Mar 18 2016

#Justice4Rekia: Chicago Organizers Make #BlackWomensLivesMatter

On Monday, we mark four years since Detective Dante Servin killed Rekia Boyd in North Lawndale. I first learned about her death from a friend’s Facebook post. As part of the early organizing efforts by Crista Noel of Women’s All Points Bulletin and Rekia’s family, I was invited to speak about Rekia’s killing on a panel in April 2012. The panel included former police officer and local activist Pat Hill and Rekia’s brother Martinez Sutton. Since then, Martinez has been a fixture in the efforts to seek justice for his dead sister. He has crisscrossed the world including speaking at the United Nations in Geneva to keep Rekia’s name alive and to pressure local authorities to hold Servin accountable for the harm and pain he’s caused.

After a judge dismissed all charges against Dante Servin (on a technicality) in April 2015, I was uncertain that Rekia’s name and story would remain central to our local organizing efforts against state violence. In fact, Rekia has never been more visible in our actions and protests to end police violence.

Since last May, a coalition of groups including BYP100, We Charge Genocide, BLM Chicago, Women’s All Points Bulletin,and Chicago Alliance against Racist and Political Repression, has been packing Chicago Police Board meetings to demand Dante Servin’s firing and that he be stripped of his pension. There’s been progress: In September, the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) recommended his termination and former police superintendent Garry McCarthy concurred in November 2015. Last month, the police board finally set dates for Servin’s hearing to determine his future employment status.

I’ve despaired at times over the past four years. I was disappointed, for example, when I arrived to the first day of Servin’s trial and only found a small group gathered at the courthouse. I wrote about my feelings:

“I’ll admit that I am currently battling demoralization. I arrived to a pre-trial rally/gathering for Rekia Boyd during a downpour today. The skies opened and the rain came down mirroring my mood. I arrived late because I was supporting a young person who is on trial in juvenile court this morning. I ducked out and drove to Criminal Court to support Rekia’s family for a few minutes.

It was a small group when I arrived. Martinez Sutton, Rekia’s brother who has been steadfast in fighting to bring his sister’s killer to court, had just finished speaking. People held signs and images of Rekia and other women killed by police.”

Partly in response to my words and as a balm for my and others’ demoralization, some friends and comrades organized a beautiful show of support and solidarity for Rekia. My friend Kelly, one of the organizers of the light action, wrote:

“But tonight, after a great deal of discussion and reflection, my friends and I decided to offer what we could to those who are mourning, discouraged, and in need of hope. We decided to offer a bit of light and action, in the hopes that seeing a message for Rekia projected in the night sky, in the heart of our city, might make them feel a little less disheartened, and a little less alone. It’s a small offering, to be sure, but it is one that is made with love, and with a great deal of hope.”

Seeing Rekia’s name in lights on the surface of the Art Institute of Chicago reminded me not to erase the presence and participation of those who do show up consistently for Black lives even if the numbers aren’t large. There is a lot of pain and anger about the invisibility of Black women, trans and gender-non conforming people in struggles against state and interpersonal violence. Rightly so. It hurts to be erased and overlooked. But it’s important, I think, to simultaneously recognize those who do, in fact, insist on making these lives matter too. It’s always both/and.

I feel like I’ve gotten to know Rekia so much better since that panel in 2012. She feels like family. We owe immense gratitude to Women’s All Points Bulletin and to Rekia’s family for their insistence that her life mattered. In the more recent past, a multi-racial and intergenerational coalition led by young Black organizers has raised the stakes and issued an urgent demand to #FireServin.

On the occasion of the 4th anniversary of Rekia’s death, I offer this short video which is a collaboration with my friend and co-struggler Tom Callahan. The video illustrates some of the recent organizing and struggle to achieve some #Justice4Rekia. Tom and I offer this to Rekia’s family, friends and community with love and gratitude for their efforts which uplift and inspire us.

Thanks to my friend Sarah Jane Rhee for documenting so much of our organizing in Chicago through her photography. Thanks to the young people of Kuumba Lynx for their video documentation of several actions. Thanks to everyone who has struggled to make Rekia’s life matter over these years. Special thanks to the incomparably talented artist/singer Jamila Woods for allowing us to use her anthem Blk Girl Soldier for the video. In Chicago, art is a critical part of our resistance and struggle.

We demand #Justice4Rekia. Onward.

Feb 19 2016

#AlvarezMustGo: Defeating An Awful Prosecutor in Cook County

I haven’t been able to blog regularly so far in 2016. I’d hoped to have more time to do so. Life and work are both kicking my ass though. In my “free time,” I’m currently focused on grassroots organizing to defeat one of the worst prosecutors in the U.S.: Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.

Meme by Bria Royal

Meme by Bria Royal

In the past few months, Anita Alvarez has come to national notoriety because of her handling of the Laquan McDonald case. Against all evidence of a cover-up, she still maintains that she’s handled the case appropriately. Many of us in Chicago have spent years documenting her various failures and problems as a prosecutor. It’s gratifying that more people are paying attention to Alvarez and her misdeeds. On Wednesday, the Chicago Suntimes editorialized about Alvarez’s bungling of the Rekia Boyd case:

“If the Justice Department hopes to get to the bottom of how justice runs aground in Chicago, it will extend its probe to include City Hall’s law department and the state’s attorney’s office. Chicago’s failure to hold officers accountable for misconduct cannot be blamed on the Police Department alone. Our city’s criminal justice troubles are more widely systemic.

As detailed Tuesday by Sun-Times reporters Mick Dumke and Frank Main, based on an examination of emails from the state’s attorney’s office, there is strong evidence the law department and county prosecutors in the Rekia Boyd case again slow-walked an investigation into police misconduct.”

Love and Struggle Photos  (2/13/16)

Love and Struggle Photos (2/13/16)

Prosecutors play an outsized role in the criminal punishment system and receive very little public scrutiny. Writing at Seven Scribes, Josie Helen explains that the prosecutor’s role in mass incarceration deserves attention if viable solutions are to be developed:

“For years, prosecutors have managed to avoid responsibility for a system they’ve largely created. Many of them are up for primaries in early March. If you don’t know who’s on the ballot, find out. If you weren’t planning on voting, show up. Prosecutors have an outsized amount of power, but they are subject to the democratic process just like any other elected official. It’s about time we held them accountable.”

In Cook County, Anita Alvarez is up for re-election in a primary against two other Democratic opponents. This is a helpful voting guide that provides information about all three candidates. There are many reasons why Alvarez must be defeated. You can find some at a site that I created here.

I am not a person who believes that voting will lead us to liberation. I do however think that it’s critical to apply pressure where we can in order to make space for collective action and organizing that can help us build power to move our issues. In the case of Anita Alvarez, she is an active block to many of the changes that could lead to decarceration in Cook County. She needs to go.

On Wednesday, a group of young activists of color made it known that #AlvarezMustGo and on March 15th Cook County residents will have the opportunity to defeat her at the polls.

If you are a Cook County voter, you can keep up with information about the #AlvarezMustGo campaign on Facebook.

Feb 01 2016

Chicago’s Mental Health Movement Responds to Mayor’s ‘Reforms’

I wanted to share this press release from the Mental Health Movement here in Chicago because it offers an important critique of the so-called ‘reforms’ being offered by Mayor Emanuel. In addition, the release points the way forward to what Chicagoans must demand and fight for. Please read this and share it widely. To join the struggle, contact N’Dana Carter and STOP CHICAGO at 773 217-9598.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Mental Health Movement Response to Mayor Emanuel Statement on Mental Health Reforms

Mental Health Movement is concerned and frustrated that Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s statement today on mental health reforms did not even mention the six remaining city mental health clinics. He continues to avoid owning up to his administration’s own responsibility for the deterioration of Chicago’s mental health safety net by closing six clinics in 2012 – primarily in African-American and Latino communities – and setting up the remaining six clinics for failure through cuts and inaction on ensuring adequate staffing and billing. This is an essential part of the context of why police, rather than trained mental health professionals, end up being called to respond to mental health crises.

City mental health clinics service thousands of Chicago residents every year and it is a disservice to those in need of mental health services, clinic staff and to Chicago taxpayers to ignore these clinics and allow them to crumble. Once again we call on the Mayor to make a long term commitment to keep the city’s six mental health clinics OPEN and PUBLIC, because these clinics provide a unique and vital safety net for those most in need. Such a commitment would have immediate benefits –reassuring current and prospective clients, improving staff morale and making it easier to recruit new staff, especially psychiatrists.

In addition, we call on the Mayor to open six mental health clinics in the communities where he closed clinics in 2012. The Mental Health Movement fought hard to stop those closures because we knew the serious impact of those closures. And in fact there was a spike in hospitalizations, hundreds of former clients unaccounted for, a growing mental health problem in Cook County jail and many individuals suffered serious consequences. Any closures of the remaining clinics would be likely to have equal or more devastating impacts.

We also oppose any plans to privatize the clinics. Privatization would result in another disruption of care with no demonstrated benefits in quality or savings. The importance of a public safety net is made clear by the closure of several private mental health clinics in recent years and the last minute save by Cook County Health and Hospital System to prevent the closure of the C4 network of mental health clinics.

We support Alderman Jason Ervin’s ordinance that would require the Chicago Department of Public Health to join at least three managed care networks, hire more psychiatrists, do a community outreach campaign to let people know about the clinics and to report to City Council about meeting those requirements.

We also plan to press for an ordinance that would require the city to open six more clinics to get vital services to people in need and reduce the number of awful and preventable tragedies like the shooting of Quintonio LeGrier and Bettie Jones. The combination of racism, mental health stigma and deteriorating access to care in the communities that need it most is a deadly one that cannot be side-stepped with speeches and empty proposals.

Oct 28 2015

Creative Organizing, Political Education and Abolition in Chicago…

In Chicago, in this historical moment, groups of people are relying on creative organizing to envision and struggle for a radically transformed world where policing and the violence it produces are abolished. This fight is inherently connected to a vision of a world where housing is affordable, quality education is accessible, and health care is available to all. The organizers, activists, artists, and community members engaged in the daily struggle for a more just world under a #BlackLivesMatter umbrella in Chicago keenly understand that poetry, visual art, and other modes of creative expression are important in, as Angela Davis has written, “provoking new understandings of persisting social problems.” Together, we’ve been actively experimenting with different ways to lay out the core issues related to criminalization and social transformation.

A key aspect of organizing is storytelling and here in Chicago, some of us have been relying on multiple methods to tell stories about the police. Over the past few weeks, members of a group that I am part of called “We Charge Genocide” (WCG) has narrated a story about how policing dominates the city budget to the exclusion of social goods. 39% of Chicago’s operating budget is devoted to the police. We want every person in Chicago to know this fact. As such, we’ve been engaged in a kind of guerilla political education project that relies on social media, dramatizations, train takeovers and traditional organizing methods.

When Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a series of community budget townhalls, members of WCG got to work by creating a set of memes that would encourage our supporters and other Chicagoans to attend these meetings.

#CHIBUDGET2016_2 (1) (1)

We also encouraged people to let the Mayor know that they were unhappy with the priorities expressed in the budget by circulating memes on social media.

#CHIBUDGET2016_4 (1)

#CHIBUDGET2016_3

On September 22, members and supporters of WCG (including a few middle school students from Village Leadership Academy) planned an action outside City Hall to coincide with the Mayor’s unveiling of his 2016 budget proposal. WCG members and allies held a banner that visualized how our money has been spent in Chicago–the biggest portion by far going to CPD.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (9/22/15)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (9/22/15)

Read more »

Sep 19 2015

#FireDanteServin: An Abolitionist Campaign in Chicago

On April 20th, I was getting on a plane headed back to Chicago from Nashville when my phone started ringing. Friends who were in the courtroom as the judge acquitted officer Dante Servin for killing Rekia Boyd were calling to share the news. Martinez Sutton, Rekia’s brother, was so gutted that he couldn’t contain his pain. He and others were temporarily detained by police. Rekia’s family, friends and community were devastated. Dante Servin was free. How long before he would again patrol the streets with his gun? How long before he might kill someone else? How long before the next Rekia? How long before Rekia’s mother could finally sleep soundly through the night?

I was not surprised that Dante Servin was acquitted. After all, it took months and years of community agitation and organizing to get him indicted in the first place. By all accounts, the prosecution’s heart was not in the case. More than that, as most now understand, police officers are rarely indicted and almost never convicted.

Rekia was still dead and Dante Servin still had his job and pension.

Martinez Sutton at a Vigil for Rekia at Depaul (5/12/15) - photo by Sarah Jane Rhee

Martinez Sutton at a Vigil for Rekia at Depaul (5/12/15) – photo by Sarah Jane Rhee

A couple of days later, about 11 people representing several organizations including BYP 100, Project NIA, BLM Chicago, WAPB, FURIE, ISO, We Charge Genocide, and Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Girls & Young Women met on the Southside to brainstorm and discuss next steps in the struggle for justice for Rekia. Those in attendance identified as abolitionists, progressives, socialists and anarchists. Our goal was to develop a strategy to keep Rekia’s name alive and to continue to support her family.

It was unlikely that the country would come to know her by her first name: Rekia. She was young, Black and a woman. Of those identities, being a woman is a distinct disadvantage in the political economy of public memorialization. The names that we lift up (when we memorialize Black life at all) are usually attached to cisgendered heterosexual men: Sean, Mike, Eric, Rodney, Amadou… And yet, here we now are, also saying Rekia’s name alongside theirs. This didn’t happen by chance. Her family and local organizers have insisted that her life mattered. The meeting we held after the Servin verdict was a declaration that Rekia would not be forgotten and that her family would not be abandoned.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (8/14/15)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (8/14/15)

By the end of the meeting, we had agreed to collectively organize several events and actions through the spring and summer. Groups and individuals volunteered to bottom line several projects. Project NIA & the Taskforce took responsibility for organizing a legal teach-in about the case that would take place the next week. That event sent Depaul Law School and the Chicago Police Department (CPD) into a panic. On the heels of the Baltimore uprisings, they deployed dozens of police officers to surveil and monitor attendees. Project NIA also took responsibility for coordinating a month-long series of events under the banner of “Black August Chicago.” These events, actions and interventions would focus on state violence against Black women and girls (trans and non-trans) and contextualize these experiences historically. Most of the groups at the meeting committed to organize an event/action/intervention during Black August.

image by Caira Conner

image by Caira Conner

BYP 100 committed to reach out to national groups to organize a National Day of Action for Black Women and Girls on May 21st. BLM Chicago, We Charge Genocide and WAPB decided to attend the next police board meeting to demand the firing of Dante Servin. Since that board meeting would be on May 21st, it worked out that the BYP 100 National Day of Action for Black Women and Girls local event would dovetail with the effort to #FireServin.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (5/21/15)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (5/21/15)

Since May, BYP 100 along with the other groups mentioned have consistently attended police board meetings to demand the firing of Rekia’s killer. The most recent action happened this past Thursday. The beautiful video below offers some highlights.

As a by-product of the community’s organizing, the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) this week recommended the firing of Servin. CPD Superintendent McCarthy now has 90 days to offer his recommendation which would then go to the Police Board for a final vote. So there are more steps and work ahead. In the meantime, the relationships between individuals and groups organizing to #FireServin and against police violence more generally are deepening and the number of people joining the mobilizations is growing.

#FireServin (8/20/15) photo by Sarah Jane Rhee

#FireServin (8/20/15) photo by Sarah Jane Rhee

There has been some criticism about the strategic value of a campaign focused on firing one police officer. Isn’t this simply individualizing harm? Shouldn’t we be taking a systemic/structural approach to addressing police violence? These are certainly valid questions. After all, Chicago is a city where Black people (in particular) are killed by police in the highest numbers and with impunity. We are a city where the parents of young Black people shot by police have to crowdfund to buy a headstone for their sons and daughters. We are a city where grief stricken family and community members are arrested for disrupting the courtroom after a judge dismisses the charges against a killer cop. We are a city where the press ignored allegations of police torture for decades and continue to do so into the present. We are a city where the county prosecutors don’t hold killer cops accountable.

None of the organizers leading the #FireServin actions believe that his dismissal from the force will end police violence. Servin is buttressed and backed by a culture of impunity and by a history of Black-deathmaking in this city. He is one brick in a reinforced wall. Just a brick. Organizers know this. So why focus on Servin at all? I’ll share some reasons below:

1. The demand to fire Servin is consistent with abolitionist goals in that it addresses the issue of accountability for harm caused.
2. The demand to fire Servin is in response to the desire of a devastated family and community to see a modicum of justice for their daughter, sister, friend and fellow human being.
3. The demand to fire Servin exists within a broader set of mobilizations and actions that are about MAKING all #‎BlackWomenAndGirlsLivesMatter‬.
4. The demand to fire Servin has an origin story rooted in collective brainstorming and organizing. It has provided a tangible way to build power through the mobilizations.
5. The demand to fire Servin has provided an opportunity for some individuals and groups to collaborate more closely and to get to know each other in ways that will only strengthen our broader local struggle. If we learn to fight together, we can win together.
6. The demand to fire Servin has not and does not preclude others from pursuing and taking on their own campaigns to end police violence. Moreover, campaign organizers themselves are involved in more than just efforts to fire Servin.

In Rekia’s name, organizers in Chicago have launched a sustained mobilization seeking justice for all Black women and girls (trans and non-trans). It’s remarkable, really. All of the #SayHerName & #JusticeForRekia actions and mobilizations that happened across the country on May 21st had their roots here in Chicago. It has been rare in U.S. history to effectively organize at the intersection of race and gender. And yet, in part because of our work seeking #JusticeForRekia, there is some energy behind a focus on state violence against all Black women and girls. And this matters a great deal. The recent attention paid to Sandra Bland, Natasha McKenna and the ongoing killings of trans Black women is partly owed to this mobilization.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (9/17/15)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (9/17/15)

A focus on how women and girls experience violence by the state pushes us to consider more than lethal force as harmful. We have to consider sexual assaults by police (inside prisons and in the streets). We have to include how women who are victims of interpersonal violence are criminalized by the state for defending their lives. Our lens becomes wider. Hence, the #FireServin campaign has not simply been about holding one officer accountable. It’s also been about making visible the neglected forms of violence experienced by Black women and girls across this country and beyond. By calling for CPD to #FireServin, organizers in Chicago have centered the state violence experienced by all Black women and girls and shone a light on what my friend Andy Smith accurately describes as an “entire system of harassment and surveillance that keeps oppressive gender and racial hierarchies in place.”

Jul 30 2015

#SayingHerName in Chicago

Yesterday on Facebook, I read a series of posts by a young Black woman. She was lamenting the fact that Black men are too often silent and sometimes hostile about addressing violence against Black women. She was also dismayed at some of the women who insist that raising the issue of violence against Black women is ‘divisive.’ At one point, she wrote in exasperation: “You would think as a black woman you’d be on your own side.” Her words are profound and sad.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (7/28/15)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (7/28/15)

On Tuesday night in Chicago, many Black women were on our own side as we lifted up the name of our sister Sandra Bland. Last week, my friend Kelly who is a local indigenous organizer reached out to me to ask if my organization would co-sponsor a Light Action for Sandra Bland as part of a National call to action. I immediately agreed and Kelly did the heavy lifting to organize the event.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (7/28/15)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (7/28/15)

I listened on Tuesday night as Black women I know and care about spoke about our erasure and about the silence that too often greets our suffering. Together we declared ‘no more.’ There were tears and song. There was rage and love. There was an insistence that we would MAKE our own lives matter because we understand our value. It was so heartening that nearly 300 people braved the humidity and showed up despite the late hour. We needed darkness for the action to happen.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (7/28/15)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (7/28/15)

I was in Cleveland this weekend to participate in the Movement for Black Lives Convening. As we were leaving to meet the bus that would take us home to Chicago, we stumbled upon a group of people demanding that the police release a 14 year old who they had in handcuffs. The police escalated the confrontation by pepper spraying several people indiscriminately. The cops did not care who they were spraying. We were all Black and it didn’t matter if we were women, men, gender non conforming, trans, adult or child. We were Black and they sprayed us as my friend Page said “like we were bugs.” Dr. Brittany Cooper was there too and wrote about the incident:

“While protesters were securing the teenager’s release, I was among a group of attendees helping those who had been pepper-sprayed – filling emptied water bottles with milk to treat the spray, holding hands and rubbing the backs of those writhing in pain, reminding them to breathe while I did the same. I won’t soon be over the horror and helplessness of that moment. I won’t soon forget the sound of Black people screaming from the effects of pepper spray, because they had stood up to protect the safety of a Black child. I haven’t stopped wondering how those activists who have been on the front lines since last August manage to be subjected to such violent bodily violation regularly.”

I am coming down with something (a cough and sore throat) and I have no doubt that Sunday’s chaos has contributed to my illness. The incident in Cleveland should remind everyone that we are in this thing TOGETHER and that ALL Black people are targets. When some of my friends were sprayed, I ran to get milk. Other women were tending to those in pain. Trans people put their bodies on the line by blocking the path of police cars. Black women lawyers were the ones directly negotiating with cops who were threatening to have them arrested. Black men were there too; helping to keep people calm and putting their bodies on the line. My point is that all of us were needed to successfully de-arrest the 14 year boy. All of us had a role to play. We needed everyone. And as Black women, we are always there for everyone. I think that it’s important to prioritize being on our own side.

There is a lot to say about the Movement for Black Lives convening aside from the deplorable actions of the police on that last day. I continue to process my experience. One thing that stands out is how central love (in its various manifestations) was to the convening. Love: not the sentimental kind but the Agape kind in particular. My friend Dr.Tamara Nopper recently posted some words by Sonia Sanchez that resonate for me in this moment:

The great writer Zora Neal Hurston said,
Fear was the greatest emotion on the planet Earth
and I said, No my dear sista
Fear will make us move to save our lives
To save our own skins
But love
Will make us save other people’s skins and lives
So love is primary at this particular point in time.
Put on, what I like to call:
The sleeves of love
Put on the legs of love
Put on the feet of love
Put on the head of love
Put on the mouth of love
Put on the hands of love
And love love love love love love
Yourself
And others
Love love love love love
Because love is the greatest emotion on the planet Earth
Love.

-Sonia Sanchez

In the coming days here in Chicago, a number of us are organizing a series of events to center the experiences of and resistance to state violence against Black women as part of Black August. And yes, for me, this is a labor of love. It is a litany for survival. You can learn about the upcoming events, actions, and interventions HERE. If you are in Chicago, hope to see some of you.

May 24 2015

Grief, Love & Celebration: #DamoDay in Chicago

It’s been another packed week for me. I am tired and I haven’t had time to blog. #DamoDay took place on Wednesday and I felt a mix of emotions. It was wonderful to hear the stories shared by Damo’s friends. Since I didn’t know him, they provided new insights into him as a person. I smiled and laughed several times as the stories were shared. I also felt sad at his loss. What a vibrant soul I wish I could have known!

About 30 minutes into the gathering, a young Black man was provoked by a homeless (seemingly mentally ill) white man who first rammed him with a bike and then used his body to push him. Instead of detaining the white man, the young Black man (a friend of Damo’s) was taken into custody. The rest of my afternoon was peppered with calls to a lawyer and anxiety. I can’t ever calm down while young people are in police custody. I feel like I am holding my breath waiting to exhale. After several hours, he was finally released but not before being charged with simple battery. At least five witnesses are prepared to testify that he was the one provoked. Yet, another young person was criminalized at a gathering where he came to mourn and celebrate a friend who was killed by the Chicago Police Department (CPD). It’s infuriating and draining.

Below is a short video summary of #DamoDay.

As part of #DamoDay, participants in the Radical Education Project (a collaboration between We Charge Genocide and Chicago Light Brigade) created an interactive public memorial. This proved to be the emotional anchor for the day. Chicago is replete with examples of artists who have and continue come together to support activist and organizing efforts. Below are some photos that depict Damo’s public memorial.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (5/20/15)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (5/20/15)

photo by Charles Preston (5/20/15)

photo by Charles Preston (5/20/15)

Read more »

May 20 2015

We Do This For Damo…

It’s been a year since Dominique Franklin Jr’s death. Last May, Damo was a stranger to me. The first time that I heard his name was when a young person I love told me that he was in a coma. Shortly after, he was dead. I remember the pain of watching his friends wrestle with his loss. They were racked with grief and later I would learn with guilt. I remember a pervasive sense of helplessness engulfing me. Then a dawning glimmer of an idea pierced my consciousness. What if we organized an effort that would bring an international charge of genocide against the U.S. government for killing Damo and torturing other young Black and Brown people in Chicago? How about if we revived the 1951 We Charge Genocide petition for the 21st century? Perhaps such an effort could serve as a container for our collective pain. Maybe we could transform our devastation into righteous and purposeful collective action.

It’s been a year since Damo’s death and he is not forgotten. In fact, his friends and community have written his name into history. Most young Black people who are killed by police are lucky if they become social media hashtags. Usually, their deaths are unremarkable. Their lives are only memorialized by those who knew and loved them. Damo’s killing by the Chicago Police Department has registered beyond the circle of those who knew him. Out of the tragedy of his unnecessary death, We Charge Genocide was born.

photo by Page May (5/17/15)

photo by Page May (5/17/15)

Out of the despair of his friends, a social and political quilt to resist racist policing was created. Damo’s friends and peers traveled to Geneva to charge the U.S. with genocide. They came together to support a successful struggle for reparations for Burge police torture survivors. They organized protests, actions, Copwatch workshops, and many other events. They have spoken across the country about state violence. Most importantly, they have forged new relationships rooted in love and respect with many others across the city and have become a more powerful force to resist oppression. They (we) have done all of this in Damo’s name.

We Charge Genocide at UN in Geneva

We Charge Genocide at UN in Geneva

It’s been a year since Damo’s death and I am reminded that it’s possible to feel connected to someone you’ve never met. It’s possible to even come to love them. Damo’s friends have organized an event happening this afternoon to commemorate his death.

damoday

Ethan is a friend of Damo. He has worked tirelessly to co-organize today’s commemoration. He explained the nature and purpose of the event from his perspective:

“Damo Day is really a celebration. I’ve been going to protests all the time. I’m going to another one tomorrow. From what I’ve gotten from a lot of young people, and young people of color specifically, is that they get tired of going out in the streets and yelling at a system, yelling at the police department that has no inkling of change, has no positive intentions in their work. It’s like are we angry because the system is broken or angry because the system is working and doing what it is supposed to? So, I’m no longer trying to facilitate spaces for young people where we are asking the system to do something for us. I instead want to meet the death and the destruction that the system perpetuates with love, with gathering, with reason, with voice. We’re going to do a short march then we’re going to do a rally around the area where he was killed and then move on to a park. We rented a space and we’ll have music and dance and peace circles and talks. We have some prominent artists from the city coming out showing love and support.”

This afternoon, I will join Damo’s friends, family, and community “to meet the death and the destruction that the system perpetuates with love, with gathering, with reason, [and] with voice.” It’s been a year since Damo’s death and he’s no longer a stranger to me and many others. We do this for Damo…

Apr 28 2015

On Showing Up, Erasing Myself, and Lifting Up the Choir…

photo by Bob Simpson (Chicago, 4/21/15)

photo by Bob Simpson (Chicago, 4/21/15)

It was unlikely that we would come to know her by her first name: Rekia. She was a 22 year old young Black woman when Dante Servin, a CPD detective, shot her in the head. In the political economy of memorials and public grieving, being a young Black woman is not advantageous. The names that we lift up (when we memorialize Black lives at all) are usually attached to cis heterosexual men. Sean, Rodney, Amadou, Mike, Tamir and now Freddie…

I was at the Nashville airport last Monday when my phone started ringing. Friends who were at Dante Servin’s trial were calling and texting to relay the news. Judge Porter granted the defense’s motion for a directed finding and dismissed the case against Servin. I was not surprised. I only felt sad for Rekia Boyd’s family. They did not get the justice that they sought. They waited three years for Servin’s day in court. They fought for over 18 months just for an indictment. No cop had been tried for killing someone in Cook County for 17 years. And last Monday, Dante Servin walked out of 26th & California a ‘free man’ ready to carry a gun and to patrol the streets again.

In Chicago, Servin’s acquittal led to a couple of small, heart-felt protests and some limited outrage.

A couple of weeks ago, I lamented how few people attended a rally on the first day of Dante Servin’s trial:

I can’t lie. I was disappointed in the turnout. I know, I know that there are hundreds of reasons people didn’t show up in numbers. A friend mentioned that perhaps the rain had kept them away. I stared at him. We both knew the truth. For all of the talk of Black Lives mattering, all evidence points to the opposite. Rekia’s life surely mattered to her family and friends. It matters to the small but determined group that showed up in solidarity with her family today. Beyond that though, no, Rekia’s life doesn’t matter in this country.

There is in fact a hierarchy of oppression as Black women, Black trans and gender nonconforming people have even less access to limited sympathy than do cis heterosexual Black men. To deny this is to be a liar. When we call out ‘who will keep our sisters?’ too often we are greeted with one or two lone voices in the wilderness but usually with silence.

Partly in response to my words & as a balm for my and others’ demoralization, some friends and comrades organized a beautiful show of support and solidarity for Rekia. My friend Kelly, one of the organizers of the light action, wrote:

But tonight, after a great deal of discussion and reflection, my friends and I decided to offer what we could to those who are mourning, discouraged, and in need of hope. We decided to offer a bit of light and action, in the hopes that seeing a message for Rekia projected in the night sky, in the heart of our city, might make them feel a little less disheartened, and a little less alone. It’s a small offering, to be sure, but it is one that is made with love, and with a great deal of hope.

photo by Kelly Hayes (4/10/15)

photo by Kelly Hayes (4/10/15)

I was very moved by the light action. I have struggled for a couple of weeks to adequately convey my emotions. I found some words after reading a post titled “No One Showed Up To Rally For Rekia.” While the title suggested an absence of people at the rally, the post began with this sentence: “Last night in New York City’s Union Square, a modest crowd of between 30 and 50 people (depending on who you ask) showed up to rally for Rekia Boyd and Black women and girls who’ve been killed by police.” So, in fact, some people (albeit a small number) did attend the rally.

The title of the post grated. I thought of those few dozen people who took the time to show up for Rekia and her family. Perhaps they were members of the choir so to speak but they were definitely somebody. One of the organizers of the rally noted on social media that she was frustrated that those people who did show up (mostly black women) were being dismissed and overlooked. She suggested that this was both an erasure of black women’s labor as organizers and a discounting of the fact that we regularly show up for each other even when others do not for us. She was right on both counts.

I often remind others of the importance of lifting up the choir, of insuring that those who do show up know that we are grateful for and value them. I’ve lectured others on the importance of never taking the choir for granted. Yet as I struggled with my demoralization, I disregarded my own admonition. Those of us who show up matter and as Kelly has written: “…what we are doing together matters, and must continue.” In a sense, I had written myself out of the story of resistance against Rekia’s killing. I had erased myself as a Black woman who shows up for other Black women across the spectrum and who understands that I cannot live without my life.

There is a lot of pain and anger about the invisibility of Black women, trans and gender-non conforming people in struggles against state and interpersonal violence. Rightly so. It hurts to be erased and overlooked. But it’s important, I think, to simultaneously recognize those who do, in fact, insist on making these lives matter too. It’s always both/and.

Later today, some of us in Chicago will show our solidarity for our comrades in Baltimore and also for Rekia and others killed in our own city. Join us if you can! We’ll be lifting up the choir.

ChicagoTuesday, April 286 PM - Police

Apr 17 2015

Parent-Led Restorative Justice Efforts in Chicago Schools

For over 10 years now, my friends and comrades at POWER-PAC have been transforming school cultures through parent-led peace rooms. Below is a new video recently released by the City of Chicago – Mayor’s Commission for a Safer Chicago that highlights their work.