Apr 22 2014

Young People Continue To Talk About the Cops…

If you read this blog, you know that I talk a lot about policing. The cops are the gateway to the prison industrial complex and the gatekeepers of state power. In addition, as I’ve often written, the young people I work with want to talk about the police. Their material experiences of feeling and being oppressed usually revolve around how they are treated by cops.

Recently a young person who I love named Richard released a new music video for his song “Cops and Robbers.” You can and should watch it below.

I asked Richard about his inspiration for the song and his response was as follows:

“So the idea of the song actually was nothing planned. I was on the Greyhound coming back from a very short spring break and I had just started to re-read Assata Shakur’s Autobiography and I listened to the beat right after I read the first chapter and the first thing I could think of was Cops and Robbers, and how Assata was portrayed and accused and related to my experiences growing up in Chicago.”

I also asked about how he views the role of police in communities like the one he grew up in. His response was that they were “overseers” of the community. I thought that this terminology was instructive and harkens back to the slave patrols which were America’s original police forces.

Recently my comrade Francesco de Salvatore shared his collaboration with a group called the Young Fugitives about policing in Chicago. The project titled “Growing Up With CPD” is a set of audio interviews with young Chicagoans about their experiences with law enforcement. Below is one story.

“Growing Up With CPD” follows on the heels of a similar project that my organization undertook a couple of years ago called “Chain Reaction.” I think that what all of these projects have in common is a desire to surface the voices of young people who feel oppressed by policing in the hope that people will come to rely less on cops as the solution of violence. I hope that people will heed young people’s calls for true justice.

Apr 07 2014

On Police Torture, Bearing ‘Witness’ and Saving Ourselves…

I misjudged the weather. I didn’t dress appropriately. It’s cold and gray. Perhaps this is fitting.

Standing outside the Daley Center & across from City Hall, on Friday, about three hundred people chant: “What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now.”

Over one hundred people (118 to be exact) hold black banners/flags on wood sticks with the names of Jon Burge and his police officers’ torture victims. They called themselves the “midnight crew.” For over 20 years, they tortured an estimated 118 people, all of them black. 118 black bodies tortured in plain sight. The names are written in white on the black flags. Perhaps this is fitting too.

photo by Alice Kim (4/4/14)

photo by Alice Kim (4/4/14)

Most of the people who carry the banners are attending the Amnesty International 2014 Conference. They are mostly young and white. When the names are read out loud from the stage, they move over to stand in formation, silently acknowledging the sins of white supremacy. I wonder if they think of it this way; as atoning for a legacy of white terrorism. It strikes me again that the past is not past.

photo by Toussaint Losier (4/4/14)

photo by Toussaint Losier (4/4/14)

Nineteen men who were tortured by Burge still languish behind bars — their confessions extracted through electrocution, suffocation, and vicious beatings. I wonder if people know about this Guantanamo in Illinois or more accurately our Illinois in Guantanamo.

Read more »

Mar 15 2014

Musical Interlude: Just A Friendly Game of Baseball

Today is the international day against police brutality…

Feb 12 2014

For K: Lies I Need To Tell

This is not a poem.
The words simply wanted to be written this way…

For K…
[To be read on your 16th birthday
or maybe never]

The cops
won’t care
that you are
the sweetest
boy.

You are
BLACK,
unperson.

This fact
and
nothing else
means
you are
marked.

They
can/
could/
might
kill
you
dead.

Any time,
any where,
any way.

I am
a liar.

As I type
these words,
I’m looking
at a photograph
of your
precious
BLACK
face
and so
I’m going
to lie.

I’ve been
trying
to write
a letter.
It’s been
too long
in coming.
It’s futile
so
I’ve given up.

You asked me
about
the police
while we were
eating
hamburgers.

You said
you were
scared
they might
not know
you were
a nice
person
and that
in their
ignorance,
they might
hurt
or
kill you.

Read more »

Feb 02 2014

Musical Interlude: Claimin’ I’m A Criminal

I’ve always liked this song by Brand Nubian. It’s from back in 1994 which is probably when I stopped really listening to rap music (LOL!).

Jan 23 2014

Malcolm X & Police Brutality: A Letter to the NYPD

Regular readers know that I write a lot about oppressive policing. It is with good reason. Yesterday, a grand jury declined to indict a police officer who shot Jonathan Ferrell 10 times. After the results of the autopsy, Ferrell’s family suggested that they would file a wrongful death suit. Police violence against black people is of course not new and is mundanely common. History is replete with examples of police brutality against African Americans.

I’ve shared the story of Malcolm X’s rise to national prominence through his involvement in the Johnson X Hinton incident in 1957. I even created a zine about historical moments of policing, violence, & resistance in Harlem based in part on this story.

Today, I thought that I would share a letter that Malcolm X wrote to the NYPD Commissioner following the Johnson X Hinton episode. You will find it very relevant to our current historical moment, I think.

New York NY November 2
Commissioner Stephen P. Kennedy, Police Department of New York City
Report delivery 240 Centre St NYK
Commissioner S.P. Kennedy:

Members of Muhammad’s Temple of Islam here in Harlem are greatly disturbed. Our religion is Islam, the religion of peace. Our spiritual leader and teacher, Messenger Elijah Muhammad, teaches us to respect and obey all laws and law enforcement officers.

Our record shows that all of us who have accepted his divine guidance immediately become better citizens. He makes us conservative, clean-living, peaceful, law-abiding citizens. Through his spiritual guidance we have learned how to abstain from smoking, using drugs and alcohol, adultery, stealing, and all acts of aggression.

We do not try to force ourselves upon or among people who are not our own kind; whose record and history is sufficient proof that they don’t want our kind around them. We are taught not only to avoid trouble, but to avoid even the people whose presence creates trouble.

On April 26, 1957 one of our most peaceful members, [redacted] was the victim of one of the most savage beatings ever inflicted upon an innocent human being since the days of slavery. The bone structure of his skull was shattered by the blows of two white sadistic policemen of the 28th precinct.

On April 29, 1957 in the office of Mr. James L. Hicks, editor of the New York Amsterdam News, in the presence of attorneys T.A. Chance, and Charles Beavers, we met with representatives from your office: Commissioner Walter Arm, Robert Mangum, and Police Captain Eldrige.

Speaking for your office and in your name, they promised us that an immediate and complete investigation would take place and that justice would be done in the form of disciplinary action against the open and unwarranted acts of criminal brutality by these demented white members of the police department.

Investigation to date discloses that the brutal assaults by these prejudiced white officers of the 28th precinct, inflicted against this helpless black man were willful, atrociously inhuman, beast-like, and showed utter disregard and contempt for the black citizens of Harlem.

Also, these biased white police officers, by beating their helpless victim in the mouth with their nightsticks while he was praying to allah, showed contempt not only for his dark skin but also for his god and the religion of islam. This outrageously inhuman act incenses not only our fellow citizens of the Harlem area, but also ignites great concern in the hearts of 600 million sons and daughters of Allah throughout the Moslem World, which stretches from the China Seas to the shores of West Africa.

To justify and hide their own criminal acts, these same guilty officers charged mr. [redacted] with resisting arrest, and with felonious assault against them.

On October 27, 1957 after hearing all witnesses involved, including a number of police officers, the grand jury refused to indict [redacted] on the false accusations of the guilty police officers, clearing him of all their charges and setting him completely free.

Since the grand jury has established [redacted] innocence, and this innocent man has had his skull crushed by these police officers, you must realize that their heartless acts were without just cause, and criminally wrong.

Therefore we respectfully trust that the confidence imposed on the promise of your representatives will not be shaken by your allowing these prejudiced white men, disguised as police officers, who are responsible for this inhuman act of brutal savagery, to remain on active duty.

Harlem is already a potential powder keg. If these ignorant white officers are allowed to remain in the Harlem area, their presence is not only a menace to society, but to world peace.

Pending all further investigation, their immediate suspension and removal from the police force is advised, requested, urged, and demanded.

Respectfully,
Minister Malcolm X
Muhammad’s Temple of Islam
No. 7

Jan 13 2014

Poem of the Day: “Cuz He’s Black”

This spoken word piece by Javon Johnson is incredibly poignant.

Dec 28 2013

10 Creative Ways That Chicagoans Addressed Violence in 2013

** This is my final recap of 2013…

Chicago has been in the spotlight over the past few years as the epitome of urban violence. The city has been dubbed the “murder capital of the U.S.” even though this is actually untrue. I’ve written and will continue to write about the various organizing and advocacy efforts by Chicagoans to address interpersonal and structural/systemic violence. Lots of people in this city are working to address violence; many in very creative ways.

Today, I want to focus on some of the creative interventions to address violence in Chicago that I’ve either been part of or have otherwise come to my attention in 2013. Thousands of people were engaged through these projects. There were of course many other efforts that I left off this list. I invite you to submit your suggestions in the comments section. Think about how you can contribute to ending violence in your own communities and then get to work!

1. 500campaign

From NBC 5 Chicago:

After the murder totals in Chicago started racking up after January of this year, South Side native Bryant Cross decided he’d seen enough.

The 28-year-old speech communications professor started thinking of effective ways to spread an anti-violence message and came up with the 500campaign, head shots of Chicagoans with the slogan “Angry Because Over 500 Youth Were Murdered in Chicago.”

**Note: The 500 youth number cited is not at annual number. Over the course of 5 years about 500 young people under 20 years old were victims of homicide in Chicago. One is too many but it’s important to be clear about what these numbers represent.

500campaign (2013)

500campaign (2013)

See more photos on pinterest or instagram.

Below is the founder of the 500campaign, Bryant Cross, talking about his campaign:

2. How Long Will I Cry? A Play and A Book

According to the Steppenwolf Theatre website:

“Woven together from interviews gathered by journalist Miles Harvey and his students at DePaul University, How Long Will I Cry? provides raw, truthful insight into the problem of youth violence. By giving voice to those who know the tragic consequences of violence first-hand—families of the victims, residents of crime-ridden neighborhoods and especially young people—How Long Will I Cry? inspires all of us to join together in search of a solution.”

The play was performed for a month earlier this year and the stories have now been compiled into a book that is available for free to Chicagoans.

“The book contains interviews with 35 people, told in Studs Terkel-style first person: current and former gang members, parents and siblings of young people who have been killed, and cops, lawyers, nurses, and community activists who are working to stop the violence.”

How Long Will I Cry – Book Trailer from Big Shoulders Books on Vimeo.

3. Uproar Chicago: A Community-Curated Audio Collage About Chicago Violence

I initiated this project and solicited support and help from friends to execute it. We asked Chicagoans to summarize their feelings about violence in one sentence. We used a central hotline to gather responses from people across Chicago. The responses were assembled into audio collages. In late April, community members gathered to listen to the audio collage and to participate in a peace circle where we could discuss our experiences and the impacts of violence in our lives.

I talk more about the project here. Below is the main audio collage.

Visit Soundcloud to listen to all of the audio from this project.

Read more »

Dec 17 2013

15 Things That We Re-Learned About the Prison Industrial Complex in 2013

The engine of the prison industrial complex unfortunately kept on chugging in 2013.

incarcerationnation

I wanted to highlight some of the key developments as I saw them during this year. There are so many things that I could have included and it was difficult for me to only choose fifteen to list. Truth be told, I initially only planned to feature 10 issues. That didn’t work out. Some things that aren’t on the list include the plea deals that Federal prosecutors coerce from drug defendants under threat of long prison sentences, the treatment of LGBTQ immigrants in detention centers, the political imprisonment of Chelsea Manning, Marissa Alexander leaving jail pending her March 2014 trial and more. Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments section.

1. The Federal prison population has grown to 219,000 people, an increase of 27% over the last decade.

Since 1980, the Federal prison population has exploded by 790 percent. Almost 50% of these prisoners are there for drug offenses. According to a new report (PDF) by the Urban Institute, Federal prison overcrowding will worsen if policy changes aren’t implemented. Federal prisons that are now 35 to 40 percent over capacity could reach 55 percent over capacity by 2023. The Justice Department’s budget for the federal prison system has increased from $5 billion in 2008 to $6.9 billion today.

The Government Accountability Office released a report this month about the Bureau of Prisons. In the report, the GAO attributes the increase of the Federal prison population to several factors including mandatory minimum sentences. In an attempt to address overcrowding, this summer, Attorney General Eric Holder gave “new instructions to federal prosecutors on how they should write their criminal complaints when charging low-level drug offenders, to avoid triggering the mandatory minimum sentences.”

[The Sentencing Project published an excellent fact sheet (PDF) outlining trends in U.S. corrections for those who want to learn more the scope of incarceration. Rosa Brooks's essay in Foreign Policy provides a good overview about the incarceration nation.]

2. We were still sterilizing women in U.S. prisons as late as 2010.

This summer, the Center on Investigative Reporting broke the story that:

Doctors under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sterilized nearly 150 female inmates from 2006 to 2010 without required state approvals, The Center for Investigative Reporting has found.

At least 148 women received tubal ligations in violation of prison rules during those five years – and there are perhaps 100 more dating back to the late 1990s, according to state documents and interviews.

From 1997 to 2010, the state paid doctors $147,460 to perform the procedure, according to a database of contracted medical services for state prisoners.

The women were signed up for the surgery while they were pregnant and housed at either the California Institution for Women in Corona or Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, which is now a men’s prison.

Former inmates and prisoner advocates maintain that prison medical staff coerced the women, targeting those deemed likely to return to prison in the future

The state of California held hearings this fall to collect more information.

Below is a documentary titled “Sterilization Behind Bars” produced by the Center on Investigative Reporting released just last month.

3. Prisons are still sites of violence and abuse.

In April 2013, the U.S. Justice Department announced that it had launched an investigation of Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women. I had written about the allegations of abuse and violence last year. The DOJ announcement came several months after a scathing report about conditions and abuses at the prison was released by the National Institute of Corrections (NIC).

Tutwiler Prison was named by Mother Jones Magazine as one of America’s 10 Worst Prisons earlier this year.

Read more »

Dec 07 2013

Image of the Day: Children in the Silent Protest Parade, 1917

Children in the Silent Protest Parade, 1917. (The Brownies' Book)

Children in the Silent Protest Parade, 1917. (The Brownies’ Book)

I’ve written about the Silent Protest Parade previously here.