regarding stops for “insurance” checks. The officer I spoke to wasn’t aware of such checks.

In the midst of your frustration sitting on the side of the road with flashing lights behind you, it’s hard to think, “just wait until I send my letter to your boss!”  Doesn’t seem so fulfilling, I know, but fighting back after the fact is really your only recourse.

The overwhelming majority of police officers are good folks trying to do a good job.  But, bias can sometimes creeps in.  So, here’s a real conundrum: how do you give an officer the benefit of the doubt when you’re on the side of the road believing he didn’t give you the benefit of the doubt?

What you look like and what you’re driving shouldn’t matter.  Still, many believe it often does, so I understand why people want to know what kind of car I was driving.  It was a nice one.  Let’s just leave it at that.

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Flashing Lights – Part 2 Wed, 01 Aug 2012 18:04:23 +0000 tjholmes Wait.  I’m the racist?  So says the guy on twitter yesterday who called me the n-word, a “monkey”, a “thug,” and suggested I kill myself.

Many more had similar reactions and used language that was just as disturbing.  There were plenty of others I’ve heard from on social media and blogs in the past 24-48 hours who didn’t use such colorful language but were in agreement that I’m racist and/or ignorant for daring to suggest that race has anything to do with any officer’s decision to pull someone over, to stop and frisk someone, or how the officer treats a citizen after making contact.  Of course, there is an abundance of stories, cases, and studies that also suggests racial profiling is real.  At the same time, people on the other side will point to data, or the lack thereof, to fit their narrative that anyone alleging racial profiling is wrong.

There are intelligent and worthwhile conversations to have on the national and local levels about racial profiling.  However, I fear I didn’t help that conversation along one bit.

I initially tweeted the phrase “driving while black” after I had been pulled over Monday morning.  If I had told my full account of what was happening without ever using that phrase, many people would have undoubtedly drawn that conclusion and used the phrase themselves.  But, since it came from me, the phrase unfortunately became the headline, the focus, and the lighting rod in media accounts and the dialogue that followed.  In a split second, with that phrase, passions were immediately inflamed and people immediately took sides, as is often the case when matters of race come up in this country.

A big part of the reason I left CNN to start “Don’t Sleep” was to lead thoughtful, civilized, and respectful discussion on a variety of difficult topics.  But my use of those three words (driving while black) set off a discourse that, in large part, has been unthoughtful, uncivilized, and disrespectful.  That was the exact opposite of my intent, and it’s incredibly disappointing.

My hope would have been that another young man would read about my experience and could have take from it: 1) how to respectfully deal with police during a stop, 2) how to get through the moment, and 3) perhaps how to fight back when the moment has passed. However, any lesson or message has been muddled.  Despite my personal feelings about why I was stopped, voicing that opinion publicly set off the wrong conversation.  Though, I understand why many African Americans think it was appropriate and necessary for me to use the phrase thereby using my voice and platform to highlight the issue.

I never had any intention of naming the officer involved or even the police department.  I don’t want to make him or the department a media focus or the focus of attacks.  Through an attorney, I have sent formal letters of complaint to the appropriate authorities, and I look forward to a dialogue with the department and perhaps even the officer who stopped me.

We’ll never know what’s in an officer’s heart when he stops someone unless he tells us.  I doubt we’ll start hearing officers confess.  But, as long as there’s no admission of bias, there’s no way to end it.  And, of course, every time a white officer stops a black driver, it’s not a case of racial profiling.  But, the root of many African Americans suspicion of police is worthy of our examination as well.

Many have suggested I didn’t give the officer the benefit of the doubt.  Actually, I did.  Admittedly, that benefit of the doubt faded when I learned his reason for stopping me.  It’s clear that the officer didn’t give me the benefit of the doubt.  Whether that was based on my race is something we may never know.  But, it is possible that race had absolutely nothing to do with the stop.  It’s also possible that it did.  In these instances, it’s almost impossible to bridge the gap between what we can prove and what we believe.

Once again, I fear I let a so-called teachable moment pass.  Here, the only thing we’ve learned is that we still have a long way to go in this country.

To be continued …

Until then — If you have been pulled over, seemingly for no reason – tell us the rationale given by the officer for the action and how you handled – @BETdontsleep or in the comments below.

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Flashing Lights – Part 1 Wed, 01 Aug 2012 03:39:57 +0000 tjholmes “Be glad you made it home.” That’s what a friend said to me after I told him I had just been on the wrong end of what I believed was an illegal police stop. ”You’re lucky you were stopped in the daytime and that the officer wasn’t in a crappy mood. Be glad you made it home.”

To an extent, he was telling me to just let it go, and the best I should hope for in this situation was to get home safely. Truth is, I probably would have just let it go, however I had documented the stop with a series of tweets. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the tweets caused a bit of stir and were even picked up by a number of press outlets. Since it’s difficult to tell a full story 140 characters at a time, let me go back and take you through the entire experience:

The stop happened first thing Monday morning. As a habit, I always drive a couple of miles under the speed limit on this particular road, and Monday morning was no different. It’s a long, straight stretch where you can be tempted to speed and where you often see police cars roaming. On this day, a police officer began following me closely. I knew I had not been speeding, and at no point while he followed me did I switch lanes. So, there was no possible traffic infraction, as far as I could tell. The officer followed for about a mile before he turned on his flashing lights. I pulled over and placed both hands out the car so the officer could see them. A tall, white officer who appeared to be in his mid-30s approached my window and asked if I had insurance on the car. Before I reached into my pocket for my driver’s license or in my glove compartment for my insurance card, I asked if it was alright to move my hands. I handed both cards to him, and at this point asked why I was stopped. The officer stated that he wanted to make sure I had insurance on the car. He claims he needed to check because of my temporary license tag. That tag is legal, up-to-date, and displays a valid, unique, printed ID number. Those numbers are in database used by officers. Ironically, Georgia law was changed last year to require those new ID numbers on temporary tags. Why? So officers don’t have to be suspicious of the driver.

The officer took my insurance info and ID back to his car for several minutes. By this time, a second officer had arrived on the scene as backup. A black female officer was in that car. (She can be seen leaning into the first officer’s car in the photo I took and tweeted during the stop.) When the first officer returned to my window, I asked him again why I was stopped and if they stop everyone to make sure they have insurance. This time he hesitated and even stammered in his response. But, his answer was the same: wanted to make sure I had insurance on the car. We left it there, I was free to go, and we all went our separate ways, but not before I got the officer’s name.
The officer was not rude during our interaction and handled the whole situation matter-of-factly. Also, at no point did the officer suggest I was guilty of a traffic violation. By his own admission, I was doing nothing wrong. Rather, he stopped me to see if I was doing something wrong: driving without insurance.

Within hours, I had talked to several attorneys for clarity and had placed a call to the police department to get answers.

There are some questions I know I’ve left unanswered: why haven’t I publicly named the officer or the police department? What kind of car was I driving? What does the law say about this kind of stop? What did the police say when they returned my call? And, what am I going to do now?

To be continued…

But as you wait for the next chapter - relive the tweet-by-tweet account of the stop, appearance on the Ed Show, and some of your responses / tweets about #drivingwhileblack and racial profiling — beginning all the way back in MARCH and the 106&Park Travyon Martin special. —–>>

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Graduation Season (pt. 2) Fri, 08 Jun 2012 19:55:48 +0000 tjholmes By graduation day every year, many young people’s fates are sealed. And it’s an unfortunate but unalienable truth that not every child will have his or her fate positively sealed at birth like I did. Not every child will be born into a home like mine with parents or guardians like mine. It would have taken something monumental to take me off course. For others born into different circumstances and facing different challenges, it will take a monumental effort from all of us to get you on the right course. That starts by our not sleeping on a crisis that few seem to treat like a crisis at all.

The statistics alone are enough to make all of us discouraged: the graduation rate for Black males is around 50%, according to many studies including the highly publicized Schott Report on Black Males & Education. But, what’s really infuriating is that not enough of us are even shocked or outraged when we hear the numbers anymore. For every young black boy who hears his name called and walks across the stage at a high school graduation ceremony, there’s another black boy whose name won’t be called, ostensibly sealing his fate. Why are all of us not all raising hell about this? And how can we support the people who are?

Grad Nation is trying to help. The initiative by Gen. Colin Powell’s America’s Promise Alliance ) has a goal of getting this country to a 90% graduation rate by the year 2020. But now, the organization admits they are behind in that goal. According to the group, the overall U.S. high school graduation rate stands at 75%, and we still have about 7,000 students dropping out of high school every single day.

Project Success, a program run by the 100 Black Men of Atlanta (of which I’m a member), is trying to help as well. Project Success identifies then provides mentoring for at-risk students. The students get the tutoring and skills to graduate from high school and receive the financial aid to go to college. We need a Project Success in every city and in every neighborhood in America. But, we don’t have that, so we need you.

Here’s what I’m asking you to do. If you know of people or programs that are working to attack this crisis, or if you have ideas or even questions, I want to hear about it. Share your thoughts and spread the word with me, @tjholmes, and with the @BETdontsleep community.

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Graduation Season Fri, 01 Jun 2012 15:42:16 +0000 tjholmes I don’t know when I first knew for sure that I was going to go to college. I think it was somewhere around birth. For that, my parents are owed a “thank you” from me, the government, and taxpayers.

By first ensuring that I would graduate from high school, my parents predetermined that I would earn an estimated $130,000 more over my lifetime than a high school dropout. And by going even further to ensure I went to and graduated from college, my parents padded my salary even more. A college grad like me will make $1 million more over a lifetime than a non-college graduate.

What does that mean to you? Since they guaranteed I’d make more money in my lifetime by graduating from high school and college, my parents gave the government a gift of increased tax revenue. High school dropouts aren’t able to earn and, therefore, contribute as much in taxes, so local, state and federal governments miss out on hundreds of billions in potential income. Since my parents guaranteed that I’d be contributing more to government revenues with the higher salary I could command from my education, they helped out their fellow taxpayers by keeping me from relying on government-funded programs.

In a way, then, we can all thank my parents. Because of them, I honestly believe my fate was sealed at birth. I wasn’t allowed to fail. It was never an option. My mother is a retired elementary school teacher. My dad was my high school principal. Needless to say, education was a focus around the Holmes house.

The fates of a lot of you young folks are being sealed right now because another graduation season is upon us. I’ve thought about my own parents as I’ve seen other families at restaurants around town having graduation dinners with their new grads. It’s such a celebratory season for beaming families who are so proud of what these young people have accomplished so far, and they’re hopeful about the years to come. You can’t help but smile at what is one of those signature, joyous moments in life for a family. But I find this season to be downright depressing, too.

Let me ask: when was your fate sealed… and who helped seal it? Share with me, @tjholmes, and join the @BETdontsleep community. We want to hear your stories.

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Be Ready by November (pt. 3) Thu, 24 May 2012 21:55:21 +0000 tjholmes I’m following up with more thoughts about what’s happening with voting rights laws in this country. This post goes directly to the brothers and sisters with criminal records because “time served” doesn’t always mean “rights restored.”  Here’s how voting rights changes could affect you – and what you can do about it.

Voting Rights for Felons

According to the reform group The Sentencing Project, more than 5 million people could be denied the right to vote because of a felony conviction. Most states allow felons to vote, but the rules are different in each state, and the process of restoring voting rights can be laborious and confusing. In some states, voting rights for convicted felons are not automatically restored after the sentence is over. In some states, felons with certain types of convictions aren’t allowed to vote. But then, in two other states, an incarcerated felon is allowed to vote. The laws are all over the place.

So, this Brennan Center link is a good place to start:  It shows you a simple map to help you understand what the general rules are in each state.

And, this Nonprofit Vote website is a great resource with a more detailed breakdown of the laws for felons in each state.

Finally, here is another Sentencing Project link that gives a full list of names, email address, and phone numbers for people in each state that can answer your questions and help you get your voting rights restored.

There’s still time to find out what you can do in your state to get yourself registered.  Remember when it comes to your right to vote — Don’t Sleep!

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Be Ready by November (pt. 2) Thu, 24 May 2012 17:50:54 +0000 tjholmes I wrote earlier, “There’s an organized effort to suppress the vote of people who generally vote for Democrats. There, I said it. Now…what are we going to do about it?” In this post, I want to talk directly to young people, especially our students out there – because your rights really could be at risk.

Voting Rights for Students

Young people, you really are going to have to be on top of things. Many changes to state voter ID laws will affect you. In some cases, a college ID won’t be accepted at the polling place. For instance, a new law in Pennsylvania requires an expiration date on your photo ID in order to vote. Well, guess what? Most colleges in Pennsylvania don’t put expiration dates on student IDs. If you’re not paying attention, things like that can keep you from voting.

Again, the NCLS link has a breakdown of the accepted forms of ID.

Also, you can go to this page on the NYU Brennan Center for Justice website. Click on your state, and you’ll be taken to a page with specific information about student residency and ID requirements.

This election year, one of the biggest lessons may be what’s happening off-campus.  Take time right now to check your ID and get yourself registered. When it comes to your right to vote — Don’t Sleep!

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Be Ready by November Thu, 24 May 2012 13:47:01 +0000 tjholmes There’s an organized effort to suppress the vote of people who generally vote for Democrats. There, I said it. Now…what are we going to do about it?

For now, I’ll leave it to others to fight in state legislatures and in the courts to overturn the plethora of laws put in place over the last few years that have changed the rules on early voting, changed the rules on voter registration, and changed the rules on what forms of ID are accepted at polling places. Those are fights worth fighting because these new laws are expected to disproportionately affect minority voters. But at this point, it’s too late to get many of these laws reversed in time for Election Day.

So, for now, you and I have to stomach the fact that the rules are going to be different this November, and we have to play by the new rules. What’s the alternative? Not voting? THAT IS NOT AN OPTION. Yes, we will all have to be a little more diligent than usual. Remember, no one has taken away your right to vote, rather voting has become a little more difficult and complicated in some cases than it’s been in recent years. We have four months to educate ourselves and prepare. And, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

Voter registration

Start here: the Election Assistance Commission . This link takes you directly to a form you should fill out and mail in if you need to register to vote. The link also includes a list of addresses in each state where you should send the form to get registered.

Another option: do a simple Google search. Type in “register to vote” followed by your state, i.e. “register to vote Georgia.” The first or second result you get will be for your state’s election board or secretary of state. Click on that link to be taken to a website that will give you state-specific instructions for voter registration and eligibility requirements.

Voter ID Laws

Next up, the National Conference of State Legislatures. This link takes you directly to a page on the NCSL website that has the most comprehensive and coherent breakdown of state laws regarding voter ID.  A lot of changes to voter ID laws have been implemented in the past few years, and this site is constantly updating with the latest changes to laws in every state. It also clearly breaks down existing voter ID requirements in each state. And, it’s all on one web page. This is a great resource.

I’m going to write next about how these voting rights changes are affecting some specific folks in our community.  For now, please check on your own registration today.  When it comes to your right to vote – Don’t Sleep!

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My Next Chapter Thu, 10 May 2012 23:58:43 +0000 tjholmes You all have heard the saying: “when I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you.”  I’m tired of having my opinion given to me, tired of being told what I think.

You see, in my 13 years in media, I’ve never had an African-American boss, but I have had a number of my bosses look me in the eye and tell me what black people think.  Tell me what black people like and don’t like.  Tell me what black people do and don’t do.  These were well-intentioned, even smart news managers and executives that believed they knew what they were talking about, and because of the positions they held, they wield incredible power in shaping public perception by deciding what stories are covered and how.

These experiences highlighted for me what so many black people feel in this country:  that they are being defined by others, that they are being misrepresented on television, that no one is looking out for them, and that there’s a perspective missing.

We now have a game-changing, difference-making opportunity to tip the scales in another direction with “Don’t Sleep!”  There is nothing like it on television, but I would argue that there needs to be.  There is nowhere on television our community can turn when they get home at night to see people who look like them and talk like them who are bringing attention and perspective to topics that matter to them.

“Don’t Sleep!” will not be just another late-night show, not just another news show, not just another debate show, and not just another entertainment show.  Our goal is to infuse “Don’t Sleep!” with elements of all of that and always strike the right tone of smarts and wit to take on the seriousness and the silliness of the world around us.

Before making the decision to take on this new venture, I often thought of it and referred to it as an opportunity.  But it didn’t take long before I also considered it a responsibility.  I couldn’t pass up this chance to use my personality, my personal background, and my professional experience to give my community a voice and nightly presence on national TV.  So we no longer have others defining us and telling us what we think.  Now, we can tell the world ourselves.

Thank you for your love and support over the years.  I would not be here without you.  I hope I can continue to call on you.  Because I will.  Don’t Sleep!

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