May 08 2016

Reparations Won: One Year Later…

I’m in the midst of a major life transition. After over 20 years of living and working in Chicago, I’m moving back home to NYC in a few days. As such, I’ve had no time to blog. I am hoping to get back to more regular blogging in mid-summer once I’m settled.

On Friday, I celebrated the one year anniversary of Chicago passing reparations for police torture survivors with friends and comrades. To commemorate the milestone, Kuumba Lynx released a short video that I had the honor of narrating.

This is how they describe it:

Today marks the 1 year anniversary of the Reparations Ordinance being passed for the Chicago Police Torture Survivors, which is the first time Reparations has been given for Police terrorism in the history of the United States. Our youth created documentary series “Journey to LTAB” begins in the summer of 2014 when the nation was exploding with police brutality after the Mike Brown and Eric Garner murders. After an unjust police search and arrest happens to one of the members of Kuumba Lynx, the youth within Kuumba lynx took the streets with their city to fight police brutality within the streets of Chicago. Using their art as a vehicle for activism, KL searches for their 3rd LTAB title. Taking the city by storm and putting light on issues that wouldn’t have been before. Throughout the year leading up to LTAB 2015, our work became connected to the fight for Reparations in Chicago, which “is the product of decades of activism, litigation and journalism and the culmination of a concerted six-month inspirational, intergenerational and interracial campaign co-led by Amnesty International – USA, Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, Project NIA and We Charge Genocide,” and was driven by the Police Torture Survivors themselves, family members, Black People Against Police Torture and countless other organizations and communities’ work. We want to share this piece of our series that highlights this historic movement narrated by Reparations Now! organizer Mariame Kaba and the role Kuumba Lynx was honored to play in it.

This is the first sneak peak of the series we have released because of the importance of today’s anniversary. As we look back a year later, we look forward to debuting this 13 episode online series June 1st on KL We Get Free Media platforms. Please tune in and share to support Youth Powered Media.

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 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.

Jan 25 2016

#No Tasers: Chicago Students Speak Out

Students from the Village Leadership Academy in Chicago did some research on the use of tasers by police. They produced the following video that tasers are in fact lethal weapons. They suggest that Chicagoans call Mayor Rahm Emanuel to insist that he not invest millions of dollars to outfit CPD as a “reform” to oppressive policing.

Jan 20 2016

Musical Interlude: Freedom by Taina Asili

I just came across this wonderful new song and video by Taina Asili called “Freedom.” Watch it, it’s beautiful and makes connections between oppressive policing and mass incarceration

Dec 29 2015

Calling 911 Shouldn’t Be A Death-Wish…

There’s a lot happening in Chicago right now. I am busy and don’t have much time to write. I did write a short piece for the Guardian about this weekend’s killing of Quintonio LeGrier and Bettie Jones by the Chicago Police Department.

Vigil for Quintonio and Bettie (Chicago, 12/27/15) Photo by Frank James Johnson

Vigil for Quintonio and Bettie (Chicago, 12/27/15) Photo by Frank James Johnson

From the essay:

To protect the lives and futures of black Chicagoans we need more than just changes in policing. We need to address structural and systemic oppression; that involves securing a living wage and guaranteed jobs; keeping our schools public and stopping closures and speeding up decarceration by ending things like cash bail.

To prevent these kinds of deaths from happening again, we will need community-based mental health services and to create alternatives outside of police to respond to crises. We also will need accountability, which is why local activists and organizers are calling for Rahm Emanuel’s resignation and that of Cook County state’s attorney Anita Alvarez.

We understand that all of these solutions are interconnected; that they are essential to living lives free from violence and are critical to our liberation.

Extrajudicial killing of black people is the norm, not the exception. The stories bleed and blend into each other, colorless. Another day, another death to absorb and many are numb. Words are achingly insufficient in the face of so much brutality – now is the time for actions.

Dec 26 2015

Video: Blood at the Root Exhibition

I spent part of this year co-curating an exhibition titled “Blood at the Root: Unearthing Stories of State Violence Against Black Women & Girls.” The exhibition focuses our attention on the fact that all #BlackWomensLivesMatter and all #BlackGirlsLivesMatter. Relying on various artifacts, we narrate the experiences and resistance of Black women and girls (trans and non-trans) who have been brutalized, imprisoned and killed by the state and its agents.

Special thanks to my friend Gretchen Hasse for documenting Blood at the Root which closed at the end of October.

Dec 04 2015

#FireGarryMcCarthy

I wrote a piece published in the Guardian a couple of days ago. Here’s an excerpt:

“There was dancing in front of Chicago police headquarters at 35th street and Michigan Avenue on Tuesday evening.

People were celebrating, in part, because Chicago police superintendent Garry McCarthy was fired earlier that day. Mayor Rahm Emanuel – who had spent days expressing confidence in his police chief – stood in a hot briefing room in front of the press corps and announced that McCarthy had become “a distraction”. Emanuel looked like a man undergoing a root canal without anesthesia.

After days of mass protests – including a shutdown of Michigan Avenue on Black Friday that cost retailers up to 50% of their sales – the mayor had apparently decided to cut his losses and throw McCarthy overboard to save himself.”

Below is a short video shot in front of CPD Headquarters the night of McCarthy’s firing.

Dec 03 2015

A Love Letter to Chicago Organizers…

I haven’t watched the videotaped execution of Laquan McDonald. I’m done with the televised spectacle of Black Death. This is my personal silent protest.

I don’t begrudge those in the streets in fact I am grateful to many of them for not going gently into the quiet night of apathy. My disgust and rage at the fact that the video was publicly released over the objections of Laquan’s family won’t let me engage in the ways that I regularly would.

As I’ve watched the many opportunists vie for facetime over the past few days, it’s become more urgent to narrate a history of continued protest and refusal regarding police violence in Chicago. There are people who have been consistently in the streets in this city for months now. This is a love letter to the incredible anti-police violence and anti-criminalization organizers/activists in Chicago.

For decades, Chicagoans have been organizing against the brutality and impunity of the Chicago Police Department. In the months since the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO, young people of color from across the city have consistently organized demonstrations, protests and actions to underscore the violence of the CPD. These protests are the visible outgrowths of grassroots campaigns that have sought and won reparations for police torture survivors, are calling for community control of the police, are insisting on an end to stop and frisk, are demanding a Federal investigation of the Homan Square police facility, are organizing for redirecting funds from police to other social goods, and are seeking individual justice for Damo, Roshad, Rekia, Ronnieman and more.

In other words, day in and day out in this city, we are resisting police violence. The press in Chicago largely ignores this ongoing grassroots organizing but they are quick to jump on moments like the release of the tape depicting Laquan McDonald’s execution to condescend to, moralize against, and incite Chicagoans who are working toward justice. We resist the local press’s continuing efforts to demonize and pathologize young people in this city (especially those who identify as Black and Brown). We are sick of it. We reject their depictions.

So my friend and comrade Tom Callahan and I collaborated on this visual love letter to Chicago organizers. We hope you appreciate it. If you, please share it with others who want to better understand Chicago’s resistance to criminalization and police violence.

Nov 11 2015

No Fear: On Black Children and Racism

In 1968, seven-year old Lonnie Bell rode a bike around his “urban renewed” gentrifying Chicago community. Riding down the street, he was having fun in the afternoon. Suddenly, a police car came upon him. Two police officers approached. They accused Lonnie of stealing the bicycle. He was promptly put in the backseat of their squad car and the bike in the trunk. One of the witnesses to Lonnie’s arrest was a 17 year old neighbor who had actually lent him her bike. She and other children intervened to prevent the arrest. She told the cops that the bike was hers and that she had lent it to Lonnie. Their attempts to secure the release of their friend failed. The police ignored them and drove away with Lonnie in the backseat. The 17-year old neighbor rushed over to Lonnie’s house to alert his parents of his capture.

Mr. Bell, Lonnie’s father, accompanied by two neighbors, Mrs. Myers and her husband Michael, made their way to the 18th police district. It was around 6:15 pm when they arrived. Mr. Myers, an attorney, asked the desk Sargeant if Lonnie was in custody. The cop said that the child was not at the station. So they waited for an hour with no news of Lonnie. At 7:30 pm, the desk Sargeant announced that Lonnie had been returned home.

What happened between 5:30 pm when Lonnie was picked up by police and 7:30 pm when he was purportedly returned home? Mr. Bell rushed to find out. The police told neighbors that as they were driving to the station, a report came over the radio saying that an armed man was on the loose. With 7 year old Lonnie in the car, the cops drove to where the armed man was spotted. They patrolled the area in their car. Finding no one, they locked Lonnie in the squad car and set off on foot to apprehend the armed man. They didn’t find him so they drove Lonnie to the rear of the station. Once there, they decided not to take him inside and drove him home instead. It’s unclear what prompted them to change their minds.

I read about this incident in a Chicago publication called “Second City Magazine.” The article contended that such incidents made it important for communities to police the police. As I read about Lonnie’s ordeal though, I could only focus on one thing: ‘fear.’ I imagined a terrified Black child falsely accused of being a thief at 7 years old. I could picture his scared face as he was locked in a squad car while the police searched for an armed suspect who could very well have harmed him while he waited alone. Then I thought of his father’s terror at not finding his son at the station. I put myself in his place waiting for over an hour for any news of my son’s whereabouts. And though she wasn’t mentioned in the article, I saw Lonnie’s mother frantically pacing at home praying for her son’s safe return.

I drew a straight line from Lonnie in 1968 to the racist backlash experienced by Black students at Mizzou yesterday. On Twitter last night, I felt fear produced by racist death threats and unsubstantiated reports of KKK presence on the University of Missouri (Columbia) campus. I worried for the safety of the Black students who might be targeted. I prayed that no harm would come to them.

I thought too that my fear, Lonnie’s fear, Black Mizzou students’ fear are illegible to most people who don’t consider us human. I don’t know if I’m supposed to talk about being Black and afraid. Not afraid for myself but rather fearful for those who look like me. Who besides other Black people understand or care? Speaking the words gives more ammunition to our terrorizers and tormentors, no? But the fear is real and ever-present. I reject the cancerous tough love gospel which insists that Black people must ‘buck up’ and be preternaturally brave because to live Black is to live in and with unending danger and terror.

I don’t know if I am using the right words. I don’t know if fear adequately describes what I mean. What do you call a thing that robs you of peace and rest and time? Maybe there are no words. Maybe it’s only emotion. I don’t know. Whatever it is, I wish I could live free from and of it.