Category: Torture

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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Jun 25 2014

‘I do as I am bid’ or why we can’t reform policing…

The ACLU released a new report about the increasing and excessive militarization of the police. Radley Balko offers a good summary and analysis of the report here. He concludes that this issue is raised every few years, covered by the press, but leads to no useful reforms:

“The mass media seem to find renewed interest in this issue every five or six years. The problem, as the ACLU documents well, is that none of that coverage has generated any meaningful reform. And so the militarization continues.”

I think a lot about policing and violence. I always have. Currently, I am in the early stages of collaborating with several other people to organize around police violence against young people in Chicago. If I am honest, I’m not sure that it is actually possible to meaningfully ‘reform’ policing in the context of an oppressive society. I just don’t know. I engage in reform work mainly as harm reduction but I think we need to just start over from scratch. I don’t know how we do that but I am committed to investing time and resources to figure out how to abolish the entire PIC (policing, surveillance, and prisons).

One of the reasons I am pessimistic about prospects to reform policing is related to testimony that I read some time ago from a police officer during the era of American chattel slavery. The testimony underscores the actual function of the police which is and has always been to protect PROPERTY and the interests of the powerful. I mean this was clear in the 19th century and remains true today. How do we ‘reform’ the function of policing?

Below is an excerpt from the testimony I referenced. I think that it is instructive for a number of reasons including the collusion between police officers and slavemasters, the profit-making associated with law enforcement, the reliance on corporal punishment rather than long-term detention, and more…

I Do as I Am Bid
[John Capehart provided a special service for slaveholders. In his testimony before a court, he explains his job.]

Q: Mr. Capehart, is it part of your duty, as a policeman, to take up colored persons who are out after hours in the streets?
A. Yes, sir.
Q: What is done with them?
A. We put them in the lock-up, and in the morning they are brought into Court and ordered to be punished — those that are to be punished.
Q: What punishment do they get?
A. Not exceeding thirty-nine lashes.
Q: Who gives them these lashes?
A: Any of the Officers. I do, sometimes.
Q: Are you paid extra for this? How much?
A. Fifty cents a head. It used to be sixty-two cents. Now, it is only fifty. Fifty cents for each one we arrest, and fifty more for each one we flog.
Q: Are these persons you flog Men and Boys only, or are they Women and Girls also?
A. Men, Women, Boys, and Girls, just as it happens.
Q: Is your flogging, confined to these cases? Do you not flog Slaves at the request of their Masters?
A. Sometimes I do. Certainly, when I am called upon.
Q: In these cases of private flogging, are the Negroes sent to you? Have you a place for flogging?
A. No; I go round, as I am sent for.
Q: Is this part of your duty as an Officer?
A. No, sir.
Q: In these cases of private flogging, do you inquire into the circumstances to see what the fault has been, or if there is any?
A. That’s none of my business. I do as I am bid. The Master is responsible.

Source: Geo. W. Carleton, The Suppressed Book About Slavery (New York, 1864), pp. 193-195

May 23 2014

Image of the Day: Lynching

[Lynching, Russellville, Kentucky] by Minor B. Wade (1908)

[Lynching, Russellville, Kentucky] by Minor B. Wade (1908)

“This photograph is brutal testament to racial terrorism in America. The facts of the case are drawn from a small article that appeared in the “New York Times” on August 2, 1908, the same day the photograph was made by a local journalist. On the previous night, one hundred white men had entered the Russellville, Kentucky, jail and demanded that four black sharecroppers who had been detained for “disturbing the peace” be turned over to them. The men were accused by the mob of expressing sympathy for a fellow sharecropper who, in self-defense, had killed the white farmer for whom he worked. The jailer complied, and Virgil, Robert, and Thomas Jones and Joseph Riley were taken to a cedar tree and summarily lynched. The text of the note pinned to one of the bodies was also inscribed on the verso of the photograph: “Let this be a warning to you niggers to let white people alone or you will go the same way.” (Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art online collection)

May 15 2014

Scared Straight Doesn’t Work And Still Won’t Die…

Marie Smith doesn’t want her eight-year old son, Scott, to miss a particular exhibit that has dropped into the Colonial Park Plaza shopping center. She lets him gaze at it a moment, then delivers her message. “See,” she whispers, “it doesn’t pay to be bad.” (Source: Machalaba, Daniel, Wall Street Journal, 11/27/78)

Marie and her son Scott had just seen an electric chair that was part of a traveling exhibit called “Jail on Wheels.” In the late 1930s, a local sheriff named J. Edward Slavin came up with an idea. He wanted to create a mobile exhibit that would prevent juvenile delinquency. Thus “Jail on Wheels” was born in 1947. The specially-designed bus included ‘crime prevention’ equipment such as handcuffs, fingerprinting kits, weapons, tear gas, grenades, bulletproof vests, a resuscitator, and a “drunkometer.” The “Jail on Wheels” also featured a jail cell and a replica of an electric chair and gas chamber. Sponsored by the J. Edward Slavin Foundation, “Jail on Wheels” was popular through the 1970s. Millions of people toured the mobile exhibits over the years across the United States.

1940s Jail on Wheels Bus

1940s Jail on Wheels Bus

“Jail on Wheels” was the precursor to the modern “Scared Straight” prison programs. Over the past couple of weeks, I seen some articles about the enduring popularity of Scared Straight programs despite empirical evidence that they are in fact harmful.

Critics have long pointed out that these programs are detrimental likening them to “horror shows.” Yet parents across the country have been undeterred. I guess it just “feels” like it should “work.” Aaron MacGruder famously satirized Scared Straight in his animated series ‘The Boondocks’.

I’ve previously written about my aversion to taking black & brown children on prison field trips. I’ve also underscored the cruelty of subjecting black and brown children to gruesome emergency room field trips too. These strategies DO NOT WORK. They only serve to traumatize children while dehumanizing prisoners.

The programs need to die.

May 13 2014

Infographic: Chicago Police Torture

chicagotorture

Learn more about how you can TAKE ACTION.

May 03 2014

Documenting the State Murder of Clayton Lockett

On Tuesday, we tortured a man to death in Oklahoma:

“What was supposed to be the first of two executions here on Tuesday night was halted when the prisoner, Clayton D. Lockett, began to writhe and gasp after he had already been declared unconscious and called out “oh, man,” according to witnesses.

The administering doctor intervened and discovered that “the line had blown,” said the director of corrections, Robert Patton, meaning that drugs were no longer flowing into Mr. Lockett’s vein.

At 7:06 p.m., Mr. Patton said, Mr. Lockett died in the execution chamber, of a heart attack.”

My thoughts about the death penalty are clear. I think that state-sanctioned murder is barbaric and inhumane.

A study by Samuel R. Gross of the University of Michigan and Barbara O’Brien of Michigan State University released earlier this week found that: “at least 4 percent of people who get sentenced to death when they’re convicted would ultimately be exonerated if their cases were closely examined for the next 21 years.”

The study authors suggest that this is a conservative estimate. This news has generally been met with a collective shrug of Americans’ shoulders. And we should be disgusted with ourselves.

The state of Oklahoma has released a detailed timeline of the torture and murder of Clayton Lockett. Read the complete timeline here. An excerpt is provided below:

timelineexecution

I noticed that Clayton Lockett was offered a “food tray” twice on the day of his torture. He refused it both times. I’ve been reading recently about death row prisoners’ last meals. Mostly, I’ve been curious about the origins of the ritual. There are many theories about how and why prisoners who were condemned to death began to receive “special meals” on the eve of their executions. All that’s certain is that by the end of the nineteenth century the tradition of “last meals” for the condemned in the U.S. was a firmly established ritual.

Writing in the Journal of American Folklore, Michael Owen Jones (2014) suggests that commentators have offered contradictory explanations for the ritual of last meals:

Karon (2000) suggests that providing a special last meal might be “to sugarcoat what remains a grim act of violence by the state [executing the criminal] to redress a previous wrong.” Focusing on the bureaucratization and routinization of the “new penology” that dehumanizes prisoners turning them into docile automatons, LaChance (2007) contends that the state allows the condemned to choose whatever they wish for a final meal and to speak freely before dying in order to demonstrate that they possess autonomy and agency; as volitional beings who committed heinous crimes of their own free will, they deserve the punishment meted out to them. To sustain the emotional satisfaction required to uphold the death penalty, “[t]he state turns its offenders into self-made monsters” (LaChance 2007:719). In contrast to this interpretation, Gordon (2006) proposes that the ritual of the last meal constitutes “both an implicit call for forgiveness on the part of the citizens of the state” and “a demonstration of forgiveness as well, in that it shows kindness to the condemned and a recognition of their humanity and our shared humanity.”

Regardless of the state’s intentions and ours, Clayton Lockett rejected his ‘last meals’ and this is apparently fairly common. On Tuesday, we tortured a man to death and this too is common…

Apr 15 2014

Snippet From History #5: Judge Edward Aaron, White Terrorism, and the KKK

With this weekend’s terrible shooting at a Jewish community center, the KKK is again in the news. Many Americans, though, either view the organization with indifference or low-level contempt. After all, it’s difficult to get exercised about an organization that is most often portrayed as being passé, in decline and lacking power. Yet the KKK is in fact alive and active aross the United States. And I think that we need to understand its origins as a white terrorist organization in order to fully grasp American history and to understand our present.

There’s a scene in the film Mississippi Burning that references the story of a black man named “Homer Wilkes” which is actually based on the true story of Judge Edward Aaron.

In September 1957, six members of the KKK in Birmingham, Alabama kidnapped Judge Aaron, took him to their meeting place, and castrated him with a razor blade. What was unusual about this case is that the men were arrested, tried, and convicted by all-white juries of “committing mayhem” & “assault with intent to murder.” Four of the defendants were sentenced to twenty years in prison. Two who testified against their peers were given five year sentences.

Judge Edward Aaron, a handyman, was walking with a woman when he was apprehended by robed and hooded men. There was a brief struggle before he was subdued and knocked unconscious. Aaron was hit in the head with a pistol, a wrench, and kicked in the face. B.A. Floyd mutilated Aaron as a test of whether he would be promoted to Klan captain.

Aaron was randomly picked for torture. His sin was being a black man. Judge Aaron didn’t die. Instead, he testified at some of his assailants’ and torturers’ trials. He told the jury that when he came to, he was emasculated. He pretended to be unconscious because he heard one of the Klansmen say: “If he wakes up, blow his brains out.” When he was apprehended, he was told that he would serve as a warning to other blacks not to participate in or support integration efforts.

One of the culprits testified that he thought they were simply “going to scare the hell out of a negro” & was surprised at what he saw when he came in from standing guard outside the meeting place. After castrating Aaron, they poured turpentine in his wounds, put him in the trunk of their car, and dumped him in a creek where he was found by police. Judge Aaron, who was reportedly mildly developmentally disabled, was near death from blood loss.

The men who tortured Aaron were ordinary white men: construction workers, supermarket clerks, newspaper editors, etc… Their names were William Miller, John Griffin, Joe P. Pritchett, Jesse Mabry, B.A. Floyd and Grover McCullough. I point out their “ordinariness” because it’s important to note that it wasn’t “monsters” who upheld white supremacy and committed torture against black people and others in this country. It was “ordinary” white people who were backed by the power of government.

When George Wallace became Governor of Alabama, he pardoned the four men who had been given 20 year prison sentences. He did not pardon the two who had turned state’s evidence against their peers. He didn’t explain why he made the decision. He didn’t have to. He restored proper order and made it clear that terrorizing black people was sanctioned by the state.

I’m not sure how many people in this country know Judge Aaron’s story. I don’t forget his story. But I am keenly aware that there are thousands of other stories of white terrorism in the U.S. that I don’t know. Those stories should be unearthed and shared. They tell us something about what we are as a country. They ground practices like stop & frisk in a historical context that helps us to understand the virulent violence of the practice. There is a direct line between Judge Aaron unsuspectingly walking with his girlfriend & being kidnapped by hooded men with the backing of state power & the unsuspecting young black man in NYC who is apprehended by cops for simply walking while black. Stop & frisk terrorizes black & brown young people. History resonates still…

Apr 07 2014

On Police Torture, Bearing ‘Witness’ and Saving Ourselves…

I misjudged the weather. I didn’t dress appropriately. It’s cold and gray. Perhaps this is fitting.

Standing outside the Daley Center & across from City Hall, on Friday, about three hundred people chant: “What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now.”

Over one hundred people (118 to be exact) hold black banners/flags on wood sticks with the names of Jon Burge and his police officers’ torture victims. They called themselves the “midnight crew.” For over 20 years, they tortured an estimated 118 people, all of them black. 118 black bodies tortured in plain sight. The names are written in white on the black flags. Perhaps this is fitting too.

photo by Alice Kim (4/4/14)

photo by Alice Kim (4/4/14)

Most of the people who carry the banners are attending the Amnesty International 2014 Conference. They are mostly young and white. When the names are read out loud from the stage, they move over to stand in formation, silently acknowledging the sins of white supremacy. I wonder if they think of it this way; as atoning for a legacy of white terrorism. It strikes me again that the past is not past.

photo by Toussaint Losier (4/4/14)

photo by Toussaint Losier (4/4/14)

Nineteen men who were tortured by Burge still languish behind bars — their confessions extracted through electrocution, suffocation, and vicious beatings. I wonder if people know about this Guantanamo in Illinois or more accurately our Illinois in Guantanamo.

Read more »

Mar 19 2014

Poem of the Day: “If Only”

IF ONLY (by Lolita Stewart-White)

for Willie Edwards

If only it hadn’t been 1957
in a wooded area near Alabama, but it was;
or missing black folks hadn’t been looked for less
than missing shoes, and they weren’t;
or if only those Klansmen hadn’t gathered,
intent on finding a black man, and they were,
or if only they hadn’t stopped him on that gravel road,
or beaten him until they could see the white beneath his skin,
or marched him at gun point onto that bridge, and they did;
or if only they hadn’t said, “Bet this nigger can’t swim,”
or hooted and hollered as he fell from fifty feet,
or laughed as he vanished in the river’s moonlight, but they did;
or if only his death hadn’t been ruled suicide, and it was,
or his murderers hadn’t been set free, and they were,
or the daughter he left behind hadn’t had to live her life without him,
but she did.

from Rattle #39, Spring 2013
Tribute to Southern Poets

Listen to the audio HERE

Mar 13 2014

Image of the Day: Faces of Lynching Victims #2

Will Brown, victim of mob's wrath. Source: Omaha's riot in story and picture.

Will Brown, victim of mob’s wrath.
Source: Omaha’s riot in story and picture.