Jun 15 2014

Surveillance Embodied: “I Live In A Place Where Everyone Watches You Everywhere You Go”

There are a number of reasons why the current discourse about privacy and surveillance leaves me cold. I started to write a little about these in the past. I haven’t had time or (maybe more truthfully) the motivation to write more. I don’t think that those who are currently most vocal and public about their anti-surveillance state critiques have much in common with me or my concerns. I’m certain that my views and ideas are meaningless to them. Finally, with some exceptions, I think that many current critics of the surveillance state are uninterested in doing the movement-building work that it would take to change the current state of affairs. So I just keep it moving, doing my own work.

My colleague Grant recently emailed a few audio pieces that he worked on with young men of color. I was particularly struck by Marquise Paino’s audio story titled “Eyes On Me.”

Marquise reminds the listener that young black men in Chicago are constantly and consistently ‘watched’ by the state, by businesses, and by community members. For him, there is no neat distinction between the watchers and the watched. It’s all of a piece. A question to ask Marquise is whether it feels different to be watched by the cops, the storeowners, and the gangs. Is there more or less fear and anger depending on who is doing the watching?

I’d be interested to know how privacy advocates and some civil libertarians might discuss the concept of surveillance with a young man like Marquise. What’s the meaning of bulk data collection by the NSA to a young person who lives under constant scrutiny already? Would Marquise be surprised or disturbed that the cops are looking for ways to more easily access cell phone information? I don’t know the answer to these questions but it would be interesting to know.

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…

Jun 08 2014

Poem of the Day: Why I Cry

Why I Cry
by Sharee M (Free Write Jail Arts Program)

I cry because so many thoughts
go through my mind.
I cry when I feel that I have been mistreated
I cry so that someone could come and comfort me
I cry so that things could go my way
I cry when I feel that everything’s over
I cry when I think about what I should have done
instead of doing time
I cry for a second chance
so that I could be something
I cry when I think about
when would I see my family again
I cry because I have not found myself
I cry for the family who lost a loved one
I cry for not going with my first mind, the right one
I cry because bricks surround me
I cry because I am in a box
I cry because I am not free

(Source: Big Dream I’m Chasing, Free Write Jail Arts Anthology Vol 6)

Jun 03 2014

Illinois Legislature Passes SB 2793: A Big Step for School Discipline Data Transparency

SB 2793 passed out of the Illinois Legislature on Friday. According to Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE):

“SB 2793 is a landmark piece of legislation won by young people and allies from across the state of Illinois to address the overuse of exclusionary discipline.

This legislation is the FIRST OF ITS KIND in the nation and would require:
The public reporting of data on the issuance of out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and removals to alternative settings in lieu of another disciplinary action for all publicly-funded schools in Illinois. The collected data would be disaggregated by race and ethnicity, gender, age, grade level, limited English proficiency, incident type, and discipline duration.

Illinois School Districts that are identified in the top 20% in the use of suspensions, expulsions or racial disproportionality would have to submit an improvement plan identifying the strategies the school district will implement to reduce the use of exclusionary disciplinary practices, racial disproportionality, or both.

Halima Ibrahim, a VOYCE student leader, said that SB 2793 is important for her because “the community should know what suspension and expulsion numbers, as well as racial disparities, are for each Illinois school district. If we know which districts need help and improvement, we can work to keep students safe and in school, instead of out in the streets.”

Some of you contributed to this victory by filing witness slips and contacting your legislators when asked. Thank you!

The following organizations led and supported this campaign.

VOYCE Member Organizations:
Southwest Organizing Project
Albany Park Neighborhood Council
Kenwood Oakland Community Organization
Logan Square Neighborhood Association
Action Now Institute
Brighton Park Neighborhood Council

Allies in the Campaign for Common Sense Discipline:
Attorney Jim Freeman
Illinois Safe Schools Alliance
Community Organizing on Family Issues
United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations
Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Advancement Project
Chicago Teachers Union
Gamaliel (Springfield)
Blocks Together
Project NIA
ONE Northside
ACLU of Illinois
Alternatives, Inc.
Blocks Together
Chicago Freedom School
Community Renewal Society
Disciples for Christ Evangelistic Ministries
Enlace Chicago
Inner City Muslim Action Network
Adler Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice
Korean Resource and Cultural Center
TARGET Area Development Corporation

This has been a banner year in school discipline data transparency advocacy in Illinois as the Chicago Student Safety Act Coalition successfully advocated for the Chicago Public Schools to publish and make accessible school discipline data for the first time ever this February.

Jun 03 2014

Collateral Consequences of Criminalizing School Discipline…

The Advancement Project is out with a good short video that updates Kiera Wilmot’s case. Kiera is a Florida high school student who was arrested and charged with two felonies for a botched science experiment. The Advancement Project video speaks to the collateral consequences of criminalizing school discipline and the school-to-prison pipeline.

May 21 2014

More Sights From Locked Up & Locked Out March & Action

So many wonderful images from Monday’s Locked Up and Locked Out action and march keep coming in and I also couldn’t include all of the photographs in yesterday’s post

by Tommy Callahan (5/19/14)

by Tommy Callahan (5/19/14)

by Bob Simpson (5/19/14)

by Bob Simpson (5/19/14)

by Bob Simpson (5/19/14)

by Bob Simpson (5/19/14)

by Holly Krig (5/19/14)

by Holly Krig (5/19/14)

by Sehar Sufi (5/19/14)

by Sehar Sufi (5/19/14)

Read more »

May 20 2014

Banging on Windows: Protesting Against Youth Incarceration in Chicago

by Richard Ross (JTDC Cell with high window)

by Richard Ross (JTDC Cell with high window)

They are banging on the windows…

At first, I can’t place the sound. Then I look up and I see arms waving from behind darkened windows. They must be standing on their beds straining to see us. I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me that they might see or hear us outside. This is after all mainly why we are here.

by Sarah Jane Rhee (5/19/14)

by Sarah Jane Rhee (5/19/14)

Over 200 of us (or more) are standing outside of the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC). We’ve walked over 2.5 miles from Paderewski Elementary, one of fifty schools that Rahm Emanuel closed last year. As we march, there are energetic chants, waving signs, a colorful banner, cars honking, neighbors looking out of their windows and others rushing over to ask what we are all about. It doesn’t feel somber though we’re here to resist the criminalization of young people. We are joining together to kick off the National Week of Action Against Incarcerating Youth.

by Sarah Jane Rhee (5/19/14)

by Sarah Jane Rhee (5/19/14)

Our group is an intergenerational one – from babies and toddlers to teenagers and college-age young people to those of us in middle-age and grandparents. We are black, white, latin@, asian and a mix of all of these. We are cis-gendered and trans*. We are able-bodied and differently-abled. It’s an incredibly diverse group and this matters if we are to build a mass movement to end prisons.

by Sarah Jane Rhee (5/19/14)

by Sarah Jane Rhee (5/19/14)

by Bob Simpson (5/19/14)

by Bob Simpson (5/19/14)

by Bob Simpson (5/19/14)

by Bob Simpson (5/19/14)

by Monica Trinidad (5/19/14)

by Monica Trinidad (5/19/14)

Read more »

May 19 2014

#NoYouthInPrison: Kicking Off National Week of Action Against Incarcerating Youth

If you’ve read this blog even once, you know that I am against prisons. I am particularly against incarcerating children. Today kicks off the National Week of Action Against Incarcerating Youth.

nationalweekofaction

I write a lot about the prison industrial complex (including the juvenile punishment system) and last year I published a paper with my friend Dr. Michelle VanNatta about alternatives to youth incarceration in Chicago. In the paper, we provided a brief literature review about juvenile detention and incarceration. I am republishing that part here to buttress the case against incarcerating young people.

Read more »

May 15 2014

Scared Straight Doesn’t Work And Still Won’t Die…

Marie Smith doesn’t want her eight-year old son, Scott, to miss a particular exhibit that has dropped into the Colonial Park Plaza shopping center. She lets him gaze at it a moment, then delivers her message. “See,” she whispers, “it doesn’t pay to be bad.” (Source: Machalaba, Daniel, Wall Street Journal, 11/27/78)

Marie and her son Scott had just seen an electric chair that was part of a traveling exhibit called “Jail on Wheels.” In the late 1930s, a local sheriff named J. Edward Slavin came up with an idea. He wanted to create a mobile exhibit that would prevent juvenile delinquency. Thus “Jail on Wheels” was born in 1947. The specially-designed bus included ‘crime prevention’ equipment such as handcuffs, fingerprinting kits, weapons, tear gas, grenades, bulletproof vests, a resuscitator, and a “drunkometer.” The “Jail on Wheels” also featured a jail cell and a replica of an electric chair and gas chamber. Sponsored by the J. Edward Slavin Foundation, “Jail on Wheels” was popular through the 1970s. Millions of people toured the mobile exhibits over the years across the United States.

1940s Jail on Wheels Bus

1940s Jail on Wheels Bus

“Jail on Wheels” was the precursor to the modern “Scared Straight” prison programs. Over the past couple of weeks, I seen some articles about the enduring popularity of Scared Straight programs despite empirical evidence that they are in fact harmful.

Critics have long pointed out that these programs are detrimental likening them to “horror shows.” Yet parents across the country have been undeterred. I guess it just “feels” like it should “work.” Aaron MacGruder famously satirized Scared Straight in his animated series ‘The Boondocks’.

I’ve previously written about my aversion to taking black & brown children on prison field trips. I’ve also underscored the cruelty of subjecting black and brown children to gruesome emergency room field trips too. These strategies DO NOT WORK. They only serve to traumatize children while dehumanizing prisoners.

The programs need to die.

May 02 2014

May 19: Chicago Action and March Against Incarcerating Youth