Oct 25 2014

Damo, We Speak Your Name: Resisting Police Violence in Chicago

Dominique (Damo) Franklin, we speak your name. Your (imperfect) life mattered. Look at what you’ve inspired…

In May, I wrote about the death of a young man known to his friends as Damo at the hands of the Chicago Police Department (CPD). Months later, answers about his killing are still elusive. To conclude my post about Damo’s death, I wrote:

“He was managed throughout his life through the lens of repression, crime, and punishment. And now he is dead and those of us left behind must find a way to heal while building more justice. We’ll continue to fight in Damo’s memory because we won’t allow his death to have been in vain…”

We are keeping our promise. On Wednesday, hundreds of people participated in manifestations of Damo’s legacy.

Damo, in a couple of weeks, your friends and peers are on their way to the United Nations in Geneva to tell your story that of countless others who have perished and been tortured at the hands of the CPD.

Your death has inspired this song though we would rather have you alive and here with us. The telling of police torture is a mourning song. But the protest on Wednesday evening reminds me that it is also a freedom song.

Damo, we speak your name. Your (imperfect) life matters.

At Wednesday’s protest, your friends and peers invoked your name; placing it alongside Roshad, Deshawn, Rekia and Mike’s.

“Protect and serve that’s a lie, you don’t care when black kids die.”

I am really tired and I am incredibly inspired. I am still struggling to find the words to express my feelings. So I am going to rely on photos taken by friends and comrades to end this post. I am privileged and humbled to organize with a wonderful group of people. I wish Damo was here to join us.

Damo, we speak your name. Your (imperfect) life still matters… In your memory, we will continue working to shut down oppression.

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Oct 21 2014

Musical Interlude: Prison Bound

I was introduced to this song by my Goddaughter who is a fan of this band.

Oct 20 2014

Walking in Lawndale For Marissa and Other DV Survivors

It was another busy weekend. On Saturday, I was privileged to participate in the 2nd Annual Domestic Violence Awareness Month Walk organized by my friends at A Long Walk Home. This year, they chose to honor Marissa Alexander.

Below are some pictures from the march taken by my friend Sarah Jane Rhee.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (10/18/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (10/18/14)

“Who are we? Families”

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (10/18/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (10/18/14)

“What do we do? Stop The Violence.”

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (10/18/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (10/18/14)

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Oct 18 2014

Guest Post: ‘Not Made for TV:’ Ferguson Reflections by Kelly Hayes

Continuing the series of reflections by local Chicago organizers who traveled to St. Louis and Ferguson last weekend is my comrade Kelly Hayes. I am so happy to feature Kelly’s words and photos today.

It’s been about three days since I returned from Ferguson October, and my body and mind are finally starting to settle back into the life I know. A number of people have asked me about what I saw and experienced there, and I’ve generally responded with simplistic, vague statements like, “It was intense.” I’ve done this partly because I haven’t fully processed all that I saw and heard out there, and partly because I know that as soon as I start to speak, I’ll be walking a fine line between bearing witness and co-opting someone else’s narrative and struggle. Because while I am a person of color, I am not black, and I do not live in a community where my life has been deemed utterly disposable. Were my partner and I to have children, I would not spend my days wondering if some police officer would imagine their cellphone was a weapon, or simply gun them down out of a blind contempt for all things black.

This disposability of blackness is not my daily reality, so I know I must take care in how I explain what I saw and experienced on those streets, amongst those brave people.

photo by Kelly Hayes

photo by Kelly Hayes

I arrived in St. Louis on Saturday. The atmosphere was much as I expected it to be, with props and banners and high spirits. There were smiles. There was laughter. There was spectacle. I was glad I walked with those people, some of whom traveled great distances just to participate in that march, before hopping back on their buses for the long trip home. I was glad I was there, but even as we marched, I thought, “This is the gentle part.” And it was.

photo by Kelly Hayes

photo by Kelly Hayes

Mike Brown means, we’ve got to fight back!

That night, I arrived at the scene of Mike Brown’s murder around 7:00pm. A small crowd had formed. I took photographs and talked to a few people. The scene was calm. Then, out of the relative quiet, I heard chanting, as hundreds marched up the street to the memorial. At that point, the scene became infused with an energy I can hardly describe. Despite my exhaustion and my bad back, I could only feel what was being expressed all around me: uncertainty, heartbreak, rage, and an aching need for some kind of justice. But there was something else in the air. Ferocity. These young people meant it when they chanted, “We’re young! We’re strong! We’re marching all night long!”

The crowd moved fast, and I’m not actually as young and strong as I used to be, but I had no trouble keeping up that night. The energy of the march pulled me away from myself. All I could think was, “Take pictures, tweet, get this out there.” It seemed like the one thing that I could do that was of any real value. I could bear witness, and try to show people, in real time, just how powerful these moments were.

And they were powerful.

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Oct 16 2014

Guest Post: From St. Louis, On Peace & Protest by Page May

This post is by Page May who is an organizer with We Charge Genocide and will be part of the youth delegation traveling to Geneva in November 2014. I am so happy to be able to feature Page’s brilliant voice here.

I am still processing my thoughts on the brief time I spent in St. Louis. I was deeply moved by the energy, love, and intensity of the protestors, particularly the many young people leading the march.

photo by Page May (St. Louis, 10/11/14)

photo by Page May (St. Louis, 10/11/14)

After the rally, a White Missourian approached me asking what I thought. We shared enthusiasm for the day’s events but our conversation ended when she said she “only hopes it stays peaceful…that some people have broken windows and started looting…which ruins it for everyone and takes away from the whole thing.” When I returned to Chicago, I tried to stay updated by following #FergusonOctober. I found myself similarly frustrated by the pattern of outrage over the police using such excessive force on “peaceful protestors.”

There is nothing peaceful about having to fight for your people’s lives and nothing surprising about police violence against Black people. This White, liberal, insistence on “peaceful protest” and what qualifies as such is at best misunderstanding and at worst inherently antagonistic to Black struggle.

photo by Page May (St. Louis, 10/11/14)

photo by Page May (St. Louis, 10/11/14)

While processing my thoughts on this, I’ve found myself referring to one of my favorite poems, by Ethan Viets-VanLear- a co-organizer in We Charge Genocide and fellow UN delegate.

And the police of the block that got a vendetta on every Black boy child;
The perpetrators of this fabricated peace we’ve apparently disturbed!
I was born on the gutter
handcuffed on the curb.
I was born in a dungeon,
medicated and shackled,
smothered so I couldn’t speak.

I find so much wisdom here in Ethan’s words. His recognition that what- as well as who/when/where/how- is defined and understood as “peace” is a fabrication that normalizes an anti-black status-quo. Moreover, that the construction of “the peace” is not only exclusionary of Black people, but positioned in fixed opposition to us: We are implicitly (as Black people who exist) and explicitly (as Black people who resist) in disturbance of “the peace.” And as those enlisted to serve and protect “the peace,” the police have always been tasked with keeping Black people in our place- as slaves, criminals, deviants, and dangerous. The police are, as Ethan describes, “the perpetrators of this fabricated peace we’ve apparently disturbed.” They have always been at war with us. Our history in this country is one of captivity and genocide- dungeons and shackles.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (St. Louis, 10/11/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (St. Louis, 10/11/14)

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Oct 15 2014

Applauding Black Death in the Hour of Chaos…

You need not die today.
Stay here — through pout or pain or peskyness.
Stay here. See what the news is going to be tomorrow.

- Gwendolyn Brooks

On Monday night, I heard a 19 year old young black man say that he wasn’t afraid to die for justice in Ferguson. Some in the assembled multi-racial audience applauded. I wanted to throw up.

photo by Page May (St. Louis, 10/11/14)

photo by Page May (St. Louis, 10/11/14)

What does it mean to be willing to die for a cause in a society that already considers you to be hyper-disposable? Your evisceration, your death is desirable and actively pursued. What if the revolutionary act in such a society, in such a world, is to live out loud instead? Or simply to live.

I wanted to yell: “No. stay a while. We don’t need any more black 19 year olds in caskets.” How are we to reconcile a call for the state to stop killing us with a willingness to die for that end?

I can’t get the clapping out of my head.

What were the people who clapped applauding? Did they clap because they thought the young man was courageous? Were they clapping because they too were prepared to die? Did they clap because they were trapped in a 20th century documentary titled ‘real freedom fighters are willing to die for justice?’ Were they clapping in support of black martyrdom? Were they applauding black death?

Why were they clapping? I can’t stop thinking of it.

On Saturday, while we were in St. Louis, my comrade Kelly took a photo of a young woman standing on the bed of a truck exuberantly chanting: “Back up! Back up! We want freedom, freedom! All these racist ass cops, we don’t need ‘em, need ‘em!”

photo by Kelly Hayes (St. Louis, 10/11/14)

photo by Kelly Hayes (St. Louis, 10/11/14)

Some people chanted along with her while the familiar refrain of ‘hands up, don’t shoot’ reverberated across most of the crowd. Fists up. Voices loud. All around me was love and life. I saw the young woman as I marched past her. In looking at the photograph later, I thought that it captured the youthful resistance that permeated the St. Louis march/rally and has characterized so much of this Ferguson moment.

photo by Page May (St. Louis, 10/11/14)

photo by Page May (St. Louis, 10/11/14)

When the young man on Monday’s panel described justice as the prosecution of officer Darren Wilson, the man who killed Mike Brown, I felt as if I was dissolving. Maybe I left my body for a second or a minute or I don’t know how long. This is the ‘justice’ for which this young man was prepared to die? This small, narrow, insignificant in the larger scheme of the world thing? We have failed our young by not creating an expansive idea of justice. And then I thought about the fact that his peers had mentioned that they had “nothing” to begin with and I knew that justice would center on addressing that as THE issue.

I kept my mouth shut. I hope that the young man stays in the struggle and that he like so many others in Ferguson and across the country refuses to be quiet. Most of all though, I wish for him a long and healthy life in a future with more justice and some peace.

Graves grow no green that you can use.
Remember, green’s your color. You are Spring
. – G. Brooks

Oct 14 2014

Guest Post: #Ferguson Reflections by Sarah Jane Rhee (words & photos)

A number of Chicagoans responded to the call to come to St. Louis and Ferguson for a weekend of resistance as part of Ferguson October. I attended a march in St. Louis on Saturday and several other friends from Chicago spent all or part of their weekends in Ferguson. I am still sorting out my thoughts and feelings but I asked some friends to share theirs if they were willing. This week, I will post the responses that I receive. Today, my friend Sarah reflects on her experience through words and her photos.

It’s Sunday morning, 8am, and my daughter Cadence and our friends Pidgeon and Mika are slowly waking up in our hotel room in St. Louis. I decide to use this time before we check out to edit my photos from the night before taken at the vigil at Mike Brown’s memorial and the subsequent protest at the Ferguson police station. While I wait for the photos to download onto my laptop, I read Mariame’s post from Friday, and see this video of Ethan, a young person I care very much about, and my heart cracks as I recall the events of the previous night when I watched him unleash his anger and pain in the faces of the Ferguson police officers lined up in front of the protesters. I then return to my downloaded photos, and the very first one I see is that of Mike Brown’s mother and family leading the march after the vigil to the police station, and that’s when my already cracked heart breaks wide open and I start weeping.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (Ferguson, 10/11/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (Ferguson, 10/11/14)

The night before at the Ferguson PD protest, I witnessed several young men from Chicago whom I care about very much passionately and furiously express their anger and pain at the police officers who were lined up in front of them a few feet away, separated from them only by a thin yellow police tape that poorly represented the chasm between these two groups.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (Ferguson, 10/11/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (Ferguson, 10/11/14)

As I watched, I was worried for their safety because I knew these officers could care less about the lives of these young Black men, that they may as well all be Mike Brown or nameless. I also recognized these young people’s need for an outlet for the feelings of anguish and rage that I don’t have adequate words with which to describe them.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (Ferguson, 10/11/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (Ferguson, 10/11/14)

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Oct 13 2014

Guest Post: Visiting Sammy by Liz Alexander

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

-Billie Holiday

I approach my first check point before entering the prison. I present my license and inform the guardsmen that I am visiting from out of town. I park my car and join the long line of predominantly Black and Brown women and their children. I recognize familiar faces from the last couple of times I’ve been here and we greet each other with ours eyes and a smile. As I approach the window, I take his inmate number out, ready to recite it on command in order to avoid frustrating the officer behind the glass. Unlike the other women, I have not memorized it yet. In fact, I refuse to do so. Even after eight years. I have made a commitment to maintain his humanity, regardless of the circumstances.

… “ After 18 hours of deliberations, a jury convicted Sammy Cooper, 21, of aggravated manslaughter in the death of 27-year-old Mike Rhodes, of East Orange, and using a steering-wheel lock to strike 14 blows to his head and face. Cooper, who faces 10 to 30 years in state prison, was also convicted of unlawful possession of a weapon late Tuesday in Newark Superior Court….Essex County Assistant Prosecutor Frederick Elflein said a taped police confession the day of the March 17, 2007, incident provided strong enough evidence to make this a clear-cut case. “The jury paid very close attention,” he said. “Even though in the confession (Cooper) said it was an accident and didn’t intend to kill (Rhodes), it was pretty chilling.”

On Wednesday, February 4, 2009 at 7:25pm, The New Jersey Star Ledger published an article, “East Orange man guilty of killing man with steering-wheel lock.” What the article failed to mention is that Sammy Cooper was abandoned by his father after his parents’ divorced when he was six years old; when he was twelve he was falsely incarcerated for a crime he did not commit and was bullied and harassed by the arresting officers. He was later acquitted. What the article failed to mention was that when he was fifteen, his mother died unexpectedly and he, the only one out of his siblings became a ward of the state. What the article failed to mention was that he had a mental illness and up until this incident, he himself was a victim. Is still a victim. No, this does not justify his actions or excuse him from accountability however what I find to be “pretty chilling,” is the lack of space for the acknowledgement of these other truths; the lack of space to be humanized.

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Oct 12 2014

The U.S. Tortures Children…

wrapsystem

“The Yell County Juvenile Detention Center uses this restraint mechanism called the “wrap system”. Some juvenile detainees call it “torture”. Now, the Arkansas Department of Human Services has sent a cease and desist letter to Yell County officials asking them to stop using the device.”(Source: Fox 16 News)

Oct 10 2014

Heading to #Ferguson…

It’s been a long week. Actually, it’s been a long few weeks. I have been working nonstop and I feel myself coming down with a cold.

Yet tomorrow I’ll be on a bus at 5 am heading to Ferguson Missouri with several comrades and friends. I’ll be participating in the mass march taking place on Saturday.

I wrote a few words recently about marching as protest and refusal so I won’t revisit the topic. I’ve said before that I didn’t expect to still be participating in such protests in my 40s for a variety of reasons. But here I am and I feel grateful that I am in good enough physical and mental health to do so.

So I will march tomorrow for the many young people, young black people in particular, who I love and want to be free from violence and oppression. I will march for my father who reminds me through his actions and his example that in the face of injustice one must always stand and be counted. I will march for myself, to remind myself that other people oppose genocide too.

Tonight, I saw a video of a young man who I have gotten to know and love over the years. He traveled to Ferguson from Chicago to participate in the weekend of resistance. I watched the video and felt gutted. But I am grateful that I saw it before boarding the bus to Ferguson.

I never forget that these protests are about real people and about our collective survival. I can’t forget because I am confronted almost daily with the raw pain and devastation that black evisceration engenders. So tomorrow, I am heading to Ferguson with Ethan’s anguish in my heart and on my mind. I’ll march in the hope that future young people will be spared.

fergusonresistance