Category: Popular Culture

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.

Art

#1 – Music
I created and have regularly updated an interactive timeline tracing how rappers have discussed the issue of police violence since 1980. Educator friends have used the timeline to invite their students to analyze lyrics. They have also encouraged students/youth to write their own poems or raps.

#2 – Visual Art
In March 2013, we curated an intergenerational visual art exhibition about policing, violence and resistance. You can encourage students to view the online exhibit and then to create their own visual art.

or

Have your students read this comic about police violence by my friend Rachel Marie-Crane Williams and then create their own comics.

#3 – Poetry
I love poetry so I collected several that focus on police violence. You can find that collection HERE (PDF).

Other Resources

Chain Reaction: Alternatives to Policing

A Different Approach to School Safety – a short film that features a high school that doesn’t have metal detectors or police officers on site.

Chicago Torture Justice Memorials

Growing Up with the CPD

The PIC Is…

Some Films

Death of Two Sons: Death of Two Sons tells the story of Amadou Diallo, the West African immigrant shot 41 times by four New York City police officers in 1999, and of Jesse Thyne, an American Peace Corps Volunteer who lived with Amadou’s family in his home village in Guinea. Jesse himself died in Guinea less than a year after the Diallo shooting. This film explores the political, personal, and spiritual implications of their lives and deaths. Death of Two Sons shows the common humanity shared by these young men, their families, and their nations.

Fruitvale Station: The film tells the story of Oscar Grant, a young black man from Oakland, who was shot and killed on a train platform by a Bay Area Regional Transit police officer named Johannes Mehserle. He was subsequently found not guilty for second-degree murder, but found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years in County Jail for pulling a gun and killing a unarmed man.

The Hunted and the Hated: An Inside Look at the NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy (under 15 minutes)

I Am Sean Bell – Black Boys Speak (10 minutes): Young boys reflect on the Sean Bell tragedy, speaking out about their fears and hopes as they approach manhood in a city where the lives of young black men are often cut short.

Law and Disorder: This Frontline documentary explored a series of questionable shootings by the New Orleans police department during Hurricane Katrina.

Murder On A Sunday Morning: Oscar-winning documentary that documents a murder trial in which a 15-year-old African-American is wrongfully accused of a 2000 murder in Jacksonville, Florida. The film also shows how police can lie.

Scenes of a Crime: “SCENES OF A CRIME” explores a nearly 10-hour interrogation that culminates in a disputed confession, and an intense, high-profile child murder trial in New York state.

Tulia Texas: On July 23, 1999, undercover narcotics agent Thomas Coleman carried out one of the biggest drug stings in Texas history. By the end of the blazing summer day, dozens of residents in the sleepy farming town of Tulia had been rounded up and thrown behind bars. Thirty-nine of the 46 people accused of selling drugs to Coleman were African American. But disturbing evidence about the undercover investigation and Coleman’s past soon began to surface. TULIA,TEXAS follows the 1999 raid and its aftermath, which roiled the small rural community.

‘We Deserve Better’: A short documentary that explores police targeting and harassment of LGBTQ young people in New Orleans.

Action/Organizing

#1. Showing Up for Racial Justice has compiled a police brutality action kit.

#2. List of Demands focused on Ferguson and Ending Police Violence – Have students/youth read the list of demands from various different organizations and evaluate the three or four that they feel would most contribute to ending police violence. Invite students to come up with their own local list of demands. You can also show the Dream Defenders’s video that lists their demands and do the same activity:

#3. Show the video of the Chicago Moment of Silence Vigil, one of many that took place on August 14th in response to the call for a National Moment of Silence in response to the killing of Mike Brown. Students/youth will notice that this was an intergenerational gathering led by young people of color. It’s a good way to begin a conversation about how young people are currently organizing around these issues.

#4. Hands Up United is a coalition that has emerged to support the residents of Ferguson MO. If students/youth want to do solidarity events/activities with Ferguson this is a good place to connect with.

#5. October 22 is the National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality. Encourage your students to organize something on that day or to join existing organizing efforts.

May 16 2014

Musical Interlude: Never Leave Me Alone

Apr 26 2014

Music Interlude: The Rich Get Rich…

I’ve always appreciated this song by Chubb Rock…

D-Rock, peace peace and one time peace
Freeze Love, peace peace and peace peace
Cocksachie, Greenvale, Greenwald
Attica, one more time, hold on
Rahway, come back cell block H
And everybody in Riker’s, one love
One love..

Apr 05 2014

Musical Interlude: One Love…

An all time classic…

Feb 02 2014

Musical Interlude: Claimin’ I’m A Criminal

I’ve always liked this song by Brand Nubian. It’s from back in 1994 which is probably when I stopped really listening to rap music (LOL!).

Dec 20 2013

Nobody Matters Less Than Black Girls…

These are some impressions…I am thinking through recent experiences.

The saddest fact I’ve learned is: Nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody. – Jim DeRogatis

This Jim DeRogatis quote has floated across my Twitter timeline several times this week. DeRogatis was referencing the lack of accountability for R.Kelly’s repeated sexual assaults of black girls. I must admit to grinding my teeth every time I’ve seen the quote. It isn’t that I don’t agree with the sentiments expressed by DeRogatis. Rather, I don’t believe that 90% of those who are sharing the quote actually grasp the lived realities of too many young black women and girls in America. So the implications of the quote are too easily ignored. But for hyper-disposable black girls, the pain lingers and festers…

“Nobody matters less to our society than young black women.”

I’ve spent the greater part of my adult life working with black girls and young women. I created a workshop that I co-facilitated several years ago focused on using Lil’ Kim’s image and experiences to illuminate our own lives as black girls and women. In other words, I’ve had a longstanding interest in and commitment to engaging in discussions with black girls about issues of representation and survival.

“Nobody matters less to our society than young black women.”

Since Beyonce released her visual album last week, there have been many, many attempts to analyze, dissect, and discuss it. This is not another post about Beyonce. At least, it’s not a post about whether Beyonce is or is not feminist. It’s also not an album review. It’s a post (I think) about the historical devaluing of black American girls and women and its implications for today.

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Nov 14 2013

To Lily Allen, We Are… Delia

Before yesterday, I’d never heard of Lily Allen. But then my Twitter feed exploded with criticisms of her new video for a song called “Hard Out Here.” So last night (while battling insomnia), I watched it and it was boringly predictable. It wasn’t shocking or provocative. Dating back to slavery, black women’s bodies and sexuality have been expropriated for white profit and pleasure. This isn’t new.

When I was in high school, I picked up a book called “We Are Your Sisters: Black Women in the Nineteenth Century” at my local library. It was the first time (but not the last) that I would come across a daguerrotype of an enslaved girl named Delia.

Delia (1850)

Delia (1850)

This photograph, which is thought to perhaps be the earliest made of an adolescent enslaved black girl, has been seared in my mind since I saw it when I was a teenager. Delia was compelled to sit naked for the purpose of having her body examined and documented. The photographs were commissioned by scientist & Harvard professor Louis Agassiz. Agassiz was studying the bodies of blacks to prove that we were a separate and inferior species. Delia’s body was not her own but public property.

I used to be fascinated with Delia’s photograph. I made a copy of it and pasted it in my journal. I think that I was 15 or 16 years old at the time. Her eyes reminded me of my cousin’s. I focused on her eyes. I was embarrassed by her nakedness. I didn’t know why. I didn’t have the words to convey the horrors of slavery. As I grew older, I realized that no one in this country does either. Therefore, it is difficult to represent or understand that which is unspeakable.

listen,
woman,
you not a noplace
anonymous
girl;

– Lucille Clifton

Watching Allen’s video reminded me that black women’s bodies have always been sites of both domination and resistance. The entire script of American chattel slavery was written on black women’s bodies. Control of our bodies was key to both the economic prosperity of slaveowners and to the subjugation of the entire black race. Adrienne Davis (2009) suggests that: “Enslaved black women gave birth to white wealth (p.229)” White people have been fighting to maintain their mastery over our bodies ever since. Black women have continued to resist this and to write our own body stories. And it’s been and is a mighty struggle (see the consistent policing of black girl dancing, for example).

To Lily Allen, consciously or subconsciously, black women are Delias. We are meant to be put on display, to be used as props for others’ pleasure & profit. We are just flesh & property. In the tradition of Agassiz, our anatomy is meant to be examined and prodded. The verdict is out as to whether we should still be considered an inferior species.

I
am a black woman
tall as a cypress
strong
beyond all definition still
defying place
and time
and circumstance
assailed
impervious
indestructible
— Mari Evans

Yesterday, another black woman was on display, this time in front of a white judge in Florida. Her name is Marissa Alexander & she was in court to hear whether she would be granted bond and released until her re-trial. The judge made no decision on bond and set another status hearing for January 15. Marissa will likely spend another Christmas in jail. Sitting in the courtroom, Marissa’s body is inscribed with inherent criminality; already presumed guilty. Her blackness makes her both invisible and hyper-visible. I wondered what Lily Allen would have to say to and about Marissa. Then I thought better of it, what could anyone have to say to a chair? For Allen and her ilk, black women are chairs (inanimate objects) to sit on, to decorate their homes, and to eventually discard for a newer/shinier model. To Lily Allen, black women are Delia.

Feb 23 2013

Musical Interlude For The Day…

Jan 05 2013

Django Unchained: Some Critical Questions To Debrief With Black Youth…

My friend, the brilliant Dara Cooper, did something really terrific yesterday. After a conversation with some youth worker friends, she decided to crowdsource questions on Facebook for people who wanted to debrief Django Unchained particularly with black youth. I love this idea even though I think that the attention paid to the film is already completely disproportionate to its quality or value… But that’s unimportant. Many black people are packing theaters to see this movie and many in the audience are young people. I asked Dara if I could share the list on this blog for others who might find it useful. She agreed by saying: “It’s ours.” That’s pretty much typical of Dara…

I recently read that some new research confirms the fact that black children who are instilled with racial pride do better in school. I am sure that this does not come as a shock to anyone but it is always good to get some empirical evidence for what you suspect in your gut. One of the study authors, Ming-Te Wang, explains:

“Our findings challenge the notion that ‘race blindness’ is a universally ideal parenting approach, especially since previous research has shown that racially conscious parenting strategies at either extreme—either ‘race blindness’ or promoting mistrust of other races—are associated with negative outcomes for African American youth.

“When African American parents instill a proud, informed, and sober perspective of race in their sons and daughters, these children are more likely to experience increased academic success.”

Anyway, I contributed some of my own questions to Dara’s curated list. If you want to contribute your own, please leave them in the comment section and I will keep adding to the list. Below is the Facebook note from Dara:

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Dec 17 2012

So Apparently Ella Fitzgerald Was Locked Up As A Teenager…

I never knew this but it seems that Ella Fitzgerald spent a year of her life as a teen at a girls’ reformatory in New York. She never spoke about this period of her life. I stumbled upon this information as part of my ongoing research about Billie Holiday.

An article by Nina Bernstein appeared in the New York Times in 1996 which unearths this unknown period of Fitzgerald’s life:

The unwritten story survives in the recollections of former employees of the New York State Training School for Girls at Hudson, N.Y., and in the records of a government investigation undertaken there in 1936, about two years after Miss Fitzgerald left. State investigators reported that black girls, then 88 of 460 residents, were segregated in the two most crowded and dilapidated of the reformatory’s 17 “cottages,” and were routinely beaten by male staff.

At a time of renewed calls for institutions to rescue children from failed families, this lost chapter in the life of an American icon illuminates the gap between a recurrent ideal and the harsh realities of the child welfare system.

Like Miss Fitzgerald, most of the 12- to 16-year-old girls sent to the reform school by the family courts were guilty of nothing more serious than truancy or running away. Like today’s foster children, they were typically victims of poverty, abuse and family disruption; indeed, many had been discarded by private foster care charities upon reaching a troublesome puberty.

When Thomas Tunney, the institution’s last superintendent, arrived in 1965 and tried to bring back former residents to talk to the girls of his own day, he learned that Miss Fitzgerald had already rebuffed invitations to return as an honored guest.

“She hated the place,” Mr. Tunney said from his home in Saratoga Springs, where he retired some years after the institution closed in 1976. “She had been held in the basement of one of the cottages once and all but tortured. She was damned if she was going to come back.”

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