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.
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.
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.
I am happy to share that Shanesha Taylor regained custody of her three children yesterday.
Judge allows Shanesha Taylor, who left kids in car during March job interview, to get kids back from state custody. pic.twitter.com/v4Cd20fgzZ
— Andrew Hasbun (@andrewfox10) August 28, 2014
Last week, I wrote about the criminalization of black mothers with a particular focus on Shanesha’s case in the Nation Magazine.
In the United States, the ‘bad mother’ is usually poor and almost always black. Popular representations of black women are shaped by our ideas about race, gender, sexuality, class and more. Black women exist in the culture as hypersexual, unfeminine, angry, potentially criminal, depraved things. We have been excluded from ideologies of domesticity and our families are pathologized. We are preternaturally “strong” and feel no pain therefore justifying harsh and punitive treatment by the state.
It’s a small miracle then that some people were able to overcome our collective socialization to express compassion for Shanesha Taylor and for her children. But it isn’t nearly enough for us to care about black mothers and their children or to simply acknowledge their suffering; we must change policies that are destroying their lives. We must end the war on drugs. We must provide free or low-cost childcare options. We must create living wage jobs. And we must end racist mass criminalization.
I am very happy for Shanesha who I know loves her children dearly.
I have noticed that several organizations have issued lists of demands to address police violence and the events of Ferguson. I thought that it would be useful to compile the lists that I could find in one place. Hopefully, people can look through these lists and decide which demands they want to organize and advocate for in their communities.
1. Swift and impartial investigation by the Department of Justice into the Michael Brown shooting
2. Immediate arrest of Officer Darren Wilson
3. County Prosecutor Robert McCullough to stand down and allow a Special Prosecutor to be appointed
4. Firing of Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson
5. Immediate de-escalation of militarized policing of peaceful protestors
6. Ensure the protection of the rights of people to assemble and peacefully protest
7. Hold law enforcement officers accountable for excessive use of force on peaceful protests
8. Immediate release of individuals who have participated in their right to assemble and peacefully protest
“As a global week of action demands justice for Mike Brown, young people from Ferguson, MO and their activist allies detail what #handsup means to them.”
One of my touchstones, the brilliant scholar-activist Barbara Ransby, tweeted something yesterday that I agree with completely.
Those who say we have no young leaders 2day reminiscent of SNCC, BPP & YLs, are not paying attention.
— Barbara Ransby (@BarbaraRansby) August 26, 2014
I write about the activism and organizing of young people in Chicago a lot. I do so because my work and purpose are focused on supporting young people to make their lives more livable. It’s been a long-term commitment. So when other adults persistently disparage and discount ‘young people these days,’ I can’t relate. The young people who I am privileged to know are some of the most talented, creative, dedicated and intelligent activists I’ve ever encountered in my now-over 25 years of organizing. This is a fact, lost on many to be sure, but true nonetheless.
Over the course of this summer, I’ve been engaged with several young people in a group called “We Charge Genocide” and I’ve paid close attention as they have taken the lead in writing a report, in creating workshops and trainings, in using social media to convey the message that oppressive policing must end, and in generously sharing their stories and talents. The source of my hope for the future is rooted in their gifts. We will win because of them.
I call out the young people of BYP 100, We Charge Genocide, Chicago Freedom School, Circles and Ciphers, Fearless Leading By the Youth, VOYCE, Chicago Students Union, Students for Health Equity, Black and Pink Chicago and many, many more that I am leaving out but are doing important work.
In just the past few weeks in Chicago, young people have spearheaded & co-organized a local National Moment of Silence vigil to commemorate the killing of Michael Brown and to stand in solidarity with the Ferguson community.
Wherever there is injustice and protest, you will also find art. That’s the case with respect to the killing of Mike Brown and the Ferguson protests.
Below are a few samples of art that I have seen in various media platforms.
Jasiri X wrote a song called 212 degrees about the events in Ferguson.
Black bodies being fed to the system
Black American dead or in prison
Love for the murderer never the victim
Dead kids cant beg your forgiveness
We are at war
What you telling me to be peaceful for
When they break the peace by firing the piece now the peace gets tore
I don’t give a fuck about Quik Trip’s store
I saw the illustration below on Twitter. It’s by Sandra Khalifa. I’ve begun to curate other visual art related to the events in Ferguson here.
A few singers/rappers have produced music about Mike Brown and/or the Ferguson protests. Here are some of those:
Marissa Alexander is a person. She is also fighting a case and that case illuminates a greater cause. But she is a human being. This is something that can be overlooked. It’s easy to do for a number of reasons. Most defendants are advised by their attorneys to keep quiet while facing charges. This creates a vacuum. If the defendant is lucky, others step in to speak for them and to act as their surrogate filling in the gaps in their story. This is the position in which Marissa finds herself.
And so it falls to others to find ways to keep her name and her story in the public’s mind. It falls to others to devise creative ways of engaging new supporters. It falls to other to convince people that they should care about the defendant and that they should offer material support for a prisoner.
One of the important lessons that I’ve learned in my years of prisoner defense committee work is how isolating and lonely the criminal legal process is. This is particularly true for detainees who find themselves jailed while awaiting trial or a plea deal. It is difficult to make peace with the loss of your freedom when you haven’t been convicted. Letters and other communications are lifelines for those who find themselves in such a predicament. The knowledge that people on the outside care about you, haven’t forgotten about you, and support you is encouraging. Often it makes the difference between giving up and staying hopeful. That line is an excruciatingly thin one.
— Free Marissa Now (@freemarissanow) July 31, 2014
— Free Marissa Now (@freemarissanow) July 31, 2014
— Free Marissa Now (@freemarissanow) August 1, 2014
— Free Marissa Now (@freemarissanow) August 1, 2014
I am incredibly grateful to everyone who organized and took part in the excellent Chicago Community Gathering in solidarity with Marissa Alexander on Saturday. The gathering was the culmination of a very busy month of events that members of the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander (CAFMA) organized initially anticipating that her trial would kick off today. CAFMA later learned that the trial was postponed until December and used the events to continue to educate Chicagoans about Marissa’s case and to fundraise for her legal defense.
This month, hundreds of people attended a teach-in about Marissa’s case, the opening reception of the “No Selves to Defend” exhibition, a screening of the film “Crime after Crime” followed by a panel discussion, and finally the community gathering on Saturday.
For myself, it’s a true blessing to organize with my fellow CAFMA members. We are all fully committed to supporting Marissa in her fight for freedom. I hope that others in Chicago will join in the fight. You can see Chicago’s contribution to Free Marissa NOW’s http://www.freemarissanow.org/selfies-for-self-defense.html project here.