Last Sunday, I organized a gathering to celebrate Marissa Alexander‘s Birthday. My friend Debbie made a short video that captured some statements of support and solidarity offered to Marissa. You should watch it! It’s profoundly moving.
I’ve been going non-stop since last week and I still have to work this weekend. As such, I am afraid that I haven’t had any time to blog. Next week continues to be slammed so I anticipate sporadic posting for the next couple of weeks.
A few PIC stories caught my attention this week. First, the Bureau of Justice released a report (PDF) on the number of prisoners in the U.S. in 2013 (excluding people in jail). The Prison Policy Initiative offered a good summary of the report. They key takeaway is that:
“Overall, the state and federal prison population increased slightly between 2012 and 2013. Although this is the first overall increase since 2009, the overall prison population has held fairly steady compared to the rapid rise of earlier decades.”
I’d like to write more about this in the near future. I have been consistently saying that we need to be cautious and not get caught up in the smoke and mirrors of current prison “reform” talk. I hope that the fact the state prison population is rising again will temper some of the irrational exuberance in some quarters about decarceration. There is so much to do to make decarceration real and to sustain it. We need a real movement to coalesce to significantly decrease the numbers of people incarcerated in this country. We are far from that point right now.
Amidst all of the noise and consternation about Ray Rice’s abuse of his now wife Janay, I appreciated reading this article by Vikki Law titled “How Many Women are in Prison for Defending Themselves Against Domestic Violence?.” The article reminds us of the danger posed to victims of domestic violence by their abusers and too often by the state itself. Vikki writes:
“But in all this discussion about the realities of domestic violence, one perspective was clearly left out: the people who are imprisoned for defending themselves against abusers. Where are the stories about how the legal system often punishes abuse survivors for defending themselves, usually after the legal system itself failed to ensure their safety?”
She features Marissa Alexander’s case and also discusses her interviews with other women who have been criminalized for defending themselves against abuse. It’s an article worth reading. Marissa turned 34 years old last Sunday and I organized a birthday celebration for her which included a panel discussion about blackness. violence and self defense.
This Friday is the closing reception of the No Selves to Defend exhibition at Art in these Times in which Marissa’s case is prominently featured. I hope that you will join us.
My friend Yasmin Nair wrote a very good post about Daniele Watts that I invite everyone to read. She writes:”The problem with the Watts story is that it was, from the start, bound up in notions of sexual respectability and did little to actually further a conversation about the real issues at stake.” I could not agree more. It’s why I didn’t write anything about the incident and mostly refrained from any comment on social media. Yasmin ends her post with this sound advice:
“Neither Watts nor Lucas come off well. Rather than focus on their innocence and express horror at their respectability being denied to them, we might critique our own investment in and insistence upon such. Let’s not turn them into either heroes against the state or craven capitulators to the same and, instead, use such instances to have more complicated conversations about the role of the state and capitalism in regulating sexuality and our bodies.”
I’d like more people to know about Eisha Love‘s plight and to support her as she fights for her freedom:
“On the morning of March 28, 2012, while stopping at a gas station, Eisha Love and a friend were accosted at a gas station with a barrage of anti-trans epithets which led to an altercation. The men called for reinforcements while the two women fled in a car. They were being chased by men on foot and in a vehicle when Eisha lost control of the car and struck one of the men leading to a severe leg injury.
Eisha went to the police station to report the attack, but instead of investigating, the police booked her on aggravated assault. The charges against her have since been upgraded to attempted murder.”
You can sign a petition calling for her to be freed. You can also share her story with others.
“Take, for example, the claim that black youth inhabit a culture that venerates criminality, in which having been incarcerated is a matter of pride. This particular trope has seen heavy circulation in the last few years, trotted out to rationalize every death of a young black man at the hands of the police or vigilantes. Constructed out of a conglomeration of supposedly “thuggish” photos, snatches of rap lyrics, or social media ephemera, it works to make respectable the narrative that, in every case, it was the black teenager who threw himself in a fury at the men with guns. Confronted with such deep-seated criminality, the pundits innocently ask, what else were the police supposed to do?
Ethnographies of returned prisoners and their families reveal a very different world, one that coincides more with the commonsense notion that people who already face discrimination in the labor market would hardly celebrate events, like incarceration, that will make their lives even harder. Donald Braman spent four years conducting interviews with prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families in the Washington DC area, and found that black families regarded incarceration with anything but pride.”
Last Saturday, my organization co-sponsored a talk in Evanston by Nell Bernstein about her new book “Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prisons.” I then impromptu moderated a panel of youth in conflict with the law after her lecture. This week, Sara Mayeux published a good interview with Bernstein who reiterates the case that she made on Saturday for abolishing juvenile prisons.
I don’t know what to say or to write about the atrocious story of Oklahoma City Police officer Daniel Holtzclaw. I recommend reading this harrowing article by Jessica Testa in Buzzfeed. Let me warn you that it is a really horrible story. I don’t have the bandwith to do any organizing around this story but @FeministaJones has been doing a lot to keep the story in people’s minds on Twitter.
I spent many hours this week working on a campaign to send six young organizers to Geneva to present a report about Chicago Police Department abuse against young people of color to the UN. This is part of a project called We Charge Genocide that I wrote about on Monday. After five days, the campaign has raised $9,000 out of a goal of $15,000. The outpouring has been moving and overwhelming. We still need to raise more money. You can contribute here and also spread the word to others too.
On a more uplifting note, the trauma center coalition hosted a “Sing for a Trauma Center” event on Thursday. Take a couple of minutes to watch the video below:
I have another weekend of work ahead and a long week to follow that. I hope to be back to more regular blogging in a couple of weeks.
In May of this year, I wrote about the death of a young man known to his friends as Damo at the hands of the Chicago police. To this day, none of us knows the actual circumstances of his tasing death. Answers are not forthcoming.
I wrote back then: “Understand that Damo is part of a long legacy of death at the hands of police. The Chicago police shoot black people. In 2012, CPD shot 57 people and 50 were black. They also tase, target, torture, and kill people of color.”
After Damo’s death, I saw the pain and rage that some of his friends were experiencing. I was at a loss about how best to support them. But I knew that there was a need for an outlet to transform pain into something else that might eventually catalyze some positive action.
In late May, I e-mailed a small group of friends, comrades and co-strugglers with an idea. I followed up in early June with a note on Facebook to others who might be interested. The idea was a simple one – to create a modern petition/report to the United Nations about police violence against young people modeled after the 1951 We Charge Genocide petition.
The first meeting was on June 11 and over 45 people packed the Chicago Freedom School to hear about the idea and most importantly to offer their own. From the start, I made it clear that what mattered most was that we act collectively on something. Any and all ideas about what that something could be were welcome. After a couple of hours, we left with a plan of action and several ideas to pursue:
1. Everyone assembled agreed that we should create a Chicago version of a “We Charge Genocide” petition/report to be presented to the United Nations.
2. Everyone agreed that we would organize at least one youth hearing to gather relevant testimony for the petition/report by the end of the summer.
3. A suggestion was made that the group revive the Young Women’s Empowerment Project’s Bad Encounter Line and focus it specifically on collecting reports of police encounters.
4. Some people wanted to revive community monitoring of police through a Copwatch model.
5. Everyone agreed that the city would benefit from a social media campaign to raise awareness about and report negative police encounters.
After the June meeting, We Charge Genocide (WCG) was born. Since then, dozens of people have worked diligently to achieve all of the goals set in our first meeting. Importantly, the work is owned by every person involved in the group. Subcommittees meet on their own to plan activities and move the work forward. Everyone is invested and has devoted countless hours. WCG is not contingent on one person but is truly a collective and collaborative effort.
Today, we kick off a fundraising drive to send a delegation of 6 people to Geneva to present WCG’s report/petition to the Committee Against Torture in November. While WCG is an inter-generational effort, it’s an initiative driven by and focused on young people. Five of the WCG UN delegation are under 30 years old and four are 25 and under. I will not be traveling to Geneva or it would have skewed the numbers dramatically :).
I am incredibly proud of the work that has already been done in just the past three months. I continue to be in awe of my comrades who have carried the work. They are in school, work full time jobs, organize in other settings, have lives and families and yet they have shown 100% commitment to meeting our collective goals. It’s been an inspiration.
I hope that everyone reading this will consider contributing to WCG’s Geneva fundraising effort. The trip will provide a foundation for even more organizing moving forward. Already, WCG members are thinking about how to organize around the issue of police militarization and planning an action for the National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality on October 22. There is more to come… Please contribute to sending these wonderful young people to Geneva. You can hear the pitch from some of them in the video below:
Regular readers of this blog know that history matters a great deal to me. I think that it isn’t past and informs all present actions. This post is an attempt, in my own way, to provide some of the history of this current iteration of We Charge Genocide in Chicago in 2014. It is also a call for support. Please make a contribution in any amount today and help spread the word about the fundraising campaign to others. Thank you.
The following is an image made by Meredith Stern which is available for purchase at Just Seeds Cooperative for $10. Stern explains why she created the image:
This is a redo of an image I made over ten years ago when the incarceration rate had already skyrocketed and the trend has tragically continued as a direct result of harsh and disproportionate racial profiling, targeting and sentencing of communities of color for non-violent drug related behavior. For starters, we must end mass incarceration, the criminalization of undocumented migrants, and the war on drugs. It is incredibly damaging for families, for communities, and our entire society to be putting such a large portion of our population in detention centers for non-violent behavior.
The Sentencing Project has incredibly eye opening data on the current state of affairs.
For anyone interested in learning more about the current state of affairs:
“This House I Live In” is a documentary about the “War on Drugs” in the US which I highly recommend.
For book readers I recommend “Race to Incarcerate” and “The New Jim Crow.”
I purchased a couple of the prints.
A monthly forum on Chicago-based cultural projects that confront, agitate, and work to dismantle the prison nation.
In the last decade, a growing number of artists, organizations and activists in the Chicago area have created artwork and developed responses to what is now termed a prison nation The U.S. locks up more people than any other nation in the world and exhausts more resources on confinement and punishment each year. One in 99 adults in the US is incarcerated; the financial and social costs to tax payers and communities is staggering. Conservatives, liberals and members of the left have all called for policy changes, yet when violence and poverty rage in Chicago neighborhoods, the common response is a call to lock more people away for longer prison terms.
Creative culture has been at the forefront of changing the public perception about the realities of social segregation, poverty, violence, and incarceration. Chicago-area artists have staged performances and exhibitions, created organizations and developed long-term projects to alter entrenched thinking and unsettle business-as-usual.
What kinds of projects are happening that create a culture of change? Can art decarcerate? Change the law? Liberate communities from violence? Envision and enact new futures?
William C. Anderson wrote a short essay about CeCe McDonald for the No Selves to Defend anthology which I share below.
Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald is a trans woman whose bravery in the face of injustice has changed lives and perceptions in the United States. On the night of June 5, 2011, CeCe was out with friends when she was attacked. Three people began harassing her and her friends outside a bar by deriding them with racist and transphobic slurs, before attacking them physically.
CeCe fought for her life; when the dust settled one of her attackers lay dead. CeCe survived the attack, but was arrested by the police. After receiving 11 stitches to her cheek, she was interrogated without counsel and placed in solitary confinement. CeCe was charged with second-degree murder for defending herself. Rather than face trial by a jury that would not likely sympathize with her, she accepted a plea deal to the lesser charge of second-degree manslaughter.
This is a good video by the Black Alliance For Just Immigration. It makes the case that mass criminalization (incarceration and deportation) negatively impacts people of color. It’s worth watching.
I am thrilled to have this post by my friend Lewis on the blog this morning. The piece was written in response to this.
I once rode my bike across Michigan. I have also ridden it across Illinois, the San Francisco Bay Area and around parts of rural Ohio. I’ve gone through cornfields and tiny towns, camped by myself, met people, bought stuff at gas stations, gone out to diners, and generally had a grand old time.
Biking is dangerous, exhilarating, and for me, it was and is a choice. I’m white and come from a class-privileged background, not to mention I’m able-bodied and able to comfortably ride the thing. So whether I’m cruising through Chicago or rural Michigan, I carry a level of safety that is written all over my body. I think about being harassed, attacked, hit by a car even…and then I think about my dad who’s a lawyer, the support and consequence that follows white people with money into any tragedy or even any slight disturbance. That’s a big part of privilege—being able to choose, to move freely, to take risks with limited fear of consequence (something I’ve written about before). When I ride my bike alone experiencing joy and impunity, I think about what it might be like for my comrades and friends who are people of color, particularly when they are visibly trans or queer. I think it’s important to think about that.
Here’s the thing, though: when I read this essay, I also thought about how frustrating it is when we white people feel we need to have—or perhaps feel we deserve—an “ah-ha” moment in which we feel we understand what it’s like for any one person of color. I really do think it can be a useful exercise to try to put ourselves in others’ shoes, on our own time and not in a way that tokenizes people or wastes their time explaining shit to us. But really “getting it”—as if being a person of color in the U.S. is a monolithic experience—is impossible, and presumptuous to boot. I’ve been thinking that whole framing doesn’t get at the core of what we white folks need to be striving towards right now, particularly as we white folks are absolutely surrounded by examples of systemic racism.
I learned that there would be another protest yesterday for Roshad McIntosh, a 19 year old young black man, who was killed by a Chicago Police officer on August 24. Neighbors say that the young man had his hands up and was in the process of surrendering when he was shot and killed.
I had missed (because of illness) the previous protests demanding that the killer cop be named and that the police report be released to the public. I had, however, been closely following information about the incident on social media. Yesterday, I finally felt well enough to attend the latest protest. I grabbed a ride with my friends Sarah, Zach and Megan and we headed to North Lawndale for the 5 o’clock protest/march.
We marched from the site of Roshad’s killing to the 11th police district.
When we arrived at the police station, Roshad’s mother, Cynthia Lane, entered the building to ask for more information about her son’s killing.
She returned a short time later to say that the police didn’t tell her any more details about her son’s death. She vowed to come back every day until she got answers.