Category: Poetry and Spoken Word

Aug 31 2014

#FergusonSyllabus: Talking and Teaching About Police Violence

by Molly Crabapple (2014)

by Molly Crabapple (2014)

Regular readers of this blog know that I think, write, and organize a lot around policing and violence. It’s back to school season and many of my educator friends have either already started teaching or will be soon. Police violence is very much in the news lately and many young people want to address the issue (they always do). I and several of my comrades have created several resources that can assist in those conversations. I share them below.

General Questions To Ask About Policing

Who benefits?
Who suffers?
Whose interests are advanced?
Who pays the costs?
Who/What is protected and served?
Who is bullied and brutalized?
How has policing evolved over the years?
Can you envision a world without police?
What might be some alternatives to policing?

Introductory Activities

#1 – 6 Words about Policing and Violence
I have found 6 word stories to be good opening activities (especially if you are limited in terms of time). You can figure out what young people/students already know & think about various issues and can effectively engage a group. I have created an activity that includes watching a video, discussing it, and then facilitating a 6 word story activity. This was created for an event I co-organized last year. Download the instructions HERE (PDF).

If time is an issue, you can substitute the video suggested in the curriculum template with this 2 minute one produced by Buzzfeed using Shirin-Banou Barghi’s powerful series of graphics depicting the last words of unarmed black men killed by police. I shared her graphics here.

Some examples of 6 word stories are:
Walked outside. Did nothing. Cop Harassed. [by me]
Cops said my bruises would fade. [by me]

You can also switch it up by asking students/youth to write a 6 word story for the families of the murdered men featured in Barghi’s graphics as well as others.

#2 – Activity Guide
A couple of years ago, I created an activity guide to help youth workers and educators discuss police violence with young people. You can find some introductory activities there too.

Historical Timelines of Policing

#1 – Interactive Timeline
We focus on political education at Project NIA. As such, we create many resources and tools that can help with that work. A couple of years ago, Lewis Wallace, Jessie Lee Jackson and Megan Milks (3 of our volunteers) created an interactive timeline that covers the history of policing in the U.S. from pre-colonial times to the present. You can find that timeline here.

#2 — Interactive Activity
In addition, Lewis developed an interactive activity about the history of policing and violence that can be downloaded HERE.

#3 — History Zines
In late 2011, I decided to develop a series of pamphlets to inform and educate community members about the longstanding tradition of oppressive policing toward marginalized populations (including some activists and organizers).

This series titled “Historical Moments of Policing, Violence & Resistance” features pamphlets on various topics including: The Mississippi Black Papers, the 1968 Democratic Convention, Resistance to Police Violence in Harlem, the 1937 Memorial Day Massacre, Oscar Grant, the Danziger Bridge Shootings, among others. The pamphlets are available for free downloading here. They are youth-friendly and each publication includes a set of discussion questions.

Read more »

Aug 13 2014

Poem of the Day: Death in Yorkville by Langston Hughes

Death In Yorkville
(James Powell, Summer, 1964)

by Langston Hughes

How many bullets does it take
To kill a fifteen-year-old kid?
How many bullets does it take
To kill me?

How many centuries does it take
To bind my mind — chain my feet –
Rope my neck — lynch me –
Unfree?

From the slave chain to the lynch rope
To the bullets of Yorkville,
Jamestown, 1619 to 1963:
Emancipation Centennial —
100 years NOT free.

Civil War Centenntial: 1965
How many Centennials does it take
To kill me,
Still alive?

When the long hot summers come
Death ain’t
No jive.

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)

Jul 15 2014

Poem of the Day: Separation

Audre Lorde

Separation

The stars dwindle
they will not reward me
even in triumph.

It is possible
to shoot a man
in self defense
and still notice
how his red blood
decorates the snow.

1972

Jul 06 2014

Poetry Interlude: The Courtroom

A classic…

Jun 24 2014

Poem of the Day: To Timberly, From Her 16 Year Old Daughter

by Amaryllis Moleski

by Amaryllis Moleski

Dear Mom,

I love you very much, even though we haven’t had the greatest relationship.
I sometimes get angry when I think of all the years we have been separated.
I love you very much and wouldn’t trade you for anything.
I know it’s not your fault and I don’t blame you.
I just hope and pray that I will be able to spend more time than once or twice a year with the mom I love and adore.
Always remember I love you and never forget it.
And when you are in rehab and you feel like no one cares and you are not going to make it just remember what I am writing in this letter and I love you.

Love, your daughter,
Latoya

Source: Writers’ Block: The Voices of Women Inside (Women and Prison Program, Beyondmedia Education)

Jun 18 2014

Poem of the Day: I Am Human

I Am Human
by Tammica Summers

I am an inmate
The result of a mistake
But I am human first

This is not my fate
The effects make me shake
But it could always be worse

I am real just like you
Even though I wear blue
I have eyes I can see
My soul cries and my spirit is free

I am just as human as you are
It might be a stretch of your imagination
But can you try to reach that far?

I bleed like every human does
And sometimes I cry just because

Some days I have are good
And some days are bad
Some days I wish I could
Have a better life than what I had

I am an inmate
But I am human like you
I am now property of the state
But was once free like you

I am not an animal in the zoo
I am human just like you
When I’m scared I long to be held
And in so many ways I am frail

Man has sentenced me to shame
And put me in this Hell
And branded with this name
That you think you know so well

But do you really know me?
I’ve been conveniently moved from society
Forced into this virtual reality
But until I die I will always be
A human like you — part of humanity

Source: Bound Struggles, Number Seven (Chicago Books to Women in Prison)

Jun 15 2014

Surveillance Embodied: “I Live In A Place Where Everyone Watches You Everywhere You Go”

There are a number of reasons why the current discourse about privacy and surveillance leaves me cold. I started to write a little about these in the past. I haven’t had time or (maybe more truthfully) the motivation to write more. I don’t think that those who are currently most vocal and public about their anti-surveillance state critiques have much in common with me or my concerns. I’m certain that my views and ideas are meaningless to them. Finally, with some exceptions, I think that many current critics of the surveillance state are uninterested in doing the movement-building work that it would take to change the current state of affairs. So I just keep it moving, doing my own work.

My colleague Grant recently emailed a few audio pieces that he worked on with young men of color. I was particularly struck by Marquise Paino’s audio story titled “Eyes On Me.”

Marquise reminds the listener that young black men in Chicago are constantly and consistently ‘watched’ by the state, by businesses, and by community members. For him, there is no neat distinction between the watchers and the watched. It’s all of a piece. A question to ask Marquise is whether it feels different to be watched by the cops, the storeowners, and the gangs. Is there more or less fear and anger depending on who is doing the watching?

I’d be interested to know how privacy advocates and some civil libertarians might discuss the concept of surveillance with a young man like Marquise. What’s the meaning of bulk data collection by the NSA to a young person who lives under constant scrutiny already? Would Marquise be surprised or disturbed that the cops are looking for ways to more easily access cell phone information? I don’t know the answer to these questions but it would be interesting to know.

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…

Jun 08 2014

Poem of the Day: Why I Cry

Why I Cry
by Sharee M (Free Write Jail Arts Program)

I cry because so many thoughts
go through my mind.
I cry when I feel that I have been mistreated
I cry so that someone could come and comfort me
I cry so that things could go my way
I cry when I feel that everything’s over
I cry when I think about what I should have done
instead of doing time
I cry for a second chance
so that I could be something
I cry when I think about
when would I see my family again
I cry because I have not found myself
I cry for the family who lost a loved one
I cry for not going with my first mind, the right one
I cry because bricks surround me
I cry because I am in a box
I cry because I am not free

(Source: Big Dream I’m Chasing, Free Write Jail Arts Anthology Vol 6)