Aug 31 2013

Image of the Day: ACT UP Poster (HIV/Women in Prison)

HIV/AIDS services for women in prison. Justice Now!!! Verso: ACT UP. (Poster, NYPL Digital Collection)

HIV/AIDS services for women in prison. Justice Now!!! Verso: ACT UP. (Poster, NYPL Digital Collection)

Aug 30 2013

When ‘Chiraq’ Comes Home to Roost…

Regular readers know that I’ve begun to explore the meanings of the term “Chiraq” on this blog. I promised to return to this topic but have been sidetracked. In the meantime, Dr. Nancy Heitzeg wrote an excellent post considering how the term “Chiraq” is linked to militarization and war on terror tactics in our cities.

Last night, I read an extraordinary report by journalist Natalie Moore about Senator Mark Kirk and Congressman Bobby Rush’s visit to Englewood. Back in May, Kirk made headlines for proposing to seek millions of dollars in federal funds to arrest 18,000 members of the Gangster Disciples. Bobby Rush immediately criticized Kirk suggesting that the mass gang arrest plan was an “upper-middle-class, elitist white boy solution to a problem he knows nothing about.”

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Aug 29 2013

All of a Piece: Reflecting on Struggle & Resistance in the Windy City

I woke up early yesterday. I had even less than my regular four hours of sleep. I was determined to attend the Chicago Board of Education meeting and then to participate in two rallies for education justice and police accountability.

It turns out that I missed the rallies. We waited nearly two & a half hours for the public comment section of the Board meeting to begin. It is excruciating to quietly sit in uncomfortable chairs while blatant falsehoods are offered without challenge.

I thought about leaving early without making my statement but I am accountable to a group of people who have been working on the issue of school discipline data transparency for almost two years now. So I gritted my teeth and stayed put.

Meanwhile outside of the Board meeting, students, parents, educators, and community members were protesting CPS’s closing of schools and the proposed deep budget cuts for the remaining ones. Protesters then marched to City Hall to demand an elected school board. Make no mistake about it, young people were at the forefront of the protests. Students had called on their peers to boycott school and dozens of young people responded by taking to the streets.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (8/28/13)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (8/28/13)

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Aug 28 2013

Poem of the Day: Power by Audre Lorde

By Audre Lorde

by Katy Groves

by Katy Groves

The difference between poetry and rhetoric
is being ready to kill
instead of your children.

I am trapped on a desert of raw gunshot wounds
and a dead child dragging his shattered black
face off the edge of my sleep
blood from his punctured cheeks and shoulders
is the only liquid for miles
and my stomach
churns at the imagined taste while
my mouth splits into dry lips
without loyalty or reason
thirsting for the wetness of his blood
as it sinks into the whiteness
of the desert where I am lost
without imagery or magic
trying to make power out of hatred and destruction
trying to heal my dying son with kisses
only the sun will bleach his bones quicker.

A policeman who shot down a ten year old in Queens
stood over the boy with his cop shoes in childish blood
and a voice said “Die you little motherfucker” and
there are tapes to prove it. At his trial
this policeman said in his own defense
“I didn’t notice the size nor nothing else
only the color”. And
there are tapes to prove that, too.

Today that 37 year old white man
with 13 years of police forcing
was set free
by eleven white men who said they were satisfied
justice had been done
and one Black Woman who said
“They convinced me” meaning
they had dragged her 4’10” black Woman’s frame
over the hot coals
of four centuries of white male approval
until she let go
the first real power she ever had
and lined her own womb with cement
to make a graveyard for our children.

I have not been able to touch the destruction
within me.
But unless I learn to use
the difference between poetry and rhetoric
my power too will run corrupt as poisonous mold
or lie limp and useless as an unconnected wire
and one day I will take my teenaged plug
and connect it to the nearest socket
raping an 85 year old white woman
who is somebody’s mother
and as I beat her senseless and set a torch to her bed
a greek chorus will be singing in 3/4 time
“Poor thing. She never hurt a soul. What beasts they are.”

Audre Lorde, “Power” from The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde. Copyright © 1978 by Audre Lorde.

Source: The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1997)

Aug 27 2013

Guest Post: The Future of Mass Incarceration: Punishment in the Proposed Era of Decarceration

The Future of Mass Incarceration: Punishment in the Proposed Era of Decarceration

by Chez Rumpf, PhD Candidate in Sociology, Loyola University Chicago

Two weeks ago in a speech to the American Bar Association, Attorney General Eric Holder openly critiqued the United States’ “War on Drugs,” admitting it has been a failure and that its unintended consequences have severely harmed individuals, families, and entire communities. Specifically, Holder took issue with mandatory minimum sentencing policies that have contributed greatly to the build-up of the United States’ prison nation. He went so far as to instruct federal prosecutors throughout the United States to no longer pursue mandatory minimum sentences for low-level, nonviolent federal drug charges.

An End to the “War on Drugs” and Mass Incarceration?

Holder’s comments carry a great deal of symbolic importance. It is undeniably noteworthy for the country’s Attorney General to openly challenge and call for a reversal of U.S. crime policies and to acknowledge publicly that mass incarceration is a grave social injustice, in part because of the severe racial disparities that permeate the criminal legal system. It remains to be seen, however, whether the symbolic importance of Holder’s speech will translate to changes in policy and practice. As Kara Dansky recently noted on the ACLU’s blog, federal prosecutors may resist Holder’s instructions based on their own racist beliefs and adherence to “tough on crime” ideology.

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Aug 26 2013

Anxiety and Worry: Back to School… in Chicago

Emmet Elementary School by Jessica Rodrigue

Emmet Elementary School by Jessica Rodrigue

The haunting photograph above by Jessica Rodrigue captures and embodies disinvestment and institutional violence. Emmet Elementary school is located on the Westside of Chicago. Today, as students return to school across the city, Emmet stands padlocked and empty. It is one of the 49 schools that were closed by CPS.

I am anxious and unsettled. I’m worried about this school year. Already, I am hearing from teacher friends that they have class rosters with 35 and 38 students. The mother of Asean Johnson, a 9 year old who came to national attention this Spring during protests against school closings, appeared on television this weekend to say that while her son’s school was saved from closing, he’ll have over 35 peers in his 4th grade classroom. This is in no way conducive to a quality education. Anyone who has spent ten minutes in a classroom can tell you this. Frankly, anyone who has been around two children for any length of time can attest to the difficulty of keeping them engaged and on task for an hour, let alone seven…

I fear that CPS is consigning a significant number of our young people to the trash bin; treating them as disposable.

Bontemps Elementary by Bill Healy (WBEZ)

Bontemps Elementary by Bill Healy (WBEZ)

So I am anxious and unsettled.

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Aug 25 2013

Image of the Day: Japanese “Evacuations”

by Dorothea Lange - Oakland, California. Following evacuation orders, this store, at 13th and Franklin Streets, was closed, 03/13/1942 (National Archives)

by Dorothea Lange – Oakland, California. Following evacuation orders, this store, at 13th and Franklin Streets, was closed, 03/13/1942 (National Archives)

Aug 24 2013

Prison Architecture #13

The Work House, Kansas City (MO)

The Work House, Kansas City (MO)

Aug 23 2013

Action Needed: Tell the Daily Beast to Apologize for Dismissing Prison Rape…

Update: At 6 p.m. (central), the Daily Beast issued a response to their original Op-Ed. You can read that response HERE.

In terms of responding to the requests made below:
1. The Daily Beast will not remove the column from its site. Here’s how they responded to that demand:

The column that sparked all the outrage will remain online, although in its edited form.
“There’s no such thing as ‘removing’ anything from the Internet. Anyone who wants to find the story can find it, whether we remove it or not,” Depke said. “And I also don’t want readers to think that we are trying to cover something up. We made a mistake, and we’re acknowledging it in the most transparent way we can.”

2. The Daily Beast has not issued any specific apologies to Chelsea Manning or to survivors of prison rape. Below is as close to an apology as was offered:

Does The Daily Beast regret publishing the piece? “Yes.” Depke said. “It was an error, plain and simple, and I’m personally sorry about it.”

3. There was no specific promise to publish a fact based article about prison rape (especially as it affects trans people).

We leave it up to you to decide if you are satisfied with the Daily Beast’s response to this incident.

Yesterday, the Daily Beast published a vile and harmful column about Chelsea Manning and prison rape.

After many expressed outrage at the victim-blaming and rape apologia, the Daily Beast first issued a vague editor’s note and then began to surreptitiously edit the content of the column. You can now read their edited column here.

For the Daily Beast to have published this fact-free, victim-blaming, and harmful piece is unconscionable. The fact that the column has not been removed from their site and an apology issued to Chelsea Manning and victims of prison rape is wrong and unacceptable.

According to Just Detention International, an organization that addresses the issue of prison rape, “every year roughly 200,000 adults and children in U.S. detention are sexually abused. In most cases, the perpetrators are corrections staff — officials whose very job it is to keep inmates safe” They have collected countless prison rape survivor testimonies that belie the reality and scope of this problem. Just Detention has published a response to the article.

We ask everyone to take action to tell the Daily Beast to:

1. Remove the column from its website.
2. Apologize the Chelsea Manning and her family.
3. Apologize to the survivors of prison rape.
4. Solicit and publish a new article/column to illuminate the real scope and impact of prison rape.

You can let the Daily Beast know how you feel by:
1. Calling them at (212) 314-7300; (212) 445-4000.
2. Emailing them at and
3. Contacting them on Twitter at @thedailybeast or their editor in chief Tina Brown at @TheTinaBeast.

Please TAKE ACTION TODAY and let the Daily Beast know that we will not stand for this type of harmful polemic about such an important issue.


Aug 23 2013

“The Most Notorious Liar in the Country:” Martin Luther King and Government Surveillance

Dr, King at the March on Washington (8/28/63)

Dr, King at the March on Washington (8/28/63)

By now, many people are aware of the FBI’s persistent and aggressive surveillance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. During the current disclosures about NSA spying, it’s become fashionable to cite Dr. King as a target of the government. I’ve been wondering, though, how much those invoking his name in this historical moment actually understand the scope and nature of the government’s intrusion on his privacy.

It was actually after the March on Washington that the FBI’s surveillance of Dr. King intensified and became more aggressive.

In an Aug 30 1963 memo (just two days after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom), William C. Sullivan, head of the FBI’s Division Five, wrote:

Personally, I believe in the light of King’s powerful demagogic speech yesterday he stands head and shoulder over all other Negro leaders put together when it comes to influencing great masses of Negroes. We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security…[I]t may be unrealistic to limit ourselves as we have been doing to legalistic proofs or definitely conclusive evidence that would stand up in testimony in court or before Congressional Committees that the Communist party, USA, does wield substantial influence over Negroes which one day could become decisive.

Over the next few years until he was assassinated in 1968, there were at least 25 illegal attempts by the FBI to discredit King. One of those attempts happened in 1964 and came to popular attention in 2012 when the blog “Letters of Note” published a letter sent to King by the FBI. The letter seemed to suggest that King should commit suicide. It reads:


In view of your low grade… I will not dignify your name with either a Mr. or a Reverend or a Dr. And, your last name calls to mind only the type of King such as King Henry the VIII…

King, look into your heart. You know you are a complete fraud and a great liability to all of us Negroes. White people in this country have enough frauds of their own but I am sure they don’t have one at this time anywhere near your equal. You are no clergyman and you know it. I repeat you are a colossal fraud and an evil, vicious one at that. You could not believe in God… Clearly you don’t believe in any personal moral principles.

King, like all frauds your end is approaching. You could have been our greatest leader. You, even at an early age have turned out to be not a leader but a dissolute, abnormal moral imbecile. We will now have to depend on our older leaders like Wilkins, a man of character and thank God we have others like him. But you are done. Your “honorary” degrees, your Nobel Prize (what a grim farce) and other awards will not save you. King, I repeat you are done.

No person can overcome facts, not even a fraud like yourself… I repeat — no person can argue successfully against facts… Satan could not do more. What incredible evilness… King you are done.

The American public, the church organizations that have been helping — Protestant, Catholic and Jews will know you for what you are — an evil, abnormal beast. So will others who have backed you. You are done.

King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You have just 34 days in which to do it (this exact number has been selected for a specific reason, it has definite practical significance). You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.

It’s fair to ask why the FBI would send such an incendiary letter to Dr. King. On November 18 1964, J. Edgar Hoover called Martin Luther King Jr “the most notorious liar in the country” during a press conference. Hoover was incensed at King’s criticism of the FBI’s handling of civil rights cases. When King heard what Hoover had called him, he issued a press release which intimated that the Director of the FBI was senile. Hoover hit the roof.

Two days later in a memo to FBI Deputy Associate Director Alan Belmont, Hoover wrote:

“I can’t understand why we are unable to get the true facts before the public. We can’t even get our accomplishments published. We are never taking the aggressive, but above lies remain unanswered.”

In response to Hoover’s anger, William C. Sullivan typed the infamous letter (trying to make it untraceable). He had one of his agents mail the letter along with an audiotape that included excerpts of King’s conversations with friends as well as his sexual liaisons. When the package arrived in Atlanta, it was Coretta Scott King who would open it. She read the letter and listened to part of the tape. She called her husband. Then King, Coretta, Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, and Joseph Lowery listened to the entire tape together.

Dr. King would later remark of the FBI’s persistent pursuit: “They are out to break me… They are out to get me, harass me, break my spirit.”

It is important when we talk about the history of government surveillance that we always remain specific about its nature and impact. What the government did to Dr. King in terms of surveillance is not in any way analogous to what happened to Edward Snowden. We would do well to address each of these incidents separately and without conflating them. Both deserve our attention and our activism but they aren’t the same.