Category: Racism

Sep 25 2014

October 16: Lessons in Self-Defense: Women’s Prisons, Gendered Violence, and Antiracist Feminisms in the 1970s & ’80s

I am excited to co-organize and participate in an upcoming event. Historian Emily Thuma will present a talk titled “Lessons in Self-Defense: Women’s Prisons, Gendered Violence and Anti-Racist Feminisms in the 1970s and 80s.” Her talk will explore the relationships between U.S-based anti-violence against women activism and the expansion of the prison nation in the early neoliberal era.

Emily is an assistant professor in the Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of California, Irvine. Her teaching and research focus broadly on the cultural and political histories of gender, race, sexuality, and empire in the United States. She is currently completing a book about feminist activism against violence in the context of the politics of crime control, policing, and imprisonment in the U.S. in the 1970s and ’80s.She has also long been active in LGBTQ and feminist anti-violence and prison organizing efforts.

After her talk, Emily and I will engage in a conversation that will seek to link the past to our present era when carceral feminism is ascendant. I am excited for this conversation because it connects to the “No Selves to Defend” exhibition that I co-curated and to the anthology about the criminalization of women of color who invoke self-defense that I edited. It’s fitting that this event will take place during domestic violence awareness month and the month of resistance to mass incarceration, police terror, repression and the criminalization of a generation.

RSVP for the event on Facebook. If you are in Chicago on October 16th, I hope to see you at the event.

You can read Emily’s latest essay ‘Against the ‘Prison/Psychiatric State’: Anti-violence Feminisms and the Politics of Confinement in the 1970sHERE (PDF).

Lessons in Self Defense Poster FINAL

Sep 24 2014

Dispatches from Ohio: #JohnCrawford is Dead and Young People Refuse to Let It Be In Vain

Just a few minutes ago, a grand jury in Greene County, Ohio declined to indict the police officers accused of killing John Crawford. John Crawford III was killed inside a Beavercreek, Ohio Walmart by police.

Some young organizers on Twitter reacted to the grand jury’s decision not to indict the officers who killed Crawford.

As the grand jury convened this week, young protesters from around the state and country gathered as well. Lewis Wallace was in Xenia during the second day of these protests and shared this sound and information. It is even more relevant to hear the words of these young people after the decision of the grand jury not to indict the officers who killed Crawford. Listening to their words suggests that young people are being radicalized by the continued killing of black and brown people by law enforcement. It also suggests that this may be the beginning of a new movement to address the criminalization of communities of color especially young people.

Thanks to Lewis for sharing these stories with us. Please listen to these voices…

Eartha Terrell of Columbus speaks on the second of three days of protests and teach-ins in Xenia, the county seat of Greene County, Ohio. Nearby Beavercreek, a suburb of Dayton, is the location of the Walmart store where 22-year-old John Crawford III was shot by police in August while holding a toy pellet gun that’s sold in the store. Crawford is black; a white caller told 9-1-1 he was waving a rifle at customers. Ohio’s Attorney General has convened a special grand jury, but declined to release surveillance tapes, saying their release could taint the jury. Crawford’s father and family attorney have seen the tape and say he was murdered.

I also talked with D’Atra Jackson of Durham, North Carolina about why she and a group of youth activists came to Ohio to join the protests demanding the release of the surveillance video from the night John Crawford III was shot. She talks about solidarity among black and brown youth and intersectional organizing.

Sep 24 2014

Marching Against Fear: Protest and Refusal

There’s a story that Julius Lester tells about James Meredith, who was the first black person to attend and then graduate from the University of Mississippi. He graduated 51 years ago this last month.

In the summer of 1966, Meredith launched a ‘march against fear‘ to encourage black people to vote. His goal was “to tear down the fear that grips the Negroes in Mississippi and…encourage the 450,000 [as voters] in Mississippi.” Lester writes:

“With the announcement black people across the country began crossing Meredith’s name from the list of those in the land of the living. Hustlers began checking whether they could takeout insurance policies on his life, naming themselves as beneficiaries. Ministers looked through their files, searching for old sermons about martyrdom. In a few places florists hurriedly placed orders for funeral wreaths, to be sure they would have enough on hand. They weren’t being cynical. They were black and they knew. Mr. Meredith had announced his death.”

The fears for Meredith’s safety were well-founded. On June 6, he was shot and wounded.

meredith

Martin Luther King Jr., Stokely Carmichael and others stepped in to continue Meredith’s ‘March Against Fear‘ and Meredith returned from his hospital bed to complete the last legs of the march.

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Lately, I’ve been thinking about marches and protest. I’ve been thinking about how both are out-of-style in some quarters. I’ve been thinking about how important they still are to movement-building. I’ve been thinking about how grateful I am to the unrecognized organizers of marches and protests especially in this historical moment when none of the romance persists and mostly cynicism pervades.

A young person asked me a few weeks ago at a protest march: ‘how many of these have you been to?’ I had to think long and hard: hundreds at least. Marches and protests aren’t ends in and of themselves. I know of no organizers who believe they are. But I have always understood their necessity as one tool in a larger strategy/vision. I believe strongly in the need to publicly assert one’s refusal. I think a lot about the manifestation of refusal. Saying “No”can be incredibly important and powerful. I refuse to go along with this war. I refuse to acquiesce to this state violence. I refuse to be silent. I refuse…

I know that refusal is not enough but it is an important form of protest. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that it is also important to join with others to build the world in which I want to live. That has meant embracing “YES” too. But I know that my days of refusal aren’t done. Refusal saved my life in many ways.

I watched a livestream of another night of protest and refusal in Ferguson. I watched and took solace in the young people’s refusal to accept what they see and know is an evasion of accountability in the making. I watched and I started making plans to join in another march; this time in Ferguson where I will stand with others to protest and to refuse to live without our lives.

Sep 23 2014

Irrational Exuberance: Mass Incarceration is STILL An Epidemic…

I’ve been saying for a while that the rhetoric about the “end of mass incarceration” doesn’t match up with the reality that so many people in the U.S. continue to be locked up. Today, James Kilgore published an article on the topic where I am quoted. It’s worth reading (not because I am quoted but because he raises important points).

Ultimately, the report along with events like those in Ferguson, Missouri, reinforced the concerns of many anti-mass incarceration campaigners that current changes were not digging deep enough to yield long lasting results. Peter Wagner, Director of the Massachusetts-based Prison Policy Initiative, highlighted the need for states “to decide whether the people they are sending to prison really need to be there” and the corresponding issue of deciding which people “currently in prison can go home.” Instead, he lamented, states are continuing to hike “the number of people they send to prison for new offenses and violations of parole and decreasing the number of people they let out.”

Author and activist Ruthie Gilmore, who currently is associate director of the Center for Place, Culture and Politics at CUNY, argued that the BOJ statistics have exposed the shortcomings of “opportunists” who have “blown up real solidarity.” She maintains that moderate reforms have promoted “the delusion that it’s possible to cherry pick some people from the prison machine” rather than undertake a broad restructuring of the communities which have been devastated by mass incarceration. Mariame Kaba, head of Project NIA which practices transformative justice as a foil to youth incarceration in Chicago communities, concurred with Gilmore, stressing that “the rationale for and logic of punishment is unchanged. The targets of our punishment mindset also remain overwhelmingly black and poor.”

Kaba points out that the discourse has altered but policy seems to have lagged behind. “Talk and actions are not the same thing,” she said, “there is a need to move beyond awareness and take steps to address mass incarceration in real ways.”

"Lets not forget that people incarcerated in prison are just a portion of the people under control of the correctional system. There are jails, juvenile prisons, military prisons, immigration detention, Indian Country jails, territorial prisons, civil commitment, plus probation and parole of which there are 3,981,090 adults on probation, and 851,662 adults on parole."

“Lets not forget that people incarcerated in prison are just a portion of the people under control of the correctional system. There are jails, juvenile prisons, military prisons, immigration detention, Indian Country jails, territorial prisons, civil commitment, plus probation and parole of which there are 3,981,090 adults on probation, and 851,662 adults on parole.”

Sep 21 2014

Happy Birthday Marissa!

Last Sunday, I organized a gathering to celebrate Marissa Alexander‘s Birthday. My friend Debbie made a short video that captured some statements of support and solidarity offered to Marissa. You should watch it! It’s profoundly moving.

Don’t forget to support Marissa’s legal defense fund. You can also support her by purchasing items at the Free Marissa Store.

Sep 20 2014

Catching Up: Some Odds and Ends

I’ve been going non-stop since last week and I still have to work this weekend. As such, I am afraid that I haven’t had any time to blog. Next week continues to be slammed so I anticipate sporadic posting for the next couple of weeks.

A few PIC stories caught my attention this week. First, the Bureau of Justice released a report (PDF) on the number of prisoners in the U.S. in 2013 (excluding people in jail). The Prison Policy Initiative offered a good summary of the report. They key takeaway is that:

“Overall, the state and federal prison population increased slightly between 2012 and 2013. Although this is the first overall increase since 2009, the overall prison population has held fairly steady compared to the rapid rise of earlier decades.”

I’d like to write more about this in the near future. I have been consistently saying that we need to be cautious and not get caught up in the smoke and mirrors of current prison “reform” talk. I hope that the fact the state prison population is rising again will temper some of the irrational exuberance in some quarters about decarceration. There is so much to do to make decarceration real and to sustain it. We need a real movement to coalesce to significantly decrease the numbers of people incarcerated in this country. We are far from that point right now.

Amidst all of the noise and consternation about Ray Rice’s abuse of his now wife Janay, I appreciated reading this article by Vikki Law titled “How Many Women are in Prison for Defending Themselves Against Domestic Violence?.” The article reminds us of the danger posed to victims of domestic violence by their abusers and too often by the state itself. Vikki writes:

“But in all this discussion about the realities of domestic violence, one perspective was clearly left out: the people who are imprisoned for defending themselves against abusers. Where are the stories about how the legal system often punishes abuse survivors for defending themselves, usually after the legal system itself failed to ensure their safety?”

She features Marissa Alexander’s case and also discusses her interviews with other women who have been criminalized for defending themselves against abuse. It’s an article worth reading. Marissa turned 34 years old last Sunday and I organized a birthday celebration for her which included a panel discussion about blackness. violence and self defense.

cake for Marissa's birthday (9/14/14)

cake for Marissa’s birthday (9/14/14)

This Friday is the closing reception of the No Selves to Defend exhibition at Art in these Times in which Marissa’s case is prominently featured. I hope that you will join us.

My friend Yasmin Nair wrote a very good post about Daniele Watts that I invite everyone to read. She writes:”The problem with the Watts story is that it was, from the start, bound up in notions of sexual respectability and did little to actually further a conversation about the real issues at stake.” I could not agree more. It’s why I didn’t write anything about the incident and mostly refrained from any comment on social media. Yasmin ends her post with this sound advice:

“Neither Watts nor Lucas come off well. Rather than focus on their innocence and express horror at their respectability being denied to them, we might critique our own investment in and insistence upon such. Let’s not turn them into either heroes against the state or craven capitulators to the same and, instead, use such instances to have more complicated conversations about the role of the state and capitalism in regulating sexuality and our bodies.”

I’d like more people to know about Eisha Love‘s plight and to support her as she fights for her freedom:

“On the morning of March 28, 2012, while stopping at a gas station, Eisha Love and a friend were accosted at a gas station with a barrage of anti-trans epithets which led to an altercation. The men called for reinforcements while the two women fled in a car. They were being chased by men on foot and in a vehicle when Eisha lost control of the car and struck one of the men leading to a severe leg injury.

Eisha went to the police station to report the attack, but instead of investigating, the police booked her on aggravated assault. The charges against her have since been upgraded to attempted murder.”

You can sign a petition calling for her to be freed. You can also share her story with others.

This week, I enjoyed an essay by Jonah Birch and Paul Heideman titled “The Poverty of Culture.” I highly recommend reading it. They write:

“Take, for example, the claim that black youth inhabit a culture that venerates criminality, in which having been incarcerated is a matter of pride. This particular trope has seen heavy circulation in the last few years, trotted out to rationalize every death of a young black man at the hands of the police or vigilantes. Constructed out of a conglomeration of supposedly “thuggish” photos, snatches of rap lyrics, or social media ephemera, it works to make respectable the narrative that, in every case, it was the black teenager who threw himself in a fury at the men with guns. Confronted with such deep-seated criminality, the pundits innocently ask, what else were the police supposed to do?

Ethnographies of returned prisoners and their families reveal a very different world, one that coincides more with the commonsense notion that people who already face discrimination in the labor market would hardly celebrate events, like incarceration, that will make their lives even harder. Donald Braman spent four years conducting interviews with prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families in the Washington DC area, and found that black families regarded incarceration with anything but pride.”

Last Saturday, my organization co-sponsored a talk in Evanston by Nell Bernstein about her new book “Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prisons.” I then impromptu moderated a panel of youth in conflict with the law after her lecture. This week, Sara Mayeux published a good interview with Bernstein who reiterates the case that she made on Saturday for abolishing juvenile prisons.

I don’t know what to say or to write about the atrocious story of Oklahoma City Police officer Daniel Holtzclaw. I recommend reading this harrowing article by Jessica Testa in Buzzfeed. Let me warn you that it is a really horrible story. I don’t have the bandwith to do any organizing around this story but @FeministaJones has been doing a lot to keep the story in people’s minds on Twitter.

I spent many hours this week working on a campaign to send six young organizers to Geneva to present a report about Chicago Police Department abuse against young people of color to the UN. This is part of a project called We Charge Genocide that I wrote about on Monday. After five days, the campaign has raised $9,000 out of a goal of $15,000. The outpouring has been moving and overwhelming. We still need to raise more money. You can contribute here and also spread the word to others too.

On a more uplifting note, the trauma center coalition hosted a “Sing for a Trauma Center” event on Thursday. Take a couple of minutes to watch the video below:

I have another weekend of work ahead and a long week to follow that. I hope to be back to more regular blogging in a couple of weeks.

Sep 15 2014

Why We Charge Genocide?

In May of this year, I wrote about the death of a young man known to his friends as Damo at the hands of the Chicago police. To this day, none of us knows the actual circumstances of his tasing death. Answers are not forthcoming.

I wrote back then: “Understand that Damo is part of a long legacy of death at the hands of police. The Chicago police shoot black people. In 2012, CPD shot 57 people and 50 were black. They also tase, target, torture, and kill people of color.”

chicopwatchposter After Damo’s death, I saw the pain and rage that some of his friends were experiencing. I was at a loss about how best to support them. But I knew that there was a need for an outlet to transform pain into something else that might eventually catalyze some positive action.

In late May, I e-mailed a small group of friends, comrades and co-strugglers with an idea. I followed up in early June with a note on Facebook to others who might be interested. The idea was a simple one – to create a modern petition/report to the United Nations about police violence against young people modeled after the 1951 We Charge Genocide petition.

The first meeting was on June 11 and over 45 people packed the Chicago Freedom School to hear about the idea and most importantly to offer their own. From the start, I made it clear that what mattered most was that we act collectively on something. Any and all ideas about what that something could be were welcome. After a couple of hours, we left with a plan of action and several ideas to pursue:

1. Everyone assembled agreed that we should create a Chicago version of a “We Charge Genocide” petition/report to be presented to the United Nations.
2. Everyone agreed that we would organize at least one youth hearing to gather relevant testimony for the petition/report by the end of the summer.
3. A suggestion was made that the group revive the Young Women’s Empowerment Project’s Bad Encounter Line and focus it specifically on collecting reports of police encounters.
4. Some people wanted to revive community monitoring of police through a Copwatch model.
5. Everyone agreed that the city would benefit from a social media campaign to raise awareness about and report negative police encounters.

WCG Moment of Silence Flier After the June meeting, We Charge Genocide (WCG) was born. Since then, dozens of people have worked diligently to achieve all of the goals set in our first meeting. Importantly, the work is owned by every person involved in the group. Subcommittees meet on their own to plan activities and move the work forward. Everyone is invested and has devoted countless hours. WCG is not contingent on one person but is truly a collective and collaborative effort.

Today, we kick off a fundraising drive to send a delegation of 6 people to Geneva to present WCG’s report/petition to the Committee Against Torture in November. While WCG is an inter-generational effort, it’s an initiative driven by and focused on young people. Five of the WCG UN delegation are under 30 years old and four are 25 and under. I will not be traveling to Geneva or it would have skewed the numbers dramatically :).

I am incredibly proud of the work that has already been done in just the past three months. I continue to be in awe of my comrades who have carried the work. They are in school, work full time jobs, organize in other settings, have lives and families and yet they have shown 100% commitment to meeting our collective goals. It’s been an inspiration.

I hope that everyone reading this will consider contributing to WCG’s Geneva fundraising effort. The trip will provide a foundation for even more organizing moving forward. Already, WCG members are thinking about how to organize around the issue of police militarization and planning an action for the National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality on October 22. There is more to come… Please contribute to sending these wonderful young people to Geneva. You can hear the pitch from some of them in the video below:

Regular readers of this blog know that history matters a great deal to me. I think that it isn’t past and informs all present actions. This post is an attempt, in my own way, to provide some of the history of this current iteration of We Charge Genocide in Chicago in 2014. It is also a call for support. Please make a contribution in any amount today and help spread the word about the fundraising campaign to others. Thank you.

Sep 13 2014

Video: Sesame Street Addresses Impact of Incarceration

Sep 12 2014

Image of the Day: Prisons Break Apart Families

The following is an image made by Meredith Stern which is available for purchase at Just Seeds Cooperative for $10. Stern explains why she created the image:

This is a redo of an image I made over ten years ago when the incarceration rate had already skyrocketed and the trend has tragically continued as a direct result of harsh and disproportionate racial profiling, targeting and sentencing of communities of color for non-violent drug related behavior. For starters, we must end mass incarceration, the criminalization of undocumented migrants, and the war on drugs. It is incredibly damaging for families, for communities, and our entire society to be putting such a large portion of our population in detention centers for non-violent behavior.

The Sentencing Project has incredibly eye opening data on the current state of affairs.

For anyone interested in learning more about the current state of affairs:
“This House I Live In” is a documentary about the “War on Drugs” in the US which I highly recommend.

For book readers I recommend “Race to Incarcerate” and “The New Jim Crow.”

I purchased a couple of the prints.

by Meredith Stern

by Meredith Stern

Sep 09 2014

Upcoming Event Series: Creative Resistance in a Prison Nation

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A monthly forum on Chicago-based cultural projects that confront, agitate, and work to dismantle the prison nation.

In the last decade, a growing number of artists, organizations and activists in the Chicago area have created artwork and developed responses to what is now termed a prison nation The U.S. locks up more people than any other nation in the world and exhausts more resources on confinement and punishment each year. One in 99 adults in the US is incarcerated; the financial and social costs to tax payers and communities is staggering. Conservatives, liberals and members of the left have all called for policy changes, yet when violence and poverty rage in Chicago neighborhoods, the common response is a call to lock more people away for longer prison terms.

Creative culture has been at the forefront of changing the public perception about the realities of social segregation, poverty, violence, and incarceration. Chicago-area artists have staged performances and exhibitions, created organizations and developed long-term projects to alter entrenched thinking and unsettle business-as-usual.

What kinds of projects are happening that create a culture of change? Can art decarcerate? Change the law? Liberate communities from violence? Envision and enact new futures?

Read more »