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 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 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)

Read more »

Aug 31 2014

#FergusonSyllabus: Talking and Teaching About Police Violence

by Molly Crabapple (2014)

by Molly Crabapple (2014)

Regular readers of this blog know that I think, write, and organize a lot around policing and violence. It’s back to school season and many of my educator friends have either already started teaching or will be soon. Police violence is very much in the news lately and many young people want to address the issue (they always do). I and several of my comrades have created several resources that can assist in those conversations. I share them below.

General Questions To Ask About Policing

Who benefits?
Who suffers?
Whose interests are advanced?
Who pays the costs?
Who/What is protected and served?
Who is bullied and brutalized?
How has policing evolved over the years?
Can you envision a world without police?
What might be some alternatives to policing?

Introductory Activities

#1 – 6 Words about Policing and Violence
I have found 6 word stories to be good opening activities (especially if you are limited in terms of time). You can figure out what young people/students already know & think about various issues and can effectively engage a group. I have created an activity that includes watching a video, discussing it, and then facilitating a 6 word story activity. This was created for an event I co-organized last year. Download the instructions HERE (PDF).

If time is an issue, you can substitute the video suggested in the curriculum template with this 2 minute one produced by Buzzfeed using Shirin-Banou Barghi’s powerful series of graphics depicting the last words of unarmed black men killed by police. I shared her graphics here.

Some examples of 6 word stories are:
Walked outside. Did nothing. Cop Harassed. [by me]
Cops said my bruises would fade. [by me]

You can also switch it up by asking students/youth to write a 6 word story for the families of the murdered men featured in Barghi’s graphics as well as others.

#2 – Activity Guide
A couple of years ago, I created an activity guide to help youth workers and educators discuss police violence with young people. You can find some introductory activities there too.

Historical Timelines of Policing

#1 – Interactive Timeline
We focus on political education at Project NIA. As such, we create many resources and tools that can help with that work. A couple of years ago, Lewis Wallace, Jessie Lee Jackson and Megan Milks (3 of our volunteers) created an interactive timeline that covers the history of policing in the U.S. from pre-colonial times to the present. You can find that timeline here.

#2 — Interactive Activity
In addition, Lewis developed an interactive activity about the history of policing and violence that can be downloaded HERE.

#3 — History Zines
In late 2011, I decided to develop a series of pamphlets to inform and educate community members about the longstanding tradition of oppressive policing toward marginalized populations (including some activists and organizers).

This series titled “Historical Moments of Policing, Violence & Resistance” features pamphlets on various topics including: The Mississippi Black Papers, the 1968 Democratic Convention, Resistance to Police Violence in Harlem, the 1937 Memorial Day Massacre, Oscar Grant, the Danziger Bridge Shootings, among others. The pamphlets are available for free downloading here. They are youth-friendly and each publication includes a set of discussion questions.

Read more »

Aug 30 2014

Blackness, Churning Oppression and Militarized Urban Space

This is adapted from a previous post in light of recent and current events in Ferguson…

who anointeth the city with napalm? (i say)
who giveth this city in holy infanticide?
– “Elegy” by Sonia Sanchez

That justice is a blind goddess
Is a thing to which we black are wise
Her bandage hides two festering sores
That once perhaps were eyes.
– “Justice” by Langston Hughes

[Are you raging still?]
– “Untitled” by Mariame Kaba

For too many people it probably felt like a movie. We are used to seeing paramilitary troops riding down city streets on the big screen. Most of us, however, would be surprised to witness such a scene in our neighborhoods. But starting on August 10, 2014 and lasting several days, many watched in horror as Ferguson, Missouri police launched repeated tear gas attacks against civilians followed by piercing LRAD sounds and rubber bullets. The victims of these police attacks were mostly peaceful protesters with a very small number accused of ‘looting’ local businesses.

by Corina Dross (http://corinadross.com/2014/08/19/ferguson-fundraising/)

by Corina Dross (http://corinadross.com/2014/08/19/ferguson-fundraising/)

For those of us who pay attention to policing in the U.S., these images were awful but unsurprising and certainly not new. It was infuriating and painful to watch the police assault from afar without recourse. I wasn’t sure if I was a witness or a voyeur as time passed. Maybe there isn’t a clear delineation between the two. I was glued to social media; it made me feel less lonely and alienated. Others were seemingly as angry and disgusted by what they were seeing as I was and that gave strange comfort.

Read more »

Aug 28 2014

Video: Hands Up #Ferguson

“As a global week of action demands justice for Mike Brown, young people from Ferguson, MO and their activist allies detail what #handsup means to them.”

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 »

Aug 22 2014

Artistic Interventions About Events in Ferguson…

Wherever there is injustice and protest, you will also find art. That’s the case with respect to the killing of Mike Brown and the Ferguson protests.

Below are a few samples of art that I have seen in various media platforms.

Jasiri X wrote a song called 212 degrees about the events in Ferguson.

Black bodies being fed to the system
Black American dead or in prison
Love for the murderer never the victim
Dead kids cant beg your forgiveness

We are at war
What you telling me to be peaceful for
When they break the peace by firing the piece now the peace gets tore
I don’t give a fuck about Quik Trip’s store

I saw the illustration below on Twitter. It’s by Sandra Khalifa. I’ve begun to curate other visual art related to the events in Ferguson here.

by Sandra Khalifa

by Sandra Khalifa

A few singers/rappers have produced music about Mike Brown and/or the Ferguson protests. Here are some of those:

Aug 22 2014

Erasing Fannie Lou and Other Black Women Victimized By Police…

Another man/boy shot (not again). Unarmed (his black skin is weaponized). Killed by cops (since slavery). The terrible ever-expanding litany of names: Amadou, Sean, Oscar, Rodney, Trayvon, Michael… We’re on a first name basis (excruciatingly familiar). Collective mourning and grief ensue (my tear ducts are dried out; there’s only rage). Calls for justice in the black community (justice is prosecution and prison). #BlackLivesMatter on a social media loop (numbing). We are trying to convince ourselves that it’s true (we don’t fully believe it). Please make it true (it’s a symbolic prayer).

In the background, a faint sound (a whisper). Aiyanna, Tyisha, Renisha, Rekia (background noise). Woman/girls shot (do they shoot black girls & women?). Unarmed (her skin is a bullet magnet). Killed by cops (since slavery). They are not household names (excruciatingly unfamiliar). A few people mourn (silently). Some calls for justice (more prosecutions and prison). #BlackLivesMatter? (But which ones?)

You’re so selfish. This isn’t the right time, the voice intones. Is that voice in my head? I can’t tell. There never seems to be a ‘right’ time to remember the names of murdered black women (never). Sadness and grief threaten to overwhelm (so tired). Stubbornly I remember (an act of defiance).

In 1999, Tyisha Miller was on her way to a party with her cousin when her car got a flat tire. They pulled into a gas station in downtown Riverside, California. Her cousin went to get help and left Tyisha who had been drinking alone in the car. Miller apparently passed out with the doors locked. She had a handgun on her lap.
A few minutes later, four Riverside police officers (all of them white) who had been called to the scene tried to wake Tyisha to no avail.

They smashed the driver’s side window and chaos ensued. At least one of the cops thought that he saw Tyisha reach for her gun. The officers fired 27 shots into the car and Miller was hit 12 times. She died.

Black people are always reaching for guns…

In the mugshot photo, Fannie Lou Hamer has her arms up in the universal surrender pose (or is it universal?).

fannielou

The photo circulates on social media. Re-purposed and remixed for a new generation to memorialize a 21st century police execution. The sampled track of a new freedom song. “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” the protesters chant.

Fannie Lou stares back at us from behind the lens (hands up, don’t shoot?). What percentage of people who see the mugshot (without the explanatory text) know of Mrs. Hamer, let alone her abuse by police? (15%).

The monster is insatiable and needs to be constantly fed. More images from black struggle, more trafficking in black death (blackness is property; we don’t belong to ourselves). Hungry for more… to consume and exploit. Black suffering erased again. Fannie Lou’s suffering invisible and (un)felt. Mrs. Hamer warned us: “A black woman’s body was never hers alone.” Our bodies are common property still; no boundaries bound to be respected. The cause is bigger than individual pain (right?).

Tell us what happened to you in Winona, Mrs. Hamer? (can the dead talk?). Danielle McGuire tells the story:

After being arrested with other Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) activists for desegregating a restaurant, Hamer received a savage and sexually abusive beating by the Winona police. “You bitch,” one officer yelled, “we going to make you wish you was dead.” He ordered two black inmates to beat Hamer with “a long wide blackjack,” while other patrolmen battered “her head and other parts of her body.” As they assaulted her, Hamer felt them repeatedly “pull my dress over my head and try to feel under my clothes.” She attempted to pull her dress down during the brutal attack in order to “preserve some respectability through the horror and disgrace.” Hamer told this story on national television at the Democratic National Convention in 1964 and continued to tell it “until the day she died,” offering her testimony of the sexual and racial injustice of segregation.’”(p.910)

Some say that you purposely underplayed the sexual violence associated with the beating that you received in jail, Mrs Hamer (were you ashamed? you did nothing wrong). Black women are also victims of police violence. The beat goes on. Is it the right time to bring this up yet?

Aug 16 2014

Last Words: A Visual Tribute to Men Killed By Police

Shirin-Banou Barghi created a series of graphics as a tribute to those killed by police officers.

by Shirin-Banou Barghi

by Shirin-Banou Barghi

by Shirin-Banou Barghi

by Shirin-Banou Barghi

by Shirin-Banou Barghi

by Shirin-Banou Barghi

by Shirin-Banou Barghi

by Shirin-Banou Barghi

Read more »