Mar 22 2015

This Week… Color of Violence 4

I am sorry that I have been unable to post here for most of this month. I am absolutely swamped with work. I have been giving presentations, organizing actions, facilitating workshops, writing reports and more.

This week brings the Color of Violence 4 gathering to Chicago. I am so excited and can’t wait to participate. You can find the schedule here. Registration is closed but if you are in town you can try to sign up onsite. No promises that you will actually be able to attend.

I am especially excited to be part of an exciting plenary on Thursday evening.

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Looking forward to seeing some of you at COV!

Mar 07 2015

Video: Restoring Justice

I had the great privilege to speak on a panel about the school to prison pipeline and restorative justice on Thursday. The panel was organized by the School Project to celebrate the premiere of a new short documentary produced by young filmmakers from Free Spirit Media.

You can watch the documentary below. It’s very good. Also, a couple of months ago, a group of restorative justice practitioners (including me) completed a short document laying out the principles of RJ. You download that HERE.

Mar 06 2015

Video: Reparations NOW

Regular readers of this blog know that I and many others in Chicago have been engaged in a revived fight to pass a reparations ordinance for Burge police torture survivors.

Over the past few months, there have been protests, social media discussions, meetings, and other actions demanding #ReparationsNOW. Below is a new video edited by Tom Callahan with music by FM Supreme that captures some of the organizing of the past few weeks.

Mar 03 2015

Resisting the Blank Look of Defeat in the Second City

Last week, I stood beside a ‘peace’ table looking into the faces of some young Black men. I’m the featured speaker for a short Black history month program they’ve organized. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say. All I know is that I have 5 to 10 minutes to fill. Sister Donna tells me to share inspirational words about Black culture. I’m at a loss. I wish that I had asked more questions about the event in advance. I rack my brain and decide to improvise. I talk about how I became politicized about the criminal punishment system. I tell a story.

As I talk, I stress the importance of affirming that Black is in fact beautiful. I talk a lot about resistance. I look into the eyes of some of the young men standing in a semi circle around me. I wonder if my words resonate. I end my speech with words written by Assata Shakur which have been popularized through the ongoing Black lives matter protests:

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

We chant the words in unison. Our voices becoming progressively louder and stronger. I am finished. The young man who had introduced me then asks a question: “What stood out to you from Ms. K’s speech?” He quickly adds: “Or feel free to share any other thoughts.” He points to a talking piece on the ‘peace’ table and I hand it over to the young man to my left who promptly passes it on to the young man next to him like it’s a hot potato.

My stomach drops. I’m now silently dreading the responses. Then the young man holding the talking piece says that he appreciated my emphasis on the need to keep fighting to resist oppression. I feel my shoulders begin to drop from my ears. The tension in my gut dissipates as more people share their comments and thoughts. One young person says that he had never thought to connect Mike Brown’s body lying in the street for hours with lynching. He offered that dead bodies lie for hours in his neighborhood and that he would have a new perspective from now on. Another young man mentioned that he appreciates chanting Assata’s words which he has never heard before. More people speak. One young person says that he thought it was impossible to beat the system but that my opening story made him reconsider.

All of the young Black men in his group have been or are in conflict with the law. The program that they are part of focuses on using restorative justice as the basis for relationship-building and transformation. Some of the young men in the circle wear the blank look of defeat like a second skin. A few words won’t change that, I know. But I hope that a few sparks are ignited. I hope.

As I am driving North leaving Back of the Yards, my phone rings. It’s a voice that I know but can’t place: “It’s Jeff*,” the voice says. I’m taken back 3 years. Suddenly, I’m not in my car but sitting across from Jeff at Burger King. His sister is next to me. We’ve just come from the police station.

Jeff was arrested with a friend for basically being young and Black while standing on the street. When I arrive at the station with his sister, we’re told that he’s being released with an informal station adjustment. Those are still considered arrests that stay on one’s record. When we first see Jeff walking toward us, he appears to have shrunk two inches. Shoulders slumped and head bowed, he’s not looking at us. I ask if he is OK. He mumbles something indecipherable. I ask if he is hungry and he shrugs. I interpret this as a yes. As I stare at him across the table, he too wears the blank look of defeat. I wish that he would show a flash of emotion: anger, sadness, anything. But he just looks so tired, wrung out, resigned. He seems to have no fight left.

Jeff and the young men who I met last week are the victims of a police department in this city that routinely brutalizes and crushes black people. It’s the daily, relentless breaking of spirits and of people that is so routine it doesn’t garner a single paragraph in any local newspaper.

I am so happy to hear Jeff’s voice. I ask how he is doing and he replies: “I wanted to call to say that I’m not broken. I’m OK, Ms. K. I was thinking of you, I think of you often and I wanted you to know. I’m OK.” I’m on Lakeshore Drive and I need to pull over but I can’t. So I just sob on the phone. I tell him that I am so happy to hear his voice and to know that he is OK. We talk for a bit longer and promise to keep in better touch.

Yesterday, I stood in a semi-circle in the Chicago cold listening to mostly young Black people speaking about resilience, struggle, history, rage, and love. I look into their faces and there is no defeat in their eyes. I wish that the young men I spoke to last week were here, standing beside me. I wish they could hear Ethan’s clarion call of resistance. Shut it down, he shouts. We in the crowd yell back, Shut it down. We’ve gathered to protest ongoing Chicago police torture. We’ve come together to demand reparations for Jon Burge’s torture survivors.

This is beautiful resistance. Before we break for the night, we form two circles: one large one and one in the middle made up of those whose voices must be centered in this struggle (young black people, torture survivors, Native Americans, and more). We are holding hands and together we chant:

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

photo  by Red Schulte (3/2/15)

photo by Red Schulte (3/2/15)

Mar 02 2015

Update on the Burge Police Torture Reparations Struggle

As many of you know, I am on the advisory board of the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials (CJTM) and my organization Project NIA is also very involved in the current struggle to pass the Burge Police Torture Reparations Ordinance. Below is an update on the reparations fight written by CJTM. Join us in the struggle.

The movement to pass the Burge Police Torture Reparations Ordinance is alive and well and building momentum each and every day! We are excited to share with you several promising developments and invite you to join the struggle by attending an upcoming rally, series of teach-ins on the Chicago Police torture cases, and meetings at Chicago’s City Council.

photo by Kelly Hayes (3/1/15)

photo by Kelly Hayes (3/1/15)

Election Results

After Tuesday’s election, we now have two mayoral candidates in the race. Cook County Commissioner Jesus Chuy Garcia has endorsed the reparations ordinance. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, on the other hand, has not endorsed the ordinance. CTJM continues to demand that Mayor Emanuel fully support the ordinance and call for an immediate hearing on the ordinance in Chicago City Council’s Finance Committee. (#RahmRepNow).

Homan Square Exposed, Rally Tomorrow at 6pm

Since the election, the Chicago Police Department’s use of coercive, torturous and abusive tactics are being raised again in the media in response to a series of articles published by Spencer Ackerman in the Guardian about the disappearance of arrestees for excessive number of hours at the Chicago Police Department’s Homan Square. Many in the media, including Chris Hayes of MSNBC, have noted Chicago’s troubled history with police torture, citing the Burge torture cases and Mayor Emanuel’s failure to provide reparations to the Chicago Police Torture survivors.

Today, in response to these articles and mounting public outcry to all acts of law enforcement violence, there is a rally, Reparations Not Black Sites: A Rally for a Run Off, at Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington at 6 p.m.

Upcoming Events: #Teach Burge, City Council Hearings, and an Exhibition-In

Further, in support of the Reparations campaign and political self-education, CTJM and Project NIA are launching City Wide Teach-Ins on the Burge Torture cases, entitled #TeachBurge. We are calling on teachers, educators, organizers and activists to conduct teach-ins on the cases from March 9 through March 22, and we have created a series of materials for you to use here. One of the first Teach-Ins will be at the Hull House on March 10, from 4 to 6 p.m., please rsvp here if you would like to attend.

Members of CTJM, Project NIA and supporters plan to pack the City Council’s Finance Committee meeting on March 16 at 10 a.m. and the City’s Council meeting on March 18 at 10 a.m., and demand a hearing on the Reparations Ordinance.  The ordinance was filed in October of 2013, and it has sat in the Finance Committee for over a year and half without any action on it. The torture survivors and their family members have waited long enough to be heard and for justice.

Both meetings will be held at City Hall, 2nd Floor, 121 N. LaSalle Street, Chicago, Illinois.  We are trying to get a head count on the number of people who can attend either or both of these meetings.  Please join us for one or both days at City Hall, and fill out this survey to let us know when you can attend.

Immediately following Wednesday’s City Council meeting, there will be a pop-up art exhibit on reparations. The Exhibition-In, March 18, 12 – 5pm on the 5th floor of City Hall, will address police torture under Burge and underscore the need for immediate redress through the Reparations Ordinance. Individuals and groups are welcome to attend.

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Support the Campaign

Finally, CTJM is comprised of all volunteers and this is a truly grassroots campaign seeking the passage of the Reparations Ordinance. While we have accomplished so much based on peoples’ power, creativity and generous in kind donations, we still are need of money to help support the work we do.  Please consider donating to CTJM here to help further support the campaign to pass the Reparations Ordinance.

With your support we know we can get the Reparations Ordinance passed! If you would like to get more involved with CTJM, please email justicememorials@gmail.com and for more information on the ordinance or the Chicago police torture cases check out www.chicagotorture.org.

Watch the 2/14 Rally for Reparations: A People’s Hearing below:

Feb 23 2015

Guest Post: Alternatives to Incarceration: Be Careful What You Wish For

I am grateful to Dr. Susan Sered for allowing me to re-publish this post from her blog. Dr. Sered is a well-respected sociologist and her latest book is titled “Can’t Catch a Break Gender, Jail, Drugs, and the Limits of Personal Responsibility.” The book is currently sitting in my TO READ pile and I can’t wait to get to it soon.

As awareness is growing of the financial and human costs associated with mass incarceration, we’re hearing talk from politicians on both sides of the aisle (and, believe it or not, even from the Koch Brothers) about the need for “alternatives to incarceration” (ATIs).

The term “alternatives to incarceration” takes for granted that we are talking about ways to handle criminals who otherwise would need to be incarcerated — that incarceration is a reasonable baseline against which to measure “alternatives.” In light of the over-representation of Americans of color and low-income Americans in jails and prisons, however, it’s necessary to be careful about any sort of presumption of correlation between criminality and incarceration. In fact, about a third of people locked up in the US are awaiting trial; that is, they have not been convicted of a crime. Another third are locked up because they violated the terms of probation or parole; that is; the “criminal” act was not sufficiently egregious to require imprisonment but a subsequent action – often simply not showing up for a meeting with a parole or probation officer, or failing to keep up restitution payments or money owed in court fees – was the reason for incarceration. And 97% of federal and state criminal prosecutions are resolved by plea bargain – often accepted by defendants out of fear that if they don’t accept the deal they will be locked up even longer — rather than by trial.

Given these numbers, it’s easier to make a case for abolition than for “alternatives to incarceration.” But that is not the direction in which public discourse seems to be moving. To the contrary, the increasingly popular sentiment goes something like this: A whole lot of people sitting in jails and prisons are mentally ill; they are drug users who need treatment more than they need punishment. Echoing this sentiment, Los Angeles County – the US county with the largest number of incarcerated people – recently approved a $1.9 billion proposal to tear down Men’s Central Jail and construct a 4,885-bed “Consolidated Correctional Treatment Facility”. And while “treatment” certainly sounds beneficial, the content of that treatment has yet to be spelled out.

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Over the past five years I followed a cohort of Massachusetts women who cycle in and out of prison as well as a variety of treatment programs. All of the women, at some point in their lives, have been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder (most commonly substance abuse, bipolar disorder, PTSD). Overall, these twenty-six women spent far more time in treatment than in correctional settings. Yet, at the end of five years only three women had settled into reasonably secure housing, stable employment and long-term desistance from substance abuse.

Typically, treatment programs include some combination of pharmaceutical, twelve-step and psychotherapeutic components. Most of the women I have come to know are prescribed mind-boggling assortments of psychotropic medication, some of which make them, as Elizabeth (a white woman in her early forties, Elizabeth was homeless for a decade) used to say, into “a space shot” who shuffles around in a daze that puts her at elevated risk for being robbed or assaulted. Whether anti-anxiety, anti-depression or anti-psychotic drugs, these medications are not intended to cure the underlying problems such as sexual assault and homelessness that lead to anxiety, depression and substance abuse. Rather, psychotropic medications are prescribed in order to manage the individual’s response those problems.

While not all treatment programs prescribe psychotropic medication, virtually all incorporate – explicitly or implicitly — twelve step ideology and practices. Treatment facilities tend to be plastered with twelve step slogans such as “Let Go and Let God” and “Cultivate an attitude of gratitude,” and formal AA/NA meetings typically are part of the treatment regime. With emphasis on admitting one’s powerlessness (Step 1) and making moral inventories of one’s faults (Step 4), these programs do not seem to offer the women I have come to know a meaningful script for re-organizing their lives. When I visited Joy, who has been homeless for nearly fifteen years and nearly died as a consequence of a brutal sexual assault, several weeks into her stay in a treatment facility she enthusiastically explained to me that, “I’m learning that my problems are in my head.” Unfortunately, her problems also were in the real world: Less than a year later she was back on the streets where she was sexually accosted by a police officer who then arrested her for solicitation.

Most treatment programs in Massachusetts also include some sort of psychotherapy, and nearly all of the women I know have been treated by multiple therapists over the years, sometimes beginning in adolescence or even childhood. With its focus on the individual psyche, psychotherapy addresses personal flaws such as poor impulse control, allowing oneself to be a victim, and struggles to “get over” past traumas. But as Elizabeth explains, “I don’t need to talk about my problems. I need a place to live so that I won’t be scared all of the time.” This does not mean that therapy is useless; it does mean that “talk is cheap” without the material conditions that permit women like Elizabeth and Joy to build a secure life.

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There is little evidence pointing to long-term success for any particular drug treatment modality. Studies showing positive outcomes typically fail to track program participants for long enough time to establish meaningful rates of success, look only at participants who completed the program, fail to control for confounding variables, or look at very small numbers of participants from the start. The absence of evidence for the success of treatment programs is especially glaring when the treatment is coerced or carried out in a coercive situation. It may be tempting to believe that even if treatment doesn’t help everyone, at least it doesn’t hurt. Yet, as we’ve learned from the past — from efforts to“cure” homosexuality to the tranquilizers (“mother’s little helper“) of the 1960s,  when a patient’s ideas or behaviors challenge social hierarchies of race, gender, sexual orientation or class, treatment that is ostensibly for the patient’s own good may be used to bring the “deviant” individual back into line. As those of us old enough to remember Jack Nicholson’s performance in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest can attest, therapeutic interventions aimed at “getting inside” the patient’s head can carry heavy costs indeed.

The murky line between punishment and treatment has not been lost on some of the corporations involved in the prison industry. Correctional Healthcare Companies, for example, has expanded beyond providing medical services to prisons and now offers services for the “full spectrum” of “offenders” lives: “pre-custody, in custody, and post-custody,” a timeline that perhaps says more than the company intended about American understandings of criminality.

Feb 16 2015

Image of the Day

“Beautiful contribution from sandra-nadine for #BlackLivesMatter’s #VisionsOfABlackFuture during this year’s #BlackFutureMonth. We say abolish the prison industrial complex yesterday! End mass incarceration! Liberation now!”

image by Sandra N. Khalifa (2015)

image by Sandra N. Khalifa (2015)

Feb 15 2015

‘We Must Love Each Other:’ Lessons in Struggle and Justice from Chicago

The national protests catalyzed by the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson last August continue even as many (including the mainstream media) have moved on. Some critics have suggested that the uprisings/rebellions are leaderless, lack concrete demands and/or are without clear strategy. Each of these critiques is easily refuted so I won’t concern myself with them here.

In Chicago, many have used the energy and opening created by these ongoing protests to re-animate existing long-term anti-police violence campaigns. On Saturday afternoon, hundreds of people gathered at the Chicago Temple to show our love for police torture survivors on the day after Jon Burge was released from house arrest.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (2/14/15 @ Chicago Temple)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (2/14/15 @ Chicago Temple)

The gathering was billed as a people’s hearing and rally in support of a reparations ordinance currently stalled in the Chicago City Council. Politicians, faith leaders, and community activists spoke at the event. Poets exhorted the crowd. But the most impactful, poignant and powerful words came from the Burge torture survivors themselves.

Burge Torture Survivor Darrell Cannon (photo by Sarah Jane Rhee, 2/14/15)

Burge Torture Survivor Darrell Cannon (photo by Sarah Jane Rhee, 2/14/15)

Read more »

Feb 11 2015

Prison Prep For Black Girls…

Last week, the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) and Columbia Law School’s Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies released a report titled “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected.”

The report found that while black boys were suspended three times more than white boys, black girls were suspended SIX times more than white girls.

source: Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies

source: Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies

For those of us who focus on ending the school-to-prison pipeline, this finding is unfortunately not a surprise. The trend toward the increasing criminalization of black girls in schools and society is not new.

Recently, Dr. Connie Wun published a very good article (PDF) about the role of anti-black racism in school discipline and punishment for girls. I highly recommend reading the article for a better understanding of how & why black girls are particularly targeted for harsh punishment in schools.

Regular readers might recall that I wrote about a Black girl named Dorothy Young a couple of years ago. Dorothy was sentenced to a reformatory for allegedly cursing at a white boy in 1969:

For allegedly calling a white boy a “bastard,” telling him where to kiss her and using the words “damn” and “goddamn” on a school bus, Dorothy Young, 14, of Sylvester, Ga., is confined indefinitely to a reformatory known as the Regional Youth Development Center in Sandersville, Ga. She is the first child sent there from her county in three years.

Dorothy’s sister, Yvonnne, 11, was accused of using similar profane language to a white boy a year older than she and is serving a year’s probation.

You can read the rest of Dorothy and her sister’s stories here to see how schools have played a role in criminalizing black girls for decades. Unfortunately as the “Black Girls Matter: Pushed out, Overpoliced, and Underprotected” report makes clear this issue remains undertheorized and too often neglected since the focus has been disproportionately on the criminalization of black boys in schools. However with scholarship like Dr. Wun’s and the report by AAPF along with on the ground organizing, maybe we will begin to better address black girls’ needs and concerns.

Feb 07 2015

Image of the Day: #ReparationsNOW

Yesterday evening, I joined friends from the Chicago Light Brigade for an action at Rahm Emanuel’s house. We brought a message to him and made sure that it was in lights so he wouldn’t miss it.

photo by Kelly Hayes (2/6/15)

photo by Kelly Hayes (2/6/15)

photo by Rachel Hoffman (2/6/15)

photo by Rachel Hoffman (2/6/15)

photo by Rachel Hoffman (2/6/15)

photo by Rachel Hoffman (2/6/15)