On Sunday, I awoke to the news that some parents of Walter Payton Prep High School students refused to allow their children to play a night game on the campus of Gwendolyn Brooks Prep High.
You have to live in Chicago to fully appreciate this drama. Payton and Brooks are both selective enrollment public high schools in the city. Both are considered “good” schools. Payton is on the Northside of Chicago while Brooks is located on the Southside. Rich white parents use their clout to get their children admitted to Payton but not to Brooks. In case you didn’t know, Chicago is still the most segregated city in the United States. This also extends to our schools, of course.
One can hardly blame the parents of Payton students who were afraid that their children might succumb to violence on the dreaded “Southside.” Over the past three to four years, media accounts have portrayed Chicago as the wild, wild, West. Scarcely a day goes by that there isn’t another account of rampant “senseless” violence in the city.
It’s gotten so bad that the former police superintendent, Jody Weis, felt the need to proclaim during a news conference in 2010: “We are not Chi-raq. We are Chicago.”
This brings me to the main issue that I wanted to address today.
Someone got really angry at me last week. She asked me to “defend” Chief Keef and I said no. I declined to engage with her not because Chief Keef isn’t “worth” defending but rather because he is a proxy & therefore irrelevant. What this woman really wanted me to do was to condemn Keef. I won’t do it. [Full disclosure: I've been asked to appear in the media to talk about Keef & have declined too.]
Many people cringe when they watch Chief Keef’s video for his song “I Don’t Like.” Some people find their fears of young black men confirmed by the images that they see. Others rage against him for embodying the worst stereotypes attributed to black boys. Are we to believe, however, that the negative ideas that people have about young black men originate with Keef and his videos? Come on. Those stereotypes and ideas predate Keef by several generations. The cultural work of racism that set the stage for dehumanizing black people has its roots in the 19th century. Keef really didn’t make this world; he’s inherited it and we are all culpable for this.
If you are taking to the media or the pulpit to skewer Keef, you are wasting your time. It is easy to rant and much more difficult to propose constructive solutions for the social problems that give birth to the destructive realities that Keef raps about and that he lives.
Every institution in Chicago fails Black youth. Segregated and systematically inequitable, Chicago is a town where white kids exist in an increasingly idyllic new urban utopia, and Black and Latino kids weave and dodge through a war zone. The largest specter in the spectacle and circus that surrounds the city, Chief Keef has become its poster boy and scapegoat. He is a young man who looks and sounds like thousands of young people in Chicago—reared in a culture of nihilism, death, and capitalism. He is a young man who sings the demented measures and results of white supremacy, the legacy and maintenance of grand inequity. Chief Keef sings a tortured and tormented Chicago song. It is a song we need to listen to carefully.
Like some other young black men in Chicago his age, Keef has already been in trouble with the law. He’s been arrested and spent time in jail. He is also unapologetic about these things. Keef is a symptom and product of Chicago’s devastated and blighted inner city communities. This past July, Daniel Shea wrote a profile titled “Chief Keef: Lost Boys,” it’s worth reading.
Keef is just 17 years old and he is basically a commodity at this point. He performs and probably makes much more money for corporations than he does for himself. I don’t know the young man personally but I would bet that he is no different than the other 17 year old black boys that I meet and interact with daily. He is no doubt holding a lot of anger, he is probably funny & mercurial, he might be sullen & sweet, he does a lot of weed and it’s clear that he is brilliant. In other words, Keef is as Kevin points out like “thousands of young people in Chicago.”
And the truth is that thousands of young people in Chicago are being failed on a minute by minute basis. So I won’t waste my time moralizing against Keef. I will instead continue to condemn and to hold accountable the systems and institutions that are supposed to ensure the health and well-being of the thousands of youth like him.
This week, the Detention Watch Network identified the 10 worst immigration detention centers across the U.S. in a new report. The report suggests that:
At all ten of the facilities, people reported waiting weeks or months for medical care; inadequate, and in some cases a total absence, of any outdoor recreation time or access to sunlight or fresh air; minimal and inedible food; the use of solitary confinement as punishment; and the extreme remoteness of many of the facilities from any urban area which makes access to legal services nearly impossible.
Detention Watch Network calls for the immediate closure of these facilities. One of these detention centers is the Tri-County Detention Center which is the only privately-run immigrant detention center in Illinois. You can read a summary of the terrible conditions at Tri-County HERE (PDF).
A couple of weeks ago, I co-organized an event about youth incarceration at the Gage Gallery at Roosevelt University. This was part of a discussion series accompanying the Juvenile-In-Justice photo exhibition.
The program featured a panel comprised of formerly incarcerated young men and was ably moderated by my friend Amanda Klonsky. I can’t stress how important it is for spaces to exist where youth can narrate their own experiences of incarceration. Their stories were poignant, moving, and searing.
If you were not lucky enough to be present to hear the stories first hand, my friend Sarah Lu kindly taped the panel and then uploaded the audio to Soundcloud. You can listen here. Please share this with others too.
This week has me thinking about Kim Jones (aka Lil Kim) again. A young woman I am working with e-mailed a photograph of her and I was left speechless. Kim is unrecognizable to me. I have always been fascinated by her and have written about her a couple of times on this blog here and here.
The legend of Lil’ Kim begins with her “discovery” by Christopher Wallace (a.k.a. the Notorious B.I.G) on the streets of Bed-Sty in Brooklyn. She released her debut album titled “Hardcore” in 1996. In interviews, she has said: “Lil’ Kim is what I use to get money, a character I use to sell my records.” Yet one wonders if this is truly the case. What is the distance between the character of Lil’ Kim and Kimberly Jones? One thing is certain: she is a complex person, full of contradictions. It is perhaps this, above all, that makes her so interesting & relevant to me.
What have I been listening to NON-STOP for two months now? Fiona Apple’s new CD, Schoolboy Q’s Habits and Contradictions, and the new CD by Killer Mike. All of these are terrific. Today I thought that I would share just one of my favorite tracks off Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music CD: it’s called “Reagan” and it’s excellent. Incidentally, I never recommend anything by Toure (it’s a long story) but he has written an interesting essay about the intersections between hip hop and the War on Drugs. It is worth reading particularly for his consideration of Reagan’s role in intensifying the War on Drugs and for his discussion of hip hop’s complicity in disseminating the “criminalblackman” myth.
WASHINGTON, May 22, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The U.S. jail population increased after three consecutive years of decline, the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today. The number of inmates confined in county and city jails increased by 1.2 percent, from 735,601 at midyear 2011 to 744,524 at midyear 2012.Local jails […]
"The evidence does not support the view of Sensible Sentencing Trust spokeswoman Ruth Money, that restorative justice is only appropriate for low level offending" says Kim Workman, of Rethinking Crime and Punishment. "Much of the evidence points in the opposite direction." […]
New Delhi, May 20 (IANS) A fast track Delhi court hearing the Dec 16, 2012, gang-rape case Monday dismissed the pleas of two accused seeking permission to undergo lie detector tests and also to subject the victim's male friend to a similar test. […]
Gurgaon, May 19 (IANS) Supreme Court's Justice P. Sathasivam, who is also the executive chairman of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), Sunday said that cases related to women are being given priority by courts after the Delhi gang-rape. […]
India, May 17 -- "Judge saheb, meri beti ko insaaf dilaiye (please ensure justice for my daughter)," the mother of the December 16 gang-rape victim, with her hands folded, requested the special court hearing the horrific rape case on Friday.Deposing before the court of additional sessions judge Yogesh Khanna, the woman made fervent pleas for justic […]
WASHINGTON, May 14, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Justice Department will recognize nine citizens and law enforcement officers from four states for heroic and exemplary efforts to protect children, during the annual National Missing Children's Day commemoration in Washington, D.C., 2 p.m. Wednesday, May 15. The award recipients are from Illinois, […]
India, May 9 -- A juvenile involved in a string of murders in Uttarakhand has joined the ranks of close to 24 persons to be apprehended for their alleged involvement in the sensational slaying of liquor baron-cum-real estate honcho Gurdeep alias 'Ponty' Chadha and his brother Hardeep last November.The accused juvenile hails from Rudrapur in Uttarak […]
Combatting violence against women in Iraq spawns higher education partnership between Vanguard University and University of Duhok. Visit to California includes training with 12th District Court Judge David O. Carter, OC Juvenile Justice Douglas Hatchimonji, OC Juvenile Services, OC Child Abuse Special Teams (CAST) and Westminster Police DepartmentCosta Mesa, […]