Mar 30 2012

Guest Post: After Trayvon by Kay Whitlock and Nancy Heitzeg

After Trayvon Martin
by Kay Whitlock with Nancy A. Heitzeg

Tonight, Criminal Injustice (CI) is remembering Trayvon Martin in historical context, calling the names of at least a few of those who, over the centuries as well as today, perished alongside of him. We can’t list all of the names – they go into the millions. But we can invoke both the humanity of those whose deaths result from structural racism and inhumanity of those who do and permit the killing with a few images.

Ponder the images. Read the links – not all at once, but over time. Reflect on what you encounter.
Emmett Till
Medgar Evers

Fred Hampton and Mark Clark

Oscar Grant, Troy Davis, Amadou Diallou

Duanna Johnson, James Byrd Jr

Susan Bartholomew, Jose Holmes, James Barset, Ronald Madison

Donnell Herrington, Marcel Alexander, Chris Collins, Willie Lawrence, Henry Glover

Anthony Scott

Read more »

Mar 29 2012

Lil’ Wayne’s Budding Critique of the War on Drugs…

This past week Fareed Zakaria published an article about the U.S.’s failed “War on Drugs.” In it, he writes:

Over the past four decades, the U.S. has spent more than $1 trillion fighting the war on drugs. The results? In 2011 a global commission on drug policy issued a report signed by George Shultz, Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan; the ­archconservative Peruvian writer-politician Mario Vargas Llosa; former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker; and former Presidents of Brazil and Mexico Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Ernesto Zedillo. It begins, “The global war on drugs has failed … Vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs have clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption.” Its main recommendation is to “encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens.”

It’s no secret that I am slightly obsessed with Lil’ Wayne and not in a good way. Anyway, a young man who I am working with has picked up on this and it has become his mission in life (it seems) to convince me that Wayne has some socially redeeming qualities. He sent me some lyrics of Wayne’s song titled Misunderstood. Because I have such love and respect for the young man who sent these to me, I thought that I would take the time to highlight some lines from the song that discusses the toll that the war on drugs takes on young men of color. Honestly, these lyrics are undone for me by several others that seem to devolve into a rant about sex offenders. But I guess beggars can’t be choosers.

I Was Watching T.V. The Other Day Right
Got This White Guy Up There Talking About Black Guys
Talking About How Young Black Guys Are Targeted
Targeted By Who? America
You See One In Every 100 Americans Are Locked Up
One In Every 9 Black Americans Are Locked Up
And See What The White Guy Was Trying To Stress Was That
The Money We Spend On Sending A Mothaf**ka To Jail
A Young Mothaf**ka To Jail
Would Be Less To Send His Or Her Young Ass To College
See, And Another Thing The White Guy Was Stressing Was That
Our Jails Are Populated With Drug Dealers, You Know Crack/cocaine Stuff Like That
Meaning Due To The Laws We Have On Crack/cocaine And Regular Cocaine
Police Are Only, I Don’t Want To Say Only Right, But Shit
Only Logic By Riding Around In The Hood All Day
And Not In The Suburbs
Because Crack Cocaine Is Mostly Found In The Hood
And You Know The Other Thing Is Mostly Found In You Know Where I’m Going
But Why Bring A Mothaf**ka To Jail If It’s Not Gon Stand Up In Court
Cuz This Drug Aint That Drug, You Know Level 3, Level 4 Drug, Shit Like That
I Guess It’s All A Misunderstanding
I Sit Back And Think, You Know Us Young Mothaf**kas You Know That 1 In 9
We Probably Only Selling The Crack Cocaine Because We In The Hood
And It’s Not Like In The Suburbs, We Don’t Have What You Have
Why? I Really Don’t Wanna Know The Answer
I Guess We Just Misunderstood Hunh
You Know We Don’t Have Room In The Jail Now For The Real Mothaf**kas, The Real Criminals
Sex Offenders, Rapists Serial Killers, S**t Like That
Don’t Get Scared, Don’t Get Scared

If Lil Wayne sees these issues clearly, then one knows for sure that policymakers also do. Time to end the so-called “War on Drugs” which is really a war on communities of color and other marginalized groups.

Mar 28 2012

Preview: Police Violence Zine by Rachel Williams

I’ve mentioned several times that I am immersed in working on several projects relating to the histories and the current manifestations of policing and violence. I am excited to say that my organization will be releasing a new zine created by my friend, the talented and incredible Rachel Williams in May. I am sharing just a few pages of the publication today. I think that you will agree that the zine is incredibly relevant to the conversations that have been swirling over the past few months with respect to police treatment of protesters, potential police misconduct in the Trayvon Martin case, police shootings of unarmed civilians, and police practices like the NYPD’s “Stop and Frisk.” Stay tuned for the whole thing in May!

by Rachel Marie Crane-Williams

by Rachel Marie Crane-Williams

by Rachel Marie Crane-Williams

Mar 28 2012

After a another morning in court, a reminder…

There is simply nothing else to add.

Mar 27 2012

Poem for the Day: “For the Record” by Audre Lorde

Rekia Boyd's (Video) family is hosting a rally for her this afternoon at Douglass Park. While I will be unable to attend, I dedicate this Audre Lorde poem to Rekia today.

For the Record
In memory of Eleanor Bumpers
by Audre Lorde

Call out the colored girls
and the ones who call themselves Black
and the ones who hate the word nigger
and the ones who are very pale

Who will count the big fleshy women
the grandmother weighing 22 stone
with the rusty braids
and gap-toothed scowl
who wasn’t afraid of Armageddon
the first shotgun blast tore her right arm off
the one with the butcher knife
the second blew out her heart
through the back of her chest
and I am going to keep writing it down
how they carried her body out of the house
dress torn up around her waist
past tenants and the neighborhood children
a mountain of Black Woman
and I am going to keep telling this
if it kills me
and it might in ways I am

The next day Indira Gandhi
was shot down in her garden
and I wonder what these two 67-year old
colored girls
are saying to each other now
planning their return
and they weren’t even

Mar 26 2012

Bill Epton: Resisting Racist Policing in Harlem

One of the great privileges of my life is that I am blessed to be able to constantly learn new things. As I have been working on a pamphlet about “historical resistance to police violence in Harlem,” I came upon the name of someone I didn’t know – William Epton. Since I stumbled upon him last year, I have become consumed with learning as much as I can about this fascinating and courageous man.

William (Bill) Leo Epton was born on January 17, 1932 at City Hospital in New York city. His father William Epton was a laborer born in Georgia and his mother Lucy Green Epton was born in New York. Bill Epton was educated in NYC public schools and graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School. Like many black men of his era, Epton was a military veteran. He entered active duty in 1952 and fought in the Korean war where he was honored with a number of awards including two bronze stars. He was honorably discharged from the Army in 1954.

Epton was slender man, 170 lbs with brown eyes and a mustache. He worked mostly as an electrician and machinist during this lifetime. In 1959, he became a member of the Communist Party. He eventually became the chairperson of the Harlem branch of the Progressive Labor Party (PLP). Time Magazine once dubbed him “Mao’s Man in Harlem.” I requested a copy of his FBI file and it is filled with details about the meetings that he attended, the actions that he led and much more.

It was the Harlem Riots of 1964 that brought Bill Epton to public attention. On July 16, 1964, NYPD Lieutenant Thomas Gilligan (who was white) shot and killed 15-year-old James Powell, a young black boy. The accounts of the shooting are conflicting but some eyewitnesses suggested that Gilligan fired without warning and then shot twice more eventually killing the teen. Black people in NYC were infuriated by this incident. They viewed the killing as unjustified and as one more in the long line of racist incidents of brutality by the NYPD.

PLP’s Harlem branch, which had been agitating in street rallies against police brutality for several months, distributed hundreds of posters proclaiming, “Wanted for Murder, Gilligan the Cop.”

Photo by Dick De Masico, 1964 - Protestors Marching With Posters of Lt. Gilligan

During a Harlem protest about the Powell-Gilligan incident, Epton gave a speech on a soapbox declaring: “We’re going to have to kill a lot of cops, a lot of the judges, and we’ll have to go against their army.” Months later he would recount what he said at the July rally:

“What I said was that we must fight back when the cops attack us. I said that the police have declared war on Harlem and Harlem must declare war back on them. They – the judges, the cops, the slumlords, the bosses – are the ones who institute violence and murder against the people. I called – openly and publicly – for revolutionary struggle by the people to defeat that reign of terror.”

Harlem went up in flames for over three days from July 18th to July 21st 1964.

Several days later, Epton and attorney Conrad Lynn of the Freedom Now Party were arrested as they attempted to lead another Harlem march on July 25th. They had been warned by the police that they did not have a permit to protest. Subsequently Epton was also charged with “criminal anarchy,” “seeking to overthrow the government of the State of New York,” and “advocating the assassination of public officials.” Epton faced 20 years in prison for these charges.

Before facing his sentence for a conviction of “criminal anarchy,” Bill Epton gave a speech to the court that he titled "We Accuse". It is well worth reading the entire speech but I want share his opening below because it is so powerful and meaningful:

I would like to address a few remarks to this court and its government.

You have judged me “guilty” and have labeled me a “criminal” and also “dangerous.” I have been found “guilty” by a “jury of my peers.” On this I will have more to say later.

Now – let me examine what I have been found “guilty” of doing and saying:

I have been found “guilty” of agitating against the conditions that my people are forced to live under in New York and all over the country.

I have been found “guilty” of protesting the murder – yes, murder – or legal lynching, whatever you choose, of James Powell by Thomas Gilligan, a New York policeman.

I have been found “guilty” of organizing the Harlem community against police brutality that has been occurring in the Black ghettos for hundreds of years. I have been found “guilty” of standing up for the right of all men to be free – to be free from the system of exploitation of man by man.

I have been found “guilty” of proclaiming that capitalism is an oppressive system and that socialism is the only solution for mankind to live in peace and humanity.

I have been found “guilty” of demanding that the U.S government take its troops out of Vietnam and stop its genocidal war against the Vietnamese people.

I have been found “guilty” of asking the question of Black boys and men, “What are you doing in the U.S. Army fighting your colored brothers around the world who are engaged in battle against the same government that is oppressing you?” and “Is it in your interest to kill and be killed to support a racist government?”

I have been found “guilty” of being an outspoken critic of the U.S. government and its paramilitary police force.

I have been found “guilty” of publicly advocating socialism to cure the ills of the Black people of the country and the workers in general.

And finally – I have been found “guilty” of being a communist – and a Black one at that!

If these are the “crimes” that I have been found “guilty” of committing, then I am “guilty” a thousand times over. In fact, I will be “guilty” of these “crimes” as long as the conditions exist, and I will fight against these conditions as long as there is a breath in my body!

I haven’t had a chance to read through the 1,100 pages of his FBI file yet. I plan to write more about him once I do. In the meantime, read his entire speech to the court. I can’t think of anything more relevant to our current struggles. And ummmm, one last thing: special note to black folks, our people have been resisting police violence for like generations so time for our generation to embrace that fight (as I know so many of us already are). It’s truly a badge of honor for us to be standing on the shoulders of people like Bill Epton among so many others who are better known to us.

Mar 23 2012

Musical Interlude: The Ballad of Harry Moore

I will be out of town this weekend and unable to blog. After a difficult few weeks for many in Florida, I dedicate this “Ballad of Harry Moore” by Sweet Honey in the Rock to the lovers of justice. Prison Culture will be back next week. “Freedom never dies.”

Mar 22 2012

Anthony Scott and Our ‘Invisible’ Deaths…

Anthony Scott

At 9:45 p.m. on Friday March 16th, 19 year old Anthony Scott was called over to a parked car and then shot point blank. He was transported to St. Francis Hospital where he was pronounced brain dead and on Sunday March 18th his mother made the devastating decision to take her son off of life support. Anthony was dead. He was among the more than 50 people shot and/or killed in Chicago over the weekend. There have been no marches and there is no outrage over this.

I did not know Anthony personally. My connections to him are tenuous but significant. He is the nephew of my little sister’s best friend. He was shot in my neighborhood. He was just like the hundreds of young men of color who I have interacted with and supported over the past 20 years. He mattered because he was human and because we all know and love an “Anthony” in our lives.

In the midst of her grief, his aunt took time to share a few words about him with me. Anthony’s nickname was “Chicken Head” because of his resemblance at birth to a baby chicken. His dream was to join the Navy and even at the age of 19, he often still fell asleep next to his beloved mommy. He was talented. He wrote and performed his own music. He was also a whiz at science. He was a big kid and his favorite dish was a trail mix of Ramen Noodles, Doritos and Slim Jims.

Do you recognize Anthony? He is your son, brother, cousin, best friend, lover, and neighbor. Anthony didn’t deserve what happened to him; no one does. He mentioned his fears of ending up dead to his mother. She sent him to live down South because she feared for him on the streets of Chicago. When I think of all of the young men who are being sent “down South” because they need protection from the mean streets of our major urban centers, I think that we are living in the midst of another Great Migration or perhaps we are recreating our own Underground Railroad in a desperate attempt to save our children.

I want Anthony to know that he is not forgotten. I want his family to know that we all care. You have a chance if you live in Chicago to stop by for his viewing tomorrow. Details are available here. The family can use support and funds right now to cover all of the financial costs associated with his funeral and burial. I am collecting money for them. Checks can be written to Project NIA (Anthony Scott in the memo line) and mailed to 1530 West Morse Ave, Chicago, IL 60626. Any amount will be welcome and appreciated.

Anthony is survived by his mother Kathryn, older brother Alex, 3 younger siblings Divine, Brianna and Omar, and countless family and friends. He is also survived by all of us who comprise the community of fellow travelers who care about the health and the lives of our young people whether we know them or not.

Rest in Power, Anthony! Rest in Power!

Mar 22 2012

Trayvon Martin and the “Sense of the Whole Thing Being Rotten”…

This youtube video narrated by a teacher named Brian Jones does an excellent job of articulating what I hope more people do. He connects mass incarceration, the endemic fear of the “criminalblackman” that I always talk about, and demands for justice in the Trayvon Martin case. You should watch this and then you should take ACTION in your own life, your own community, and in the country at large. There is much that we need to be doing. Let’s do popular education about mass incarceration in all of our communities and let’s organize and build towards a different vision of “justice” that truly serves all of us.

Mar 21 2012

Police Violence as Endemic…

I am working on several exciting projects right now. One of them is an upcoming series of pamphlets about historical moments of police violence. I referenced the project here a couple of weeks ago.

I am writing and/or editing a couple of pamphlets as part of the series. One of the topics that I have been and am focused on is the oppressive policing tactics employed during the black freedom movement. The endemic nature of police violence during that period has been striking to say that least.

I stumbled across a set of affidavits that were collected during and right after Freedom Summer in Mississippi by the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO). Some of these statements and affidavits from black and white people were published in a book titled “The Mississippi Black Papers.” The book is out-of-print so I am editing a sample of the affidavits to be published in a pamphlet that will be released in May. I am excited to say that this is a collaboration with my friend Mauricio who is contributing his art and design talents to the project.

Here is an example of a statement that was offered by a black man in Mississippi about the violence that he experienced from law enforcement:

I am 24 years old, and I reside in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
At about 1 p.m. on Sunday, July 12, 1964, I was in the Laundromat on State Street, next to the __________ Store. Although the store has no signs up, this is understood to be a “white” laundromat. My clothes were in the washer when the owner of the store came in accompanied by two policemen. He told me to get out and be quick about it, so I left. The police car followed me and about three blocks away pulled me over to the side. They asked to see my driver’s license. They said I had failed to signal a turn. Then they took me down to the jail. There Police Officer A__________ and two other officers began to beat me. They hit me with both their fists and with a billy club, causing my mouth to bleed. Officer A_______ asked me what business I had in that place (the laundromat). He also said, “Do you know you’re a nigger and are going to stay a nigger?” This was all going on while they were hitting me. Then they locked me up, and I was later released after making $64 bond on charges of “resisting arrest” and “failure to signal.” At no time did I put up any resistance to arrest.
SIGNED: James A. Campbell

This testimony is perhaps not shocking to those who remember black and white images of police officers letting dogs loose on peaceful protestors but it is a keen reminder that the police have a history of oppressing marginalized people. I think that looking to history offers us an opportunity to better understand our present context. It isn’t hard to see the echoes of the corrupt Sheriff Rainey in 1964 Mississippi in the corrupt present-day police department in Sanford, Florida that seems to be engaged in a cover-up in the Travon Martin case.

I am hoping that those who read some of the affidavits from the Mississippi Papers will take heart in the fact that others have successfully resisted law enforcement terrorism and violence in our not so distant past. La lucha continua! Stay tuned for our pamphlet in May.