Oct 25 2014

Damo, We Speak Your Name: Resisting Police Violence in Chicago

Dominique (Damo) Franklin, we speak your name. Your (imperfect) life mattered. Look at what you’ve inspired…

In May, I wrote about the death of a young man known to his friends as Damo at the hands of the Chicago Police Department (CPD). Months later, answers about his killing are still elusive. To conclude my post about Damo’s death, I wrote:

“He was managed throughout his life through the lens of repression, crime, and punishment. And now he is dead and those of us left behind must find a way to heal while building more justice. We’ll continue to fight in Damo’s memory because we won’t allow his death to have been in vain…”

We are keeping our promise. On Wednesday, hundreds of people participated in manifestations of Damo’s legacy.

Damo, in a couple of weeks, your friends and peers are on their way to the United Nations in Geneva to tell your story that of countless others who have perished and been tortured at the hands of the CPD.

Your death has inspired this song though we would rather have you alive and here with us. The telling of police torture is a mourning song. But the protest on Wednesday evening reminds me that it is also a freedom song.

Damo, we speak your name. Your (imperfect) life matters.

At Wednesday’s protest, your friends and peers invoked your name; placing it alongside Roshad, Deshawn, Rekia and Mike’s.

“Protect and serve that’s a lie, you don’t care when black kids die.”

I am really tired and I am incredibly inspired. I am still struggling to find the words to express my feelings. So I am going to rely on photos taken by friends and comrades to end this post. I am privileged and humbled to organize with a wonderful group of people. I wish Damo was here to join us.

Damo, we speak your name. Your (imperfect) life still matters… In your memory, we will continue working to shut down oppression.

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Oct 16 2014

Guest Post: From St. Louis, On Peace & Protest by Page May

This post is by Page May who is an organizer with We Charge Genocide and will be part of the youth delegation traveling to Geneva in November 2014. I am so happy to be able to feature Page’s brilliant voice here.

I am still processing my thoughts on the brief time I spent in St. Louis. I was deeply moved by the energy, love, and intensity of the protestors, particularly the many young people leading the march.

photo by Page May (St. Louis, 10/11/14)

photo by Page May (St. Louis, 10/11/14)

After the rally, a White Missourian approached me asking what I thought. We shared enthusiasm for the day’s events but our conversation ended when she said she “only hopes it stays peaceful…that some people have broken windows and started looting…which ruins it for everyone and takes away from the whole thing.” When I returned to Chicago, I tried to stay updated by following #FergusonOctober. I found myself similarly frustrated by the pattern of outrage over the police using such excessive force on “peaceful protestors.”

There is nothing peaceful about having to fight for your people’s lives and nothing surprising about police violence against Black people. This White, liberal, insistence on “peaceful protest” and what qualifies as such is at best misunderstanding and at worst inherently antagonistic to Black struggle.

photo by Page May (St. Louis, 10/11/14)

photo by Page May (St. Louis, 10/11/14)

While processing my thoughts on this, I’ve found myself referring to one of my favorite poems, by Ethan Viets-VanLear- a co-organizer in We Charge Genocide and fellow UN delegate.

And the police of the block that got a vendetta on every Black boy child;
The perpetrators of this fabricated peace we’ve apparently disturbed!
I was born on the gutter
handcuffed on the curb.
I was born in a dungeon,
medicated and shackled,
smothered so I couldn’t speak.

I find so much wisdom here in Ethan’s words. His recognition that what- as well as who/when/where/how- is defined and understood as “peace” is a fabrication that normalizes an anti-black status-quo. Moreover, that the construction of “the peace” is not only exclusionary of Black people, but positioned in fixed opposition to us: We are implicitly (as Black people who exist) and explicitly (as Black people who resist) in disturbance of “the peace.” And as those enlisted to serve and protect “the peace,” the police have always been tasked with keeping Black people in our place- as slaves, criminals, deviants, and dangerous. The police are, as Ethan describes, “the perpetrators of this fabricated peace we’ve apparently disturbed.” They have always been at war with us. Our history in this country is one of captivity and genocide- dungeons and shackles.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (St. Louis, 10/11/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (St. Louis, 10/11/14)

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Oct 14 2014

Guest Post: #Ferguson Reflections by Sarah Jane Rhee (words & photos)

A number of Chicagoans responded to the call to come to St. Louis and Ferguson for a weekend of resistance as part of Ferguson October. I attended a march in St. Louis on Saturday and several other friends from Chicago spent all or part of their weekends in Ferguson. I am still sorting out my thoughts and feelings but I asked some friends to share theirs if they were willing. This week, I will post the responses that I receive. Today, my friend Sarah reflects on her experience through words and her photos.

It’s Sunday morning, 8am, and my daughter Cadence and our friends Pidgeon and Mika are slowly waking up in our hotel room in St. Louis. I decide to use this time before we check out to edit my photos from the night before taken at the vigil at Mike Brown’s memorial and the subsequent protest at the Ferguson police station. While I wait for the photos to download onto my laptop, I read Mariame’s post from Friday, and see this video of Ethan, a young person I care very much about, and my heart cracks as I recall the events of the previous night when I watched him unleash his anger and pain in the faces of the Ferguson police officers lined up in front of the protesters. I then return to my downloaded photos, and the very first one I see is that of Mike Brown’s mother and family leading the march after the vigil to the police station, and that’s when my already cracked heart breaks wide open and I start weeping.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (Ferguson, 10/11/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (Ferguson, 10/11/14)

The night before at the Ferguson PD protest, I witnessed several young men from Chicago whom I care about very much passionately and furiously express their anger and pain at the police officers who were lined up in front of them a few feet away, separated from them only by a thin yellow police tape that poorly represented the chasm between these two groups.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (Ferguson, 10/11/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (Ferguson, 10/11/14)

As I watched, I was worried for their safety because I knew these officers could care less about the lives of these young Black men, that they may as well all be Mike Brown or nameless. I also recognized these young people’s need for an outlet for the feelings of anguish and rage that I don’t have adequate words with which to describe them.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (Ferguson, 10/11/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (Ferguson, 10/11/14)

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Oct 13 2014

Guest Post: Visiting Sammy by Liz Alexander

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

-Billie Holiday

I approach my first check point before entering the prison. I present my license and inform the guardsmen that I am visiting from out of town. I park my car and join the long line of predominantly Black and Brown women and their children. I recognize familiar faces from the last couple of times I’ve been here and we greet each other with ours eyes and a smile. As I approach the window, I take his inmate number out, ready to recite it on command in order to avoid frustrating the officer behind the glass. Unlike the other women, I have not memorized it yet. In fact, I refuse to do so. Even after eight years. I have made a commitment to maintain his humanity, regardless of the circumstances.

… “ After 18 hours of deliberations, a jury convicted Sammy Cooper, 21, of aggravated manslaughter in the death of 27-year-old Mike Rhodes, of East Orange, and using a steering-wheel lock to strike 14 blows to his head and face. Cooper, who faces 10 to 30 years in state prison, was also convicted of unlawful possession of a weapon late Tuesday in Newark Superior Court….Essex County Assistant Prosecutor Frederick Elflein said a taped police confession the day of the March 17, 2007, incident provided strong enough evidence to make this a clear-cut case. “The jury paid very close attention,” he said. “Even though in the confession (Cooper) said it was an accident and didn’t intend to kill (Rhodes), it was pretty chilling.”

On Wednesday, February 4, 2009 at 7:25pm, The New Jersey Star Ledger published an article, “East Orange man guilty of killing man with steering-wheel lock.” What the article failed to mention is that Sammy Cooper was abandoned by his father after his parents’ divorced when he was six years old; when he was twelve he was falsely incarcerated for a crime he did not commit and was bullied and harassed by the arresting officers. He was later acquitted. What the article failed to mention was that when he was fifteen, his mother died unexpectedly and he, the only one out of his siblings became a ward of the state. What the article failed to mention was that he had a mental illness and up until this incident, he himself was a victim. Is still a victim. No, this does not justify his actions or excuse him from accountability however what I find to be “pretty chilling,” is the lack of space for the acknowledgement of these other truths; the lack of space to be humanized.

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Oct 10 2014

Heading to #Ferguson…

It’s been a long week. Actually, it’s been a long few weeks. I have been working nonstop and I feel myself coming down with a cold.

Yet tomorrow I’ll be on a bus at 5 am heading to Ferguson Missouri with several comrades and friends. I’ll be participating in the mass march taking place on Saturday.

I wrote a few words recently about marching as protest and refusal so I won’t revisit the topic. I’ve said before that I didn’t expect to still be participating in such protests in my 40s for a variety of reasons. But here I am and I feel grateful that I am in good enough physical and mental health to do so.

So I will march tomorrow for the many young people, young black people in particular, who I love and want to be free from violence and oppression. I will march for my father who reminds me through his actions and his example that in the face of injustice one must always stand and be counted. I will march for myself, to remind myself that other people oppose genocide too.

Tonight, I saw a video of a young man who I have gotten to know and love over the years. He traveled to Ferguson from Chicago to participate in the weekend of resistance. I watched the video and felt gutted. But I am grateful that I saw it before boarding the bus to Ferguson.

I never forget that these protests are about real people and about our collective survival. I can’t forget because I am confronted almost daily with the raw pain and devastation that black evisceration engenders. So tomorrow, I am heading to Ferguson with Ethan’s anguish in my heart and on my mind. I’ll march in the hope that future young people will be spared.

fergusonresistance

Oct 08 2014

Interested in Anti-Police Violence Work in Chicago?

There is a lot of anti-police violence work currently happening in Chicago. All of the projects are open to the involvement of more people. Below are some projects and campaigns with which to connect.

The Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression is organizing a forum on October 16 on their proposal for a civilian police accountability council. You can learn more about their work and the forum here. They need more people to help.

The Chicago Torture Justice Memorials need community engagement to pressure the Chicago City Council to pass a reparations ordinance to compensate some of the survivors of Jon Burge and his fellow police officers’ torture. Contact your local alderperson and Mayor Rahm Emanuel and tell them to pass this ordinance.

We Charge Genocide is a grassroots, inter-generational effort to center the voices and experiences of the young people most targeted by police violence in Chicago. The initiative is entirely volunteer-run. The next monthly meeting is on October 21 at 5:30 p.m. Contact wechargegenocide@gmail.com if you would like to attend the meeting.

Direct Action

On October 22 at 6 pm, all Chicagoans are invited to attend a silent protest against police violence. You can RSVP on Facebook.

WCG Moment of Silence Flier

Training

October 15 – We Charge Genocide’s next Copwatch Training is on October 15 at 5:30 pm. More information can be found on Facebook and you can register here.

October 24-26 — Street Medic Training: First Aid for Police Brutality and Community Violence – This hands-on course will prepare you to serve as a medic at political protests and to help people in your community. It is designed for youth and young adults organizing against police violence, closed trauma and mental health centers, and other health inequalities. It is open to everyone. No previous training in medicine or first aid is required. — Register here. Sliding Scale – No One Turned Away for Lack of Funds (Real cost of training = $150 per participant)

You will learn:
* Street medic field operations and prevention (4 hours) – How to stay safe and promote safety in high-stress scenes.
* Emergency response (4 hours) – What to do when one or more people have life-threatening injuries.
* Patient assessment and first aid (4 hours) – for wounds, internal bleeding, head injury, bone and joint trauma, and burns.
* Community health work (4 hours) – How to recognize medical emergencies like seizures and strokes, and help people with unmet emotional or basic needs.
* Operating in unsafe scenes (4 hours) – How to help in any weather, avoid dangers and care for injuries from police batons, crowds, dogs, tasers, tear gas, and handcuffs.

Friday, October 24th – 6-9:30pm
Saturday, October 25th – 9-7pm
Sunday, October 26th – 9-6:30pm
(*must be able to attend all 3 days of training)

*** Wheelchair Accessible ***
*** Free Childcare ***
***Spanish Interpretation Available***

If you want to make a contribution to this training, you can do so here.

Events

We Charge Genocide is releasing its shadow report to the UN about CPD violence against youth of color on October 22 at 9 am. All are welcome. Details are here.

oct22-1 (1)

Oct 05 2014

#NoSchoolPushout: Police in Schools

Police officers play a critical role in feeding the school to prison pipeline and many of them seem to recognize this fact. A school police officers’ union in California created an uproar a few years ago by designing and selling t-shirts depicting a young boy behind prison bars with the words: “U Raise Em, We Cage Em.”  The local community was rightly incensed by this; yet it should not have come as a surprise that cops see their role in schools as arresting and incarcerating young people.

Youth art from Representing the Pipeline (2010)

Youth art from Representing the Pipeline (2010)

As Erica Meiners and I point out in an article published in Jacobin this year:

“Criminalizing student behavior is not new. The concept of the “school resource officer” emerged in the 1950s in Flint, Mich., as part of a strategy to embed police officers in community contexts. In 1975, only 1% of US schools reported having police officers. As of 2009, New York City schools employed over 5,000 school safety agents and 191 armed police officers, effectively making the school district the fifth largest police district in the country.”

We can be fooled into believing that schools with metal detectors, surveillance cameras, and police officers feel safe to students, teachers, and staff.  However, data from the Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) suggests something different:

“it is the quality of relationships between staff and students and between staff and parents that most strongly defines safe schools. Indeed, disadvantaged schools with high-quality relationships actually feel safer than advantaged schools with low-quality relationships.”[3]

In addition, the presence of police officers in our schools often has negative ramifications for students. A national study by the Justice Policy Institute titled “Education Under Arrest (PDF)” makes a convincing case that:

“…when schools have law enforcement on site, students are more likely to get arrested by police instead of having discipline handled by school officials. This leads to more kids being funneled into the juvenile justice system, which is both expensive and associated with a host of negative impacts on youth.”[4]

Even with these findings however, many students feel ambivalent about the role of police in their schools. Students are not immune to having the cops in their heads too.  Colorlines produced a video last year where they asked LA students whether police officers in schools made them feel safe. There were a variety of student responses.

In discussions about the school-to-prison pipeline, we need concrete examples of how the process works. As such, it is important to understand the role that police and security staff play in our schools.  Unfortunately in many districts reports about police involvement in schools have not been and are not readily available to the public.

If interested in learning more about police in schools, here’s list of resources that I compiled last year.

Oct 03 2014

#NoSchoolPushout: Defining the School-to-Prison Pipeline

dscposter2014-page-001 Tomorrow kicks of the 5th annual National Week of Action Against School Pushout. This year, my organization will join with youth, parents, teachers and community members in over 40 cities to resist school pushout and policing. Project NIA released a short paper this morning documenting the gains and challenges in the fight to end Chicago’s school to prison pipeline. I hope that those interested in these issues will read the paper authored by my friend, Dr. Michelle VanNatta.

I thought that I would use the occasion of the week of action to offer an introduction to the school-to-prison pipeline for those who might be new to the concept. I’ll also provide some resources for those interested in further study.

Defining the School-to-Prison Pipeline (STPP)

In an article that we wrote earlier this year, Erica Meiners and I defined the STPP in this way:

“Less a pipeline than a nexus or a swamp, the STPP is generally used to refer to interlocking sets of structural and individual relationships in which youth, primarily of color, are funneled from schools and neighborhoods into under- or unemployment and prisons.

While the US public education system has historically diverted non-white communities toward under-education, non-living wage work, participation in a permanent war economy, and/or incarceration, the development of the world’s largest prison nation over the last three decades has strengthened policy, practice, and ideological linkages between schools and prisons. Non-white, non-heterosexual, and/or non-gender conforming students are targeted for surveillance, suspended and expelled at higher rates, and are much more likely to be charged, convicted, and removed from their homes, or otherwise to receive longer sentences.”

Facts and Figures

To help provide some context for the scope and impact(s) of harsh school disciplinary policies, Project NIA created a short quiz to test your knowledge. Thanks to @cronehead and @MuffMacGuff who digitized this quiz. How do you fare?

Critique of the STPP Concept

Dr. Damien Sojoyner (2013) has challenged the concept of the school to prison pipeline. The abstract of his paper titled “Black Radicals Make for Bad Citizens: Undoing the Myth of the School to Prison Pipeline (PDF) summarizes his main argument:

“Over the past ten years, the analytic formation of the school to prison pipeline has come to dominate the lexicon and general common sense with respect to the relationship between schools and prisons in the United States. The concept and theorization that undergirds its meaning and function do not address the root causes that are central to complex dynamics between public education and prisons. This paper argues that in place of the articulation of the school to prison pipeline, what is needed is a nuanced and historicized understanding of the racialized politics pertaining to the centrality of education to Black liberation struggles. The result of such work indicates that the enclosure of public education foregrounds the expansion of the prison system and consequently, schools are not a training ground for prisons, but are the key site at which technologies of control that govern Black oppression are deemed normal and necessary.”

Others have offered other critiques of the STPP concept pointing out, for example, that we need think of the process of educational and societal marginalization as one that in fact begins from the cradle or even the womb.

Activism and Advocacy

The past decade has found increasing numbers of policy makers, advocates, academics, educators, parents, students, and organizers focusing explicitly on the relationships between education and imprisonment. A lot of organizing has happened around the issue of school pushout. The Dignity in Schools Campaign (organizers of the National Week of Action) brings together over 75 organizations across the country who are working to transform school discipline policies.

Just this week, advocates and organizers in California presided over Governor Jerry Brown’s signing of a bill to limit “school administrators’ use of an offense called “willful defiance” to suspend students in California schools.” This was the result of a long-term organizing campaign. Earlier, I referenced our newly released paper that documents some of the gains made by Chicago and Illinois organizers in the fight to interrupt the STPP.

Here are some organizations and projects advocating and organizing to end the STPP.

Teaching Youth About STPP: Curriculum Resources

We at Project NIA have developed several resources that can be used by educators and organizers to discuss the STPP with young people in particular. These resources have also been used by many people to lead discussions with adults as well. Others have also developed useful tools for teaching about the STPP.

Curriculum: Suspension Stories

Curriculum: NYCLU School-to-Prison Pipeline Workshop

Comic: School to Prison Pipeline by Rachel Marie-Crane Williams

One page comic with discussion questions: Sent Down the Drain

Find many other audio, video, etc… resources at Suspension Stories

Further Study 

Disrupting the School-to-Prison Pipeline Edited by Bahena, Cooc, Currie-Rubin, Kuttner and Ng (2012)

From Education to Incarceration: Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline Edited by Nocella, Parmar and Stovall (2014)

Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys by Victor Rios (2011)

There is a list of other reading here and here.

Over the course of this next week, I will be posting information about the specific components that make up the STPP. Stay tuned!

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 02 2014

Resisting Resignation: Protest and Refusal in Chicago

I learned that there would be another protest yesterday for Roshad McIntosh, a 19 year old young black man, who was killed by a Chicago Police officer on August 24. Neighbors say that the young man had his hands up and was in the process of surrendering when he was shot and killed.

I had missed (because of illness) the previous protests demanding that the killer cop be named and that the police report be released to the public. I had, however, been closely following information about the incident on social media. Yesterday, I finally felt well enough to attend the latest protest. I grabbed a ride with my friends Sarah, Zach and Megan and we headed to North Lawndale for the 5 o’clock protest/march.

We marched from the site of Roshad’s killing to the 11th police district.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (Chicago, 9/1/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (Chicago, 9/1/14)

When we arrived at the police station, Roshad’s mother, Cynthia Lane, entered the building to ask for more information about her son’s killing.

photo by Minku Sharma (Chicago, 9/1/14)

photo by Minku Sharma (Chicago, 9/1/14)

She returned a short time later to say that the police didn’t tell her any more details about her son’s death. She vowed to come back every day until she got answers.

photo by Danielle Villarreal (Chicago, 9/1/14)

photo by Danielle Villarreal (Chicago, 9/1/14)

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