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 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 06 2014

Cece McDonald Teaches About the PIC (with video)

William C. Anderson wrote a short essay about CeCe McDonald for the No Selves to Defend anthology which I share below.

by Micah Bazant

by Micah Bazant

Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald is a trans woman whose bravery in the face of injustice has changed lives and perceptions in the United States. On the night of June 5, 2011, CeCe was out with friends when she was attacked. Three people began harassing her and her friends outside a bar by deriding them with racist and transphobic slurs, before attacking them physically.

CeCe fought for her life; when the dust settled one of her attackers lay dead. CeCe survived the attack, but was arrested by the police. After receiving 11 stitches to her cheek, she was interrogated without counsel and placed in solitary confinement. CeCe was charged with second-degree murder for defending herself. Rather than face trial by a jury that would not likely sympathize with her, she accepted a plea deal to the lesser charge of second-degree manslaughter.

Read more »

Sep 05 2014

Video: The Real Crime

This is a good video by the Black Alliance For Just Immigration. It makes the case that mass criminalization (incarceration and deportation) negatively impacts people of color. It’s worth watching.

Aug 29 2014

Shanesha Taylor Regains Custody of Her Children…

I am happy to share that Shanesha Taylor regained custody of her three children yesterday.

Last week, I wrote about the criminalization of black mothers with a particular focus on Shanesha’s case in the Nation Magazine.

In the United States, the ‘bad mother’ is usually poor and almost always black. Popular representations of black women are shaped by our ideas about race, gender, sexuality, class and more. Black women exist in the culture as hypersexual, unfeminine, angry, potentially criminal, depraved things. We have been excluded from ideologies of domesticity and our families are pathologized. We are preternaturally “strong” and feel no pain therefore justifying harsh and punitive treatment by the state.

It’s a small miracle then that some people were able to overcome our collective socialization to express compassion for Shanesha Taylor and for her children. But it isn’t nearly enough for us to care about black mothers and their children or to simply acknowledge their suffering; we must change policies that are destroying their lives. We must end the war on drugs. We must provide free or low-cost childcare options. We must create living wage jobs. And we must end racist mass criminalization.

I am very happy for Shanesha who I know loves her children dearly.

Aug 26 2014

Hope in the Struggle: Chicago’s Young People Resist…

One of my touchstones, the brilliant scholar-activist Barbara Ransby, tweeted something yesterday that I agree with completely.

I write about the activism and organizing of young people in Chicago a lot. I do so because my work and purpose are focused on supporting young people to make their lives more livable. It’s been a long-term commitment. So when other adults persistently disparage and discount ‘young people these days,’ I can’t relate. The young people who I am privileged to know are some of the most talented, creative, dedicated and intelligent activists I’ve ever encountered in my now-over 25 years of organizing. This is a fact, lost on many to be sure, but true nonetheless.

Over the course of this summer, I’ve been engaged with several young people in a group called “We Charge Genocide” and I’ve paid close attention as they have taken the lead in writing a report, in creating workshops and trainings, in using social media to convey the message that oppressive policing must end, and in generously sharing their stories and talents. The source of my hope for the future is rooted in their gifts. We will win because of them.

I call out the young people of BYP 100, We Charge Genocide, Chicago Freedom School, Circles and Ciphers, Fearless Leading By the Youth, VOYCE, Chicago Students Union, Students for Health Equity, Black and Pink Chicago and many, many more that I am leaving out but are doing important work.

In just the past few weeks in Chicago, young people have spearheaded & co-organized a local National Moment of Silence vigil to commemorate the killing of Michael Brown and to stand in solidarity with the Ferguson community.

National Moment of Silence (photo by Kelly Hayes, 8/14/14)

National Moment of Silence (photo by Kelly Hayes, 8/14/14)

National Moment of Silence (photo by Kelly Hayes, 8/14/14)

National Moment of Silence (photo by Kelly Hayes, 8/14/14)

National Moment of Silence (photo by Bob Simpson, 8/14/14)

National Moment of Silence (photo by Bob Simpson, 8/14/14)

Read more »

Jul 29 2014

Sliced Shoes, Mary Mitchell & Fighting Violence with More Violence

According to Mary Mitchell, “gun-toting teenagers in Chicago are practically laughing at police.” Her solution is for the Chicago Police Department (CPD) to implement New York City’s recently ended stop and frisk policies and practices as a violence prevention measure.

What a sad and pathetic ‘solution’ to interpersonal violence. Mitchell suggests that citizens should willingly forfeit our civil rights and be subjected to more violence in order to decrease interpersonal violence. It makes no sense and is a destructive idea. Mitchell is advocating that Chicagoans cede even more power to a police department that is renowned for its corruption.

On Sunday, I sat in a peace circle with Jaime Hauad’s mother, Anabel Perez. Ms. Perez spoke about her son’s tortured confession secured by CPD. She showed us a copy of that day’s Tribune which had a front page story on her son’s experiences.

“Jaime Hauad was 17 and in the middle of two days of questioning — and alleged torture — by Chicago police investigating a double murder when he saw his chance, his attorneys say.

There, in a hallway as he was led to his second lineup, were his white Filas, gym shoes that he alleges police took from him after they lowered the blade of an office-grade paper cutter over his shoes, while he wore them, slicing at the tips and threatening to cut his toes to try and coerce a confession.

Hauad said he quickly grabbed the shoes — the tips had by then been completely removed — and quietly asked another arrestee, whom he knew from his Northwest Side neighborhood, to switch shoes with him. Take the Filas to my mom, Hauad urged as he took his pal’s Nike Scottie Pippen-edition shoes, and tell her they are trying to get me to confess to a murder.

The shoe switch 17 years ago didn’t prevent Hauad’s conviction and life sentence, as he had hoped, but it was documented in two Chicago Police Department lineup photo arrays, providing “before and after” views that persuaded the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission to conclude that Hauad’s torture story was credible and his case worthy of review.”

This is the department that Mitchell advocates be allowed to randomly stop and frisk people across this city. Last week, someone on Facebook posted a video of the Chicago Police Department chasing down and then arresting a 9 year old boy in North Lawndale on the West Side of Chicago.

Watch the video and notice how tiny that little boy who they are arresting is. Notice how many cops there are around him. Imagine how scared he was. Then imagine giving even more license to CPD to stop and harass 9 year old black boys across this city. I refuse. So do many others living in Chicago.

This Saturday, August 2 the We Charge Genocide working committee will launch a project in Chicago by hosting a youth hearing on police violence at Roosevelt University. From 1 to 2 PM, Chicago’s youth will put the system of police violence on trial, breaking their silence to confront the targeted repression, harassment and brutality disproportionately faced by low-income people and young people of color.

Youth aged 25 and under are invited to share their experiences. Personal and community stories of police violence will be told, such as the recent incident where a young man named Damo by the police, hit his head, and later died.

One of the organizers of “We Charge Genocide,” 19 year old Richard Wilson explained the reason for organizing a youth hearing:

“If you’re young and poor and black or brown, the police see you as a criminal. Young people are the future of this city, but you wouldn’t know it by the way we’re treated. Police violence and harassment are a reality in our neighborhoods but we aren’t powerless, we’re putting the system on trial.”

We Charge Genocide is a grassroots, intergenerational effort to center the voices and experiences of the young people most targeted by police violence in Chicago. The name “We Charge Genocide” comes from a petition filed to the United Nations in 1951, which documented 153 racial killings and other human rights abuses committed mostly by the police.  

We Charge Genocide seeks to address this tradition of violence by offering a vehicle for needed organizing and social transformation through documentation of youth experiences with the Chicago Police Department, and through popular education both about police abuses of power and about youth-driven solutions and alternatives to policing.

Everyone is invited to attend the youth hearing on Saturday. Details are here.

Jul 28 2014

#ChicagoForMarissa

I am incredibly grateful to everyone who organized and took part in the excellent Chicago Community Gathering in solidarity with Marissa Alexander on Saturday. The gathering was the culmination of a very busy month of events that members of the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander (CAFMA) organized initially anticipating that her trial would kick off today. CAFMA later learned that the trial was postponed until December and used the events to continue to educate Chicagoans about Marissa’s case and to fundraise for her legal defense.

This month, hundreds of people attended a teach-in about Marissa’s case, the opening reception of the “No Selves to Defend” exhibition, a screening of the film “Crime after Crime” followed by a panel discussion, and finally the community gathering on Saturday.

For myself, it’s a true blessing to organize with my fellow CAFMA members. We are all fully committed to supporting Marissa in her fight for freedom. I hope that others in Chicago will join in the fight. You can see Chicago’s contribution to Free Marissa NOW’s http://www.freemarissanow.org/selfies-for-self-defense.html project here.

#selfiesforselfdefense taken at Community Gathering and Pre-Trial Rally for Marissa Alexander organized by CAFMA on 7/26/14 in Chicago (photo by Sarah Jane Rhee)

#selfiesforselfdefense taken at Community Gathering and Pre-Trial Rally for Marissa Alexander organized by CAFMA on 7/26/14 in Chicago (photo by Sarah Jane Rhee)

Jul 23 2014

Musical Interlude: What Ya Life Like…