Nov 28 2016

A letter to white liberals, my family and friends by Anonymous

A letter to white liberals, my family and friends,

Donald Trump’s rhetoric, and that of the people who support him, makes each of you uncomfortable.

I share your discomfort, anger, sadness, and, at times, terror over what might come as Trump rolls out his nightmare vision of technologically armed white supremacist government.

But I am writing with a frank reminder and an urgent plea.

First, the reminder: radical queers, trans people, black people, Muslims, incarcerated people, Native Americans, immigrants and the undocumented, people with disabilities, and those who live at the intersections of these identities—all have lived with this discomfort and terror for decades or centuries. So, to watch this may feel like a nightmare unfolding, but its contours are not new.

Unfortunately, marginalized people have often appeared in liberal and Democratic efforts as tokens, people whose lives and value have been invoked in order to win elections but whose humanity has been negated by actual policy. In particular, too many liberals have been complacent toward mass incarceration, police violence and global militarized capitalism, which have kept whole groups of people vulnerable and unsafe in the U.S. and around the world.

Even before this election, we have been asking for something bigger, something more visionary than token diversity: A world in which Black lives really do matter. A world in which trans bodies are celebrated and safe. An end to white supremacist policies of incarceration and border control that take many lives each year. Economic justice and a rebuke of neoliberalism and privatization of basic needs like water, a demand that people across the globe have access to land, work, water, shelter and power.

These are beautiful possibilities, full of hope and solidarity. And yet when we ask for those things as a comprehensive vision, we are portrayed as absurd, as outsiders with impossible dreams.

Read more »

Jun 15 2016

An Update on Life and Blogging…

I had big plans to get back to regular blogging in 2016. Unfortunately life intervened.

I am happy to say that I’ve moved back to my hometown of New York City after over 20 years of living in Chicago.

This means many things. One is that once I am more settled, I’ll be able to return to more regular blogging. I am very excited about that because I miss writing regularly.

My writing will take on a different character because I will no longer be working on a daily basis with young people in conflict with the law.

For those of you who still check in here from time to time to see if I’ve posted anything new, thanks for your continued interest. I’ll be back soon.

Peace to you all.

May 18 2016

Instead of Jail…Dispatches From the Inside #3

Today, we feature art by Nicholas, an incarcerated young person who participated in the Free Write Jail Arts and Literacy Program at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. It’s day 4 of the National Week of Action Against Incarcerating Youth.

"All I Want Is Freedom" by Nicholas (Free Write Jail Arts and Literacy Program)

“All I Want Is Freedom” by Nicholas (Free Write Jail Arts and Literacy Program)

May 17 2016

Instead of Jail…Dispatches From the Inside #2

As the National Week of Action Against Incarcerating Youth continues, here’s a poem by Nicholas who was detained at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. He wrote this piece as part of the Free Write Jail Arts and Literacy Program.

Nicholas - Burning On the Inside

May 16 2016

Instead of Jail… Dispatches From the Inside #1

This week is the National Week of Action Against Incarcerating Youth. During this week, I am pleased to feature work by incarcerated young people at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC) who participate in the Free Write Jail Arts and Literacy Program.

To kick us off, here is a poem by a young person named Tyreece.

Tyreece - The Spirit of My Life

May 08 2016

Reparations Won: One Year Later…

I’m in the midst of a major life transition. After over 20 years of living and working in Chicago, I’m moving back home to NYC in a few days. As such, I’ve had no time to blog. I am hoping to get back to more regular blogging in mid-summer once I’m settled.

On Friday, I celebrated the one year anniversary of Chicago passing reparations for police torture survivors with friends and comrades. To commemorate the milestone, Kuumba Lynx released a short video that I had the honor of narrating.

This is how they describe it:

Today marks the 1 year anniversary of the Reparations Ordinance being passed for the Chicago Police Torture Survivors, which is the first time Reparations has been given for Police terrorism in the history of the United States. Our youth created documentary series “Journey to LTAB” begins in the summer of 2014 when the nation was exploding with police brutality after the Mike Brown and Eric Garner murders. After an unjust police search and arrest happens to one of the members of Kuumba Lynx, the youth within Kuumba lynx took the streets with their city to fight police brutality within the streets of Chicago. Using their art as a vehicle for activism, KL searches for their 3rd LTAB title. Taking the city by storm and putting light on issues that wouldn’t have been before. Throughout the year leading up to LTAB 2015, our work became connected to the fight for Reparations in Chicago, which “is the product of decades of activism, litigation and journalism and the culmination of a concerted six-month inspirational, intergenerational and interracial campaign co-led by Amnesty International – USA, Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, Project NIA and We Charge Genocide,” and was driven by the Police Torture Survivors themselves, family members, Black People Against Police Torture and countless other organizations and communities’ work. We want to share this piece of our series that highlights this historic movement narrated by Reparations Now! organizer Mariame Kaba and the role Kuumba Lynx was honored to play in it.

This is the first sneak peak of the series we have released because of the importance of today’s anniversary. As we look back a year later, we look forward to debuting this 13 episode online series June 1st on KL We Get Free Media platforms. Please tune in and share to support Youth Powered Media.

Mar 30 2016

Podcast: Johnny Cash, Prison Reformer, Part 2

As promised here’s part 2 of our Johnny Cash Podcast. You can listen to part 1 here.

In this edition, we focus on Johnny as a prison reformer. We discuss his 1972 testimony before the Senate. Below is an excerpt from his testimony:

“I have been in the entertainment business now for 16 years and shortly after I began, I performed my first concert at a prison at the request of the inmates at Huntsville, Tex., State Prison. I went from there to Folsom, to San Quentin, to Arkansas State Prison, and I met many fine men, inmates, and the personnel who run the prisons in all of these places. And I found over a period of 17 years, I believe that possibly 25 percent of the men behind the bars really need to be in a prison.

I think that with the program to cover the man from the time he is
arrested all the way through his trial, conviction, his prison sentence and his parole, that there will me many less men actually admitted to prison to serve prison terms, to become a part of this outturn, of this incubator for crime in the systems.

I have seen and heard of things at some of the concerts that would
chill the blood of the average citizen, but I think possibly the blood of the average citizen needs to be chilled in order for public apathy and conviction to come about because right now we have 1972 problems and 1872 jails. And like Governor Bumpers of Arkansas recently said, unless the public becomes aware and wants to and wants to help and becomes involved in prison reform and really cares, unless people begin to care, all of the money in the world will not help. Money cannot do the job. People have got to care in order for prison reform to come about.”

We hope you enjoy part 2 of the podcast.

Mar 29 2016

Podcast: Johnny Cash, Prison Reformer, Part 1

“I mean, I just don’t think prisons do any good. They put ’em in there and just make ’em worse, if they were ever bad in the first place, and then when they let ’em out they’re just better at whatever put ’em in there in the first place. Nothing good ever came out a prison. That’s all I’m trying to say.” – J. Cash

I’ve been obsessed with Johnny Cash since I first heard ‘Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison’ when I was 15 years old. I came upon the record quite by accident. I was at a friend’s apartment. Her father was an avid country music fan. He was playing the album while I happened to be visiting. It would be several years before I became an anti-prison activist. So at the time, it was the music rather than the song content or lyrics that piqued my interest.

For nearly a decade, my friend Sam and I have threatened to have a discussion about Cash, the man and his music, on radio. Well, we finally made it happen through a two part podcast.

I am so thrilled to share part 1 of our discussion with everyone today. Special thanks to my friend Sarah who was our engineer.

Stay tuned for part 2 of the podcast tomorrow!

Update: Here’s the link to part 2.

Mar 18 2016

#Justice4Rekia: Chicago Organizers Make #BlackWomensLivesMatter

On Monday, we mark four years since Detective Dante Servin killed Rekia Boyd in North Lawndale. I first learned about her death from a friend’s Facebook post. As part of the early organizing efforts by Crista Noel of Women’s All Points Bulletin and Rekia’s family, I was invited to speak about Rekia’s killing on a panel in April 2012. The panel included former police officer and local activist Pat Hill and Rekia’s brother Martinez Sutton. Since then, Martinez has been a fixture in the efforts to seek justice for his dead sister. He has crisscrossed the world including speaking at the United Nations in Geneva to keep Rekia’s name alive and to pressure local authorities to hold Servin accountable for the harm and pain he’s caused.

After a judge dismissed all charges against Dante Servin (on a technicality) in April 2015, I was uncertain that Rekia’s name and story would remain central to our local organizing efforts against state violence. In fact, Rekia has never been more visible in our actions and protests to end police violence.

Since last May, a coalition of groups including BYP100, We Charge Genocide, BLM Chicago, Women’s All Points Bulletin,and Chicago Alliance against Racist and Political Repression, has been packing Chicago Police Board meetings to demand Dante Servin’s firing and that he be stripped of his pension. There’s been progress: In September, the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) recommended his termination and former police superintendent Garry McCarthy concurred in November 2015. Last month, the police board finally set dates for Servin’s hearing to determine his future employment status.

I’ve despaired at times over the past four years. I was disappointed, for example, when I arrived to the first day of Servin’s trial and only found a small group gathered at the courthouse. I wrote about my feelings:

“I’ll admit that I am currently battling demoralization. I arrived to a pre-trial rally/gathering for Rekia Boyd during a downpour today. The skies opened and the rain came down mirroring my mood. I arrived late because I was supporting a young person who is on trial in juvenile court this morning. I ducked out and drove to Criminal Court to support Rekia’s family for a few minutes.

It was a small group when I arrived. Martinez Sutton, Rekia’s brother who has been steadfast in fighting to bring his sister’s killer to court, had just finished speaking. People held signs and images of Rekia and other women killed by police.”

Partly in response to my words and as a balm for my and others’ demoralization, some friends and comrades organized a beautiful show of support and solidarity for Rekia. My friend Kelly, one of the organizers of the light action, wrote:

“But tonight, after a great deal of discussion and reflection, my friends and I decided to offer what we could to those who are mourning, discouraged, and in need of hope. We decided to offer a bit of light and action, in the hopes that seeing a message for Rekia projected in the night sky, in the heart of our city, might make them feel a little less disheartened, and a little less alone. It’s a small offering, to be sure, but it is one that is made with love, and with a great deal of hope.”

Seeing Rekia’s name in lights on the surface of the Art Institute of Chicago reminded me not to erase the presence and participation of those who do show up consistently for Black lives even if the numbers aren’t large. There is a lot of pain and anger about the invisibility of Black women, trans and gender-non conforming people in struggles against state and interpersonal violence. Rightly so. It hurts to be erased and overlooked. But it’s important, I think, to simultaneously recognize those who do, in fact, insist on making these lives matter too. It’s always both/and.

I feel like I’ve gotten to know Rekia so much better since that panel in 2012. She feels like family. We owe immense gratitude to Women’s All Points Bulletin and to Rekia’s family for their insistence that her life mattered. In the more recent past, a multi-racial and intergenerational coalition led by young Black organizers has raised the stakes and issued an urgent demand to #FireServin.

On the occasion of the 4th anniversary of Rekia’s death, I offer this short video which is a collaboration with my friend and co-struggler Tom Callahan. The video illustrates some of the recent organizing and struggle to achieve some #Justice4Rekia. Tom and I offer this to Rekia’s family, friends and community with love and gratitude for their efforts which uplift and inspire us.

Thanks to my friend Sarah Jane Rhee for documenting so much of our organizing in Chicago through her photography. Thanks to the young people of Kuumba Lynx for their video documentation of several actions. Thanks to everyone who has struggled to make Rekia’s life matter over these years. Special thanks to the incomparably talented artist/singer Jamila Woods for allowing us to use her anthem Blk Girl Soldier for the video. In Chicago, art is a critical part of our resistance and struggle.

We demand #Justice4Rekia. Onward.

Mar 15 2016

#ByeAnita and #Justice4Laquan

It’s been months and I still haven’t watched the video of Laquan McDonald’s execution. I never will. Like a lot of people, I know that he was shot 16 times by officer Jason Van Dyke. I know that he was walking away when he was gunned down. I know that he is dead and that’s enough for me.

Love and Struggle photos (3/14/16)

Love and Struggle photos (3/14/16)

I’ve been angry at people since the release of the video last November. My anger has been simmering and unexpressed. I’m hurt that it took this particular video to motivate some people to care about police violence against Black people. I’ve been suffering from a self-diagnosed low grade depression. Lots of things have contributed to this. One of them is despair that Laquan’s death will be adjudicated through a court system that cannot deliver any actual justice. I want to get off the merry-go-round. I want to escape from groundhog day. But I feel strangely trapped, maybe imprisoned by the limits of other people’s imaginations and their demands for ‘justice.’ I don’t want us to fail Laquan like we have Tamir and so many others.

photo by Kaleb Autman (3/10/16)

photo by Kaleb Autman (3/10/16)

Over the past few weeks, I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit directing my strangled anger at Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez. She waited 400 days before bringing charges against Van Dyke and only did so after a judge mandated the release of the videotape. But the truth is that my antipathy for her dates back years. She is the embodiment of a “tough on crime” prosecutor and I’ve wanted to see her out of office for the past 7 years.

I decided months ago that I would do my part to help defeat Alvarez during the primary. I’ve spent part of that time gently prodding others to join me. A confluence of forces catalyzed by the delayed release of the Laquan McDonald execution video has made it possible that Alvarez might lose the primary today. It’s not a given but it’s possible because a variety of individuals and organizations have worked both autonomously and collectively to educate, incite and mobilize Cook County residents to oust her from office. Some of these individuals and groups are politicians, PACs and unions that have endorsed a particular candidate. But what’s been different about this State’s Attorney contest is that people and groups that don’t usually engage in electoral politics (for various reasons) have joined the effort to unseat Alvarez.

photo by Kaleb Autman (3/10/16)

photo by Kaleb Autman (3/10/16)

My friend Kelly Hayes specifically writes about young Black Chicago organizers co-leading a grassroots #ByeAnita campaign in a Truthout article:

“Young Black organizers in Chicago, who have helped claim victories as historic as winning reparations for survivors of police torture and securing a trauma center for Chicago’s underserved South Side, made a decision in the weeks that followed the traumatic release of dashcam footage of Laquan McDonald’s death: They wanted Anita Alvarez out of office.”

The #ByeAnita #AlvarezMustGo campaign of the past few weeks is unique. The lead groups and individuals involved did not work in coordination with any particular candidate or officially endorse one (much to some people’s consternation). Instead groups and individuals organized an outside political education campaign that relied on direct action, teach ins, traditional canvassing and social media. Actions were both autonomous and also strategically planned/coordinated. Four local youth-driven groups, Assata’s Daughters, Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100), Fearless Leading by the Youth (FLY) and Black Lives Matter Chicago (BLM Chi), planned and executed over a dozen direct actions in less than a month.

Again Kelly offers valuable context about these direct actions:

“With a budget of less than $1,000 scraped together for their efforts, the coalition of grassroots groups and organizers has staged more than a dozen actions in the last month.

These tactics, aimed at keeping grievances against Alvarez from falling from the public’s mind before Election Day, helped keep the record of the embattled state’s attorney in the spotlight, but according to Morris Moore, the campaign has also provided other benefits to its architects.

“In the beginning, the Bye Anita campaign felt like harm reduction, and like therapy in a sense,” said Morris Moore, noting that “Anita Alvarez was involved in a horrible tragedy that is still being felt in the Black community by young Black people. And even if the mainstream media isn’t paying attention to it anymore, we’re still feeling it.” But by bringing direct action to the campaign trail, and consistently ambushing their politically vulnerable target, Morris Moore says she found something that she needed in this political moment. “These actions have allowed me to recreate a way to be involved in politics,” she said. “I don’t have to support a candidate. I can say I don’t support this candidate, and this is why.”

Veronica Morris Moore gives voice to a different form of engagement that has in some ways provided a catharsis for a community of exhausted and depleted organizers. I include myself among those organizers. While I am tired from working to defeat Alvarez while managing all of my other work and life commitments, I have found inspiration in the persistence, commitment and creativity of younger organizers.

Yesterday, for example, members of Assata’s Daughters supported by allies staged an ambitious action across the city. They created and then unfurled 16 banners in communities across Chicago. As reported in Chicagoist:

“Blood on the ballot,” reads one banner hanging over the Kennedy Expressway at Irving Park. “Justice for Rekia, no votes for Anita, reads another hung over the Nicholas Bridge of the Art Institute of Chicago. “#AdiosAnita 16 shots and a cover up,” reads another on Western Avenue near 18th Street.”

photo collage by Monica Trinidad (3/14/16)

photo collage by Monica Trinidad (3/14/16)

In a statement, Assata’s Daughters explained the rationale for the action:

“Final voter engagement before the March 15th Primary in Chicago is taking to the sky today as airplanes are set to fly with banners highlighting the link between Hillary Clinton to the unpopular Rahm Emanuel and the state’s attorney, Anita Alvarez, with whom he covered up Laquan McDonald’s murder during his own re-election campaign. This is one of a series of 16 banners that will be released throughout the city all pushing the messaging that Anita Alvarez must go.”

Unfortunately the weather didn’t allow for the planes to fly the banner so they will try again today. However, the group did successfully drop all 16 banners across Chicago. I’m trying to keep the images of those 16 banners in my mind to replace the echoes of the 16 shots that continue to reverberate loudly in our community. And if Alvarez is defeated tonight, I’ll take a deep breath and pray that some of the despair I’ve been feeling about Laquan will dissipate. I’ll hope that Laquan is resting a bit easier. I’ll whisper words of gratitude for all of those whose efforts will have made her defeat a reality. I won’t confuse Alvarez’s defeat with systemic transformation. I’ll go back to work to abolish prisons, police and surveillance and to build a world that doesn’t need them. But I will do so satisfied that our collective action removed an awful elected official from office and that we now have more space to create the world in which we hope to thrive.

There are more components of the #ByeAnita campaign and many others (including me) who’ve been involved at various levels but that’s a story for another day. For today, I want to lift up the efforts, labor and leadership of the young Black Queer women and femmes who have planned and executed the bulk of the #ByeAnita campaign direct actions. They have been the life-blood of this campaign. I offer my appreciation and my love. I hope that anyone reading this who can vote in Cook County will use their ballot to say #ByeAnita in Laquan’s name.