An Open Letter to Those Devastated by the Jordan Davis Decision

As my friend and fellow professor Heidi Oliver-O’Gilvie says, “There is always something you can do.”  It’s been a long year for black people.  But what can we do?  First, there was the “not guilty” decision in the George Zimmerman case, which set free a white man who killed an unarmed black youth in his own neighborhood.  Then came the pseudo-conviction of Michael Dunn, who murdered a black Jordan Davis for pumping what he considered “thug music” too loudly.  All this while a white Ethan Couch drunkenly killed a family of four and was given no jail time due to “affluenza,” or excessive privilege.  It’s been a long year indeed, and I refuse to be helpless about it.  But again, there is always something you can do.

Jordan Davis

(Jordan Davis, 1995-2012)

So on this, what would have been Jordan Davis’ 19th birthday (he is deceased now, by the way, of horribly unnatural causes.  Not attempted dead, but actually dead, says my friend Wayne Au of Rethinking Schools), I am wondering what I can do about living in a country that appears to have one set of legal rules for white people, and another for everyone else.

Literally, what can I do?

I suppose I could take to the streets and riot, but you cannot fight violence with violence.  I could hate the country, or hate the legal system, or hate white people.  But you cannot overcome hate with hate.  You can only do that with love, patience, and repaying evil with good.  So, then, what can I do?

First, I have the second most important job in the world.  I used to have the most important job in the world—I used to be a preschool teacher.  Twenty-four children at a time, I used to influence the next generation of US youth by fomenting their love of learning, helping them to understand the importance of using education to actualize their dreams, and teaching them to value all human beings despite their differences from ourselves.  Now I am a teacher educator.  A teacher of teachers.  I am a professor of education at the Center for Urban Education, which is a graduate program that prepares educators for the nation’s must under-supported, black and brown-filled urban schools.  Now, instead of touting the importance of education to 24 children at a time, I do it with 24 teachers who will teach 24 children at a time, for what could be 24 years or longer each.  And that’s powerful.

The late Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”  And he was right.  Even Adolph Hitler, with his Nazi Youth programs, understood that if you wish to change a country, you begin with its youth and patiently wait for generational change.  So if evil can use education (the largest form of organized socialization in any society, says Joel Spring, in Globalization of Education, 2009) and youth (generations are defined in 20-year spans) to alter the beliefs, practices, and culture of a nation, then so too can I use it for good.  And use it I shall.

So what can I do?  Continue to be an awesome professor.  When I teach my “Culture, Context, and Critical Pedagogy” course, I will continue to discuss race, privilege, whiteness, anti-oppression, and the affirmation of all forms of human diversity.  After all, you cannot change that which you don’t understand.

I will continue to teach my teachers—to teacher their students—that all human life is valuable.  That skin color is not a marker of automatic danger (blackness) or automatic innocence (whiteness).  That way, young black boys won’t be presumed guilty as they walk home with candy in their pockets, or when they blast their music loudly at a convenience store. And the white men who gun them down won’t be presumed to be acting in self-defense.  And get away with murder.  Literally.

And that’s not all I can do.  I’m a consultant for inclusion and diversity.  Oh, yes.  I will continue to accept invitations from private corporations, non-profit organizations, school systems, and teacher preparation programs to discuss difference, systemic privilege and oppression, racism, and most importantly, anti-racism.

And I vote.  In presidential and mid-term elections.  I will continue to educate myself about which candidates understand institutional “isms” such as sexism, classism, ageism, heterosexism, and racism.  Martin Luther King taught me that all forms of oppression are related, and that an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.  I learned that lesson well, and I plan to use it at the polls as I vote for candidates, laws, and those who will legislate on my behalf with an eye toward valuing the importance of justice for all.

And I plan to have children.  Highly educated, social-justice-loving, politically active children who believe in the common good.  Who will understand that, as Kimberly Wallace-Sanders of Emory University says, “No human beings are better than other human beings.”  Amen to that.  My children will be taught that, and they will live it out each day in these United States.

Look out, injustice.  I have a plan.  I am simultaneously seething and saturated with heartbreak at all I’ve seen in the media this year, and all I experience as a multiracial woman who is often perceived as black.  In addition to the story of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Darrin Manning, and Oscar Grant (on whose life the film Fruitvale Station is based), I experience similar disdain all the time.  Just the other day, a white woman in a dentist’s office hurried to her purse and buried it in her arm as soon as she noticed I had walked in.  She shot me a long glance to make sure I knew her actions were aimed at protecting her valuables from me.  At least she shot me a glance and did not actually shoot me.  Because if she had, she would have killed an unarmed, Ph.D-holding, two-time Harvard graduate.  And probably been let go.

As someone who is devastated by pervasive racism in American life and law, there is much I can do.  Racism and injustice had better watch their backs.  Because I am—we are—not helpless. And their time is limited.

Happy Birthday, Jordan Davis.  You should have had the chance to celebrate turning 19.

~ Guest blogger Taharee Jackson is Asst. Professor (Visiting) at the Center for Urban Education at the University of the District of Columbia.  She specializes in teacher education, multicultural education, and urban education reform.  Dr. Jackson holds a magna cum laude B.A. from Harvard University, an M.Ed. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a Ph.D. from Emory University.  

Guide to Stop-and-Frisk

We’ve blogged here before about the issue of racial discrimination in the stop-and-frisk policing practice in New York City. There is lots of data that shows stop-and-frisk is discriminatory, harmful to communities and is not effective at “getting guns off the streets,” as is frequently claimed by advocates of the policing strategy. And, it’s very likely unconstitutional.

 

protestors hold sign saying "stop stop + frisk"

(Image source)

Bill diBlasio, the newly elected mayor of New York City, has promised to end stop-and-frisk and that means there is a new future ahead for the city and the communities most affected by this policy.

In an effort to assess where we are with stop-and-frisk, what the data shows, and how scholars, activists and journalists have worked to change this policy, JustPublics@365, a project of the Ford Foundation based at the CUNY-Graduate Center (and that I lead), recently curated a series on this topic.  And now, that series has been compiled as an all-in-one guide to stop-and-frisk (pdf)

The Information Guide is structured around three levels of social justice outcomes:

  • Make Your Issues Their Interest: Raising Awareness About An Issue with an Audience
  • Make Your Issue Their Issue: Getting an Audience More Deeply Engaged in An Issue
  • Make Your Issue Their Action: Moving an Audience Towards a Specific Action

If you are teaching a class or training people in your organization, you can also use this Information Guide as a tool for teaching and learning about stop-and-frisk.

You can download the guide(pdf) and reuse it for teaching, research, activism or media.

Stop-and-Frisk: Racial Discrimination in Policing

This short video (4:17) from Communities United for Police Reform, tells the story of a high school senior, Kasiem Walters. Walters recounts his experience with the “stop-and-frisk,” a racially discriminatory policing strategy used by the NYPD:

Defenders of the “stop-and-frisk” policy, including NYC Mayor Bloomberg, often justify these practices as “getting guns off the streets” of New York.

This claim is not supported by the evidence. According to data collected by the NYCLU,

Guns are found in less than 0.2 percent of stops. That is an unbelievably poor yield rate for such an intrusive, wasteful and humiliating police action. Yet, stop-and-frisk has increased more than 600 percent under Bloomberg and Kelly. And the rate of finding guns is worsening as the NYPD stops more innocent people each year.

And, this map from the data of stop-and-frisks alongside gun stops created by WNYC, further undermines the claim that this policy is doing anything to remove guns from the streets:

This policy hurts young black and Latino boys, like Kasiem Walters, yet Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly seem unmoved, entrenched even in their defense of the practice. Bloomberg for his part is dismissive of the claim that there is any racial bias in the practice, and, in fact, recently claimed by some very faulty logic that whites were stopped too often, and blacks not often enough. Kelly vigorously defends the stop-and-frisk policy. And, there is at least one account – delivered under oath – that Commissioner Kelly has said that stop-and-frisk is “meant instill fear in blacks and Latinos… [knowing] every time that they left their homes they could be targeted by police.”

There are some actions to take to stop this.

Communities United for Police Reform has a petition you can sign to support the Community Safety Act, package of comprehensive reforms for NYPD.

And, serious candidates running for NYC Mayor are making stop-and-frisk and ending the reign-of-terror of Ray Kelly campaign issues in this election.

We can build a better city, indeed a better world, where all high school seniors, including the ones that look like Kasiem Walters, can walk on a sidewalk without fear.

Mapping NYC Stop-and-Frisk Data

This short video (3:51) presents data of stop-and-frisks in an interactive, visual format:

This video was created by the really amazing Morris Justice Project. The Morris Justice Project brings together people affected by the NYPD policing practices together with academic researchers to resist criminalization in new ways. This map is just one of those ways.

The Morris Justice Project is an initiative that is part of the Public Science Project at the Graduate Center, CUNY. You can follow updates on the Floyd case at the Morris Justice Project Tumblr, and on Twitter, @public_science.

NYPD Racial Profiling Challenged in Court

There is a major court case happening in New York that seeks to challenge the NYPD’s practice of racial profiling through it’s “stop-and-frisk” policing.  The case, known as Floyd, et al. v. City of New York, et al., makes the claim that the NYPD’s policy is unconstitutional because it unfairly targets black and Latino people, specifically young men.

According to The Nation:

The NYPD has just surpassed 5 million stop-and-frisks during the Bloomberg era. Most stops have been of people of color, and the overwhelming majority were found innocent of any wrongdoing, according to the department’s own statistics. And though the number of stops may have gone down recently—as pressure on the department and increased awareness of the policy has officers and supervisors thinking twice about how they employ the practice—the existence of quotas ensures that New Yorkers will continue to be harassed unnecessarily by the NYPD.

Not familiar with the “stop-and-frisk” practice?  Here’s a video, secretly recorded by someone enduring stop-and-frisk policing from October, 2012 (about 13 minutes – and pardon the oil company advert at the beginning):

I’ll post more here about the Floyd case as it unfolds.

Documentary: “The Central Park Five”

There is an excellent, devastating, and powerful documentary out now in some theaters and on InDemand on cable, called “The Central Park Five.” The film, by Ken Burns, David McMahon and Sarah Burns, tells the story of the five black and Latino teenagers who, in 1989, were arrested and charged with brutally attacking and raping a white female jogger in Central Park. News media swarmed the case, referring to the incident as a “wilding” and to the young men as a “wolfpack.” The five young men spent years in prison before the truth about what really happened became clear. Here is a short (2:27) trailer:

Go see it if you can get to a theater, or call it up on your cable TV. Even though this documentary was inexplicably not included in the short list for Academy Awards, I’m certain that this film will be important in college classrooms for many years to come.

The [Drug] War on African Americans and Latino/as in San Francisco

On April 12, 2012 the San Francisco Human Rights Commission held a public hearing on “The Human Rights Impact of the War on Drugs in San Francisco.” I attended upon the request of the Commission for a report authored with Mike Males (Research Fellow, CJCJ) for the Center for Criminal and Juvenile Justice. The pews of the hearing in SF City Hall were packed, and the room charged with howls and cheers immediately upon the first testimony of the evening by California NAACP President, Alice Huffman: “I will submit to you that the War on Drugs has destroyed many African American men and women and has not protected us at all.” Notably, the NAACP solidified their fundamental and universal opposition to the drug war in a 2011 resolution.

President Huffman, along with many others offering community and expert testimony declared their agreement with the 2011 Global Commission Report on the War on Drugs. The Report explicitly labels drug war policies utter failures, and calls for an immediate pivot toward legalization and regulation of illicit substances, and for public policy to define and treat drug abuse, addiction, and overdose deaths as public health issues. Further, the report recognizes legalization as a viable strategy to combat the violence and state corruption that regulates the illicit drug trade, as was the case in the (alcohol) prohibition era recently illustrated in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.

In my testimony with CJCJ’s Selena Teji, we summarized the findings of my report with Dr. Males:

• African Americans experience felony drug arrest rates 19 times higher than other races in San Francisco, and 7.3 times higher than African Americans elsewhere in California.
• San Francisco’s explosion in drug felony arrests of African Americans, during the 1995-2009 period, did not occur elsewhere in the state, nor for other measured racial categories in the city.
• The city’s African American female youth account for over 40% of the felony drug arrests of African American female youths in California, and have arrest rates 50 times higher than their counterparts in other counties.
• More than half of all youth drug felonies involved African Americans, who constitute 9% of the city’s youth; and one-third Latino males, who comprise 11% of the city’s youth.
• Despite disproportionately high drug arrest rates among young African Americans in San Francisco, of the more than 2,000 residents and nonresidents in the city who have died from abuse of illicit drugs in the last decade, 6 in 10 were non-Latino Whites, and more than 7 in 10 were age 40 and older.
• Such stunning and socially destructive practices and disparities arguably constitute human rights violations against African Americans in San Francisco under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the anti-discriminatory clause of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In agreement with social scientific research on contemporary systemic racism that recognizes the institutionalization of racial privilege and oppression and the role of “color-blind racism” in the post-civil rights era (Feagin, 1977, 2006, 2010; Feagin and Vera, 2001; Bonilla-Silva, 2003; Alexander, 2010; Ostertag and Armaline, 2011), international law does not require proof of conscious, explicit racial animus in the legal definition of racial discrimination as do U.S. courts—discriminatory results suffice (see also Fellner and Mauer, 1998).

Though a full report from the hearing in April awaits decision, that if adopted by the Commission would initiate review and public response by SFPD and the Board of Supervisors at the very least, the report’s adoption and publication are currently stalled. Populations of color, victims of the drug war, and the civil society that pays for this long expensive policy failure deserve an end to the drug war—perhaps faster than the system can or will deliver absent considerable resistance and political pressure.

References:

Alexander, M. (2010). The New Jim Crow. New York, NY: The New Press.

Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. (2003). Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the US. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

Feagin, Joe. 1977. “Indirect Institutionalized Discrimination: A Typology and Policy Analysis.” American Politics Quarterly 5(1):177-220.

______. (2006). Systemic Racism: A Theory of Oppression. New York: Routledge.

______. (2010). Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations. New
York: Routledge.

Feagin, Joe, Hernán Vera, and Pinar Batur. (2001). White Racism. 2nd ed. New York:
Routledge.

Fellner & Mauer. (1998). Losing the Vote: The Impact of Felony Disenfranchisement Laws in the United States. Washington D.C.: Joint Report from Human Rights Watch and The Sentencing Project. Retrieved on 03/30/12 from http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/File/FVR/fd_losingthevote.pdf.

International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination [ICERD], 660 UNTS 195, entered into force Jan. 4, 1969. The United States ratified ICERD on October 21, 1994.

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, G.A. res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force March 23, 1976, Art. 25. The U.S. ratified the ICCPR on June 8, 1992.

Ostertag, S. & W. T. Armaline. (2011). Image isn’t everything: Contemporary systemic racism and anti- racism in the age of Obama. Humanity and Society, 35(3).

William Armaline is the Director of Human Rights (@SJSUHumanRights) and an assistant professor in Justice Studies at San Jose State University.

Rodney King (1965-2012)

This Sunday marked the passing of Rodney King, and perhaps fittingly, that same day tens of thousands participated in a Silent March down Fifth Avenue to protest the stop-and-frisk practices of the NYPD.

 

There have been quite a few write ups about his passing, and the significance of his life, around the web and here are a few of those:

  • Touré writes in his Elegy for Rodney King: It was the media that transformed King’s horrific ordeal into a moment that would never die. That’s why the moment sits on a gruesome continuum of other horrific moments that were captured by the media and thus swelled to have a forceful impact on America. From Emmett Till in 1955, who was killed and beaten beyond recognition and memorialized by a photograph of his mutilated corpse lying in its coffin, to Trayvon Martin this year, whose moment of death was captured by multiple pieces of audio that seem to paint a frightening portrait of his last moments. These three are martyrs who were crucified, their bodies sacrificed, and their moment recorded and disseminated, thus showing black pain and revealing American injustice and accessing the moral power that was necessary to inspire change. …. But despite the nation watching in horror and feeling for Rodney King, another Rodney King incident could happen today.
  • Jamil Smith, producer at MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry show, writes: Rodney King nearly became the subject of one of those signs, but he survived. His battle was one which African Americans had fought many times before outside of the glare of the cameras — and yet, despite the presence of a camera, had to fight again. The cameras, in a sense, later turned on him, repeating another theme of cultural strife in this country: subjecting those symbols of those of us who must suffer with its negative effects daily to the media microscope, chipping away at dignity all the while. There’s a reason why you’re seeing a lot of “flawed” and “complicated” in headlines about King’s death, as if having been an addict somehow validated him being beaten to within an inch of his life by L.A.’s Finest. (Aren’t we all flawed and complicated?)
  • Davey D points out that “Even, in Los Angeles the place where Rodney King’s beating was supposed to spark improvement within LAPD we see that police killing civilians is up a whopping 70%. … One would think after the King beating we would’ve witnessed a sea change of improvements within the police departments. sadly what we’ve seen is fast track to enhanced, new and improved forms brutality and harassment. Since the killing of Trayvon Martin we’ve had over 30 Black people alone killed by police. That speaks volumes.”
  • Dr. Jelani Cobb writes: “The removal of Police Chief Daryl Gates and the subsequent appointment of Willie Williams, the first black police chief in L.A. history, was directly related to King’s beating. But in 2009, television viewers saw grainy footage of another black man lying prone at the feet of a California police officer, this time in Oakland. The man, Oscar Grant, had been shot and killed. Earlier this year, the New York Civil Liberties Union released a reportpointing out that in 2011 the N.Y.P.D. conducted nearly six hundred and eighty-six thousand stop-and-frisks, with blacks and Latinos accounting for more than eighty-six per cent of those targeted by police.
  • Dr. James Braxton Peterson reminds us that: “Although Rodney King escaped death that night [he was beaten by LAPD], his life was irrevocably altered; his history became inextricably linked with the violent history of police brutality, racial profiling, and racialized injustice.”

 

  • Dr. Marc Lamont Hill spoke with Rodney King a couple of months before his death, and asked him if he thought the US could erupt in violence again if, for example, George Zimmerman were acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.  When King said he didn’t believe it would, Hill chided him for his optimism, then he writes:  “Given everything that we’d seen and done as a country, how he could he be so invested in the goodness of America? He said that like all people, he had doubts. But his faith in God and America were stronger than those doubts.   That, in a nutshell, is who Rodney King was.  Not the lawless monster portrayed by the LAPD. Not the walking punch line depicted in both Black and mainstream culture. And not the unrepentant addict who never conquered his demons. Rather, Rodney King was someone who desperately aimed to love his way through the absurdity of America’s racial condition.”

 

 

 

The Scars of Stop-and-Frisk: Documentary

In 2011, the NYPD stopped and frisked people 685,724 times, and fully 87% of those searches involved blacks or Latinos, many of them young men, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. There is a groundswell of protest growing against these racist police practices, yet too often, the voices of those most affected by it are not included in the discussion. Until now.

Filmmakers Julie Dressner and Edwin Martinez have created a documentary about one young man, Tyquan Brehon, who lives in one of neighborhoods in Brooklyn most frequently targeted by the police. In this short clip (5:55) which appears in The New York Times, Tyquan tells his story:

By his count, before his 18th birthday, Tyquan had been unjustifiably stopped by the police more than 60 times. His hope in sharing his story is that this will be a bigger project to examine more closely the impact of the stop-and-frisk policy on actual human beings.

Racial Profiling in France and U.S., (Pt.2)

In Part 1 of this post, I wrote about the similarities between the police practice of racial profiling in France and the U.S., emphasizing that different constructs of race in both countries, nonetheless, produce the same outcome, again racial profiling.

Though discredited by science, race as inherent inferiority and superiority has been central to the socio-economic organization of the U.S. The four horsemen of racial inequality—education, incarceration, health, and wealth—are living legacies of race-making in the U.S. and so is racial profiling.

 

(Image source)

“There’s a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That’s just a fact,” said President Obama in 2009 after the profiling and arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

And the stop-and-frisk of innocent, predominately Black and Latino New Yorkers is also a fact, numbering over 4 million by some estimates since 2002.  The experiences of New York University Professor Manthia Diawara  illustrates how racial profiling cuts across social class. Professor Diawara was stopped and humiliated by the police while riding in a taxi, not in the U.S. but Paris, France.

Stop-and-frisk laws in the US are not necessarily illegal, but the lawsuit against the New York Police Department’s use of this tactic challenges its legality. Similarly, stop-and-searches in France are not illegal, but racial profiling is. It should not be forgotten that racial profiling led to the 2005 revolts in France, following the deaths of 17 year old Zyed Benna and 15 year old Bouna Traoré who mistook a transformer in a power station as a safe haven and were horribly electrocuted when fleeing from a police control.

Ultimately, the Trayvon Martin tragedy and these examples are only the surface of a more pervasive and malignant, international problem in countries where blackness and stigmatized difference are major triggers of racial bias associated with pathology and crime. Will passing the “End Racial Profiling Act of 2011” in the U.S. make a difference when perception drives profiling? Hard to say. But Civil Rights history shows that behavior can be legislated where beliefs cannot. In France, however, where no such model exists, the anti-profiling lawsuit and Hollande’s reforms were largely made possible by grassroots activists, using non-traditional methods, including a damning Hip Hop focused public awareness series by the NGO, “Stop le contrôle au faciès.”

(image source)

Are stops-and-searches racially motivated in a race-blind France? OSJI lawyer Lanna Hollo sums it up best:

“The claimants are all black or North African men who were stopped by police because of what they look like rather than what they did.  This is racial, or ethnic profiling, constituting discrimination which is illegal according to the French Constitution and international law.”

Similarly, Trayvon Martin and countless others in the U.S. have been stopped for what they looked like not for what they did.

 

~ Trica Danielle Keaton, PhD, Associate Professor, African American & Diaspora Studies at Vanderbilt Unviersity, is the author, of several books, most recently the co-edited volume, Black France / France Noire: The History and Politics of Blackness (Duke University Press, 2012). This volume includes a preface by Christiane Taubira, who was recently named Minister of Justice by President Hollande. With thanks to Mamadou Diouf, Roy Jensen and Stephen Steinberg for their encouragement and invaluable comments on an earlier drafts of this work.