Category Archives: policy

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Teaching Trayvon

By Guest Contributor Shadee Malaklou, cross-posted from JFCBlog

[Editor's Note: Graphic images at the end of this post, under the cut]

The Trayvon Martin syllabus: These reading and viewing assignments are designed to prompt politically vigilant conversations about historical and institutional constructs of black male criminality in the United States.

Specifically, they unpack Trayvon Martin’s gratuitous murder in February 2012 and the response his tragic death elicited from media and legal institutions–especially relevant in the wake of Michael Brown’s August 2014 lynching in Ferguson, Missouri. Written texts consist of insightful and timely essays published on blogs like Colorlines, The Feminist Wire and Black Girl Dangerous.

These essays teach tertiary students how to extrapolate anti-black racism from non-black experiences of ethnic difference without overwhelming them with jargon-heavy texts written for a well-versed academic audience.
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Harlem Residents: We Asked City for Help, We Got a Raid Instead

By Guest Contributor Daryl Khan, cross-posted from Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

Members of the NYPD raid the Manhattanville Houses and the Grant Houses in West Harlem early on the morning of June 4, 2014. A total of 40 suspects were arrested as part of a massive 145-count indictment of 103 people in a range of crimes, including murder, 19 shootings, gang assaults, beatings and conspiracy. Police apprehend a suspect outside the Grant Houses. All images by Robert Stolarik.

NEW YORK — Whenever LaQuint Singleton found himself about to get into a fight out in the courtyards or in the small playground in front of his building at the General Ulysses S. Grant Houses, he would run and find his mom, Venus. He’d scamper up the stairs and go up to her looking for protection. Back then, Singleton was a good student who regularly attended school and attended church service every Sunday. One day, in an attempt to impress the older teenagers and men, he carried a gun to give to another resident. He was arrested, and spent six months in Rikers Island waiting for his case to wend its way through the criminal justice system — and then another year after he was sentenced.

“They sent him to the Island, and he came back a monster,” Venus Singleton said, sobbing on the steps of an apartment building on Old Broadway, referred to as the DMZ by people on both sides of the blood feud between the Grant and Manhattanville Houses. “That boy they sent back is not the same boy I sent them. The department of corrections turned my son into a monster. I love my monster, but that’s what he is. That’s what the Island did for me.”

Now, Singleton said, more monsters are about to be made.
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Cutting The Ties That Blind

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Image via The Guardian.

By Guest Contributor Thomas L. Mariadason

The iconography of blind justice is ubiquitous. Expressionless Greco-Roman goddesses stridently clutching scales adorn courtrooms all across our country. At this point, the imagery is hardly eye-catching, but its familiarity helps numb our doubts about the nature of judicial objectivity. Sightlessness, after all, is the supreme analogue of impartiality.

One small catch: the metaphor of blindness—an ableist trope that frequently undermines itself —also suggests the inability to perceive the realities before us.

In a heavyweight dissent to the flyweight opinion in Schuette v. BAMN, Justice Sonia Sotomayor knocked the shut-eyed obliviousness out of her Supreme Court benchmates, exhorting them “to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.”

I’m with Kweli on this one: “Right about now I’m feeling very grateful we have a Puerto Rican from the Bronx on the Supreme Court.”
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Quoted: Selections from Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s Argument For Affirmative Action

Race matters to a young man’s view of society when he spends his teenage years watching others tense up as he passes, no matter the neighborhood where he grew up. Race matters to a young woman’s sense of self when she states her hometown, and then is pressed, ‘No, where are you really from?’, regardless of how many generations her family has been in the country. Race matters to a young person addressed by a stranger in a foreign language, which he does not understand because only English was spoken at home. Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: ‘I do not belong here.’

We are fortunate to live in a democratic society. But without checks, democratically approved legislation can oppress minority groups. For that reason, our Constitu­tion places limits on what a majority of the people may do. This case implicates one such limit: the guarantee of equal protection of the laws.

Under our Constitution, majority rule is not without limit. Our system of government is predicated on an equilibrium between the notion that a majority of citizens may determine governmental policy through legislation enacted by their elected representatives, and the overriding principle that there are nonetheless some things the Constitution forbids even a majority of citizens to do. The political-process doctrine, grounded in the Fourteenth Amendment, is a central check on majority rule.

The Fourteenth Amendment instructs that all who act for the government may not “deny to any person … the equal protection of the laws.” We often think of equal protection as a guarantee that the government will apply the law in an equal fashion — that it will not intentionally discriminate against minority groups. But equal protection of the laws means more than that; it also secures the right of all citizens to participate meaningfully and equally in the process through which laws are created.

In my colleagues’ view, examining the racial impact of legislation only perpetuates racial discrimination. This refusal to accept the stark reality that race matters is regrettable. As members of the judiciary tasked with intervening to carry out the guarantee of equal protection, we ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society.

– From her dissenting opinion in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. Decisions can be read in full here.

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Images: Bring Them Home event for immigration reform at the Otay border crossing

By Guest Contributor Brooke Binkowski, cross-posted from BrookeBinkowski.com

Border Patrol, with protesters behind them on US soil.

A rally at the U.S.-Mexico’s Otay border crossing Monday morning aimed to reunite families pulled apart by deportations.

Immigration activist Elvira Arellano was a former resident at a Chicago sanctuary before being deported to Mexico.

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After Decades of Spending, Minority Youth Still Overrepresented in Justice System

By Guest Contributor Lisa Chiu, cross-posted from Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

Image by Michael Coghlan via Flickr Creative Commons.

For more than 25 years, the U.S. Department of Justice has given hundreds of millions in grants to states to reduce the overrepresentation of minority youth in the juvenile justice system, yet youth of color still appear in disproportionate numbers in many areas of the system.

According to data from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention analyzed by JJIE, black youth between the ages of 10 and 17 made up 17 percent of all children in that age group in 2010, but comprised 31 percent of all juvenile arrests, 40 percent of detentions, 34 percent of adjudications (guilty determinations), and 45 percent of cases transferred to adult criminal court.

The percentage of black arrests and adjudications has actually increased in the last 20 years. In 1990, black youth were 15 percent of the entire youth population, but they made up 27 percent of juvenile arrests, 33 percent of adjudications and 40 percent of detentions. The only area that saw improvement by 2010 was in transfers to adult court, where black youth comprised 49 percent of transfers in 1990.

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The Anarchy of Gentrification & Art Resistance

By Guest Contributor Rama Musa, cross-posted from Global Griot

The city of Houston is buzzing with conversations about the social role of art in neighborhood revitalization.

On Dec. 3, 2013, the Texan-French Alliance for the Arts (TFAA) co-organized “Think Thank: Arts, Identity and Urban Revitalization” at the Rothko Chapel. On Jan. 24 – 25, Project Row Houses  organized “Social Practice, Social Justice,” a two-day symposium on art as an agent of social justice.

These discussions prompted John Guess Jr., CEO of the Houston Museum of African American Culture  (HMAAC), to ask, “[In the onslaught of gentrification], how do community-based arts organizations transform the behavioral change of the people, provide a space for transcendence, and offer scholarship for the spirit?” Houston’s Project Row Houses  and Rebuild Foundation  in Chicago are two nonprofits whose radical social art projects have benefited from, and served as the last frontier against, rapid gentrification in African American neighborhoods.
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Race + The Netherlands: Resistance, Lost in Translation

By Guest Contributor Marly Pierre-Louis

I’m an activist and, one way or another, wherever I am, I always find my way to movement work, or it finds me. So when my partner and I uprooted our lives in Brooklyn for him to pursue a job opportunity in Amsterdam, I was excited to get involved. I figured since we’d be living here for the indefinite future, might as well jump in the mix. What were the issues? Who were the oppressed? And what were they fighting for? I met with organizers and did my research. Initially, I was disappointed at what seemed like a lack of collective struggle and as a result a lack of movement work. I didn’t detect a culture of resistance. But surely there was conflict in a society that celebrated a figure like Zwarte Piet.

In fact, there’s been more activity than ever before concerning Zwarte Piet, particularly in the last couple of months. In the Dutch mythology, every year Sinterklaas, more of a religious figure than our Santa Claus, rolls through the Netherlands from his home in Spain. Accompanying him are his servants known as Zwarte Piets or Black Piets. These characters are white adult men and women with their faces painted Black, red lipstick, gold hoop earrings and a black curly wig. Zwarte Piet is clumsy, subservient and unintelligent; a regular coon. In October, Quinsy Gario, a prominent anti Zwarte Piet activist who was arrested in 2011 for protesting the Sinterklaas parade (Trigger Warning: Police violence) while wearing a T-shirt that read, “Zwarte Piet is Racisme (Black Piet is racism)”, publicly denounced Zwarte Piet on a popular Dutch talk show, as racist and hurtful. Dutch Twitter went MAD, and an ugly, racist underbelly of the worst kind was revealed:

(Trigger Warning for pictures under the cut)

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