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.

Art

#1 – Music
I created and have regularly updated an interactive timeline tracing how rappers have discussed the issue of police violence since 1980. Educator friends have used the timeline to invite their students to analyze lyrics. They have also encouraged students/youth to write their own poems or raps.

#2 – Visual Art
In March 2013, we curated an intergenerational visual art exhibition about policing, violence and resistance. You can encourage students to view the online exhibit and then to create their own visual art.

or

Have your students read this comic about police violence by my friend Rachel Marie-Crane Williams and then create their own comics.

#3 – Poetry
I love poetry so I collected several that focus on police violence. You can find that collection HERE (PDF).

Other Resources

Chain Reaction: Alternatives to Policing

A Different Approach to School Safety – a short film that features a high school that doesn’t have metal detectors or police officers on site.

Chicago Torture Justice Memorials

Growing Up with the CPD

The PIC Is…

Some Films

Death of Two Sons: Death of Two Sons tells the story of Amadou Diallo, the West African immigrant shot 41 times by four New York City police officers in 1999, and of Jesse Thyne, an American Peace Corps Volunteer who lived with Amadou’s family in his home village in Guinea. Jesse himself died in Guinea less than a year after the Diallo shooting. This film explores the political, personal, and spiritual implications of their lives and deaths. Death of Two Sons shows the common humanity shared by these young men, their families, and their nations.

Fruitvale Station: The film tells the story of Oscar Grant, a young black man from Oakland, who was shot and killed on a train platform by a Bay Area Regional Transit police officer named Johannes Mehserle. He was subsequently found not guilty for second-degree murder, but found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years in County Jail for pulling a gun and killing a unarmed man.

The Hunted and the Hated: An Inside Look at the NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy (under 15 minutes)

I Am Sean Bell – Black Boys Speak (10 minutes): Young boys reflect on the Sean Bell tragedy, speaking out about their fears and hopes as they approach manhood in a city where the lives of young black men are often cut short.

Law and Disorder: This Frontline documentary explored a series of questionable shootings by the New Orleans police department during Hurricane Katrina.

Murder On A Sunday Morning: Oscar-winning documentary that documents a murder trial in which a 15-year-old African-American is wrongfully accused of a 2000 murder in Jacksonville, Florida. The film also shows how police can lie.

Scenes of a Crime: “SCENES OF A CRIME” explores a nearly 10-hour interrogation that culminates in a disputed confession, and an intense, high-profile child murder trial in New York state.

Tulia Texas: On July 23, 1999, undercover narcotics agent Thomas Coleman carried out one of the biggest drug stings in Texas history. By the end of the blazing summer day, dozens of residents in the sleepy farming town of Tulia had been rounded up and thrown behind bars. Thirty-nine of the 46 people accused of selling drugs to Coleman were African American. But disturbing evidence about the undercover investigation and Coleman’s past soon began to surface. TULIA,TEXAS follows the 1999 raid and its aftermath, which roiled the small rural community.

‘We Deserve Better’: A short documentary that explores police targeting and harassment of LGBTQ young people in New Orleans.

Action/Organizing

#1. Showing Up for Racial Justice has compiled a police brutality action kit.

#2. List of Demands focused on Ferguson and Ending Police Violence – Have students/youth read the list of demands from various different organizations and evaluate the three or four that they feel would most contribute to ending police violence. Invite students to come up with their own local list of demands. You can also show the Dream Defenders’s video that lists their demands and do the same activity:

#3. Show the video of the Chicago Moment of Silence Vigil, one of many that took place on August 14th in response to the call for a National Moment of Silence in response to the killing of Mike Brown. Students/youth will notice that this was an intergenerational gathering led by young people of color. It’s a good way to begin a conversation about how young people are currently organizing around these issues.

#4. Hands Up United is a coalition that has emerged to support the residents of Ferguson MO. If students/youth want to do solidarity events/activities with Ferguson this is a good place to connect with.

#5. October 22 is the National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality. Encourage your students to organize something on that day or to join existing organizing efforts.

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.

My Godson had questions. He asked if the police were going to “attack” his city next. Reflexively, I replied: “No of course not?” and he was relieved. As the words left my mouth, I wanted to call them back. I knew that I was lying and for good reason. I want to protect him and to reassure him that he is and will be safe. I know that I can’t promise these things but it doesn’t stop me from lying. The truth is I know that the police certainly have and will continue to deploy all available weapons against an increasingly cowed populace because they can. It’s that simple. In fact, law enforcement has been training for such eventualities right under some of our noses for years.

On March 21st, 2013, some residents of the Ida Yarbrough Apartments experienced firsthand the increased militarization of their local police force. Residents were frightened and traumatized when police officers in camouflage pants and blue jackets fired blank ammunition and threw flash grenades as part of a training exercise near their homes. Some residents in the soon-to-be demolished housing project were not informed of the drill in advance. The training exercise even included fake blood.

One resident spoke to the local newspaper about the ordeal on condition of anonymity:

“We wake up to the sound the next morning of literally small bombs,” said an Ida Yarbrough resident and state worker, who spoke only on condition she not be identified. “All you could hear was ‘pop, pop, pop’ of an assault rifle, police screaming ‘clear!’ I really thought I was in the middle of a war zone — and I have a four-year-old.”

Another resident, Lauren Manning, took to Facebook to air her grievances:

This is the Albany Housing Authority, APD, US Marshals et al. letting me, my family, my neighbors, my community and every other poor or minority person know we don’t matter. Apparently they have been given permission to “train” right outside my house complete with full gear assault weapons tear gas flash grenades and marshal law. I live my life in such a way that my 2 children should never have to experience a raid. But through no other fault than living in housing we have been subjected to pretend warfare. Y don’t they train for urban warfare in Adam’s Park or the Crossings in Delmar. Or in their communities? I AM ENRAGED. AND U SHOULD B 2. This is not over. Atrocities happen when good people stay silent. Additionally the residents/guest of residents who wandered outside as usual were told to stay in their homes under threat of arrest for trespass where they hold leases or were invited by the leaseholder thus enforcing marshal law or at the very least unlawful imprisonment. #WAKEUP….WE R NOT EACHOTHER’S ENEMY!

Ms. Manning launched a petition asking HUD for redress in this matter. The police chief apologized for being “insensitive” and suggested that they chose the location for training because it was “realistic.”

As I’ve written before, the idea of black communities as “occupied territory” is not new. In her essay titled “Militarizing the Police: Officer Jon Burge, Torture, and War in the ‘Urban Jungle’” which appears in Stephen Hartnett’s edited volume Challenging the Prison Industrial Complex, Julilly Kohler-Hausmann (2011) suggests that: “Americans, as domestic political unrest and the war in the jungles of Vietnam intensified during the late 1960s, increasingly referred to ‘urban jungles’ to organize their comments about the homefront (p.48).” Furthermore, she adds important information to our understanding of the history of law enforcement militarization:

“Urban areas had long been constructed as foreign, racialized spaces; once they were in open revolt, their struggles with state authority were easily interpreted with the same rhetorical devices used for insurgent populations abroad. Thus, it is not surprising that over time, more and more voices called for the state to use the same tools and techniques employed overseas to subdue allegedly dangerous spaces. And so, by the mid-to-late 1960s, domestic law enforcement agencies had begun to interpret the conditions in inner cities as wars and had begun to turn for answers to military training, technology, and terminology (p. 48).”

In the past, I’ve suggested that some rappers in the 1980s and 1990s likened their communities to “war zones” and the police to “an occupying force.” What I did not originally consider in my analysis was that these characterizations pre-dated them. Hausmann quotes Inspector Daryl Gates of the LAPD as saying that “the streets of America had become foreign territory” during the 1965 Watts rebellion. It turns out that modern rappers were responding to the conditions in their communities engendered by a war that had been declared decades earlier by the state. Around the same time that Inspector Gates was making his comments about Watts, black nationalists and other activists were describing themselves as inhabiting “colonies” within the United States and being “occupied people.” Here is a quote cited by Hausmann from Black Panther David Hilliard in his autobiography illustrating this concept:

“we’re a colony, a people with a distinct culture who are used for cheap labor. The only difference between us, and, say, Algeria, is that we are inside the mother country. And the police have the same relation to us that the American Army does to Vietnam: they are a force of occupation which will stop at nothing to keep us under control.”

Interestingly, the representatives of state power and their targets reinforced each other’s message that the inner city was “foreign territory.” Sadly by echoing the idea that the “ghetto” was a war zone (which reflected the perceived truth of their daily experiences in these communities), marginalized people were unintentionally reinforcing entrenched oppression. Within this context, it’s not difficult to imagine what happened in Albany, NY or in Ferguson, MO as being perfectly normal. It makes sense then that the police chief would consider the blighted housing projects of Albany as a “realistic” space to stage his training exercises. Where else would our militarized police forces “fight” their wars but in the ghetto inhabited by black & brown “enemy combatants?”

In an editorial in the New York Times about a lawsuit against stop & frisk in public housing, the presiding Judge suggested that these practices “had taken an emotional toll on many innocent tenants.” The editorial goes on to say:

She cited the testimony of Reginald Bowman, the president of a public housing resident leadership group, who compared life in the public housing projects under stop-and-frisk to a “penal colony” where law-abiding parents are set upon by the police while going to the store to get milk and cookies for their children.

Two days ago, at the ongoing NYC stop & frisk trial, State Senator Eric Adams testified that police commissioner Ray Kelly said that cops targeted black and brown people in particular because they wanted to keep guns off the streets. Kelly also “stated that he targeted or focused on that group because he wanted to instill fear in them that any time they leave their homes they could be targeted by police.”

All of these incidents convey that black people are threats that need to be controlled. They also belie our disposability. We are still non-persons, unhuman.  We live precariously. But what is also palpable in these incidents is fear: white people and the state’s fear of unruly/undomesticated/weaponized black bodies and also the fear that a history of terrorism has engendered in black bodies themselves. We are always unsafe living in our skin in this country. It’s a permanent condition.

This insecurity has historical roots dating back to slavery when “masters” used psychological control and torture as one of the primary tools for subjugating and pacifying black enslaved people. Limiting enslaved people’s ability to travel, to assemble, to move freely, these were among slaveowner’s obsessions. White masters feared that we would rise up in insurrection or that we would run. Both were unacceptable outcomes because as Walter Johnson pointed out in the New York Times, slaves were extremely valuable commodities. Our bodies had value to the white “Lords of the Land.” Our bodies underpinned their entire capitalistic enterprise. But today, black bodies are redundant labor. We are superfluous and are therefore expendable. After all, the unemployment rate for black male high school dropouts is now over 50%.

So our people are stopped, we are frisked, we are criminalized, we are targeted, we are invaded, we are jailed and we are killed. It’s all of a piece. It’s part of the ongoing “slow motion genocide” that shows no signs of abating. The machine grinds on and we struggle to identify one culprit but there isn’t just one. So many of us are afraid to speak the word. We are afraid to lay claim to it. It’s too awful to believe. No. It sounds too conspiratorial, too pessimistic, too alienating, too (something)… Yet there it is, at the forefront of our minds and on the tip of our tongues. When we are feeling brave and safe among those we love & trust we sometimes whisper the words: genocide…genocide… GENOCIDE.

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 »

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.

Jun 25 2014

‘I do as I am bid’ or why we can’t reform policing…

The ACLU released a new report about the increasing and excessive militarization of the police. Radley Balko offers a good summary and analysis of the report here. He concludes that this issue is raised every few years, covered by the press, but leads to no useful reforms:

“The mass media seem to find renewed interest in this issue every five or six years. The problem, as the ACLU documents well, is that none of that coverage has generated any meaningful reform. And so the militarization continues.”

I think a lot about policing and violence. I always have. Currently, I am in the early stages of collaborating with several other people to organize around police violence against young people in Chicago. If I am honest, I’m not sure that it is actually possible to meaningfully ‘reform’ policing in the context of an oppressive society. I just don’t know. I engage in reform work mainly as harm reduction but I think we need to just start over from scratch. I don’t know how we do that but I am committed to investing time and resources to figure out how to abolish the entire PIC (policing, surveillance, and prisons).

One of the reasons I am pessimistic about prospects to reform policing is related to testimony that I read some time ago from a police officer during the era of American chattel slavery. The testimony underscores the actual function of the police which is and has always been to protect PROPERTY and the interests of the powerful. I mean this was clear in the 19th century and remains true today. How do we ‘reform’ the function of policing?

Below is an excerpt from the testimony I referenced. I think that it is instructive for a number of reasons including the collusion between police officers and slavemasters, the profit-making associated with law enforcement, the reliance on corporal punishment rather than long-term detention, and more…

I Do as I Am Bid
[John Capehart provided a special service for slaveholders. In his testimony before a court, he explains his job.]

Q: Mr. Capehart, is it part of your duty, as a policeman, to take up colored persons who are out after hours in the streets?
A. Yes, sir.
Q: What is done with them?
A. We put them in the lock-up, and in the morning they are brought into Court and ordered to be punished — those that are to be punished.
Q: What punishment do they get?
A. Not exceeding thirty-nine lashes.
Q: Who gives them these lashes?
A: Any of the Officers. I do, sometimes.
Q: Are you paid extra for this? How much?
A. Fifty cents a head. It used to be sixty-two cents. Now, it is only fifty. Fifty cents for each one we arrest, and fifty more for each one we flog.
Q: Are these persons you flog Men and Boys only, or are they Women and Girls also?
A. Men, Women, Boys, and Girls, just as it happens.
Q: Is your flogging, confined to these cases? Do you not flog Slaves at the request of their Masters?
A. Sometimes I do. Certainly, when I am called upon.
Q: In these cases of private flogging, are the Negroes sent to you? Have you a place for flogging?
A. No; I go round, as I am sent for.
Q: Is this part of your duty as an Officer?
A. No, sir.
Q: In these cases of private flogging, do you inquire into the circumstances to see what the fault has been, or if there is any?
A. That’s none of my business. I do as I am bid. The Master is responsible.

Source: Geo. W. Carleton, The Suppressed Book About Slavery (New York, 1864), pp. 193-195

Jun 09 2014

Standing on a Soapbox, Calling Out the Cops…

I stood on a soapbox Saturday. I mean a real one.

Me on a soapbox (photo by Sarah Jane Rhee, 6/7/14)

Me on a soapbox (photo by Sarah Jane Rhee, 6/7/14)

On an overcast afternoon, on a concrete island at the intersection of Ashland, Milwaukee and Division, I joined a couple dozen people (mostly young) who were reading/performing poetry in opposition to state violence.

I was invited to say a few words, so I did. I shared words written by Langston Hughes and AI. I added a few of my own too.

On Friday, Damo was laid to rest. I planned to attend the funeral but in the end I was unable due to a previous commitment. It’s just as well. I hate funerals. I despise them especially when the person being buried is in his early 20s.

So I stood on a real soapbox and in memory of Damo & others who are victims of state violence, I shared two poems. Here are a few lines from one by Langston Hughes:

Three kicks between the legs
That kill the kids
I’d make tomorrow.

I’ll admit to actively suppressing any thoughts of a young man being tased (twice) and hitting his head so hard that he was basically brain dead when he arrived at the hospital. How does this happen? Then I remember the disposability and un-humanness of black and brown people. I know how this happens. I am a witness but I’d rather not be.

Ethan spoke before me. No, that’s not actually true, Ethan bled before me. I watched with others transfixed by his words and his pain. I hoped that it was catharsis towards healing. But I don’t know how young black men can heal in the midst of continuing, continual, unrelenting violence. Is this possible?

The title of the gathering organized by members of the Chicago Revolutionary Poets Brigade was ‘No Knock’ An Artistic Speak-Out Against the ‘American Police State.’ The title is inspired by Gil Scott Heron’s poem “No Knock.”

No knocked on my brother Fred Hampton
Bullet holes all over the place
No knocked on my brother Michael Harris
And jammed a shotgun against his skull

It is as it ever was. No knocked on Damo who is now six feet under ground.

Passersby stopped to listen as various people read poems about Guantanamo, police violence, prisons, surveillance, and more. Audre was right: “Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.” There is magic in hearing voices speaking out for justice over the din of a bustling city. You had to be there to understand what I mean. Gathering as a collective to recite poetry can’t end state violence but it does keep our spirits up so that we can demand and fight for more justice. It does help to “give name to the nameless so that it can be thought.” And now more than ever we need the words and we need to be able to think through that which cannot be thought. These are revolutionary acts in our time.

Over the next few weeks, I will be working with others to strategize and organize around the epidemic of police violence experienced by our young people of color in Chicago. I don’t know what will come of our discussions but I am sure that nothing will change unless we change it.

I stood on a soapbox Saturday. I mean a real one. I read some poems including “Endangered Species” by AI.

At some point, we will meet
at the tip of the bullet,
the blade, or the whip
as it draws blood,
but only one of us will change,
only one of us will slip
past the captain and crew of this ship
and the other submit to the chains
of a nation
that delivered rhetoric
in exchange for its promises.

I hope that you find your own soap box. I mean a real one and read some poems, calling out the cops…