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Four months after JR’s suspension, problems with racism persist at KPFA

July 2, 2013

by The People’s Minister of Information JR

On June 23, the Block Report Radio crew presented a proposal to the management of KPFA for a three-hour special highlighting the historical and political context of the upcoming California prison hunger strike to be broadcast on the airwaves of the only station on the dial that can be heard throughout two-thirds of the state.

As of press time, the proposal for the special, which we requested to air on Sunday, July 7, 3-6 p.m., the day before the strike is set to begin, has not been approved by new Interim General Manager Richard Pirodsky, who seems to be behaving very similarly to the old Interim General Manager Andrew Phillips, who was recently demoted because of his inability to resolve racial issues at the station.

Arthur League, Malcolm, Nadra Foster, JR at Black Dot 2011 by BR, web
All of Us or None member Arthur League, Young Malcolm Shabazz, former KPFA broadcaster Nadra Foster and the People’s Minister of Info JR were kicking it at the Black Dot in 2011. – Photo: Block Report
On June 30, the same Interim General Manager Richard Pirodsky approved a 10.5 hour broadcast called “Queer Voices: Beyond the Queer Mainstream” to air on the day of the Pride Parade. Pride is important to some people, but all can agree that the people celebrating Pride are not in a life or death situation like the California prison hunger strikers, who are vowing to starve themselves to death to bring an end to the torture that they have been forced to endure in the California penal system for decades.

According to the KPFA Mission Statement, that KPFA should “contribute to a lasting understanding between individuals of all nations, races, creeds and colors.” KPFA is not living up to its own creed when it ignores the fact that there are more Black people in prison now than were in slavery in 1850, yet KPFA is refusing to grant a substantial amount of time to the on-going human rights struggle of prisoners, who are mostly Black and Latino.

To date, I have been suspended from my Wednesday morning 8 a.m. drive time show for an unprecedented four months and counting, because KPFA’s CWA union aka the White Citizens Council has a number of bogus grievances against me, and they claim, according to Andrew Phillips, that I create “a hostile work environment.” When Local Station Board member Frank Sterling asked Phillips during a staff meeting what is the definition of a “hostile work environment,” he started stuttering and fumbling over his words before he admitted that “he has to find the definition.”

Currently KPFA and the five-station nationwide Pacifica network it founded 64 years ago is undertaking an investigation into the entire work environment at KPFA, including all aspects of the station and station management. The investigation is being run by Robert McCree. According to Summer Reece, the executive director of Pacifica, my suspension will be lifted only after this investigation is finished.

According to the KPFA Mission Statement, KPFA should “contribute to a lasting understanding between individuals of all nations, races, creeds and colors.”

I have been suspended since March 6 and never told why. How long do workplace investigations take? Or is the indefinite nature of my suspension something that is reserved for Black programmers? No one in management at the station or the network has claimed that I have committed any Federal Communications Commission (FCC) violations, but there’s a white programmer who did. Sasha Lilley, on her show Against the Grain, committed two FCC violations on Jan. 8 when she allowed the word “fuck” to be aired twice. Each time “fuck” was said it could have cost the station a $350,000 fine.

Since her FCC violations were committed, she was scheduled to do a book signing event and she is back on the air during her regular time. (Interestingly, Lilley, a member of KPFA’s paid staff, was the station’s program director when a weekly Saturday morning show produced by Youth Radio, led by youth of color, accidentally aired that same word. Though the show was popular, Lilley took it off the air permanently as punishment, even though, as with her own indiscretion, no FCC fine had been imposed. – ed.)

In about three weeks, KPFA will be begging for money again during its Summer Fund Drive running July 22 through Aug. 2. The Spring Drive reportedly fell short of its goal by over $50,000, which is understandable considering how the Black listening and broadcasting community have been jerked around over the last few months with my indefinite suspension, Black members of management getting their hours significantly cut, and white broadcasters organizing events for white broadcasters on Huey Newton’s birthday during Black History Month.

KPFA is not living up to its own creed when it ignores the fact that there are more Black people in prison now than were in slavery in 1850, yet KPFA is refusing to grant a substantial amount of time to the on-going human rights struggle of prisoners, who are mostly Black and Latino.

And now the station is vacillating on whether or not to grant three hours of special coverage to the California prison hunger strike. Pacifica and KPFA are definitely ruining their brand of “progressive” radio with all of this racist activity. Carrie Core, who was program director of KPFA until last year, said in her departing speech in April of 2012, “KPFA is the most racist, sexist, classist place in which I have ever worked.”

We must continue to fight for our voices to be heard because there is not another working radio antenna in the state that broadcasts with a signal as strong as KPFA’s 59,000 watts and that can talk to two-thirds of the prison state of California. Block Report Radio and the SF Bay View support the California prison hunger strike and we are urging all of our listeners and readers to do the same.

Pacifica Executive Director Summer Reece can be reached at Summer@pacifica.org or (510) 849-2590. I want to thank all of you who signed the petition (see “Bring back JR to KPFA now”) to restore me to the airwaves and contacted management at the station and the network on my behalf. But we can’t stop. We must loosen the grip of racism that is killing KPFA.

The People’s Minister of Information JR can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com.

 

5 thoughts on “Four months after JR’s suspension, problems with racism persist at KPFA

  1. Ann_Garrison

    I hope the show about the prison hunger strike is approved, but don't like to see the push to get it on the air described as competition with radical queer programming.

    Queer is a matter of life and death; the transgendered community suffers murder rates way out of proportion to its numbers in the population, and gay teenagers are still disproportionately prone to suicide.

    I'd like to see KPFA devote a whole weekly show to prisons. The U.S.A.'s savagely racist, world record breaking incarceration rate is one of the greatest ongoing mass atrocities in the world today, and last time I checked California's incarceration rate was second only to that of Texas.

    Reply
  2. John Mulligan

    "The U.S.A.'s savagely racist, world record breaking incarceration rate is one of the greatest ongoing mass atrocities in the world today." Please explain this comment.

    From 1976 to 2005, blacks committed more than 52% of all murders in America. In 2006, the black arrest rate for most crimes was two to nearly three times blacks’ representation in the population. Blacks constituted 39.3% of all violent-crime arrests, including 56.3% of all robbery and 34.5% of all aggravated-assault arrests, and 29.4% of all property-crime arrests. Violent crime has always been the leading driver of prison growth, especially since the 1990s. In state prisons, where 88% of the nation’s inmates are housed, violent and property offenders make up over 3 1/2 times the number of state drug offenders.

    Reply

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