I’ve written about the Silent Protest Parade previously here.
I hope to write more about Nelson Mandela and his time in prison in a few weeks. But for today, here are a couple of photographs of his prison cell.
“For 18 of his 27 years behind bars, he was housed at Robben Island west of Cape Town in an 8-foot by 7-foot concrete cell with only a straw mat to sleep on. He was eventually released from prison on Feb. 2, 1990.”
Yesterday, a friend shared a petition with me. It’s by a man named Timothy Lee and opens:
We want RBS Citizens to call off the eviction and provide an opportunity for my family to stay in our home. Before Mrs. Lee passed we grew up in this house and we are not planning to leave any day soon. This means we will not let anyone evict us form our home. We want to continue with the mortgage before it went default so that we can stay in our home.
I have several friends here in Chicago who are very active in the anti-eviction movement and their actions have deep historical roots in this city. It’s no secret that I am fairly obsessed with the Black American Communists of the early to mid-20th century. I actively seek out information about their lives and work. Many years ago, I read an article written in 1931 by Horace Cayton that was published in the Nation Magazine. He was a well-respected sociologist who studied black life. In “The Black Bugs,” Cayton recounts a scene that he observed in Chicago while eating in a restaurant: “I chanced to look out the window and saw a number of Negroes walking by, three abreast, forming a long uninterrupted line. On going outside I was informed that they were the ‘black bugs’ — the Communists — the ‘black reds.”
Cayton decided to join the group and march alongside them, curious as to what he would find. He wrote:
Turning to my marching companion I asked where we were headed for, and what we would do when we got there. He looked surprised, and told me we were marching down to put in a family who had been evicted from a house for not paying their rent. Things were awfully tough down in the Black Belt now, he continued, and jobs were impossible to get. The Negro was the first to be discharged and the last to be hired. Now with unemployment they were hungry, and if they were put out in the street their situation would be a desperate one. The Negroes of the community had been exploited for years by the unscrupulous landlords who had taken advantage of prejudice compelling the Negroes to live only in that district, and had forced them to pay exorbitant rents. Now, continued my informer, hard times had hit them and they were being turned out into the street. Furthermore, as the Negroes did not know their legal rights, the landlords would simply pitch their few belongings out of the window with no legal procedure at all. They, the Communists, were going to see that the people were not treated in this fashion.
This passage reads like it could be written today and in fact, it probably has been and is being written dozens of times across the country. The episode that Cayton writes about in 1931 ends predictably with the police arriving and beating the crap out of the Communists who had stopped to hear a soap box speaker. Cayton describes the chaotic scene:
Then the riot squad turned into the street, four cars full of blue-coated officers and a patrol wagon. They jumped out before the cars came to stop and charged down upon the crowd. Night sticks and “billies” played a tattoo on black heads. Clubs came down in a sickening rain of blows on the woolly head of one of the boys who was holding her [the soap box speaker] up. Blood spurted from his mouth and nose. Finally she was pulled down. A tremor of nervousness ran through the crowd. Then someone turned and ran. In a minute the whole group was running like mad for cover. One of the officers shot twice at one of the boys who had been holding up the woman speaker. The boy stumbled, grabbed his thigh, but kept on running. The woman was struggling in the arms of two husky policemen. It was all over in a minute, and all that was left was the soap box and the struggling black woman. I turned and left.
It would be rare today for the police to use this level of violence against anti-eviction protesters. Still, putting one’s body on the line to prevent an eviction often comes with the risk and even the likelihood of an arrest. I have a ton of respect for my friends who take this chance regularly. The very least that I can do is to sign a petition supporting Mr. Lee’s right to stay in his home. I hope that you will too!
I’m happy to announce that SB 1342, Rahm Emanuel’s mandatory minimum gun bill, will not be brought up for a vote during this special December session of the General Assembly. After almost a year of consistent opposition from hundreds of individuals and dozens of organizations, SB 1342 will not become Illinois law in 2013.
Legislators are promising to discuss a comprehensive approach to address violence in the Spring session. Proponents of SB 1342 are sure to offer their bill again as a part of the ‘solution’ to violence. Those of us who oppose mandatory minimums should remain vigilant but for today we deserve to exhale and to embrace this development as a win against further criminalization of black & brown young people (in particular). There are and will be other bills and policies to resist but for now SB 1342 won’t be one of them.
It’s difficult for me to express my feelings today. As an organizer, too often, I dwell on the losses while skirting over the wins. Yet it is the wins that make it possible to keep moving forward. It is the wins (no matter how small or ephemeral) that provide the reserves for continued struggle.
I don’t spend most of time standing in the doorway saying ‘no.’ I prefer to work on building the world that I want to live in. But there are times, and SB 1342 was one of those times, when it’s important to stand up and push back against an injustice. Sometimes it’s important to just say ‘no.’
To all of the people who said NO TO HB 2265/SB 1342 over the past year, my profound appreciation. These words by Alice Walker express how I feel about the importance of taking action in the world. I offer them to all of you who acted against SB 1342 with gratitude.
“I have learned to accept the fact that we risk disappointment, disillusionment, even despair, every time we act. Every time we decide to believe the world can be better. Every time we decide to trust others to be as noble as we think they are. And that there might be years during which our grief is equal to, or even greater than, our hope. The alternative, however, not to act, and therefore to miss experiencing other people at their best, reaching toward their fullness, has never appealed to me.”
La lucha continua! But for today I’m just going to say…
and also DANCE!!
I finally crashed tonight. I got home & I was done. I knew that it would happen. For days, I’ve been operating at peak productivity. I haven’t slowed down. I’ve been consumed with opposing SB 1342, a mandatory minimum gun bill proposed by Rahm Emanuel and currently being considered by the Illinois legislature. Regular readers won’t be surprised at this. I’ve been ranting about this bill since January when it was first introduced as “HB2265.”
For the past few weeks, I’ve been told by various stakeholders that the bill was “a done deal.” “It’s definitely going to pass,” others have said. By this, they mean that the politicians have made deals with various interests and that public opposition is futile.
But I’ve learned something important in my many years of organizing: we must never give up. Why should we bother to advocate so consistently and comprehensively against a bill that is “a done deal?” It’s simple: SB 1342 hasn’t passed yet. It hasn’t come before the full House or Senate yet. And even if it does, it hasn’t been signed into law by the Governor yet. This is where things stand and so as long there isn’t a signed bill that has become law, we must resist. I would contend that our continued resistance will be needed even if the bill becomes law. Because, in the law, nothing is permanent. Everything can be changed.
Sheila Bedi wrote about the potentially destructive impact of SB 1342 in the Daily Beast over the weekend:
So by targeting neighborhoods for mass imprisonment, law enforcement officials have created a well-greased revolving door between prisons and our communities. And in so doing, they have destroyed the only things that have ever been proven to create safe neighborhoods. Emmanuel’s mandatory minimum proposal would only serve to fan the flames of Chicago’s failed prison and policing initiatives. Thousands of young, mostly African-American men would be funneled into already overcrowded prisons.
Once there, they will languish behind bars—denied access to even the most basic educational programs which have been defunded because of budget shortfalls. Many will endure the brutal violence and sexual assaults that are endemic in a prison environment. Most will spend their three years behind bars in forced idleness. This is the case not only in Chicago, but across the country.
Writing at the Black Youth Project, Aaron Talley offered his thoughts about how #SB 1342 would impact young black people like himself:
And so let’s be clear, like the “war on drugs,” this law will disproportionately criminalize Black and Brown bodies. Communities of color who are already targets of racial profiling and brutal policing will continue to be fed into prisons, rather than being met with compassionate and creative solutions to solving the interweaving problems of violence and poverty. If there is ample evidence that suggests that this mode of punishment does not work, why then would it continue to be employed?
The consequences of mass incarceration are not academic or abstract to me. They are all too real. I see its ravages every single day in my work with young people. It’s impossible then for me to sit idly by in the face of another structural assault on the lives of black and brown young people.
This evening, dozens of other people showed up to say that they too refuse to accept another law that will do further violence to our young people and to our communities. Bundled up in the Chicago cold, holding signs, flashlights, and lightboards, Chicagoans of all stripes said “NO TO MANDATORY MINIMUMS.” Together, we stood as testaments of the refusal of so many people in this city to give up even when we’re told that things are “done deals.”
ILLINOISANS BELIEVE THAT GUN VIOLENCE IS A SERIOUS PROBLEM BUT OPPOSE MANDATORY MINIMUM PRISON SENTENCES FOR ILLEGAL GUN POSSESSION (SB 1342)
“This is not a problem we can legislate away. We have to change the way people live and are educated. I’m a CPS teacher and a DePaul Law student, so what I’m constantly bombarded with are the inequities in the legal system and public education. Fix those and we can greatly reduce gun violence!”
– Anonymous survey respondent
Download the full report of the survey HERE (PDF).
Nine out of 10 (93%) survey respondents oppose the passage of SB 1342. Moreover, Illinoisans don’t believe that mandatory minimum prison sentences reduce violence. In fact, 86% of Illinoisans disagree/strongly disagree with the statement: “Mandatory minimum prison sentences (that take away judicial discretion) for illegal gun possession will reduce violence in Illinois.”
94% of those surveyed said that Illinois should NOT spend an estimated additional $780 million in prison costs over the next 10 years to pay for SB 1342.
The findings indicate support for an approach to gun violence that runs contrary to the punitive policy currently under consideration by the General Assembly.
Nearly nine out of 10 (89%) people surveyed believe that “Gun violence is a serious problem in Illinois.” However data released today show that more than 90 percent of Illinois respondents disagree/strongly disagree that “Incarceration produces positive changes in young people (21 & under) or in adults.”
The survey also found that when given choices outside of prison, Illinoisans support the following types of interventions for adults who illegally carry a gun (whether loaded or unloaded): Vocation Training & Job Skills, Restorative Justice Program, and Employment. They favor Help getting a high school diploma or GED, Mentoring, and Restorative Justice Program for youth (21 & under) who illegally carry a gun (whether loaded or unloaded).
“Illinoisans understand that SB 1342 will not actually make our communities safer, is too expensive, and will serve to criminalize more people,” said Project NIA director Mariame Kaba. “Respondents favor community-based alternatives as opposed to incarceration to address gun violence in Illinois.”
- Only 37% of survey respondents strongly agree/agree/somewhat agree that: “Adults who illegally carry a gun (whether unloaded or loaded) should be sentenced to prison.” Over 6 in 10 strongly disagree/disagree with that statement.
- 75% of respondents disagree/strongly disagree with the statement: “Young people (21 & under) who carry a gun illegally (whether unloaded or loaded) should be sentenced to prison.”
- Only 16% of survey respondents strongly agree/agree/somewhat agree that: “Adults who commit a FIRST-TIME offense of illegally possessing a gun (whether unloaded or loaded) should serve a MANDATORY one-year prison sentence.”
- Only 13% of survey respondents strongly agree/agree/somewhat agree with the statement: Young people (21 & under) who commit a FIRST-TIME offense of illegally possessing a gun (whether unloaded or loaded) should serve a MANDATORY one year prison sentence
- Most Illinoisans don’t know how much it costs to incarcerate youth and adults in the state. Only 34% correctly identified that it costs about $40,000 per year to incarcerate an adult & 20% correctly identified the $90,000 annual incarceration costs for juveniles.
While the rest of the country is moving away from mandatory minimum prison sentences because research and experience suggest that they don’t work, Illinois has been moving towards them. It appears that the public is ahead of the policymakers again and favors a focus on rehabilitation and community-based alternatives instead of more incarceration.
Legislators and policymakers should take heed. There is no popular demand for the ‘tough on crime’ bills that politicians often offer as a solution to violence and harm. The desire is for less punishment and to focus instead on the root causes of violence.
**The survey was carried out online by Project NIA. It was administered from November 20 through November 29. 571responses were collected from across Illinois.
Join Project NIA and others TODAY at 6 p.m. at City Hall as they protest against SB 1342 and insist on an anti-violence strategy that addresses the root causes of gun violence.
I think and write about terrorism against black people. As such, I’ve been very interested in the origins and history of the KKK. Below is an image from 1872 that I came across while doing research about the Klan. I like to examine it periodically. I did so again a few days ago after experiencing another deluge of casual and consistent misogynoir.
When you look at this image, what do you see? What or who stands out to you? My eyes are immediately drawn to the little girl and older woman who are facing the fire. They dominate the scene, targets of the klansman’s rifle. It appears that he has both of them in his sights. The adult man in the house looks to be seated, he is smaller than the older woman, perhaps she is shielding him from view with her body.
Far away from the Washington Beltway, where politicians are playing games with heath insurance coverage for millions of Americans & the media are focused on brinksmanship, a group of young activists in Chicago have been fighting for three years to establish a level 1 trauma center on the Southside. It’s been an uphill battle from the start but the young people have been persistent, patient, and pro-active. They belong to groups like Fearless Leading by the Youth (FLY), Students for Health Equity (SHE), and Reclaiming Inner-City Streets and Elevating Chicago (RISE Chicago).
And they’ve been fighting for their lives and those of their peers…
Wednesday was a major turning point in the trauma center campaign. A hearing was called by Rep. Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago) “to look into whether people are dying on the South Side from gunshot wounds because the specialized care they need is all at hospitals on the North or West sides of the city or in the south suburbs.” Veronica Morris-Moore, a key leader of Fearless Leading By the Youth (FLY), summed up her feelings after the hearing in a Facebook post [thanks to Veronica for giving me permission to share her words]:
“Hearing meeting downtown at the State building was a step in the right direction for the Trauma Center Campaign. It felt good to be heard in that type of setting & also hear Senators, State Representatives, doctors, & other community members say a lot of things the youth have been saying, for years, about the lack of Trauma Care on the south side of Chicago & what needs to be done about it.”
the protest at the University of Chicago Hospital was HELLA deee oooo peee eeee. A lot of committed youth leaders & allies used collective effort & selfless committment & to show that no matter what our communities endure nothing can diminish the fight in us. & seeing all those people holding signs demanding trauma care showed me that we are building that fight in the right direction. & the more they try to ignore us the louder we will be.
Today felt like progress & at the very very end of the day thats ALL we want.
I have nothing left to say except to express my profound gratitude and admiration for the young people and their comrades who continue this life and death struggle. Below are some photographs taken by the terrific Sarah Jane Rhee of the coffin protest.
It turns out that Renisha McBride was actually shot in the face.
When I read the words, they didn’t compute. I read them again. They still didn’t penetrate. Early reports suggested that she’d been shot in the back of the head. I had taken a perverse solace in believing that she was walking away from the stranger’s house when he shot her. I imagined that she didn’t know what hit her when the bullet tore through her skull. I convinced myself that she didn’t know what was coming. I’m sure that fear and perhaps disorientation led her to knock on several strangers’ doors that night. But I wanted to believe that in her final moments, she was taken by surprise & maybe even died instantly. No pain; just darkness. But this likely didn’t happen. Instead she was shot in the face through a closed screen door. Her parents had to have a closed casket funeral. She was probably terrified in those final moments before her assailant pulled the trigger. I am haunted by this image.
After Renisha’s death, we performed our well-rehearsed ritual of how to respond to the cold-blooded killing of black youth. Second degree murder and manslaughter charges were brought against her assailant on Friday, nearly two weeks after her tragic death. The charges came after calls by her family and community members for the Dearborn Heights police to arrest, for the prosecutor to file charges and bring the case to trial, and for a jury to convict. Amidst this organizing, the family repeatedly called for ‘justice’ and according to their attorney: “Only a conviction will result in justice for Renisha McBride, not just charges.”