Category: Police Brutality

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)

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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 22 2014

Erasing Fannie Lou and Other Black Women Victimized By Police…

Another man/boy shot (not again). Unarmed (his black skin is weaponized). Killed by cops (since slavery). The terrible ever-expanding litany of names: Amadou, Sean, Oscar, Rodney, Trayvon, Michael… We’re on a first name basis (excruciatingly familiar). Collective mourning and grief ensue (my tear ducts are dried out; there’s only rage). Calls for justice in the black community (justice is prosecution and prison). #BlackLivesMatter on a social media loop (numbing). We are trying to convince ourselves that it’s true (we don’t fully believe it). Please make it true (it’s a symbolic prayer).

In the background, a faint sound (a whisper). Aiyanna, Tyisha, Renisha, Rekia (background noise). Woman/girls shot (do they shoot black girls & women?). Unarmed (her skin is a bullet magnet). Killed by cops (since slavery). They are not household names (excruciatingly unfamiliar). A few people mourn (silently). Some calls for justice (more prosecutions and prison). #BlackLivesMatter? (But which ones?)

You’re so selfish. This isn’t the right time, the voice intones. Is that voice in my head? I can’t tell. There never seems to be a ‘right’ time to remember the names of murdered black women (never). Sadness and grief threaten to overwhelm (so tired). Stubbornly I remember (an act of defiance).

In 1999, Tyisha Miller was on her way to a party with her cousin when her car got a flat tire. They pulled into a gas station in downtown Riverside, California. Her cousin went to get help and left Tyisha who had been drinking alone in the car. Miller apparently passed out with the doors locked. She had a handgun on her lap.
A few minutes later, four Riverside police officers (all of them white) who had been called to the scene tried to wake Tyisha to no avail.

They smashed the driver’s side window and chaos ensued. At least one of the cops thought that he saw Tyisha reach for her gun. The officers fired 27 shots into the car and Miller was hit 12 times. She died.

Black people are always reaching for guns…

In the mugshot photo, Fannie Lou Hamer has her arms up in the universal surrender pose (or is it universal?).

fannielou

The photo circulates on social media. Re-purposed and remixed for a new generation to memorialize a 21st century police execution. The sampled track of a new freedom song. “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” the protesters chant.

Fannie Lou stares back at us from behind the lens (hands up, don’t shoot?). What percentage of people who see the mugshot (without the explanatory text) know of Mrs. Hamer, let alone her abuse by police? (15%).

The monster is insatiable and needs to be constantly fed. More images from black struggle, more trafficking in black death (blackness is property; we don’t belong to ourselves). Hungry for more… to consume and exploit. Black suffering erased again. Fannie Lou’s suffering invisible and (un)felt. Mrs. Hamer warned us: “A black woman’s body was never hers alone.” Our bodies are common property still; no boundaries bound to be respected. The cause is bigger than individual pain (right?).

Tell us what happened to you in Winona, Mrs. Hamer? (can the dead talk?). Danielle McGuire tells the story:

After being arrested with other Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) activists for desegregating a restaurant, Hamer received a savage and sexually abusive beating by the Winona police. “You bitch,” one officer yelled, “we going to make you wish you was dead.” He ordered two black inmates to beat Hamer with “a long wide blackjack,” while other patrolmen battered “her head and other parts of her body.” As they assaulted her, Hamer felt them repeatedly “pull my dress over my head and try to feel under my clothes.” She attempted to pull her dress down during the brutal attack in order to “preserve some respectability through the horror and disgrace.” Hamer told this story on national television at the Democratic National Convention in 1964 and continued to tell it “until the day she died,” offering her testimony of the sexual and racial injustice of segregation.’”(p.910)

Some say that you purposely underplayed the sexual violence associated with the beating that you received in jail, Mrs Hamer (were you ashamed? you did nothing wrong). Black women are also victims of police violence. The beat goes on. Is it the right time to bring this up yet?

Aug 16 2014

Last Words: A Visual Tribute to Men Killed By Police

Shirin-Banou Barghi created a series of graphics as a tribute to those killed by police officers.

by Shirin-Banou Barghi

by Shirin-Banou Barghi

by Shirin-Banou Barghi

by Shirin-Banou Barghi

by Shirin-Banou Barghi

by Shirin-Banou Barghi

by Shirin-Banou Barghi

by Shirin-Banou Barghi

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Aug 14 2014

Youth-Created Video: Police Brutality Through The Ages

Last night, my comrade Tommy posted the following video and message on his Facebook Page:

Good evening,
Here is a powerful video a member of We Get Free Media, Joshua Penny Roberts, about Police Brutality. He connects the brutality that happened to a member of Kuumba Lynx outside our space this summer to a long history of it back to the most recent executions of ‪#‎EricGarner‬, ‪#‎MikeBrown‬, and ‪#‎EzellFord‬ at the hands of the police.
Watch and see and please share. Filmers include Tyjuan Reed and Esther Ashaye
‪#‎wegetfree‬ ‪#‎chicopwatch‬

I’m sharing the video below because it is timely.

Also, a reminder that today is the National Moment of Silence in solidarity with Michael Brown and all victims of police violence. Find details about your city here. I’ll be at the Chicago vigil at 6 pm. at Daley Plaza. Hope to see you there too.

nmos14

Aug 10 2014

The Man With The Cardboard Sign…

The image is seared in my mind as I type through my tears.

I’ll never forget the man in the picture below holding a cardboard sign that reads “Ferguson Police Just Executed My Unarmed Son!!!” Yesterday, 18 year old Michael Brown was shot at least 10 times by police. He’s dead.

ferguson

The image is a declaration and an affirmation of humanity; a father making a way out of no way to insist that his son’s life mattered. A man standing before us devastated yet stoic holding a screaming sign announcing his son’s execution. Michael had kin. He was loved. The image is a declaration and affirmation of that too.

I’m bone tired and my mind is racing…

I’m thinking of Julian (not his real name) still recovering from being shot in Florida. Julian who talks extra loudly on the EL because as he tells me: “they need to know that I was here.”

I’m thinking of Max (not his real name) who warned me that the cops were out to lock him up and is now serving time in adult prison after cycling in and out of juvenile court for crimes of survival.

I’m thinking of James (not his real name) who tells me that he won’t live to be an old man. James who is 22 years old now and bought me flowers last Valentine’s day with his second paycheck ever. I tell him that he should save his money and he assures me that he won’t be here ‘but for a bit.’

I’m thinking of three young black men living in the in-between. I’m not sure how much longer I can live there too. I need my own sign but I’m so tired and I have lost my words. I’m looking for some cardboard and some hope.

Aug 04 2014

‘Mistaken Identity,’ The Violent Un-Gendering of Black Women, and the NYPD

Like many others, I saw the video of Denise Stewart’s assault by NYPD cops.

Perhaps unlike others though, I was most interested in the response of those watching rather than in the violence of the cops. I expect police officers to abuse black people so that’s not shocking anymore.

In the first few seconds of the video, a man is heard repeating: “Are you serious? That’s a woman. That’s a female. Where the female cops? That’s a female. That’s a female.” Then someone else (presumably a cop) says: “Shut it up! This has nothing to do with you.”

Clearly, the speaker assumes that a woman should be treated less harshly than Denise Stewart. Yet what kind of treatment at the hands of law enforcement is appropriate for a ‘female’ if she’s black? Black women have never had the benefit of protection by and from the state. As importantly, black women were not and haven’t been spared from brutal treatment. What historian Sarah Haley (2013) has termed “the absence of a normative gendered subject position” for black women explains (in part) how the NYPD can violently drag Denise Stewart out of her apartment half naked and manhandle her. She is ungendered to the cops and as a black person she is unhuman to them.

Ms. Stewart’s lawyer claims that the police knocked on the wrong door that night. But I would contend that under the current regime of racist policing across the country, there is no such thing as ‘mistaken identity’ for black people. We are all suspect and susceptible to police violence at any time, anywhere, for being black. This fact is undeniable. The people in blue are voracious and they crave black bodies. They are insatiable and rapacious. Let’s do away with euphemisms and imprecise language: U.S policing is and has always been inherently anti-black.

The speaker on the video’s question “Where the female cops?” belies how the cops are in our heads. We don’t question their necessity even as they are brutalizing us in the hallways of our apartments. The question should always be “Why are you here?” We must train ourselves to ask it. More black police officers, more women cops will not alter the fact that policing is oppressive.

One reason that the police were in Denise Stewart’s building is that someone called the cops to report a disturbance in another apartment. We have to begin to divest ourselves of the police and start finding ways not to call them. This will not end oppressive policing but it is an important step towards harm reduction. Below is the result of one simple call to the police:

“Denise Stewart was charged with assaulting a police officer, and she and her 20-year-old daughter Diamond Stewart were charged with resisting arrest, criminal possession of a weapon, and acting in a manner injurious to a child.

Stewart’s 24-year-old son Kirkland Stewart was also charged with resisting arrest, and her 12-year-old daughter was charged with assaulting a police officer, criminal mischief, and criminal possession of a weapon.”

The family also claims that a 4 year old child was pepper-sprayed during the incident. There will be no counseling for the members of the Stewart family who have been traumatized by the NYPD. Instead, there will be lawyer fees, countless visits to court, lost wages, nightmares, and zero justice. Most people (except those directly impacted) will or already have forgotten this incident. As I type this, the NYPD is probably terrorizing another black woman as the ghost of Eleanor Bumpurs (who Audre invited us to remember) hovers overhead.

“and I am going to keep writing it down
how they carried her body out of the house
dress torn up around her waist
uncovered
past tenants and the neighborhood children
a mountain of Black Woman”

Because Audre taught me well, I am going to write down how the NYPD dragged Denise Stewart out of her apartment at almost midnight in a towel that quickly fell off leaving her in her underwear half naked pressed against a wall gasping for breath calling out for oxygen because she suffered from asthma until she crumpled to the floor having fainted but 12 cops didn’t know that and they simply walked around her to go harass and harm her children and her grandchildren….

I’m going to keep writing it down…

Jul 29 2014

Sliced Shoes, Mary Mitchell & Fighting Violence with More Violence

According to Mary Mitchell, “gun-toting teenagers in Chicago are practically laughing at police.” Her solution is for the Chicago Police Department (CPD) to implement New York City’s recently ended stop and frisk policies and practices as a violence prevention measure.

What a sad and pathetic ‘solution’ to interpersonal violence. Mitchell suggests that citizens should willingly forfeit our civil rights and be subjected to more violence in order to decrease interpersonal violence. It makes no sense and is a destructive idea. Mitchell is advocating that Chicagoans cede even more power to a police department that is renowned for its corruption.

On Sunday, I sat in a peace circle with Jaime Hauad’s mother, Anabel Perez. Ms. Perez spoke about her son’s tortured confession secured by CPD. She showed us a copy of that day’s Tribune which had a front page story on her son’s experiences.

“Jaime Hauad was 17 and in the middle of two days of questioning — and alleged torture — by Chicago police investigating a double murder when he saw his chance, his attorneys say.

There, in a hallway as he was led to his second lineup, were his white Filas, gym shoes that he alleges police took from him after they lowered the blade of an office-grade paper cutter over his shoes, while he wore them, slicing at the tips and threatening to cut his toes to try and coerce a confession.

Hauad said he quickly grabbed the shoes — the tips had by then been completely removed — and quietly asked another arrestee, whom he knew from his Northwest Side neighborhood, to switch shoes with him. Take the Filas to my mom, Hauad urged as he took his pal’s Nike Scottie Pippen-edition shoes, and tell her they are trying to get me to confess to a murder.

The shoe switch 17 years ago didn’t prevent Hauad’s conviction and life sentence, as he had hoped, but it was documented in two Chicago Police Department lineup photo arrays, providing “before and after” views that persuaded the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission to conclude that Hauad’s torture story was credible and his case worthy of review.”

This is the department that Mitchell advocates be allowed to randomly stop and frisk people across this city. Last week, someone on Facebook posted a video of the Chicago Police Department chasing down and then arresting a 9 year old boy in North Lawndale on the West Side of Chicago.

Watch the video and notice how tiny that little boy who they are arresting is. Notice how many cops there are around him. Imagine how scared he was. Then imagine giving even more license to CPD to stop and harass 9 year old black boys across this city. I refuse. So do many others living in Chicago.

This Saturday, August 2 the We Charge Genocide working committee will launch a project in Chicago by hosting a youth hearing on police violence at Roosevelt University. From 1 to 2 PM, Chicago’s youth will put the system of police violence on trial, breaking their silence to confront the targeted repression, harassment and brutality disproportionately faced by low-income people and young people of color.

Youth aged 25 and under are invited to share their experiences. Personal and community stories of police violence will be told, such as the recent incident where a young man named Damo by the police, hit his head, and later died.

One of the organizers of “We Charge Genocide,” 19 year old Richard Wilson explained the reason for organizing a youth hearing:

“If you’re young and poor and black or brown, the police see you as a criminal. Young people are the future of this city, but you wouldn’t know it by the way we’re treated. Police violence and harassment are a reality in our neighborhoods but we aren’t powerless, we’re putting the system on trial.”

We Charge Genocide is a grassroots, intergenerational effort to center the voices and experiences of the young people most targeted by police violence in Chicago. The name “We Charge Genocide” comes from a petition filed to the United Nations in 1951, which documented 153 racial killings and other human rights abuses committed mostly by the police.  

We Charge Genocide seeks to address this tradition of violence by offering a vehicle for needed organizing and social transformation through documentation of youth experiences with the Chicago Police Department, and through popular education both about police abuses of power and about youth-driven solutions and alternatives to policing.

Everyone is invited to attend the youth hearing on Saturday. Details are here.

Jul 09 2014

With Friends Like These… On the ‘Military Occupation’ of Chicago

This was written fast as I am rushed today and buried under a ton of work. I will revise it over time but I wanted to put my thoughts down while they were still fresh. Also, I am officially retired from commenting on this crap after today.

chiraq

It’s summer in Chicago and our ‘friends’ are once again calling for military occupation of our city from the comfort of their air-conditioned condos in cities that are not our own. These calls are purportedly offered out of deep concern and love because the military is needed to save us from ourselves. In this case, the “us” is black people living (mostly) on the South & West sides of Chicago.

It’s become routine. Every summer, it’s the obligatory WTF!!!!!????? is going on in Chicago??? All of us who live here are familiar with the ritual. The press reports on shootings and homicides with almost no context (historical or otherwise). Faceless and sometimes nameless numbers are tallied like baseball box scores. And this is fitting in its own way. The prurient voyeuristic coverage is its own sport. The politicians periodically call for the National Guard to be deployed and martial law imposed. Everyone shakes their head while thinking ‘Tut, tut, what’s WRONG with those savages killing each other?’ Then folks are off to the beach or to resume watching Netflix.

When 80 people are shot over a long weekend, pointing out that homicides are actually down makes one seem callous and out-of-touch. It engenders ironic social media hashtags like #crimeisdown. It’s understandable why it’s cold comfort to many that homicides are actually at their lowest rate in decades. This means nothing to those who are most impacted by the shooting and the interpersonal violence. These are real people whose lives have been shattered. So these facts are meaningless to those folks and this is of course as it should be. However, these facts should NOT be meaningless to policymakers and to those more removed from the daily interpersonal violence. Because those are unfortunately the people who drive and set the policy responses. So the information and analysis that they use to craft those “solutions” should be accurate. And they should not have the effect of further destroying, criminalizing, and destabilizing impacted communities.

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Jul 05 2014

Obliterating Black Women…

“He basically got on top of her … it’s basically a UFC ground-and-pound move … full force, punching her in the head … in the head,” Diaz said.

I saw the video and wondered who she was. Who was the woman whose head was being pounded, pummeled by a man wearing a uniform that made him THE LAW? She was black, that much I could tell. But WHO was she? Someone’s grandmother, sister, daughter, friend? And where is she? Is she in the hospital? Just what has happened to this woman?

The woman on the ground using her forearms to block the blows is so familiar to me. I know that she is invisible to others but I ‘recognize’ her. I wonder if she will speak and tell of her torment. I hope so. I hope that she will in Audre’s words “forgo the vanities of silence” and speak her pain. Because in the end, as black women, our voices are too often all we have. We are punished for speaking and yet we must.

The Law keeps punching her in the face and head. Eleven times at least in the video. He doesn’t want her to speak. So many people want us to die silently and to be buried in unmarked graves. I feel this acutely and so I raise my voice in public even though I’m actually a private & quiet person. Those who know me best recognize this description, those who don’t cannot, will not. I’ve learned to raise my voice as an act of resistance against the constant attacks and the acts of intentional obliteration. Muriel Rukeseyer asked that question: “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?” The answer: “The world would split open.” But what of black women? What would happen if all of us told the truth about our lives? Maybe we would save the world.

The currently anonymous no name black woman whose head was pounded and pummeled by The Law is of course not the first to be so victimized. Assata Shakur has told her story of police torture in her autobiography and in interviews. Below she recounts her brutal treatment at the hand of The Law in 1973:

On the night of May 2, I was shot twice by the New Jersey State Police. I was kept on the floor, kicked, pulled, dragged along by my hair. Finally, I was put into an ambulance, but the police would not let the ambulance leave. They kept asking the ambulance attendant: “Is she dead yet? Is she dead yet?” Finally, when it was clear that I wasn’t going to die in the next five or ten minutes, they took me to the hospital. The police were jumping on me, beating me, choking me, doing everything that they could possibly do as soon as the doctors or the nurses would go outside. I was half dead – hospital authorities had brought in a priest to give me the last rites – but the police would not stop torturing me. That went on until the next morning, when I was taken to the intensive care unit. They had to calm down a little while I was there. Then they moved me to another room, which was the Johnson Suite, and they closed off the exit from the hallway. So they could virtually control all traffic in and out. It was just open season on me for about three or four days. They’d turned up the air conditioning so that I was freezing to death. My lungs were threatening to collapse. They were doing everything so that I would get pneumonia.

It isn’t hard to imagine The Law thinking “Is she dead yet?” as his fists landed consecutive blows across the head and face of the currently anonymous no name black woman lying on the side of the 10 Freeway.

In 1979, Eula Love, a black woman trying to support her 3 daughters on social security payments, let her $22 gas bill lapse. The Southern California Gas Company sent out a meter man to shut off the gas in the dead of January. Eula threw him out of her house. The Gas Company called the LAPD which dispatched two officers to Ms. Love’s home. She had a knife in her hand when they arrived. They clubbed her to the ground and emptied their .38 caliber revolvers into her as she lay on the floor. I’m glad there was no video of that clubbing. What if Ms. Love had been able to tell the truth about her life? Instead The Law killed her dead.

And so it is against this backdrop of constant, consistent, fear-inducing, paralyzing, galvanizing, obliterating violence that we stand our ground. Always exhausted yet unwilling to be destroyed, resisting, we speak our pain and refuse to be silent. We stay for the dead and we fight for the living. We raise our forearms to protect against the blows (even from those who sometimes claim to love us) preparing for the moment when we can strike a collective blow for our freedom and self-determination.

In the meantime, we call the names of our sisters Assata, Eula, Ersula, Rekia, and the currently anonymous no name black woman who was pummeled by The Law on the side of the 10 Freeway… We call your names and make you visible.

We tell our truth to save the world.

Update: An LA Times article published Saturday evening offers more information on the anonymous woman pummeled by the cop in LA. She is a great-grandmother!!