I’ve written about the Silent Protest Parade previously here.
Category: Police Brutality
Yesterday, a friend shared a petition with me. It’s by a man named Timothy Lee and opens:
We want RBS Citizens to call off the eviction and provide an opportunity for my family to stay in our home. Before Mrs. Lee passed we grew up in this house and we are not planning to leave any day soon. This means we will not let anyone evict us form our home. We want to continue with the mortgage before it went default so that we can stay in our home.
I have several friends here in Chicago who are very active in the anti-eviction movement and their actions have deep historical roots in this city. It’s no secret that I am fairly obsessed with the Black American Communists of the early to mid-20th century. I actively seek out information about their lives and work. Many years ago, I read an article written in 1931 by Horace Cayton that was published in the Nation Magazine. He was a well-respected sociologist who studied black life. In “The Black Bugs,” Cayton recounts a scene that he observed in Chicago while eating in a restaurant: “I chanced to look out the window and saw a number of Negroes walking by, three abreast, forming a long uninterrupted line. On going outside I was informed that they were the ‘black bugs’ — the Communists — the ‘black reds.”
Cayton decided to join the group and march alongside them, curious as to what he would find. He wrote:
Turning to my marching companion I asked where we were headed for, and what we would do when we got there. He looked surprised, and told me we were marching down to put in a family who had been evicted from a house for not paying their rent. Things were awfully tough down in the Black Belt now, he continued, and jobs were impossible to get. The Negro was the first to be discharged and the last to be hired. Now with unemployment they were hungry, and if they were put out in the street their situation would be a desperate one. The Negroes of the community had been exploited for years by the unscrupulous landlords who had taken advantage of prejudice compelling the Negroes to live only in that district, and had forced them to pay exorbitant rents. Now, continued my informer, hard times had hit them and they were being turned out into the street. Furthermore, as the Negroes did not know their legal rights, the landlords would simply pitch their few belongings out of the window with no legal procedure at all. They, the Communists, were going to see that the people were not treated in this fashion.
This passage reads like it could be written today and in fact, it probably has been and is being written dozens of times across the country. The episode that Cayton writes about in 1931 ends predictably with the police arriving and beating the crap out of the Communists who had stopped to hear a soap box speaker. Cayton describes the chaotic scene:
Then the riot squad turned into the street, four cars full of blue-coated officers and a patrol wagon. They jumped out before the cars came to stop and charged down upon the crowd. Night sticks and “billies” played a tattoo on black heads. Clubs came down in a sickening rain of blows on the woolly head of one of the boys who was holding her [the soap box speaker] up. Blood spurted from his mouth and nose. Finally she was pulled down. A tremor of nervousness ran through the crowd. Then someone turned and ran. In a minute the whole group was running like mad for cover. One of the officers shot twice at one of the boys who had been holding up the woman speaker. The boy stumbled, grabbed his thigh, but kept on running. The woman was struggling in the arms of two husky policemen. It was all over in a minute, and all that was left was the soap box and the struggling black woman. I turned and left.
It would be rare today for the police to use this level of violence against anti-eviction protesters. Still, putting one’s body on the line to prevent an eviction often comes with the risk and even the likelihood of an arrest. I have a ton of respect for my friends who take this chance regularly. The very least that I can do is to sign a petition supporting Mr. Lee’s right to stay in his home. I hope that you will too!
I’ve always loved this speech by Dr. Abernathy about Angela Davis and haven’t seen it available on the internet so (since I’m an insomniac) I decided to re-type it and share it here. It is still very relevant today.
“I Bring an Indictment Against the American System”
by the Reverend Ralph Abernathy
February 2, 1971
We meet in defense of Miss Angela Davis; therefore, let us ponder the question first, who is Angela Davis? Let us first recall this young Black woman who was born twenty-seven years ago today in Birmingham, Alabama, where the blood of her people flowed under a reign of official racism and terror.
She lived in a Black community which came to be known as “Dynamite Hill.” As she grew up she learned of fifty bombings against Black people in her native Birmingham, all of them unsolved.
She knew four little Black girls, who were her friends, who were murdered in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in Nineteen Sixty Three, but none of us knows the exact identity of the bombers today, because there were no arrests and the FBI did not possess the ability and the skills to find those bombers.
In the face of death every day of her life, Angela Davis began to learn the life of struggle — struggle for survival, struggle for her people, struggle for justice.
September 13, 1971: Bloody Monday. Rockefeller orders thousands of National Guardsmen, State Troopers and Corrections Guards to attack the prisoners. Hundreds of prisoners are shot. The State’s forces also shoot and kill nine of the hostages. The prisoners have no guns. Many of the alleged leaders of the rebellion are selectively marked and assassinated by the State’s forces. 39 men (prisoners and hostages) die in the retaking of the prison. The Corrections Department says the hostages’ throats were slashed by the prisoners (a lie). Guards torture and beat prisoners.
Here’s how Carl Jones-EL recalls the events of September 13th:
“The thirteenth, everyone was in the yard and there was a lot of tension, because you could see that these people were getting ready to come in. They was going to use force. Now from where I was, I’m in the middle of the yard, so to speak, near the trench. Next thing I knowed there’s this big helicopter flying over us and tear gas coming from everyone, and there’s a whole lot of shooting and carrying on. So naturally, everyone is running for cover. So I’m next to the wall and I note that around me everyone is hiding his face and guys spitting in rags and putting it to their nose. But what I know was troopers start coming from everywhere, then I start seeing different people fall, you know, they was shot. Guys was losing their hands and shot in the head and the neck. Like it’s been stated about indiscriminate firing. I don’t see it as indiscriminate firing because the people that were shot, and the people that were killed, they were selected, man. How you going to call this indiscriminate? You take the troopers that came in, they wasn’t hurt. Now if it was indiscriminate, why didn’t some of them get hurt? You see, why was it just inmates and hostages that got shot, that got killed? At the same time the helicopter was flying overhead, the helicopter was telling everyone to surrender and they wouldn’t be hurt. A lot of people were doing this and they were still getting shot. They were putting their hands up and this helicopter just kept flying around talking about surrendering and nobody would get hurt. So after everyone seen what was happening, they didn’t come out. It was a slaughter like, man, the people were defenseless. They had sticks and homemade weapons to defend themselves, but this doesn’t compare, man, with magnums and carbines. This is ridiculous, you know .”
Below is an excerpt from a forthcoming film about the Attica prison uprising titled “Criminal Injustice: Death and Politics at Attica.”
“A people without a positive history is like a vehicle without an engine.” – Steven Biko
My father was the first person to talk with me about Steven Biko. He’s taught me the most about African revolutionaries: Lumumba, Toure, Cabral, and so many more. My dad knew many of these men (and yes, growing up all revolutionaries that I encountered through my dad’s stories were men). Biko he didn’t know personally but he admired him greatly. Dad gave me a bunch of pamphlets that included speeches and writing by Biko and others. I read them voraciously.
I was a teenager when the film “Cry Freedom” was released. I remember almost nothing about it except for the police interrogation and torture scenes. Those left their mark on my psyche. I’d of course heard the whispers about my own uncle’s interrogations, torture, and imprisonment as a kid. But the visual representations in “Cry Freedom” made that vague concept real. It’s strange writing these words because it now makes so much sense that I would became obsessed with organizing against policing and violence.
Desmond Tutu recounts the story of South African minister of police Jimmy Krueger who upon hearing of the torture and killing of Steve Biko in prison is reported to have said that his death “leaves me cold.” Tutu writes of this: “You have to ask what has happened to the humanity – the ubuntu — of someone who could speak so callously about the suffering and death of a fellow human being.”
Our capacity to dehumanize each other is seemingly boundless. And yet, we are also capable of demonstrating great compassion toward one another too. This, it seems, is the central paradox of humans. The persistent question is which part of ourselves will we feed.
The police officers who tortured and killed Steven Biko on this day in 1977 chose to feed their inhumanity. [Read the harrowing sequence of events that led up to his death here]. They thought to bury Biko’s ideas (which they found so threatening) along with his body. They failed because some of us still remember the potency of his philosophy. He was the one who said: “It is better to die for an idea that will live, than to live for an idea that will die.”
Were he alive today, Biko would surely be dismayed at the fact that white supremacy & domination persist in his beloved South Africa even though its leaders have black skin. He would remind us that blackness is about more than skin color. Now more than ever, we need to re-animate Biko’s ideas and apply them to our current challenges.
So today, please do me a favor, read something that Biko actually wrote himself. Not an article about him or someone else’s testimony of who the man was. Not an out of context quote that you find on the internet. Read his original writing. Let’s recover his voice.
You can listen to Biko talk about the Black Consciousness Movement below:
Last night, I spoke at an event keynoted by Dr. Angela Davis. The event titled “If You Want Peace, Fight for Justice” addressed gun violence, social justice activism, and the work we must do to build a path forward.
Each panelist had 3 minutes to offer comments after Dr. Davis spoke. These are mine as written. The comments that I delivered varied a little from my original text.
My comments tonight center on the insidious & (for too many) invisible violence deployed under the pretext of ending gun and other forms of violence and crime in our city.
I’ve lived in Chicago since 1995 and I’ve never experienced a summer like this one.
For us, in my community, the summer kicked off with intense, relentless, and surely illegal police harassment of young people and specifically of young black men.
Young people riding their bikes on sidewalks instead of being ticketed were hauled into police lockups where they were accused of resisting arrest and then funneled into Cook County jail where preparations began in April to make room for such egregious arrests.
I woke up early yesterday. I had even less than my regular four hours of sleep. I was determined to attend the Chicago Board of Education meeting and then to participate in two rallies for education justice and police accountability.
It turns out that I missed the rallies. We waited nearly two & a half hours for the public comment section of the Board meeting to begin. It is excruciating to quietly sit in uncomfortable chairs while blatant falsehoods are offered without challenge.
I thought about leaving early without making my statement but I am accountable to a group of people who have been working on the issue of school discipline data transparency for almost two years now. So I gritted my teeth and stayed put.
Meanwhile outside of the Board meeting, students, parents, educators, and community members were protesting CPS’s closing of schools and the proposed deep budget cuts for the remaining ones. Protesters then marched to City Hall to demand an elected school board. Make no mistake about it, young people were at the forefront of the protests. Students had called on their peers to boycott school and dozens of young people responded by taking to the streets.
By Audre Lorde
The difference between poetry and rhetoric
is being ready to kill
instead of your children.
I am trapped on a desert of raw gunshot wounds
and a dead child dragging his shattered black
face off the edge of my sleep
blood from his punctured cheeks and shoulders
is the only liquid for miles
and my stomach
churns at the imagined taste while
my mouth splits into dry lips
without loyalty or reason
thirsting for the wetness of his blood
as it sinks into the whiteness
of the desert where I am lost
without imagery or magic
trying to make power out of hatred and destruction
trying to heal my dying son with kisses
only the sun will bleach his bones quicker.
A policeman who shot down a ten year old in Queens
stood over the boy with his cop shoes in childish blood
and a voice said “Die you little motherfucker” and
there are tapes to prove it. At his trial
this policeman said in his own defense
“I didn’t notice the size nor nothing else
only the color”. And
there are tapes to prove that, too.
Today that 37 year old white man
with 13 years of police forcing
was set free
by eleven white men who said they were satisfied
justice had been done
and one Black Woman who said
“They convinced me” meaning
they had dragged her 4’10” black Woman’s frame
over the hot coals
of four centuries of white male approval
until she let go
the first real power she ever had
and lined her own womb with cement
to make a graveyard for our children.
I have not been able to touch the destruction
But unless I learn to use
the difference between poetry and rhetoric
my power too will run corrupt as poisonous mold
or lie limp and useless as an unconnected wire
and one day I will take my teenaged plug
and connect it to the nearest socket
raping an 85 year old white woman
who is somebody’s mother
and as I beat her senseless and set a torch to her bed
a greek chorus will be singing in 3/4 time
“Poor thing. She never hurt a soul. What beasts they are.”
Audre Lorde, “Power” from The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde. Copyright © 1978 by Audre Lorde.
Source: The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1997)
By Sterling Brown
Let us forgive Ty Kendricks.
The place was Darktown. He was young.
His nerves were jittery. The day was hot.
The Negro ran out of the alley.
And so Ty shot.
Let us understand Ty Kendricks.
The Negro must have been dangerous.
Because he ran;
And here was a rookie with a chance
To prove himself a man.
Let us condone Ty Kendricks
If we cannot decorate.
When he found what the Negro was running for,
It was too late;
And all we can say for the Negro is
It was unfortunate.
Let us pity Ty Kendricks.
He has been through enough,
Standing there, his big gun smoking,
Having to hear the wenches wail
And the dying Negro moan.
These are some thoughts… They were written fast & are therefore incomplete and subject to revision.
Yesterday evening, a friend emailed to share a press release by Hollaback!. In it, the anti-street harassment group was announcing its launch of a “NEW APP FOR REAL-TIME REPORTING OF STREET HARASSMENT AND VIOLENCE TO CITY OFFICIALS.”
From their press release:
“Emily May, Executive Director of Hollaback! was joined by Speaker Christine Quinn, her wife Kim Catullo, and Council Member Diana Reyna today to unveil a new, targeted system to report sexual harassment to New York City Councilmembers via iPhone and Droid app. Speaker Quinn also released a plan for assessing the safety of neighborhoods across the city, block by block, using community-led safety audits. By gathering information in a coordinated way, the city will be able to better direct resources and more effectively combat harassment.”
My first reaction after reading this was “Why would Hollaback! partner with a staunch defender of ‘stop and frisk’ policies in New York City to launch an anti-violence initiative?” This is inherently contradictory to me. Surely, Hollaback! is aware that stop & frisk is itself a form of street harassment. Relying on a defender of such a practice to promote any new initiative would seem to undercut their anti-street harassment efforts.
Christine Quinn is quoted in the press release as stating:
“People who violate women either by their actions or words won’t be able to hide any longer. We will know who they are, what they do, where they do it – and we will put it to an end. By coupling valuable information with targeted resources we will arm ourselves with the tools we need to put an end to street violence and harassment. Public spaces belong to all New Yorkers, and street harassment is not a price women and LGBT New Yorkers have to pay for walking around New York City’s neighborhoods.”