Jan 25 2016

#No Tasers: Chicago Students Speak Out

Students from the Village Leadership Academy in Chicago did some research on the use of tasers by police. They produced the following video that tasers are in fact lethal weapons. They suggest that Chicagoans call Mayor Rahm Emanuel to insist that he not invest millions of dollars to outfit CPD as a “reform” to oppressive policing.

Jan 20 2016

Musical Interlude: Freedom by Taina Asili

I just came across this wonderful new song and video by Taina Asili called “Freedom.” Watch it, it’s beautiful and makes connections between oppressive policing and mass incarceration

Jan 20 2016

Laura Scott, Prisoner: An Addendum

I started my research on Laura Scott’s life four years ago. I came across her mug shot, purchased it and was curious about who she was. Last year, a woman named Barbara reached out to ask if she could publish an abridged version of the zine I wrote about Laura’s life in the newsletter of the Afro-American History Society. I agreed of course and it will appear in early March.

Later, Barbara shared some information that she found on Ancestry.com. She’d come across a Laura Scott born Nov. 1867 in Alabama living in Galveston, TX according to the 1900 Census. She was listed as married, a dressmaker and living with a sister-in-law named Mattie Bridges. Barbara added: “Awfully close to the facts about your Laura Scott. If the same person, Laura may have left for California after the devastating hurricane struck the city. Could also explain the train tickets to El Paso.” In my original research, I’d missed this possible clue about Laura Scott. Armed with this new information, I am able to revise what I previously wrote about Laura’s possible travels prior to arriving in California.

Revised Information

Laura Scott was born in Alabama in either 1867 or perhaps 1868. Her exact birth date is unknown because there are various ages listed for her on different documents. In addition, Laura Scott was divorced and the surname she used may not be her maiden name. San Quentin prison records list her age as 37 years old in 1905 and then as 40 years old in 1908. Her Bertillon criminal card lists her age as 40 years old in 1908. However, two years later, the 1910 Federal Census where she appears as a prisoner at San Quentin lists her age as 38. She is identified as being 28 years old in a 1907 Los Angeles Herald newspaper article covering her second trial. Searching Ancestry.com, according to the 1900 Census, a Laura Scott born in November 1867 in Alabama was living in Galveston, Texas with her sister-in-law named Mattie Bridges. It’s possible that this could be the same Laura.

Year: 1900; Census Place: Galveston Ward 7, Galveston, Texas; Roll: 1637; Page: 15A; Enumeration District: 0127; FHL microfilm: 1241637

Year: 1900; Census Place: Galveston Ward 7, Galveston, Texas; Roll: 1637; Page: 15A; Enumeration District: 0127; FHL microfilm: 1241637

It was common for many people in that era not to be certain of their exact date of birth. The question is whether it is more plausible that Laura Scott would inflate her age when she was younger or whether she would decrease her age as she got older. By all appearances, it seems that Ms. Scott paid close attention to her looks. Her outfits in her mug shot photos attest to this. Therefore one would infer that the San Quentin prison documents and the Bertillon card were probably more accurate than the 1910 Federal Census or a newspaper article.

When Laura Scott left Alabama, she was leaving behind a mostly rural, poor, and deeply racist society. It is possible that Laura left Alabama during a migration of black people that began in the late 19th century. For a black woman like Laura, Alabama must have felt deeply oppressive and constraining. An adventurous woman like Laura Scott would probably have seen Los Angeles as “the land of milk and honey” by contrast. For whatever reason, Laura Scott did not feel a need to remain in Alabama. At some point she made her way out West, perhaps stopping in Galveston, Texas. Information for the 1900 Census was collected in June of the same year. In early September 1900, Galveston was struck by a terrible hurricane that decimated the city and left up to 8,000 dead. If Laura was in fact living in the city at the time, it’s possible that this natural disaster led her to make her way to California. It is unclear, however, when she first arrived in California. We do know that she was living in Los Angeles in  1905 when she was arrested for larceny.

 

Jan 08 2016

Image of the Day: Women’s House of Detention

Women's House of Detention by Nan Lurie (1930s)

Women’s House of Detention by Nan Lurie (1930s)

Dec 29 2015

Calling 911 Shouldn’t Be A Death-Wish…

There’s a lot happening in Chicago right now. I am busy and don’t have much time to write. I did write a short piece for the Guardian about this weekend’s killing of Quintonio LeGrier and Bettie Jones by the Chicago Police Department.

Vigil for Quintonio and Bettie (Chicago, 12/27/15) Photo by Frank James Johnson

Vigil for Quintonio and Bettie (Chicago, 12/27/15) Photo by Frank James Johnson

From the essay:

To protect the lives and futures of black Chicagoans we need more than just changes in policing. We need to address structural and systemic oppression; that involves securing a living wage and guaranteed jobs; keeping our schools public and stopping closures and speeding up decarceration by ending things like cash bail.

To prevent these kinds of deaths from happening again, we will need community-based mental health services and to create alternatives outside of police to respond to crises. We also will need accountability, which is why local activists and organizers are calling for Rahm Emanuel’s resignation and that of Cook County state’s attorney Anita Alvarez.

We understand that all of these solutions are interconnected; that they are essential to living lives free from violence and are critical to our liberation.

Extrajudicial killing of black people is the norm, not the exception. The stories bleed and blend into each other, colorless. Another day, another death to absorb and many are numb. Words are achingly insufficient in the face of so much brutality – now is the time for actions.

Dec 26 2015

Video: Blood at the Root Exhibition

I spent part of this year co-curating an exhibition titled “Blood at the Root: Unearthing Stories of State Violence Against Black Women & Girls.” The exhibition focuses our attention on the fact that all #BlackWomensLivesMatter and all #BlackGirlsLivesMatter. Relying on various artifacts, we narrate the experiences and resistance of Black women and girls (trans and non-trans) who have been brutalized, imprisoned and killed by the state and its agents.

Special thanks to my friend Gretchen Hasse for documenting Blood at the Root which closed at the end of October.

Dec 15 2015

Video: Struggling with Re-entry

This week Root and Rebound launched a 3 minute video which highlights the struggles of currently and formerly incarcerated people navigating the reentry process. You can watch it below.

Letters From Inside from Margaret Katcher on Vimeo.

The video highlights a myriad of legal issues and discriminatory practices that people face upon release—including employment discrimination, denials of public benefits, exclusions from housing, and misapplied parole and probation rules. Root and Rebound has also launched a campaign called Reimagine Reentry: Disrupting Cycles of Poverty and Incarceration, to engage and educate the public, and expand its base of support.

Dec 04 2015

#FireGarryMcCarthy

I wrote a piece published in the Guardian a couple of days ago. Here’s an excerpt:

“There was dancing in front of Chicago police headquarters at 35th street and Michigan Avenue on Tuesday evening.

People were celebrating, in part, because Chicago police superintendent Garry McCarthy was fired earlier that day. Mayor Rahm Emanuel – who had spent days expressing confidence in his police chief – stood in a hot briefing room in front of the press corps and announced that McCarthy had become “a distraction”. Emanuel looked like a man undergoing a root canal without anesthesia.

After days of mass protests – including a shutdown of Michigan Avenue on Black Friday that cost retailers up to 50% of their sales – the mayor had apparently decided to cut his losses and throw McCarthy overboard to save himself.”

Below is a short video shot in front of CPD Headquarters the night of McCarthy’s firing.

Dec 03 2015

A Love Letter to Chicago Organizers…

I haven’t watched the videotaped execution of Laquan McDonald. I’m done with the televised spectacle of Black Death. This is my personal silent protest.

I don’t begrudge those in the streets in fact I am grateful to many of them for not going gently into the quiet night of apathy. My disgust and rage at the fact that the video was publicly released over the objections of Laquan’s family won’t let me engage in the ways that I regularly would.

As I’ve watched the many opportunists vie for facetime over the past few days, it’s become more urgent to narrate a history of continued protest and refusal regarding police violence in Chicago. There are people who have been consistently in the streets in this city for months now. This is a love letter to the incredible anti-police violence and anti-criminalization organizers/activists in Chicago.

For decades, Chicagoans have been organizing against the brutality and impunity of the Chicago Police Department. In the months since the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO, young people of color from across the city have consistently organized demonstrations, protests and actions to underscore the violence of the CPD. These protests are the visible outgrowths of grassroots campaigns that have sought and won reparations for police torture survivors, are calling for community control of the police, are insisting on an end to stop and frisk, are demanding a Federal investigation of the Homan Square police facility, are organizing for redirecting funds from police to other social goods, and are seeking individual justice for Damo, Roshad, Rekia, Ronnieman and more.

In other words, day in and day out in this city, we are resisting police violence. The press in Chicago largely ignores this ongoing grassroots organizing but they are quick to jump on moments like the release of the tape depicting Laquan McDonald’s execution to condescend to, moralize against, and incite Chicagoans who are working toward justice. We resist the local press’s continuing efforts to demonize and pathologize young people in this city (especially those who identify as Black and Brown). We are sick of it. We reject their depictions.

So my friend and comrade Tom Callahan and I collaborated on this visual love letter to Chicago organizers. We hope you appreciate it. If you, please share it with others who want to better understand Chicago’s resistance to criminalization and police violence.

Nov 18 2015

Video: The Case for Diversion

If you watch Danielle Sered speak for the next 15 minutes, you will be better informed about the current state of criminal justice reform. It is well-worth your time. Danielle runs the innovative program called Common Justice.

“Common Justice is an innovative victim service and alternative-to-incarceration program based on restorative justice principles. Located in Brooklyn, New York, the program works with young people, 16 to 24 years old, who commit violent felonies, and those they harm. Common Justice aims to reduce violence, facilitate the well-being of those harmed, and transform the criminal justice system’s response to serious crime. The program provides participants with a respectful and effective means of accountability, an equitable and dignified avenue to healing, and the tools to break cycles of violence.”

Click HERE to watch.