Category Archives: state violence

Harlem to Ferguson

Watch: Jay Smooth and Race Forward Break Down Systemic Racism

By Tope Fadiran

Our colleagues at Race Forward, the racial justice organization that publishes Colorlines, was one of the organizations that pushed back against Starbucks’ hastily conceived “Race Together” initiative in March 2015.

At the time, Executive Director Rinku Sen penned an open letter calling for a national conversation on race that centers systemic rather than individual forms of racism. Race Forward is now building on this statement with “What is Systemic Racism?,” a new 8-part video series.

The videos star, and were written by, Jay Smooth of Ill Doctrine famewho does double duty as Race Forward’s Video and Multimedia Producer. In a minute or less, each video introduces a different facet of systemic racism in the United States: mass incarceration, housing discrimination, the race and gender wealth gap, infant mortality, and more.

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On Not Breathing Due to Failures of Democracy

Media is a grind.

I’ve been out of the game for a little while, working mostly, so it’s been 18 months of learning how to make the news and how to make TV, and less of actually being on air, on camera, providing commentary.

While in New York, on unrelated business, I get a call from a producer friend – can I provide a voice on a Google Hangout with Katie Couric about the ongoing violence against black men? Later that day, the request changes. The Eric Garner decision rolls in, protestors are rolling out, New Yorkers are in the streets asking why. The segment has been upgraded to an actual panel – would I mind coming to the studio?

I prep, like usual. I look at outfits to see what I have that might translate well on television. I slide on BB cream in case there’s no makeup artist available. I rehearse talking points in my head, major points I want to make in the conversation. I ask my breakfast companion if she wants a ride into the city since they are sending a car.

The producer pushes back – I can’t share the car. Why not? I’m not asking for another stop, I’m still having a conversation.

The terse answer comes back: No one is supposed to know, and it just got confirmed, but my driver needs to pick up Eric Garner’s daughter as well. All the carefully crafted sound bytes exited my mind – what was I supposed to say to her? Continue reading

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Quoted: Brentin Mock on Racism and Why We Can’t Breathe

Eddie Bautista, the longtime environmental justice advocate and director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, was quoted in the article saying about Garner’s death, “There are [a] number of ways that racism plays out … The asthma is just one more example.”

I thought the article used a poor occasion to illuminate racial asthma disparities. Bautista explained the larger context to me, though, saying, “The [article] doesn’t take the cops off the hook; on the contrary, it further indicts institutionalized racism in the U.S. for permeating the very air we breathe.”

I initially resisted this notion, refusing to see the connection. In my mind, there was the cop killing Garner in one hand, and Garner’s asthma in another — unrelated. And despite the millions of words I’ve spent over the years showing natural linkage between environmental problems, health problems, and racial justice, my anger with the Garner tragedy only allowed me to realize the police racism and violence. Just because I couldn’t see, or refused to see, the asthma link, though, did not mean it didn’t matter.

“Limiting the conversation about racism to just about how we’re policed is a lost opportunity,” Bautista wrote to me. “Folks should care not only about how racism kills quickly (via the police), but how racism also kills slowly and insidiously. ”

– Brentin Mock, “Why environmentalists should support the Black Lives Matter protests

I Die a Little Bit Each Day

by Guest Contributor Aaron Goggans, originally published at The Well Examined Life

I can barely express the depth of the pain and the anger I feel right now. I feel so helpless and powerless and hated. I feel so constantly plagued by doubt. I am constantly being messaged that I am a problem that society has yet to find a solution for. This world seems so afraid of me and what I will do next…so why am I the one paralyzed by fear? Why I am I the one afraid to walk down the street at night? Why am I the one that nearly has a panic attack every time I see the police? How it is it possible that I am this powerful, haunting menace that America fears so deeply yet am so…powerless.

They tell me that I’m different. That my family made it. That my parents got out of the hood and moved to a white town and sent me to a good school. They are constantly messaging to me that I’m the epitome of the Black middle class success story. Young, no kids, no record, employed with benefits and a future. The cops have never thrown me up against the wall. I’ve never been stopped or frisked. I’ve never been shot at. I’ve never been seriously questioned by the police. It is supposed to make me feel safe. I’m supposed to understand the plight of the ghetto is not my plight. I’m supposed to feel pride that I’m not one of them. Yet I feel that all this messaging of success is a lie.

I remember the cops following me through campus at the University of Chicago. I remember them eying me as a group of white students walked towards me. They drove off when it was clear that I was not going to rob anybody. I get the sense, its imaginary I know, but I get this sense that the Black cop in the police car were surprised or disappointed or even anxious that I didn’t hurt anyone. As they drove off, I wondered if that cop wanted to prove he wasn’t one of them too? Continue reading

Roundup: Reactions to Stop and Frisk Ruling

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Yesterday, federal judge Shira A. Scheindlin ruled that the stop-and-frisk policies of the New York City Police Department violate the constitutional rights of the city’s residents. (Read the full opinion.) While New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his administration have cited stop-and-frisk as a key factor in decreasing NYC’s murder and major crime rates, data tells a different story and the tactic has long been criticized for its focus on black and Latino residents. What follows is a roundup of reactions to the ruling. Share more in comments.

The New York Times compiled a video of reactions to the judge’s ruling, featuring residents of Brownsville, Brooklyn. Says one young man, identified as Darnell Rose:

“It’s definitely a good thing. Definitely. Because I don’t have to walk and look over my shoulder and worry about, you know, undercovers running up on me, jacking me up, harassing me…I could be coming from the store, minding my own business or getting off of work and they just look at me and feel like, ‘Yeah, let’s get this guy right here.’ Like, hey buddy, what’s the problem? It’s uncalled for.”

I. Bennett Capers, wrote in a Times editorial:

MY husband and I are about the same age and build, wear the same clothes and share the same gender, but I am far more likely to be stopped by the police. This isn’t because I have a criminal record or engage in furtive movements. Nor is my husband a choirboy. Statistically speaking, it’s because I’m black and he’s white. […] even if these practices were constitutional, they’re still a bad idea. Of course, one wouldn’t know that listening to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and other true believers, who insist that aggressive stop-and-frisks have reduced violent crime. But they’re wrong.

The most obvious reason is the brute numbers. For every 100 individuals stopped and frisked, only about 6 are arrested, often for minor offenses like marijuana possession. The success rate for finding a gun borders on the nonexistent: 1 in every 1,000 stops. In fact, purely random stops have produced better results. […]

And there is a more important argument that isn’t captured by the numbers. Aggressive stop-and-frisks sow community distrust of the police and actually inhibit crime control, creating a generation of disaffected minority youths who believe that cops are racists. Read more…

In an insightful conversation on Branch, participants debated the merits of the ruling, with Al Jazeera producer Osman Norr offering:

“I think, taken together with Holder’s comments on mandatory minimums, the DoJ is starting to carve out a distinct position.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates recommends readers revisit the This American Life piece, “Is that a Tape Recorder in your Pocket or are you Just Unhappy to See Me,” about Officer Adrian Schoolcraft, who secretly recorded his supervisors telling officers to manipulate crime statistics and make illegal arrests:

 

 

Ira Glass: Adrian Schoolcraft says he isn’t exactly sure when, but at some point he had decided that it was important to document the orders that he was given that he thought were out of line. He recorded roll calls where officers were constantly being told to do more stop-and-frisks, even though it’s illegal to stop a random person on the street and frisk them without reasonable suspicion. In December 2008, a sergeant tells officers to stop-and-frisk quote, “anybody walking around, no matter what the explanation is.” He recorded Stephen Mauriello, the commander the 81st precinct– and the person Adrian Schoolcraft says really brought the hammer down for higher numbers– ordering the officers to arrest everyone they see. This happens in a couple of recordings, like this one from Halloween 2008.

Stephen Mauriello: Any roving bands– you hear me– roving bands more than two or three people–

Ira Glass: He’s saying “any roving bands of more than two or three people”– he’s talking about just people going around on Halloween night–

Stephen Mauriello: I want them stopped–

Ira Glass: I want them stopped–

Stephen Mauriello: –cuffed–

Ira Glass: –cuffed–

Stephen Mauriello: –throw them in here, run some warrants.

Ira Glass: –throw them in here, run some warrants.

Stephen Mauriello: You’re on a foot post? [BLEEP] it. Take the first guy you’ve got and lock them all up. Boom.

Ira Glass: You’re on a foot post? F it. Take the first guy you’ve got, lock them all up. Boom.

Stephen Mauriello: We’re going to go back out and process them later on, I’ve got no problems–

Ira Glass: –go back out and then we’ll come back in and process them later on.”

Adrian Schoolcraft: Yes. Yeah, what he’s saying is, arrest people simply for the purpose of clearing the streets.

 

The blog Civilly Minded wondered whether law enforcement should have their own version of the physicians Hippocratic Oath:

The physician’s oath — ‘First Do No Harm’ — is well known.1 It is also well conceived. A human being is a complex organism.  A physical intervention can have unintended consequences.  In the worst cases, the results of the intervention can be irreparable and even deadly.

The Hippocratic Oath is said to encourage rigor, honesty, and integrity among physicians, and helps ensure the minimization and justification of any adverse effects their work may have on people. Perhaps the police should swear to a Hippocratic Oath of their own. Read more…

 

Image Credit: The Guardian

Does Black Life Matter More When Raised and Nurtured By White Hands?

Man at Amadou Diallo protest. Image courtesy of Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Man at Amadou Diallo protest. Image courtesy of Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

 

By Guest Contributor Chad Goller-Sojourner

In preparation for my one man show, Riding in Cars with Black People & Other Newly Dangerous Acts: A Memoir in Vanishing Whiteness, I did a significant amount of research, most of it unpleasant — like the weeks I spent combing the Internet for stories about unarmed black men shot down by the police. Talk about depressing. To be young, black and innocent is to live in a world full of folks who will always see you differently than you see yourself ─ a world where folklore, statistics and conjecture deem you dangerous until proven otherwise.

As I combed through story after story, I noted a disturbing trend that, contrary to what you might think, isn’t just happening in big cities, but everywhere–big cities, small cities, north, south, east and west. Wherever there are unarmed black men, there are police (and wannabe police) shooting them. When it comes to unarmed black men, what does it take to be proven innocent–to  have your keys, wallets, cellphones and candy bars  be seen as keys, wallets, cellphones and candy bars, rather than guns?

Twenty-two-year-old Amadou Diallo was shot dead in his Bronx doorway by four plain-clothed police officers who mistook his wallet for a gun and opened fire, unleashing 41 bullets, 19 of which struck his body. He had just returned from a late meal and was resting on his stoop–a rest interrupted by four white men in street clothes, getting out of an unmarked car, bearing guns.  Diallo fled to his apartment, reaching at some point for his wallet, perhaps for a key. We’ll never know, because all those officers saw was a gun [that wasn’t there]. It was only later, at a trial in which they were all acquitted, when officers admitted that they had failed to consider the situation from the point of view of an innocent and unarmed black man minding his business on his stoop and suddenly confronted by four white men in street clothes brandishing guns.

Of course, the killers of black men don’t even need to report seeing anything resembling a weapon. They can, for instance, claim to have seen the victim reaching for his waistband.

Portland police were sent to do welfare check on Aaron Campbell, who had been distraught over his brother’s death. Campbell emerged from the Northeast Portland apartments with his back toward officers and his hands behind his head. But the officers wanted more. They wanted his hands in the air. And so they fired six beanbag rounds at him. (Nothing gets your hands in the air quicker than being shot in the back.)

As Campbell ran for the cover of a parked car, he was shot in the back with an AR-15 rifle. Later, officers would claim, they saw him reaching towards his pants for a gun. This despite police brass testimony stating Campbell did not–DID NOT– pose an immediate threat. The officers’ actions were not only inconsistent with their training, but they also failed to consider, that 1) Campbell may have been unarmed and 2) he may have been reaching for a part of the body just struck by beanbag rounds. The Grand Jury returned a finding of no criminal wrongdoing.

One must wonder: When it comes to unarmed black men being shot down by the police, why do so many of them go reaching for non-existent weapons in their waistband? If the number one reason given by the police for shooting unarmed black men is that they are reaching for their waistbands, what black man in his right mind would be reaching anywhere near that area in the presence of law enforcement?

Clearly there is something missing here. How else do you explain a system where, mistaking a Snickers for a gun is par for the course? It occurs to me: Would this reasoning be palatable to the public if the victims’ parents were white? Not if the victims were white–I think we all know that answer–but if the victim’s parents were white. Like mine.

Would an officer, police department, city or even a nation, be okay with telling my parents: “We’re sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Goller, but your son, Chad, was killed by an officer tonight. No ma’am, he wasn’t armed, though it appears the officer saw him reach towards his waistband. Again, we’re so very sorry.”

Would society abide delivering that excuse to white celebrities with black kids? Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw? How about the white gays and lesbians raising black boys?

I suspect not. 

In fact, I suspect in all of these scenarios, nothing would be okay for a really, really long time. This is the ultimate question: Does black life matter more when raised and nurtured by white hands?

Sadly–Yes.

One of the first things I learned about having white parents was that when it came to dealing with people in authority, they got listened to. In sixth grade, after still another racially-charged incident, mom threatened to go to the papers and for the rest of the year things actually got better. In junior high, the Black Parents Association enlisted Mom’s help. Suddenly, it got a whole lot harder for the school administration to write them all off as hysterical, over-reactive black parents.

By high school it was clear that, at least in the eyes of the authorities, having white parents was a powerful thing. With white parents comes white neighbors, friends, classmates, relatives, privileges and experiences.  With white parents comes witnesses– white witnesses [able to use their privilege] to vouch for me, go to bat for me and stand in the gap for me. And should the police have killed me, it would be they who spoke from my grave for me.

Have you any idea what that’s worth?

The above is an excerpt from the author’s Solo Performance, Riding in Cars with Black People & Other Newly Dangerous Acts: A Memoir in Vanishing Whiteness. For info and/or booking inquires please visit www.ridingincarswithblackpeople.com

Connecting The Past And The Present: Harvey Dong’s Insights On The Allegations Against Richard Aoki

By Guest Contributor Tala Khanmalek

L-R: Richard Aoki, Charlie Brown of the Afro American Student Union and Manuel Delgado of the Mexican American Student Confederation, March 1969. Photo: Muhammad Speaks via San Francisco Bayview.

On September 6, 2012 I interviewed Harvey Dong, a veteran of the Third World Liberation Front and Asian American Political Alliance at the University of California-Berkeley, where he is a professor in the school’s Department of Ethnic Studies. As our conversation progressed, I noticed the American and California flags waving through the window, and that’s when the irony of our personal and political complexities hit me.

However, Dong’s timely insights about the allegations against fellow veteran Richard Aoki connected the past and the present to clarify our positions in critical ways that also provide tools for the future of social justice scholarship and activism.

Tala Khanmalek: I was re-reading Richard Aoki’s speech notes from the Asian American Political Alliance (AAPA) Founding Rally (July 28, 1968) in “Stand Up: An Archive Collection of the Bay Area Asian American Movement, 1968-1974” and remembering what I think is one of the most important things about Aoki’s legacy: his comparative analysis of racialization as well as his centralization of interracial solidarity. Is there a relationship between Aoki’s politics and Seth Rosenfeld’s claim that he was an FBI informant?

Harvey Dong: Definitely. His politics is internationalism, and he’s a symbol of Afro-Asian unity. A lot of times when people talk about peoples of color and examples from history, examples from the past, Richard’s name is always mentioned because he was someone that bridged two or three different worlds. There’s a lot of support for Richard’s life and what it represented. So, in a lot of ways I kind of felt it was an attack on his legacy in terms of what he contributed and what he had represented.
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Nicki Minaj’s “Pound The Alarm” Reveals Trinidadian Party Politics

by Guest Contributor Annita Lucchesi, originally published on Tumblr

**Video Slightly NSFW***

Perhaps distracted by the picturesque scenery or the flash and glamor of Carnival, music critics have yet to say anything substantial on Nicki Minaj’s new music video, “Pound the Alarm.” Indeed, the overwhelming response has been to dismiss both the song and video as “virtually indistinguishable” from her previous single, “Starships,” and nearly all reviews have nothing to say other than run-of-the-mill comments on the beauty of the setting and Minaj’s physical attributes (see: MTV, Billboard). Fuse even went so far as to describe Minaj as a “bikini wearer extraordinaire” who “made sure her goods were front and center,” and Perez Hilton’s first comment was to tell Minaj, “pound that alarm with your bombastic bosom!”

While Nicki Minaj is obviously exceptionally beautiful, these reviews are as vapid as they are repetitive. Minaj is routinely overlooked as a ‘conscious artist,’ despite the fact that many of her songs, as well as her carefully curated appearance, are politically charged. The vast majority of the narrative on her fame is centered on her body and relationships with male rappers, as if she isn’t an intelligent artist who is very intentional about her image and her work (much less one who attended performing arts school!). Anyone who has heard her more directly “conscious” tracks like “Autobiography” or her remix of “Sweetest Girl” knows that she can be a passionate performer and talented poet. Despite this, Minaj constantly gets criticized and dismissed as lacking substance, which I believe has more to do with the combined forces of racism and sexism in popular media and consumer consciousness than anything else. No matter how gorgeous you are, it can’t be easy to be a young Black West Indian woman in the US media, much less one who is so confident in her ownership of her body and sexuality as Nicki Minaj.

There is also a not-so-subtle unwillingness on behalf of many of her critics to dialogue with Minaj’s work on her own terms, which the “Pound the Alarm” reviews each fall prey to. Though most of them acknowledge that Minaj was born in Trinidad, the video’s location, none of them attempt to place the video within its context—Trinidadian party culture and national politics.

Trinidad & Tobago was in a state of emergency for a sizeable portion of 2011, and nightlife was forced underground after a curfew was imposed. Continue reading