Category: Organizing

Oct 25 2014

Damo, We Speak Your Name: Resisting Police Violence in Chicago

Dominique (Damo) Franklin, we speak your name. Your (imperfect) life mattered. Look at what you’ve inspired…

In May, I wrote about the death of a young man known to his friends as Damo at the hands of the Chicago Police Department (CPD). Months later, answers about his killing are still elusive. To conclude my post about Damo’s death, I wrote:

“He was managed throughout his life through the lens of repression, crime, and punishment. And now he is dead and those of us left behind must find a way to heal while building more justice. We’ll continue to fight in Damo’s memory because we won’t allow his death to have been in vain…”

We are keeping our promise. On Wednesday, hundreds of people participated in manifestations of Damo’s legacy.

Damo, in a couple of weeks, your friends and peers are on their way to the United Nations in Geneva to tell your story that of countless others who have perished and been tortured at the hands of the CPD.

Your death has inspired this song though we would rather have you alive and here with us. The telling of police torture is a mourning song. But the protest on Wednesday evening reminds me that it is also a freedom song.

Damo, we speak your name. Your (imperfect) life matters.

At Wednesday’s protest, your friends and peers invoked your name; placing it alongside Roshad, Deshawn, Rekia and Mike’s.

“Protect and serve that’s a lie, you don’t care when black kids die.”

I am really tired and I am incredibly inspired. I am still struggling to find the words to express my feelings. So I am going to rely on photos taken by friends and comrades to end this post. I am privileged and humbled to organize with a wonderful group of people. I wish Damo was here to join us.

Damo, we speak your name. Your (imperfect) life still matters… In your memory, we will continue working to shut down oppression.

Read more »

Oct 18 2014

Guest Post: ‘Not Made for TV:’ Ferguson Reflections by Kelly Hayes

Continuing the series of reflections by local Chicago organizers who traveled to St. Louis and Ferguson last weekend is my comrade Kelly Hayes. I am so happy to feature Kelly’s words and photos today.

It’s been about three days since I returned from Ferguson October, and my body and mind are finally starting to settle back into the life I know. A number of people have asked me about what I saw and experienced there, and I’ve generally responded with simplistic, vague statements like, “It was intense.” I’ve done this partly because I haven’t fully processed all that I saw and heard out there, and partly because I know that as soon as I start to speak, I’ll be walking a fine line between bearing witness and co-opting someone else’s narrative and struggle. Because while I am a person of color, I am not black, and I do not live in a community where my life has been deemed utterly disposable. Were my partner and I to have children, I would not spend my days wondering if some police officer would imagine their cellphone was a weapon, or simply gun them down out of a blind contempt for all things black.

This disposability of blackness is not my daily reality, so I know I must take care in how I explain what I saw and experienced on those streets, amongst those brave people.

photo by Kelly Hayes

photo by Kelly Hayes

I arrived in St. Louis on Saturday. The atmosphere was much as I expected it to be, with props and banners and high spirits. There were smiles. There was laughter. There was spectacle. I was glad I walked with those people, some of whom traveled great distances just to participate in that march, before hopping back on their buses for the long trip home. I was glad I was there, but even as we marched, I thought, “This is the gentle part.” And it was.

photo by Kelly Hayes

photo by Kelly Hayes

Mike Brown means, we’ve got to fight back!

That night, I arrived at the scene of Mike Brown’s murder around 7:00pm. A small crowd had formed. I took photographs and talked to a few people. The scene was calm. Then, out of the relative quiet, I heard chanting, as hundreds marched up the street to the memorial. At that point, the scene became infused with an energy I can hardly describe. Despite my exhaustion and my bad back, I could only feel what was being expressed all around me: uncertainty, heartbreak, rage, and an aching need for some kind of justice. But there was something else in the air. Ferocity. These young people meant it when they chanted, “We’re young! We’re strong! We’re marching all night long!”

The crowd moved fast, and I’m not actually as young and strong as I used to be, but I had no trouble keeping up that night. The energy of the march pulled me away from myself. All I could think was, “Take pictures, tweet, get this out there.” It seemed like the one thing that I could do that was of any real value. I could bear witness, and try to show people, in real time, just how powerful these moments were.

And they were powerful.

Read more »

Oct 15 2014

Applauding Black Death in the Hour of Chaos…

You need not die today.
Stay here — through pout or pain or peskyness.
Stay here. See what the news is going to be tomorrow.

- Gwendolyn Brooks

On Monday night, I heard a 19 year old young black man say that he wasn’t afraid to die for justice in Ferguson. Some in the assembled multi-racial audience applauded. I wanted to throw up.

photo by Page May (St. Louis, 10/11/14)

photo by Page May (St. Louis, 10/11/14)

What does it mean to be willing to die for a cause in a society that already considers you to be hyper-disposable? Your evisceration, your death is desirable and actively pursued. What if the revolutionary act in such a society, in such a world, is to live out loud instead? Or simply to live.

I wanted to yell: “No. stay a while. We don’t need any more black 19 year olds in caskets.” How are we to reconcile a call for the state to stop killing us with a willingness to die for that end?

I can’t get the clapping out of my head.

What were the people who clapped applauding? Did they clap because they thought the young man was courageous? Were they clapping because they too were prepared to die? Did they clap because they were trapped in a 20th century documentary titled ‘real freedom fighters are willing to die for justice?’ Were they clapping in support of black martyrdom? Were they applauding black death?

Why were they clapping? I can’t stop thinking of it.

On Saturday, while we were in St. Louis, my comrade Kelly took a photo of a young woman standing on the bed of a truck exuberantly chanting: “Back up! Back up! We want freedom, freedom! All these racist ass cops, we don’t need ‘em, need ‘em!”

photo by Kelly Hayes (St. Louis, 10/11/14)

photo by Kelly Hayes (St. Louis, 10/11/14)

Some people chanted along with her while the familiar refrain of ‘hands up, don’t shoot’ reverberated across most of the crowd. Fists up. Voices loud. All around me was love and life. I saw the young woman as I marched past her. In looking at the photograph later, I thought that it captured the youthful resistance that permeated the St. Louis march/rally and has characterized so much of this Ferguson moment.

photo by Page May (St. Louis, 10/11/14)

photo by Page May (St. Louis, 10/11/14)

When the young man on Monday’s panel described justice as the prosecution of officer Darren Wilson, the man who killed Mike Brown, I felt as if I was dissolving. Maybe I left my body for a second or a minute or I don’t know how long. This is the ‘justice’ for which this young man was prepared to die? This small, narrow, insignificant in the larger scheme of the world thing? We have failed our young by not creating an expansive idea of justice. And then I thought about the fact that his peers had mentioned that they had “nothing” to begin with and I knew that justice would center on addressing that as THE issue.

I kept my mouth shut. I hope that the young man stays in the struggle and that he like so many others in Ferguson and across the country refuses to be quiet. Most of all though, I wish for him a long and healthy life in a future with more justice and some peace.

Graves grow no green that you can use.
Remember, green’s your color. You are Spring
. – G. Brooks

Oct 14 2014

Guest Post: #Ferguson Reflections by Sarah Jane Rhee (words & photos)

A number of Chicagoans responded to the call to come to St. Louis and Ferguson for a weekend of resistance as part of Ferguson October. I attended a march in St. Louis on Saturday and several other friends from Chicago spent all or part of their weekends in Ferguson. I am still sorting out my thoughts and feelings but I asked some friends to share theirs if they were willing. This week, I will post the responses that I receive. Today, my friend Sarah reflects on her experience through words and her photos.

It’s Sunday morning, 8am, and my daughter Cadence and our friends Pidgeon and Mika are slowly waking up in our hotel room in St. Louis. I decide to use this time before we check out to edit my photos from the night before taken at the vigil at Mike Brown’s memorial and the subsequent protest at the Ferguson police station. While I wait for the photos to download onto my laptop, I read Mariame’s post from Friday, and see this video of Ethan, a young person I care very much about, and my heart cracks as I recall the events of the previous night when I watched him unleash his anger and pain in the faces of the Ferguson police officers lined up in front of the protesters. I then return to my downloaded photos, and the very first one I see is that of Mike Brown’s mother and family leading the march after the vigil to the police station, and that’s when my already cracked heart breaks wide open and I start weeping.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (Ferguson, 10/11/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (Ferguson, 10/11/14)

The night before at the Ferguson PD protest, I witnessed several young men from Chicago whom I care about very much passionately and furiously express their anger and pain at the police officers who were lined up in front of them a few feet away, separated from them only by a thin yellow police tape that poorly represented the chasm between these two groups.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (Ferguson, 10/11/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (Ferguson, 10/11/14)

As I watched, I was worried for their safety because I knew these officers could care less about the lives of these young Black men, that they may as well all be Mike Brown or nameless. I also recognized these young people’s need for an outlet for the feelings of anguish and rage that I don’t have adequate words with which to describe them.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (Ferguson, 10/11/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (Ferguson, 10/11/14)

Read more »

Oct 10 2014

Heading to #Ferguson…

It’s been a long week. Actually, it’s been a long few weeks. I have been working nonstop and I feel myself coming down with a cold.

Yet tomorrow I’ll be on a bus at 5 am heading to Ferguson Missouri with several comrades and friends. I’ll be participating in the mass march taking place on Saturday.

I wrote a few words recently about marching as protest and refusal so I won’t revisit the topic. I’ve said before that I didn’t expect to still be participating in such protests in my 40s for a variety of reasons. But here I am and I feel grateful that I am in good enough physical and mental health to do so.

So I will march tomorrow for the many young people, young black people in particular, who I love and want to be free from violence and oppression. I will march for my father who reminds me through his actions and his example that in the face of injustice one must always stand and be counted. I will march for myself, to remind myself that other people oppose genocide too.

Tonight, I saw a video of a young man who I have gotten to know and love over the years. He traveled to Ferguson from Chicago to participate in the weekend of resistance. I watched the video and felt gutted. But I am grateful that I saw it before boarding the bus to Ferguson.

I never forget that these protests are about real people and about our collective survival. I can’t forget because I am confronted almost daily with the raw pain and devastation that black evisceration engenders. So tomorrow, I am heading to Ferguson with Ethan’s anguish in my heart and on my mind. I’ll march in the hope that future young people will be spared.

fergusonresistance

Oct 08 2014

Interested in Anti-Police Violence Work in Chicago?

There is a lot of anti-police violence work currently happening in Chicago. All of the projects are open to the involvement of more people. Below are some projects and campaigns with which to connect.

The Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression is organizing a forum on October 16 on their proposal for a civilian police accountability council. You can learn more about their work and the forum here. They need more people to help.

The Chicago Torture Justice Memorials need community engagement to pressure the Chicago City Council to pass a reparations ordinance to compensate some of the survivors of Jon Burge and his fellow police officers’ torture. Contact your local alderperson and Mayor Rahm Emanuel and tell them to pass this ordinance.

We Charge Genocide is a grassroots, inter-generational effort to center the voices and experiences of the young people most targeted by police violence in Chicago. The initiative is entirely volunteer-run. The next monthly meeting is on October 21 at 5:30 p.m. Contact wechargegenocide@gmail.com if you would like to attend the meeting.

Direct Action

On October 22 at 6 pm, all Chicagoans are invited to attend a silent protest against police violence. You can RSVP on Facebook.

WCG Moment of Silence Flier

Training

October 15 – We Charge Genocide’s next Copwatch Training is on October 15 at 5:30 pm. More information can be found on Facebook and you can register here.

October 24-26 — Street Medic Training: First Aid for Police Brutality and Community Violence – This hands-on course will prepare you to serve as a medic at political protests and to help people in your community. It is designed for youth and young adults organizing against police violence, closed trauma and mental health centers, and other health inequalities. It is open to everyone. No previous training in medicine or first aid is required. — Register here. Sliding Scale – No One Turned Away for Lack of Funds (Real cost of training = $150 per participant)

You will learn:
* Street medic field operations and prevention (4 hours) – How to stay safe and promote safety in high-stress scenes.
* Emergency response (4 hours) – What to do when one or more people have life-threatening injuries.
* Patient assessment and first aid (4 hours) – for wounds, internal bleeding, head injury, bone and joint trauma, and burns.
* Community health work (4 hours) – How to recognize medical emergencies like seizures and strokes, and help people with unmet emotional or basic needs.
* Operating in unsafe scenes (4 hours) – How to help in any weather, avoid dangers and care for injuries from police batons, crowds, dogs, tasers, tear gas, and handcuffs.

Friday, October 24th – 6-9:30pm
Saturday, October 25th – 9-7pm
Sunday, October 26th – 9-6:30pm
(*must be able to attend all 3 days of training)

*** Wheelchair Accessible ***
*** Free Childcare ***
***Spanish Interpretation Available***

If you want to make a contribution to this training, you can do so here.

Events

We Charge Genocide is releasing its shadow report to the UN about CPD violence against youth of color on October 22 at 9 am. All are welcome. Details are here.

oct22-1 (1)

Oct 06 2014

Domestic Violence, Poetry and ‘Giving Name to the Nameless’

First, I love poetry and Nikky Finney is one of my favorite poets. So I was over the moon a few weeks ago when I read her new poem dedicated to Marissa Alexander titled “Flare.” October is domestic violence awareness month and we very much want to keep Marissa in mind. A couple of weeks ago, I emailed Ms. Finney and asked if she would participate in the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander’s campaign which is asking people to send video submissions of them reading the poem “Flare” or another poem of their choice. So far, we have received wonderful submissions which you can find here. I asked Ms. Finney if she would participate too. And guess what???? She said yes!!!! So today, I am thrilled to share her video reading of Flare with all of you.

Audre Lorde was right (as usual) when she wrote in the essay “Poetry Is Not a Luxury” that: “Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.”

I use poems a lot in my teaching and in my work with young people. When young people see something of themselves in a piece of literature, identify with the work, reflect on it, and undergo some emotional experience as a result of that reading, I consider that to be the basis of a successful anti-violence intervention. For years, I have been collecting poems about gender-based violence that I have used with young women (in particular) in various settings. Some of these poems can be found in a poetry guide that I created a few years ago titled “Giving Name to the Nameless: Using Poetry as an Anti-Violence Intervention with Girls.” A PDF of the guide is available at no cost to those interested in a copy. Details are here.

Life comes full circle as one of the poems that I use a lot with young women & girls is Nikky Finney’s “The Girlfriend’s Train.” I included it in the guide and am featuring it below in honor of DV awareness month. As a bonus, I am including some questions that you can use if when you are discussing the poem with girls and young women.

Note: While the guide was created with young women and girls in mind (I have the most experience facilitating poetry circles with them), the information and poems included can certainly be used with young men, trans young people and also with adults.

Read more »

Oct 05 2014

#NoSchoolPushout: Police in Schools

Police officers play a critical role in feeding the school to prison pipeline and many of them seem to recognize this fact. A school police officers’ union in California created an uproar a few years ago by designing and selling t-shirts depicting a young boy behind prison bars with the words: “U Raise Em, We Cage Em.”  The local community was rightly incensed by this; yet it should not have come as a surprise that cops see their role in schools as arresting and incarcerating young people.

Youth art from Representing the Pipeline (2010)

Youth art from Representing the Pipeline (2010)

As Erica Meiners and I point out in an article published in Jacobin this year:

“Criminalizing student behavior is not new. The concept of the “school resource officer” emerged in the 1950s in Flint, Mich., as part of a strategy to embed police officers in community contexts. In 1975, only 1% of US schools reported having police officers. As of 2009, New York City schools employed over 5,000 school safety agents and 191 armed police officers, effectively making the school district the fifth largest police district in the country.”

We can be fooled into believing that schools with metal detectors, surveillance cameras, and police officers feel safe to students, teachers, and staff.  However, data from the Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) suggests something different:

“it is the quality of relationships between staff and students and between staff and parents that most strongly defines safe schools. Indeed, disadvantaged schools with high-quality relationships actually feel safer than advantaged schools with low-quality relationships.”[3]

In addition, the presence of police officers in our schools often has negative ramifications for students. A national study by the Justice Policy Institute titled “Education Under Arrest (PDF)” makes a convincing case that:

“…when schools have law enforcement on site, students are more likely to get arrested by police instead of having discipline handled by school officials. This leads to more kids being funneled into the juvenile justice system, which is both expensive and associated with a host of negative impacts on youth.”[4]

Even with these findings however, many students feel ambivalent about the role of police in their schools. Students are not immune to having the cops in their heads too.  Colorlines produced a video last year where they asked LA students whether police officers in schools made them feel safe. There were a variety of student responses.

In discussions about the school-to-prison pipeline, we need concrete examples of how the process works. As such, it is important to understand the role that police and security staff play in our schools.  Unfortunately in many districts reports about police involvement in schools have not been and are not readily available to the public.

If interested in learning more about police in schools, here’s list of resources that I compiled last year.

Oct 03 2014

#NoSchoolPushout: Defining the School-to-Prison Pipeline

dscposter2014-page-001 Tomorrow kicks of the 5th annual National Week of Action Against School Pushout. This year, my organization will join with youth, parents, teachers and community members in over 40 cities to resist school pushout and policing. Project NIA released a short paper this morning documenting the gains and challenges in the fight to end Chicago’s school to prison pipeline. I hope that those interested in these issues will read the paper authored by my friend, Dr. Michelle VanNatta.

I thought that I would use the occasion of the week of action to offer an introduction to the school-to-prison pipeline for those who might be new to the concept. I’ll also provide some resources for those interested in further study.

Defining the School-to-Prison Pipeline (STPP)

In an article that we wrote earlier this year, Erica Meiners and I defined the STPP in this way:

“Less a pipeline than a nexus or a swamp, the STPP is generally used to refer to interlocking sets of structural and individual relationships in which youth, primarily of color, are funneled from schools and neighborhoods into under- or unemployment and prisons.

While the US public education system has historically diverted non-white communities toward under-education, non-living wage work, participation in a permanent war economy, and/or incarceration, the development of the world’s largest prison nation over the last three decades has strengthened policy, practice, and ideological linkages between schools and prisons. Non-white, non-heterosexual, and/or non-gender conforming students are targeted for surveillance, suspended and expelled at higher rates, and are much more likely to be charged, convicted, and removed from their homes, or otherwise to receive longer sentences.”

Facts and Figures

To help provide some context for the scope and impact(s) of harsh school disciplinary policies, Project NIA created a short quiz to test your knowledge. Thanks to @cronehead and @MuffMacGuff who digitized this quiz. How do you fare?

Critique of the STPP Concept

Dr. Damien Sojoyner (2013) has challenged the concept of the school to prison pipeline. The abstract of his paper titled “Black Radicals Make for Bad Citizens: Undoing the Myth of the School to Prison Pipeline (PDF) summarizes his main argument:

“Over the past ten years, the analytic formation of the school to prison pipeline has come to dominate the lexicon and general common sense with respect to the relationship between schools and prisons in the United States. The concept and theorization that undergirds its meaning and function do not address the root causes that are central to complex dynamics between public education and prisons. This paper argues that in place of the articulation of the school to prison pipeline, what is needed is a nuanced and historicized understanding of the racialized politics pertaining to the centrality of education to Black liberation struggles. The result of such work indicates that the enclosure of public education foregrounds the expansion of the prison system and consequently, schools are not a training ground for prisons, but are the key site at which technologies of control that govern Black oppression are deemed normal and necessary.”

Others have offered other critiques of the STPP concept pointing out, for example, that we need think of the process of educational and societal marginalization as one that in fact begins from the cradle or even the womb.

Activism and Advocacy

The past decade has found increasing numbers of policy makers, advocates, academics, educators, parents, students, and organizers focusing explicitly on the relationships between education and imprisonment. A lot of organizing has happened around the issue of school pushout. The Dignity in Schools Campaign (organizers of the National Week of Action) brings together over 75 organizations across the country who are working to transform school discipline policies.

Just this week, advocates and organizers in California presided over Governor Jerry Brown’s signing of a bill to limit “school administrators’ use of an offense called “willful defiance” to suspend students in California schools.” This was the result of a long-term organizing campaign. Earlier, I referenced our newly released paper that documents some of the gains made by Chicago and Illinois organizers in the fight to interrupt the STPP.

Here are some organizations and projects advocating and organizing to end the STPP.

Teaching Youth About STPP: Curriculum Resources

We at Project NIA have developed several resources that can be used by educators and organizers to discuss the STPP with young people in particular. These resources have also been used by many people to lead discussions with adults as well. Others have also developed useful tools for teaching about the STPP.

Curriculum: Suspension Stories

Curriculum: NYCLU School-to-Prison Pipeline Workshop

Comic: School to Prison Pipeline by Rachel Marie-Crane Williams

One page comic with discussion questions: Sent Down the Drain

Find many other audio, video, etc… resources at Suspension Stories

Further Study 

Disrupting the School-to-Prison Pipeline Edited by Bahena, Cooc, Currie-Rubin, Kuttner and Ng (2012)

From Education to Incarceration: Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline Edited by Nocella, Parmar and Stovall (2014)

Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys by Victor Rios (2011)

There is a list of other reading here and here.

Over the course of this next week, I will be posting information about the specific components that make up the STPP. Stay tuned!

Sep 25 2014

October 16: Lessons in Self-Defense: Women’s Prisons, Gendered Violence, and Antiracist Feminisms in the 1970s & ’80s

I am excited to co-organize and participate in an upcoming event. Historian Emily Thuma will present a talk titled “Lessons in Self-Defense: Women’s Prisons, Gendered Violence and Anti-Racist Feminisms in the 1970s and 80s.” Her talk will explore the relationships between U.S-based anti-violence against women activism and the expansion of the prison nation in the early neoliberal era.

Emily is an assistant professor in the Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of California, Irvine. Her teaching and research focus broadly on the cultural and political histories of gender, race, sexuality, and empire in the United States. She is currently completing a book about feminist activism against violence in the context of the politics of crime control, policing, and imprisonment in the U.S. in the 1970s and ’80s.She has also long been active in LGBTQ and feminist anti-violence and prison organizing efforts.

After her talk, Emily and I will engage in a conversation that will seek to link the past to our present era when carceral feminism is ascendant. I am excited for this conversation because it connects to the “No Selves to Defend” exhibition that I co-curated and to the anthology about the criminalization of women of color who invoke self-defense that I edited. It’s fitting that this event will take place during domestic violence awareness month and the month of resistance to mass incarceration, police terror, repression and the criminalization of a generation.

RSVP for the event on Facebook. If you are in Chicago on October 16th, I hope to see you at the event.

You can read Emily’s latest essay ‘Against the ‘Prison/Psychiatric State’: Anti-violence Feminisms and the Politics of Confinement in the 1970sHERE (PDF).

Lessons in Self Defense Poster FINAL