Category: Police Brutality
It’s been a couple of weeks (at least) since I first learned that the NYPD had killed another 16-year old black boy in Brooklyn. His name was Kimani Gray. I admit that I took note of the incident without reading about it in any depth. I’ve been dealing with a lot lately in my work and in my life. I didn’t want to dwell in the grief of another young black life snuffed out in its prime. It hits too close to home.
I tried to avoid any photographs of Kimani Gray. I preferred that he stay amorphous and abstract. Looking into his eyes might mean that I would “recognize” him. I don’t want any more reminders of how precarious the lives of young people in my family and life are.
Then the youth of Flatbush took to the streets for several days to express their anger at state-sponsored violence, in this case police murder. They protested and I was forced to pay attention.
This week, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) released a comprehensive report titled “Operation Ghetto Storm” about the extrajudicial killing of 313 black people by police, security guards, and vigilantes in 2012. One might think that this report would garner significant attention, right? Well, it hasn’t and we should not be surprised.
The report declares that: “Every 28 hours in 2012 someone employed or protected by the US government killed a Black man, woman, or child!” In the preface of the report, Kali Akuno writes:
“Operation Ghetto Storm is a window offering a cold, hard, and fact-based view into the thinking and practice of a government and society that will spare no cost to control the lives of Black people. What Operation Ghetto Storm reveals is that the practice of executing Black people without pretense of a trial, jury, or judge is an integral part of the government’s current overall strategy of containing the Black community in a state of perpetual colonial subjugation and exploitation.”
Reading these words, it’s easy to see why the report wouldn’t be embraced and covered by the mainstream press. It specifically calls out racism and is unapologetically interested in valuing and grieving the loss of black life. I urge everyone to take the time to read the report even though it is emotionally difficult to get through.
I resisted focusing on Kimani as a person: a son, brother, friend. There is something to be said about buffering ourselves against pain. It’s emotionally safer to focus on a symbol than on an actual person. To think of Kimani as flesh and blood is to invite more grief. Then I read a letter written by Kimani’s principal expressing his school community’s devastation at his loss. I had a physical reaction when I read the following sentence: “My hope is that as a community we can agree that the death of anyone so young is tragic.” Why did the principal feel the need to remind people about this? It’s because, in fact, we don’t agree “that the death of anyone so young is tragic.” There is a hierarchy of death and the deaths of black youth are deemed par for the course. They are the casualties of an undeclared war on black bodies that has been ongoing for generations.
I cannot avert my eyes from injustice even as I try to on occasion. I must be a witness. So I searched the internet and found a photograph of Kimani and I made myself look.
Sure enough, I did “recognize” him and the pain of that recognition is real. There is nothing alien, foreign to me about this young man. There’s something about Kimani that I find familiar and I mourn his loss. Next year, when the MXGM puts out the 2013 version of its report cataloging extrajudicial killings of black people, Kimani Gray’s name will appear on the list. I promise to take note and to allow pain and grief to flow through me. I will continue to bear witness…
Poem for May Molina, a Disabled Latina of Ill. who died in police custody on May 26, 2004
Justice Riding on Four Wheels & Brown Fists
(For May Molina)
Activist in Action that was May Molina
Kept police & prisons
Turning over wrongful convictions
Target on her chest
She drove between institutionalize bullets
in her wheelchair
Like Harriet Tubman, Molina led her people to freedom
Out of the prison system
And into an activist revolution
Help started an organization
For Families of the wrongly convicted & victims of police brutality
Her community, supporters and family
Demands answers about her death in police custody
Although she had diabetes police refused medical care
Thanks to police & mainstream media her background has been smeared
While the names of officers are invisible
Seems like we’ve been here, Cammerin Boyd in San Fran, Annette Auguste in Haiti
Hey Homeland security, am I next in line?
Cause like May Molina, I’m outspoken about systematic oppression
I can see Molina wheeling up to the mic
at the Chicago Police Board
my Latina disabled sister
your spirit has traveled from Chicago to San Francisco
to clear my vision and to rededicate my life to your mission
Time to bring attention
to how the black & blue
abuse their authority
onto my brothers and sisters with disabilities
Forget about internal investigation
Open up politicians & police’s closets all around the world to the public
The community & family is the Juror & the Judge
And we have our progressive, ethnic and activist media
Mother May Molina, your wish has come true
Judgement day is here
The power structure is crumbling
and Justice is riding on four wheels & Brown fists!
By Leroy F. Moore Jr.
Black Disabled Activist
sfdamo [at] Yahoo.com
Rest in Peace Molina. With Revolutionary Love!!!!!!
The wonderfully generous and talented artist Ariel Springfield contributed three pieces of art work to our Black and Blue: Art on Policing, Violence & Resistance exhibition. I share her contributions below:
three little black boys
lying in a grave yard
i couldn’t tell
if they were playing
– baba lukata, rehearsal
Over the past few days, a number of stories about policing and violence have caught my attention. As I come to the end of a nearly two year project about these issues, I’m in a reflective mood.
On March 21st, some residents of the Ida Yarbrough Apartments were frightened and traumatized when police officers in camouflage pants and blue jackets fired blank ammunition and threw flash grenades as part of a training exercise near their homes. Some residents in the soon-to-be demolished housing project were not informed of the drill in advance. The training exercise even included fake blood.
One resident spoke to the local newspaper about the ordeal on condition of anonymity:
“We wake up to the sound the next morning of literally small bombs,” said an Ida Yarbrough resident and state worker, who spoke only on condition she not be identified. “All you could hear was ‘pop, pop, pop’ of an assault rifle, police screaming ‘clear!’ I really thought I was in the middle of a war zone — and I have a four-year-old.”
Another resident, Lauren Manning, took to Facebook to air her grievances:
This is the Albany Housing Authority, APD, US Marshals et al. letting me, my family, my neighbors, my community and every other poor or minority person know we don’t matter. Apparently they have been given permission to “train” right outside my house complete with full gear assault weapons tear gas flash grenades and marshal law. I live my life in such a way that my 2 children should never have to experience a raid. But through no other fault than living in housing we have been subjected to pretend warfare. Y don’t they train for urban warfare in Adam’s Park or the Crossings in Delmar. Or in their communities? I AM ENRAGED. AND U SHOULD B 2. This is not over. Atrocities happen when good people stay silent. Additionally the residents/guest of residents who wandered outside as usual were told to stay in their homes under threat of arrest for trespass where they hold leases or were invited by the leaseholder thus enforcing marshal law or at the very least unlawful imprisonment. #WAKEUP….WE R NOT EACHOTHER’S ENEMY!
Ms. Manning launched a petition asking HUD for redress in this matter. The police chief apologized for being “insensitive” and suggested that they chose the location for training because it was “realistic.”
Once again, the terrifically talented Sarah Jane Rhee was present with her camera at Wednesday’s Chicago School Closings Protest. I have selected some of the photographs that illustrate the message that we need to fund schools rather than prisons/jails.
My friend Billy Dee, who volunteers with my organization and often collaborates with me on art-related projects wrote the following reflections about ze’s visit with Bowen High School students as part of the Black and Blue: Art on Policing, Violence and Resistance exhibit.
This past week I had an opportunity to meet students from Bowen High School who shared amazing artworks with Project NIA for an exhibit entitled Black & Blue: Art on Policing, Violence, and Resistance. The students made linocut prints in response to the topic of the exhibit with art-teacher Bert Stabler. They generously shared over a hundred colorful and thought provoking pieces that we were able to display in both the gallery and the storefront windows, where they caught the eye of many passers-by at the U.I.C. SJI (Social Justice Initiative) Pop-Up art Gallery. I was impressed by the students artworks as they addressed issues ranging from the systemic racist violence in the C.P.D., to personal experiences of police violence, to the police harassment faced by trans people. One artwork that caught my eye as we installed the exhibit was a piece in which the artist had engraved an image of a C.P.D. badge accompanied by the phrase “we dirty up the black, but keep the white clean”. I was able to meet the young woman who made this piece during the visit, and told her that I thought her piece made a strong statement. What she said in response was interesting to me- she said something to the effect of: “I didn’t want to offend anybody, but that is what I was thinking, so that is the phrase I used in my piece.” I made sure to explain that making a strong statement in one’s art is something I respect very much, and that I found the piece both beautiful and also impactful.
I had a chance to talk to several students, and almost everyone I talked to mentioned some type of negative experience with the CPD. As we talked, we reviewed the stated purpose of the police (“to serve and protect”). A few students noted that the police can (and sometimes do) “serve and protect” but too-often this takes place on their own terms.
One young woman talked about the way that the police target her home neighborhood of Roseland. She talked about the fact that she sees cops all over the place, but does not let them intimidate her as she knows her rights when they approach on the street (yeah!). During the visit, a young man who was not able to finish his linocut for the exhibit shared a drawing to add to the artworks. Below a simple portrait, he wrote the phrase “Inmate of Society welcome to the end of You life of Police Brutality”. In addition to the artwork, the exhibit included a map on which visitors could use pins to mark locations in the city of Chicago where they had witnessed or experienced a negative interaction with police. During the visit, someone pinned an index card onto the map with the words “my sister was shot and killed”.
So this week has been terrific and exhausting so far.
I am grateful to my friend Billy Dee for designing a great art exhibition. My friends Eva and Claudia stepped up to help with set up as well. My thanks to all of the artists who contributed to the exhibit and to the amazing volunteers who created the pamphlets that inspired this exhibit and series of events. The exhibition has been incredibly well received and the event well-attended. My deepest gratitude to everyone.
We are screening “Death of Two Sons” this evening at 6 p.m. Feel free to join us. Details are here.
Below are some photographs taken by the most talented Sarah Jane Rhee. Those who can’t make it to see the exhibition in person can now travel through parts of it with Sarah’s wonderful photos.
Read more »
All of the partygoers were taken to the Englewood police station where Mrs. Robinson said that the eight women who were among those arrested “were subjected to indignities” including physical assault and verbal abuse (i.e. being called racial epithets). Apparently the police officers who raided the party had helped themselves to some beer while there and started drinking when they arrived at the station.
Mrs. Robinson’s injuries from her mistreatment were bad enough that she was hospitalized. She identified a Detective Franck Hackel as her chief tormentor.
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.
There are countless stories of other women (and gender nonconforming people) who have experienced police violence. Yet, these stories often take a backseat to the police brutality experienced by black and brown men. As the brilliant Andrea Ritchie (2006) has written:
“To date, public debate, grassroots organizing, litigation strategies, civilian oversight, and legislative initiatives addressing police violence and misconduct have been almost exclusively informed by a paradigm centering on the young Black and Latino heterosexual man as the quintessential subject, victim, or survivor of police brutality (p.139).”
Joy James (1996) adds that: “The death of women in police custody by means of law enforcement measures to discipline and punish is an issue rarely raised in feminist explorations of women and violence or masculinist explorations of racism and policing (p.31).” I have certainly been guilty of this. I have written in the past about the fact that my own internalized sexism has often led me to minimize state violence against women and girls.
A few days ago, someone tweeted a video of a young woman being treated unnecessarily roughly by police officers in Brooklyn during a protest over the killing of Kimani Gray. Warning: The video is very disturbing.
As I listened to the young woman’s screams, I thought back to all of the young women I’ve worked with over the years. I remembered countless stories that they shared about being “hassled” by the cops. I remembered how much they worried about their brothers, fathers, boyfriends, and friends getting shot or killed by law enforcement. Yet when the narratives about police violence are written, most often these young women’s voices are missing.
Some young women have been and are speaking up to break the silence around the impact of state violence on their lives. The Young Women’s Empowerment Project (YWEP), for example, has documented encounters with the police through their Bad Encounter Line (BEL) report and zines. The following is a story that appears in BEL Zine #3:
I was walking to the bus when a police officer called out and said, “Hey you come here girl with all of that ass.” I ignored the comment unaware of where it was coming from until he pulled up on the curb to block my path in his undercover cop car. He jumps out and yells ‘didn’t you hear me calling you girl? I replied by simply saying no, my name isn’t aye girl with all that ass.’ He got really mad and slapped me saying that I was very disrespectful and do I know who he is and what he can do to me?…
The story escalates with the police officer sexually assaulting the young woman. She ends up getting arrested and jailed herself when she reports him. There is anecdotal evidence that the War on Drugs has actually increased police harassment and brutality against women. In light of this, I hope that even more women and girls will take YWEP’s lead and share their stories about encounters with the police.
This evening, I am proud to moderate a discussion about the invisibility of police violence against women & girls. We will be discussing the case of Rekia Boyd & others. If you are in town and are interested in these issues, you are invited to join us. Details are here.