Category: Organizing

Aug 29 2014

Shanesha Taylor Regains Custody of Her Children…

I am happy to share that Shanesha Taylor regained custody of her three children yesterday.

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.

Aug 28 2014

List of Demands Re: #Ferguson & Ending Police Violence

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.

The Organization For Black Struggle
The Organization for Black Struggle, in conjunction with the Hands Up, Don’t Shoot Coalition, has issued the following demands:

Immediate Demands

Local

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

National

1. Obama to come to Ferguson to meet with the people whose human rights have been violated by aggressive and militarized policing, including the family of the victim–Michael Brown

2. Eric Holder to use the full resources and power of the Department of Justice to implement a nationwide investigation of systemic police brutality and harassment in black and brown communities

3. Ensure transparency, accountability, and safety of our communities by requiring front facing cameras in police departments with records of racial disparities in stops, arrests, killings, and excessive force complaints

4. Immediate suspension without pay of law enforcement officers that have used or approved excessive use of force. Additionally, their personal information and policing history should be made available to the public

NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and 12 other national civil and human rights organizations

In a joint statement issued today, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (“LDF”) joined with 12 other leading national civil and human rights organizations in calling for action and reforms in the wake of the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

“Nothing will be resolved until there is systemic change throughout this nation in the implicit and explicit bias against people of color and particularly African American youth who are routinely targeted by law enforcement even within their own communities,” said the letter, which was signed by Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of NAACP LDF, as well as leaders from the A. Philip Randolph Institute, Advancement Project, American Civil Liberties Union, Hip Hop Caucus, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, National Action Network, NAACP, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation Black Women’s Roundtable, National Bar Association, National Urban League, and the Rainbow Push Coalition.

With so much to be done, we cannot begin to provide an all-inclusive list, but in an effort to outline a beginning strategy of reform, we are recommending the following:

1. An independent and comprehensive federal investigation by the Department of Justice of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African American teenager shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri,
2. A comprehensive federal review and reporting of all police killings, accompanied by immediate action to address the unjustified use of lethal and excessive force by police officers in jurisdictions throughout this country against unarmed people of color,
3. A comprehensive federal review and reporting of excessive use of force generally against youth and people of color and the development of national use of force standards,
4. A comprehensive federal review and reporting of racially disproportionate policing, examining rates of
stops, frisks, searches, and arrests by race, including a federal review of police departments’ data collection practices and capabilities,
5. A comprehensive federal review and reporting of police departments’ racial profiling and racially bias
practices, as well as any related policies and trainings,
6. A final update and release of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) June 2003 Guidance Regarding the Use of
Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies (hereinafter “Guidance”), with substantive reforms including
updates that would 1) make the Guidance enforceable 2) apply the Guidance to state and local law enforcement who work in partnership with the federal government or receive federal funding; 3) close the loopholes for the border and national security; 4) cover surveillance activities; 5) prohibit profiling based on religion, national origin, and sexual orientation,
7. Required racial bias training and guidance against the use of force for state and local law enforcement that receive grants,
8. The required use of police officer Body-Worn Cameras (BWC) to record every police-civilian encounter in accordance with and policy requiring civilian notification and applicable laws, including during SWAT deployments, along with rigorous standards regarding the retention, use, access, and disclosure of data captured by such systems,
9. The universal use of dash cameras in police vehicles,
10. Concrete steps to ensure that federal military weapons do not end up in the hands of local law enforcement and, if they do, to prevent the misuse of those weapons in communities of color,
11. On the ground community training to educate residents of their rights when dealing with law enforcement,
12. The elimination of the “broken windows” policing policy initiated in the 1980’s which encourages overly
aggressive police encounters for minor offenses and the promotion of community-based policing,
13. Greater and more effective community oversight over the local law enforcement and policing tactics, and
14. The establishment of a law enforcement commission to review policing tactics that would include in its composition leaders/experts from civil rights advocacy groups who represent the most impacted communities.

BLACK LIFE MATTERS
As a national call to action, the “Black Life Matters Ride” is unifying Black people under the following demands:

1. Justice for the family of Michael Brown and all other victims of law enforcement and vigilante violence.

2. The development of a national policy specifically aimed at redressing the systemic pattern of anti-black law enforcement violence in the US.

3. De-militarization of Law Enforcement – we are demanding that the federal government discontinue its supply of military weaponry and equipment to local law enforcement. Furthermore, law enforcement agencies across the country should liquidate their current military resources, immediately.

4. Release the names of all officers involved in murdering Black people both on patrol, but also inside custody from the last 5 years onward.

5. Decrease law enforcement spending/budget by ½ by 2016, and invest that money into Black communities most devastated by poverty in order to create jobs, housing, and schools.

Change.org Petition by Shaun King
7 Policy Solutions Offered By A Change.org petition by Shaun King. Petition has nearly 225,000 signatures so far.

1. The avoidable shooting and killing or otherwise murdering of an unarmed citizen who does not have an outstanding warrant for a violent crime should be a federal offense.

2. Choke holds and chest compressions by police (what the coroner lists as the official cause of death for Eric Garner) should be federally banned.

3. All police officers must wear forward-facing body cameras while on duty. They cost just $99 and are having a significant, positive impact in several cities around the United States and the world. Turning them off should warrant immediate termination.

4. A trusted 3rd party business should monitor and store all videos from forward facing cameras.

5. Suspensions for violations of any of the above offenses should be UNPAID. If a third party review board clears the officer, the back pay, which could sit in escrow could be given back to the officer. If found guilty, the money in escrow should be given to victims of police violence.

6. All murders by police must be investigated, immediately so, by a trusted and unbiased third party. It is not sufficient for the police, who are like a family, to investigate a murder by one of their own.

7. Convictions for the above offenses should have their own set of mandatory minimum penalties. The men who killed Diallo, Bell, Grant, Carter, Garner, and others all walk free while over 1,000,000 non violent offenders are currently incarcerated in American prisons.

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL USA
Amnesty International USA released three recommendations after their team examined the situation in Ferguson:

• A prompt, thorough, independent, and impartial investigation into the shooting of Brown must take place. Brown’s family must be kept informed throughout the investigation. Under international law, police officers suspected of having committed unlawful acts must be held to account through effective investigation, and where warranted, prosecuted.
• All police departments involved in policing the ongoing protests in Ferguson in response to Brown’s death must act in accordance with international human rights standards. Any human rights abuses in connection with the policing of protests must be independently and impartially investigated, and those responsible held accountable.
• A thorough review of all trainings, policies, and procedures with regards to the use of force and the policing of protests should be undertaken.

Aug 28 2014

Video: Hands Up #Ferguson

“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.”

Aug 26 2014

Hope in the Struggle: Chicago’s Young People Resist…

One of my touchstones, the brilliant scholar-activist Barbara Ransby, tweeted something yesterday that I agree with completely.

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.

National Moment of Silence (photo by Kelly Hayes, 8/14/14)

National Moment of Silence (photo by Kelly Hayes, 8/14/14)

National Moment of Silence (photo by Kelly Hayes, 8/14/14)

National Moment of Silence (photo by Kelly Hayes, 8/14/14)

National Moment of Silence (photo by Bob Simpson, 8/14/14)

National Moment of Silence (photo by Bob Simpson, 8/14/14)

Read more »

Aug 22 2014

Artistic Interventions About Events in Ferguson…

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.

by Sandra Khalifa

by Sandra Khalifa

A few singers/rappers have produced music about Mike Brown and/or the Ferguson protests. Here are some of those:

Aug 01 2014

Beyond the Case & the Cause is A Person: #FreeMarissa

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.

Yesterday, the Free Marissa Now Mobilization Campaign delivered several #SelfiesForSelfDefense directly to Marissa. Below are some of the tweets describing her reaction.

Marissa Alexander is a human being and she needs our support. Please donate to her legal defense or purchase an item from the Free Marissa online store (all proceeds go to the legal defense fund).

Jul 28 2014

#ChicagoForMarissa

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.

#selfiesforselfdefense taken at Community Gathering and Pre-Trial Rally for Marissa Alexander organized by CAFMA on 7/26/14 in Chicago (photo by Sarah Jane Rhee)

#selfiesforselfdefense taken at Community Gathering and Pre-Trial Rally for Marissa Alexander organized by CAFMA on 7/26/14 in Chicago (photo by Sarah Jane Rhee)

Jun 13 2014

July 18: Opening of ‘No Selves To Defend’ Exhibition

This summer I am curating, with my friend Rachel Caidor, an exhibition based on the ‘No Selves To Defend’ anthology. I have also roped my friend Billy Dee into helping us with the design of the exhibition. [It's a wonder that I still have anyone who is willing to be my friend.]

Yesterday, the three of us visited the Art In These Times space to start envisioning the exhibition. I am always so excited to see blank walls and to imagine the possibilities of what we can create.

The exhibition includes original art by Micah Bazant, Molly Crabapple, Billy Dee, Bianca Diaz, Rachel Galindo, Lex Non Scripta, Caitlin Seidler, and Ariel Springfield. It also includes ephemera and artifacts from my personal collection.

The opening reception for the exhibition is on July 18th from 6 to 9 p.m. I hope to see many of you there. This exhibition is made possible by individual donors who have generously contributed to my organization’s summer fundraiser. I am incredibly grateful for the support.

Billy created two posters for the exhibition and I can’t decide which I like best (I love them both) so I’m sharing them below.

by Billy Dee

by Billy Dee

by Billy Dee

by Billy Dee

Jun 11 2014

No Selves to Defend #4: The Case of Joan Little

For the rest of this week, I will feature some of the stories in the new anthology ‘No Selves to Defend.’ I hope that you will buy a copy of the publication as all proceeds will support Marissa Alexander’s legal defense.

We kick off with Joan Little’s case. This short essay was written by Dr. Emily Thuma and the art is by the supremely gifted Micah Bazant.

On August 27, 1974 in Beaufort County, North Carolina, a twenty-year-old Black woman prisoner named Joan Little defended herself from sexual violence at the hands of a white male guard. Little gained control of an ice pick the guard had used to threatened her while she was in her cell, and she used the tool as a weapon to wound him. She then fled the jail. The guard did not survive his stab wounds and Little quickly became the target of a statewide search. One week later, Little surrendered and declared to state authorities and the press that she had acted in self-defense. An all-white grand jury charged her with first-degree murder, which carried the possibility of the death penalty, and she was sent to the women’s prison in Raleigh to await trial.

Joan Little by Micah Bazant

Joan Little by Micah Bazant

In the following year, a broad base of individuals and organizations from around the country participated in the mass mobilization that became known as the “Free Joan Little Movement.” From Oakland to Detroit to Atlanta, people formed local committees that helped the North Carolina-based Joan Little Defense Fund raise money to pay for Little’s bond (set at $115,000) and legal fees. Many widely known racial and economic justice and feminist organizations threw their support behind Little as well, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, Black Panther Party, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom, and the National Organization for Women. The renowned a cappella group Sweet Honey and the Rock released a song entitled, “Joanne Little: She’s My Sister.” While out on bail before her trial, Little traveled the country and spoke to numerous audiences about her case as well as unjust prison conditions more generally.

With the help of the Center for Constitutional Rights and others, the legal defense team produced documentation that persuaded the court that Little could not receive a fair trial in Beaufort County and it won a venue change to Raleigh. The five-week trial began in July. During the trial, the defense called several Black women to the stand to testify about their own experiences of sexual harassment by white male staff at the Beaufort County jail, demonstrating a chronic pattern of abuse. The jury, made up of both Black and white jurors, deliberated for only seventy-eight minutes before acquitting Little.

While State v. Joan Little is noted for being the first time a woman was acquitted of murder on the grounds of self-defense against sexual violence, its wider impact and legacy was its powerful reflection of the interconnections of racism, sexism, and economic inequality. As scholar, activist, and former political prisoner Angela Y. Davis wrote in Ms. magazine in June 1975, “Those of us—women and men—who are Black or people of color must understand the connection between racism and sexism that is so strikingly manifested in her case. Those of us who are White and women must grasp the issue of male supremacy in relationship to the racism and class bias which complicate and exacerbate it.”

Jun 09 2014

Standing on a Soapbox, Calling Out the Cops…

I stood on a soapbox Saturday. I mean a real one.

Me on a soapbox (photo by Sarah Jane Rhee, 6/7/14)

Me on a soapbox (photo by Sarah Jane Rhee, 6/7/14)

On an overcast afternoon, on a concrete island at the intersection of Ashland, Milwaukee and Division, I joined a couple dozen people (mostly young) who were reading/performing poetry in opposition to state violence.

I was invited to say a few words, so I did. I shared words written by Langston Hughes and AI. I added a few of my own too.

On Friday, Damo was laid to rest. I planned to attend the funeral but in the end I was unable due to a previous commitment. It’s just as well. I hate funerals. I despise them especially when the person being buried is in his early 20s.

So I stood on a real soapbox and in memory of Damo & others who are victims of state violence, I shared two poems. Here are a few lines from one by Langston Hughes:

Three kicks between the legs
That kill the kids
I’d make tomorrow.

I’ll admit to actively suppressing any thoughts of a young man being tased (twice) and hitting his head so hard that he was basically brain dead when he arrived at the hospital. How does this happen? Then I remember the disposability and un-humanness of black and brown people. I know how this happens. I am a witness but I’d rather not be.

Ethan spoke before me. No, that’s not actually true, Ethan bled before me. I watched with others transfixed by his words and his pain. I hoped that it was catharsis towards healing. But I don’t know how young black men can heal in the midst of continuing, continual, unrelenting violence. Is this possible?

The title of the gathering organized by members of the Chicago Revolutionary Poets Brigade was ‘No Knock’ An Artistic Speak-Out Against the ‘American Police State.’ The title is inspired by Gil Scott Heron’s poem “No Knock.”

No knocked on my brother Fred Hampton
Bullet holes all over the place
No knocked on my brother Michael Harris
And jammed a shotgun against his skull

It is as it ever was. No knocked on Damo who is now six feet under ground.

Passersby stopped to listen as various people read poems about Guantanamo, police violence, prisons, surveillance, and more. Audre was right: “Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.” There is magic in hearing voices speaking out for justice over the din of a bustling city. You had to be there to understand what I mean. Gathering as a collective to recite poetry can’t end state violence but it does keep our spirits up so that we can demand and fight for more justice. It does help to “give name to the nameless so that it can be thought.” And now more than ever we need the words and we need to be able to think through that which cannot be thought. These are revolutionary acts in our time.

Over the next few weeks, I will be working with others to strategize and organize around the epidemic of police violence experienced by our young people of color in Chicago. I don’t know what will come of our discussions but I am sure that nothing will change unless we change it.

I stood on a soapbox Saturday. I mean a real one. I read some poems including “Endangered Species” by AI.

At some point, we will meet
at the tip of the bullet,
the blade, or the whip
as it draws blood,
but only one of us will change,
only one of us will slip
past the captain and crew of this ship
and the other submit to the chains
of a nation
that delivered rhetoric
in exchange for its promises.

I hope that you find your own soap box. I mean a real one and read some poems, calling out the cops…