Last Sunday, I organized a gathering to celebrate Marissa Alexander‘s Birthday. My friend Debbie made a short video that captured some statements of support and solidarity offered to Marissa. You should watch it! It’s profoundly moving.
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.
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.
“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.
The following is an image made by Meredith Stern which is available for purchase at Just Seeds Cooperative for $10. Stern explains why she created the image:
This is a redo of an image I made over ten years ago when the incarceration rate had already skyrocketed and the trend has tragically continued as a direct result of harsh and disproportionate racial profiling, targeting and sentencing of communities of color for non-violent drug related behavior. For starters, we must end mass incarceration, the criminalization of undocumented migrants, and the war on drugs. It is incredibly damaging for families, for communities, and our entire society to be putting such a large portion of our population in detention centers for non-violent behavior.
The Sentencing Project has incredibly eye opening data on the current state of affairs.
For anyone interested in learning more about the current state of affairs:
“This House I Live In” is a documentary about the “War on Drugs” in the US which I highly recommend.
For book readers I recommend “Race to Incarcerate” and “The New Jim Crow.”
I purchased a couple of the prints.
William C. Anderson wrote a short essay about CeCe McDonald for the No Selves to Defend anthology which I share below.
Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald is a trans woman whose bravery in the face of injustice has changed lives and perceptions in the United States. On the night of June 5, 2011, CeCe was out with friends when she was attacked. Three people began harassing her and her friends outside a bar by deriding them with racist and transphobic slurs, before attacking them physically.
CeCe fought for her life; when the dust settled one of her attackers lay dead. CeCe survived the attack, but was arrested by the police. After receiving 11 stitches to her cheek, she was interrogated without counsel and placed in solitary confinement. CeCe was charged with second-degree murder for defending herself. Rather than face trial by a jury that would not likely sympathize with her, she accepted a plea deal to the lesser charge of second-degree manslaughter.
This is a good video by the Black Alliance For Just Immigration. It makes the case that mass criminalization (incarceration and deportation) negatively impacts people of color. It’s worth watching.
I am thrilled to have this post by my friend Lewis on the blog this morning. The piece was written in response to this.
I once rode my bike across Michigan. I have also ridden it across Illinois, the San Francisco Bay Area and around parts of rural Ohio. I’ve gone through cornfields and tiny towns, camped by myself, met people, bought stuff at gas stations, gone out to diners, and generally had a grand old time.
Biking is dangerous, exhilarating, and for me, it was and is a choice. I’m white and come from a class-privileged background, not to mention I’m able-bodied and able to comfortably ride the thing. So whether I’m cruising through Chicago or rural Michigan, I carry a level of safety that is written all over my body. I think about being harassed, attacked, hit by a car even…and then I think about my dad who’s a lawyer, the support and consequence that follows white people with money into any tragedy or even any slight disturbance. That’s a big part of privilege—being able to choose, to move freely, to take risks with limited fear of consequence (something I’ve written about before). When I ride my bike alone experiencing joy and impunity, I think about what it might be like for my comrades and friends who are people of color, particularly when they are visibly trans or queer. I think it’s important to think about that.
Here’s the thing, though: when I read this essay, I also thought about how frustrating it is when we white people feel we need to have—or perhaps feel we deserve—an “ah-ha” moment in which we feel we understand what it’s like for any one person of color. I really do think it can be a useful exercise to try to put ourselves in others’ shoes, on our own time and not in a way that tokenizes people or wastes their time explaining shit to us. But really “getting it”—as if being a person of color in the U.S. is a monolithic experience—is impossible, and presumptuous to boot. I’ve been thinking that whole framing doesn’t get at the core of what we white folks need to be striving towards right now, particularly as we white folks are absolutely surrounded by examples of systemic racism.
General Questions To Ask About Policing
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?
#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.
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.
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.
I am happy to share that Shanesha Taylor regained custody of her three children yesterday.
Judge allows Shanesha Taylor, who left kids in car during March job interview, to get kids back from state custody. pic.twitter.com/v4Cd20fgzZ
— Andrew Hasbun (@andrewfox10) August 28, 2014
Last week, I wrote about the criminalization of black mothers with a particular focus on Shanesha’s case in the Nation Magazine.
In the United States, the ‘bad mother’ is usually poor and almost always black. Popular representations of black women are shaped by our ideas about race, gender, sexuality, class and more. Black women exist in the culture as hypersexual, unfeminine, angry, potentially criminal, depraved things. We have been excluded from ideologies of domesticity and our families are pathologized. We are preternaturally “strong” and feel no pain therefore justifying harsh and punitive treatment by the state.
It’s a small miracle then that some people were able to overcome our collective socialization to express compassion for Shanesha Taylor and for her children. But it isn’t nearly enough for us to care about black mothers and their children or to simply acknowledge their suffering; we must change policies that are destroying their lives. We must end the war on drugs. We must provide free or low-cost childcare options. We must create living wage jobs. And we must end racist mass criminalization.
I am very happy for Shanesha who I know loves her children dearly.