Apr 30 2013

The Drug War: Still Racist and Failed #14

From the Huffington Post:

More than half of federal prisoners are incarcerated for drug crimes in 2010,according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and that number has only just dipped below 50 percent in 2011. Despite more relaxed attitudes among the public at large toward non-violent offenses like marijuana use, the number of people in federal prison for drug offenses spiked from 74,276 in 2000 to 97,472 in 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The punishment falls disproportionately on people of color. Blacks make up 50 percent of the state and local prisoners incarcerated for drug crimes. Black kids are 10 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes than white ones — even though white kids are more likely to abuse drugs.

by Emory Douglas

by Emory Douglas

Apr 29 2013

Unpacking ‘Chiraq’ #1: Chief Keef, Badges of Honor, and Capitalism

On Sunday, I awoke to the news that some parents of Walter Payton Prep High School students refused to allow their children to play a night game on the campus of Gwendolyn Brooks Prep High. 

You have to live in Chicago to fully appreciate this drama.  Payton and Brooks are both selective enrollment public high schools in the city. Both are considered “good” schools. Payton is on the Northside of Chicago while Brooks is located on the Southside. Rich white parents use their clout to get their children admitted to Payton but not to Brooks. In case you didn’t know, Chicago is still the most segregated city in the United States. This also extends to our schools, of course.

One can hardly blame the parents of Payton students who were afraid that their children might succumb to violence on the dreaded “Southside.” Over the past three to four years, media accounts have portrayed Chicago as the wild, wild, West. Scarcely a day goes by that there isn’t another account of rampant “senseless” violence in the city.

It’s gotten so bad that the former police superintendent, Jody Weis, felt the need to proclaim during a news conference in 2010: “We are not Chi-raq. We are Chicago.”
This brings me to the main issue that I wanted to address today.


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Apr 28 2013

Image of the Day: Vintage Ad For the “Largest Jail Builder in America”

The following ad comes from a 1943 magazine (2 years before the end of World War II). It is an advertisement for the Van Dorn Iron Works Co. which was apparently “the largest jail builder in America.” Interestingly the ad links prisons with the military industrial complex:

“You never expected to find a solution to one of your postwar problems in a jail cell, did you? But there’s one here for you if you are looking for new ways of building endurance into your products of the future…Jail cell construction is only one phase of Van Dorn production. Today, we are 100% engaged in building armor plate for plans, tanks, and guns.”

In case it’s illegible on the map, they seem to have built cells in the following jails/prisons across the U.S.:

1. Maine State Prison (280 cells)
2. Auburn State Prison (1514 cells)
3. Maryland Penitentiary (820 cells)
4. West Virginia Penitentiary (608 cells)
5. Bibb County Jail, Georgia (131 cells)
6. Nebraska State Prison (301 cells)
7. King County Jail, Seattle (100 cells)
8. Salt Lake City Jail (35 cells)
9. San Quentin State Prison, Calif (800 cells)


Apr 26 2013

From My Collection #15

I continue my practice of sharing artifacts from my personal collection today. Below is an antique postcard from the early 20th century (around 1904).

From my collection (1905)

From my collection (1904)

Apr 25 2013

Yesterday Chicago Students Took To The Streets (with Photos)…

I wrote about the fact that Chicago students were organizing a boycott on April 24th. Yesterday, students from various Chicago high schools boycotted the second day of standardized testing (PSAE). They were protesting the role of testing as a factor in school closing decisions. Instead of going to school, students showed up at CPS Headquarters to make themselves heard.

Robeson High School student, Brian Stirgis, explained the reason for the protest: “We’re under-resourced, over-tested, and we’re fed up with the policies that are put in place by CPS officials.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (4/24/13)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (4/24/13)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (4/24/13)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (4/24/13)

Laura McCauley reporting for Common Dreams wrote that “Over 300 students from over 25 different Chicago public schools ” boycotted PSAE testing yesterday.

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Apr 25 2013

Snippet from History #4: Medgar Evers Rifle Clubs…

I’ve spent the past couple of weeks sorting through my ideas and beliefs about “gun control.” In the process, I have come across several interesting historical artifacts. These have helped to contextualize the ambivalent & complicated relationship that many blacks in the U.S. have had with firearms.

I’ve briefly written on this blog about the fact that black freedom fighter Robert Williams started an NRA gun club in Monroe, North Carolina in the late 1950s. He did this in response to unrelenting attacks by local whites without any recourse from law enforcement and the government.

I recently discovered that Lewis Robinson, a Cleveland-based CORE organizer, decided to form a rifle club after the murder of a local civil rights activist. He immediately came to the attention to the FBI (of course). The agency began to monitor his activities and the spread of these gun clubs which Robinson named Medgar Evers Rifle Clubs (MERC). The National Archives offer several documents related to the FBI’s surveillance and investigations of these clubs.


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Apr 24 2013

Poem of the Day: The Bullet, in its Hunger by Ross Gay

The Bullet, in Its Hunger
by Ross Gay

The bullet, in its hunger, craves the womb
of the body. The warm thrum there. Begs always
release from the chilly, dumb chamber.
Look at this one whose glee
of escape was outshone only by the heavens
above him. The night’s even-keeled
breath. All things thus far dreams from
his cramped bunker. But now
the world. Let me be a ravenous diamond
in it, he thinks, chewing through the milky jawbone
of this handsome seventeen-year-old. Of course
he would love to nestle amidst the brain’s
scintillating catacombs (which, only for the boy’s dumb luck,
slipped away) but this will do. The bullet does
not, as the boy goes into shock, or as his best friend
stutters, palming the fluid wound, want to know the nature
of the conflict, nor the sound of the shooter’s
mother in prayer, nor the shot child’s future harmonies:
the tracheotomy’s muffled wheeze
threaded through the pencil’s whisper as the boy scrawls I’m
scared. No.
the bullet, like you, simply craves
the warmth of the body. Like you, only wants
to die in someone’s arms.

Apr 23 2013

The Drug War: Still Racist and Failed #13

The Gregory Brothers strike again with this very good music video documenting the fact that the war on drugs is a failure.

Apr 22 2013

Chicago Students Continue to Fight for A Quality Education: Join Their Boycott on 4/24…

digitalmedia This weekend, I was privileged to participate in an event about the promise and pitfalls of youth-driven digital media. I joined the panel at the last minute when one previously scheduled speaker fell ill.

When I got home, I checked Twitter and saw the following video produced by Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools (CSOSOS – @ChiStudentsOrg) announcing their April 24th boycott.

You can also listen to 17 year old high school senior Brian Stirgus talk on Power92 about the impact of the school closures and about their planned protest this Wednesday. The traditional media has also covered the students’ efforts here.

I am so heartened to see that young people across Chicago continue to organize for social justice. It’s exciting that they are using digital media to help mobilize and engage others in their struggles. We should hope that these protests grow because this would signal that young people remain idealistic and retain some hope. I submit that the moment when these protests cease is when we should deeply worry. Young people who have no hope that their actions can impact positive change become nihilistic. Thank God that our youth in Chicago continue to believe in their own power to affect change.

I so wish that I could join in their action this Wednesday but I am organizing another event that conflicts. If you are a parent or guardian, I hope that you will support these young people by encouraging your own children to participate in the boycott. I hope that you will also show up as an adult ally to support these youth.

All of the information about Wednesday’s boycott is below. Please spread the word to others about this action. You can learn more at CSOSOS’s Facebook page and Tumblr.


Apr 21 2013

Image of the Day: Juvenile Detention in Mid-20th Century

Detroit, 1946-49, Wayne County Juvenile Detention Home by Marion Palfi

Detroit, 1946-49, Wayne County Juvenile Detention Home by Marion Palfi

From Suffer Little Children by Marion Palfi

From Suffer Little Children by Marion Palfi