Oct 25 2014

Damo, We Speak Your Name: Resisting Police Violence in Chicago

Dominique (Damo) Franklin, we speak your name. Your (imperfect) life mattered. Look at what you’ve inspired…

In May, I wrote about the death of a young man known to his friends as Damo at the hands of the Chicago Police Department (CPD). Months later, answers about his killing are still elusive. To conclude my post about Damo’s death, I wrote:

“He was managed throughout his life through the lens of repression, crime, and punishment. And now he is dead and those of us left behind must find a way to heal while building more justice. We’ll continue to fight in Damo’s memory because we won’t allow his death to have been in vain…”

We are keeping our promise. On Wednesday, hundreds of people participated in manifestations of Damo’s legacy.

Damo, in a couple of weeks, your friends and peers are on their way to the United Nations in Geneva to tell your story that of countless others who have perished and been tortured at the hands of the CPD.

Your death has inspired this song though we would rather have you alive and here with us. The telling of police torture is a mourning song. But the protest on Wednesday evening reminds me that it is also a freedom song.

Damo, we speak your name. Your (imperfect) life matters.

At Wednesday’s protest, your friends and peers invoked your name; placing it alongside Roshad, Deshawn, Rekia and Mike’s.

“Protect and serve that’s a lie, you don’t care when black kids die.”

I am really tired and I am incredibly inspired. I am still struggling to find the words to express my feelings. So I am going to rely on photos taken by friends and comrades to end this post. I am privileged and humbled to organize with a wonderful group of people. I wish Damo was here to join us.

Damo, we speak your name. Your (imperfect) life still matters… In your memory, we will continue working to shut down oppression.

Read more »

Oct 20 2014

Walking in Lawndale For Marissa and Other DV Survivors

It was another busy weekend. On Saturday, I was privileged to participate in the 2nd Annual Domestic Violence Awareness Month Walk organized by my friends at A Long Walk Home. This year, they chose to honor Marissa Alexander.

Below are some pictures from the march taken by my friend Sarah Jane Rhee.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (10/18/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (10/18/14)

“Who are we? Families”

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (10/18/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (10/18/14)

“What do we do? Stop The Violence.”

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (10/18/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (10/18/14)

Read more »

Oct 18 2014

Guest Post: ‘Not Made for TV:’ Ferguson Reflections by Kelly Hayes

Continuing the series of reflections by local Chicago organizers who traveled to St. Louis and Ferguson last weekend is my comrade Kelly Hayes. I am so happy to feature Kelly’s words and photos today.

It’s been about three days since I returned from Ferguson October, and my body and mind are finally starting to settle back into the life I know. A number of people have asked me about what I saw and experienced there, and I’ve generally responded with simplistic, vague statements like, “It was intense.” I’ve done this partly because I haven’t fully processed all that I saw and heard out there, and partly because I know that as soon as I start to speak, I’ll be walking a fine line between bearing witness and co-opting someone else’s narrative and struggle. Because while I am a person of color, I am not black, and I do not live in a community where my life has been deemed utterly disposable. Were my partner and I to have children, I would not spend my days wondering if some police officer would imagine their cellphone was a weapon, or simply gun them down out of a blind contempt for all things black.

This disposability of blackness is not my daily reality, so I know I must take care in how I explain what I saw and experienced on those streets, amongst those brave people.

photo by Kelly Hayes

photo by Kelly Hayes

I arrived in St. Louis on Saturday. The atmosphere was much as I expected it to be, with props and banners and high spirits. There were smiles. There was laughter. There was spectacle. I was glad I walked with those people, some of whom traveled great distances just to participate in that march, before hopping back on their buses for the long trip home. I was glad I was there, but even as we marched, I thought, “This is the gentle part.” And it was.

photo by Kelly Hayes

photo by Kelly Hayes

Mike Brown means, we’ve got to fight back!

That night, I arrived at the scene of Mike Brown’s murder around 7:00pm. A small crowd had formed. I took photographs and talked to a few people. The scene was calm. Then, out of the relative quiet, I heard chanting, as hundreds marched up the street to the memorial. At that point, the scene became infused with an energy I can hardly describe. Despite my exhaustion and my bad back, I could only feel what was being expressed all around me: uncertainty, heartbreak, rage, and an aching need for some kind of justice. But there was something else in the air. Ferocity. These young people meant it when they chanted, “We’re young! We’re strong! We’re marching all night long!”

The crowd moved fast, and I’m not actually as young and strong as I used to be, but I had no trouble keeping up that night. The energy of the march pulled me away from myself. All I could think was, “Take pictures, tweet, get this out there.” It seemed like the one thing that I could do that was of any real value. I could bear witness, and try to show people, in real time, just how powerful these moments were.

And they were powerful.

Read more »

Oct 16 2014

Guest Post: From St. Louis, On Peace & Protest by Page May

This post is by Page May who is an organizer with We Charge Genocide and will be part of the youth delegation traveling to Geneva in November 2014. I am so happy to be able to feature Page’s brilliant voice here.

I am still processing my thoughts on the brief time I spent in St. Louis. I was deeply moved by the energy, love, and intensity of the protestors, particularly the many young people leading the march.

photo by Page May (St. Louis, 10/11/14)

photo by Page May (St. Louis, 10/11/14)

After the rally, a White Missourian approached me asking what I thought. We shared enthusiasm for the day’s events but our conversation ended when she said she “only hopes it stays peaceful…that some people have broken windows and started looting…which ruins it for everyone and takes away from the whole thing.” When I returned to Chicago, I tried to stay updated by following #FergusonOctober. I found myself similarly frustrated by the pattern of outrage over the police using such excessive force on “peaceful protestors.”

There is nothing peaceful about having to fight for your people’s lives and nothing surprising about police violence against Black people. This White, liberal, insistence on “peaceful protest” and what qualifies as such is at best misunderstanding and at worst inherently antagonistic to Black struggle.

photo by Page May (St. Louis, 10/11/14)

photo by Page May (St. Louis, 10/11/14)

While processing my thoughts on this, I’ve found myself referring to one of my favorite poems, by Ethan Viets-VanLear- a co-organizer in We Charge Genocide and fellow UN delegate.

And the police of the block that got a vendetta on every Black boy child;
The perpetrators of this fabricated peace we’ve apparently disturbed!
I was born on the gutter
handcuffed on the curb.
I was born in a dungeon,
medicated and shackled,
smothered so I couldn’t speak.

I find so much wisdom here in Ethan’s words. His recognition that what- as well as who/when/where/how- is defined and understood as “peace” is a fabrication that normalizes an anti-black status-quo. Moreover, that the construction of “the peace” is not only exclusionary of Black people, but positioned in fixed opposition to us: We are implicitly (as Black people who exist) and explicitly (as Black people who resist) in disturbance of “the peace.” And as those enlisted to serve and protect “the peace,” the police have always been tasked with keeping Black people in our place- as slaves, criminals, deviants, and dangerous. The police are, as Ethan describes, “the perpetrators of this fabricated peace we’ve apparently disturbed.” They have always been at war with us. Our history in this country is one of captivity and genocide- dungeons and shackles.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (St. Louis, 10/11/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (St. Louis, 10/11/14)

Read more »

Oct 14 2014

Guest Post: #Ferguson Reflections by Sarah Jane Rhee (words & photos)

A number of Chicagoans responded to the call to come to St. Louis and Ferguson for a weekend of resistance as part of Ferguson October. I attended a march in St. Louis on Saturday and several other friends from Chicago spent all or part of their weekends in Ferguson. I am still sorting out my thoughts and feelings but I asked some friends to share theirs if they were willing. This week, I will post the responses that I receive. Today, my friend Sarah reflects on her experience through words and her photos.

It’s Sunday morning, 8am, and my daughter Cadence and our friends Pidgeon and Mika are slowly waking up in our hotel room in St. Louis. I decide to use this time before we check out to edit my photos from the night before taken at the vigil at Mike Brown’s memorial and the subsequent protest at the Ferguson police station. While I wait for the photos to download onto my laptop, I read Mariame’s post from Friday, and see this video of Ethan, a young person I care very much about, and my heart cracks as I recall the events of the previous night when I watched him unleash his anger and pain in the faces of the Ferguson police officers lined up in front of the protesters. I then return to my downloaded photos, and the very first one I see is that of Mike Brown’s mother and family leading the march after the vigil to the police station, and that’s when my already cracked heart breaks wide open and I start weeping.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (Ferguson, 10/11/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (Ferguson, 10/11/14)

The night before at the Ferguson PD protest, I witnessed several young men from Chicago whom I care about very much passionately and furiously express their anger and pain at the police officers who were lined up in front of them a few feet away, separated from them only by a thin yellow police tape that poorly represented the chasm between these two groups.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (Ferguson, 10/11/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (Ferguson, 10/11/14)

As I watched, I was worried for their safety because I knew these officers could care less about the lives of these young Black men, that they may as well all be Mike Brown or nameless. I also recognized these young people’s need for an outlet for the feelings of anguish and rage that I don’t have adequate words with which to describe them.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (Ferguson, 10/11/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (Ferguson, 10/11/14)

Read more »

Oct 10 2014

Heading to #Ferguson…

It’s been a long week. Actually, it’s been a long few weeks. I have been working nonstop and I feel myself coming down with a cold.

Yet tomorrow I’ll be on a bus at 5 am heading to Ferguson Missouri with several comrades and friends. I’ll be participating in the mass march taking place on Saturday.

I wrote a few words recently about marching as protest and refusal so I won’t revisit the topic. I’ve said before that I didn’t expect to still be participating in such protests in my 40s for a variety of reasons. But here I am and I feel grateful that I am in good enough physical and mental health to do so.

So I will march tomorrow for the many young people, young black people in particular, who I love and want to be free from violence and oppression. I will march for my father who reminds me through his actions and his example that in the face of injustice one must always stand and be counted. I will march for myself, to remind myself that other people oppose genocide too.

Tonight, I saw a video of a young man who I have gotten to know and love over the years. He traveled to Ferguson from Chicago to participate in the weekend of resistance. I watched the video and felt gutted. But I am grateful that I saw it before boarding the bus to Ferguson.

I never forget that these protests are about real people and about our collective survival. I can’t forget because I am confronted almost daily with the raw pain and devastation that black evisceration engenders. So tomorrow, I am heading to Ferguson with Ethan’s anguish in my heart and on my mind. I’ll march in the hope that future young people will be spared.

fergusonresistance

Oct 09 2014

#NoSchoolPushout: LGBTQ Students (Infographic)

BeyondBullyingv2

Read more information here.

Yesterday, GSA Network and Crossroads Collaborative released a set of reports finding that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth, gender nonconforming youth, and youth of color not only face bullying and harassment from peers, but also harsh and disparate discipline from school staff, relatively higher levels of policing and surveillance, and blame for their own victimization.

To accompany the reports, Advancement Project, a national civil rights organization, and GSA Network also released a set of policy recommendations based on the research for school staff, policy makers, and young people advocating for change.

Download the reports:

Join them for a tweetchat on #LGBTpushout on Thursday 10/9 at 3pm PST/6pm to discuss these findings as part of the National Week of Action against School Pushout!

Oct 06 2014

#NoSchoolPushout: The Girl to Prison Pipeline

Much of the discussion about the school to prison pipeline focuses on the plight of young men of color (particularly black boys).  This is understandable given the dire statistics that illustrate how susceptible they are to being pushed out of school into future incarceration.  The most often cited statistic is that 1 out of 3 black boys born in 2001 is likely to spend part of his life in prison.

However young women are also impacted by the school to prison pipeline.  Their trajectory is different.  Incarcerated girls are often victims of sexual and physical abuse in their early lives, and this is often neither recognized nor identified by school officials or other adults.

Sociologist Beth Richie has made the case that a key to understanding and responding to women as offenders is understanding their status as crime victims[1]. Laurie Schaffner (2007) extends this argument by suggesting that “young women adjudicated delinquent in juvenile court report suffering inordinate amounts of emotional, physical, and sexual trauma in early childhood and adolescence.”[2] She contends that “a disproportionate number of girls come into the juvenile justice system with family histories of physical and sexual violence and emotional neglect” (p.1229).

Many of the problems that young women face that relate to school failure and potential future incarceration stem from physical and sexual abuse.  This has led some to characterize the experience of interpersonal violence as a “Girl Prison Pipeline.”  In order to interrupt the girl prison pipeline then, particular attention must be paid to the physical and sexual abuse histories of young women.

Over the last few years, black girls in particular have been increasingly subjected to harsh disciplinary policies that push them out of school. A new report, Unlocking Opportunity for African American Girls: A Call to Action for Educational Equity, released a couple of weeks ago suggests that:

“In the 2011-12 school year, 12 percent of all African American female pre-K-12 students were suspended from school, six times the rate of white girls and more than any other group of girls and several groups of boys – despite research showing that African American children do not misbehave more frequently than their peers.”

Girls of color and particularly black girls are increasingly pushed out of school and criminalized. But this story is not a new one. You can read about a young woman named Dorothy Young’s story here, for example. Also watch this video about Kiera Wilmot’s more recent incident:

Further Reading and Resources

Disciplining Violence by Connie Wun

Girls in the System by Rachel Marie-Crane Williams

Unlocking Opportunity for African American Girls: A Call to Action for Educational Equity by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF)

Race, Gender and the School-to-Prison Pipeline: Expanding Our Discussion to Include Black Girls by Monique Morris (2012)

School to Prison Pipeline for Girls: The Role of Physical and Sexual Abuse by Sandra B. Simkins, Amy E. Hirsch, Erin McNamara Horvat, and Marjorie B. Moss


[1] Research on Women and Girls in the Justice System: Plenary Papers of the 1999 Conference on Criminal Justice Research and Evaluation – Enhancing Policy and Practice through Research, Volume 3. (September 2000). Office of Justice Programs. NCJ 180973.

[2] Schaffner, Laurie. 2007. Violence Against Girls Provokes Girls’ Violence: From Private Injury to Public Harm. Violence against Women, volume 13 no. 12. Pp.1229-1248.

Oct 06 2014

Domestic Violence, Poetry and ‘Giving Name to the Nameless’

First, I love poetry and Nikky Finney is one of my favorite poets. So I was over the moon a few weeks ago when I read her new poem dedicated to Marissa Alexander titled “Flare.” October is domestic violence awareness month and we very much want to keep Marissa in mind. A couple of weeks ago, I emailed Ms. Finney and asked if she would participate in the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander’s campaign which is asking people to send video submissions of them reading the poem “Flare” or another poem of their choice. So far, we have received wonderful submissions which you can find here. I asked Ms. Finney if she would participate too. And guess what???? She said yes!!!! So today, I am thrilled to share her video reading of Flare with all of you.

Audre Lorde was right (as usual) when she wrote in the essay “Poetry Is Not a Luxury” that: “Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.”

I use poems a lot in my teaching and in my work with young people. When young people see something of themselves in a piece of literature, identify with the work, reflect on it, and undergo some emotional experience as a result of that reading, I consider that to be the basis of a successful anti-violence intervention. For years, I have been collecting poems about gender-based violence that I have used with young women (in particular) in various settings. Some of these poems can be found in a poetry guide that I created a few years ago titled “Giving Name to the Nameless: Using Poetry as an Anti-Violence Intervention with Girls.” A PDF of the guide is available at no cost to those interested in a copy. Details are here.

Life comes full circle as one of the poems that I use a lot with young women & girls is Nikky Finney’s “The Girlfriend’s Train.” I included it in the guide and am featuring it below in honor of DV awareness month. As a bonus, I am including some questions that you can use if when you are discussing the poem with girls and young women.

Note: While the guide was created with young women and girls in mind (I have the most experience facilitating poetry circles with them), the information and poems included can certainly be used with young men, trans young people and also with adults.

Read more »

Oct 05 2014

#NoSchoolPushout: Police in Schools

Police officers play a critical role in feeding the school to prison pipeline and many of them seem to recognize this fact. A school police officers’ union in California created an uproar a few years ago by designing and selling t-shirts depicting a young boy behind prison bars with the words: “U Raise Em, We Cage Em.”  The local community was rightly incensed by this; yet it should not have come as a surprise that cops see their role in schools as arresting and incarcerating young people.

Youth art from Representing the Pipeline (2010)

Youth art from Representing the Pipeline (2010)

As Erica Meiners and I point out in an article published in Jacobin this year:

“Criminalizing student behavior is not new. The concept of the “school resource officer” emerged in the 1950s in Flint, Mich., as part of a strategy to embed police officers in community contexts. In 1975, only 1% of US schools reported having police officers. As of 2009, New York City schools employed over 5,000 school safety agents and 191 armed police officers, effectively making the school district the fifth largest police district in the country.”

We can be fooled into believing that schools with metal detectors, surveillance cameras, and police officers feel safe to students, teachers, and staff.  However, data from the Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) suggests something different:

“it is the quality of relationships between staff and students and between staff and parents that most strongly defines safe schools. Indeed, disadvantaged schools with high-quality relationships actually feel safer than advantaged schools with low-quality relationships.”[3]

In addition, the presence of police officers in our schools often has negative ramifications for students. A national study by the Justice Policy Institute titled “Education Under Arrest (PDF)” makes a convincing case that:

“…when schools have law enforcement on site, students are more likely to get arrested by police instead of having discipline handled by school officials. This leads to more kids being funneled into the juvenile justice system, which is both expensive and associated with a host of negative impacts on youth.”[4]

Even with these findings however, many students feel ambivalent about the role of police in their schools. Students are not immune to having the cops in their heads too.  Colorlines produced a video last year where they asked LA students whether police officers in schools made them feel safe. There were a variety of student responses.

In discussions about the school-to-prison pipeline, we need concrete examples of how the process works. As such, it is important to understand the role that police and security staff play in our schools.  Unfortunately in many districts reports about police involvement in schools have not been and are not readily available to the public.

If interested in learning more about police in schools, here’s list of resources that I compiled last year.