This is the New Civil Rights Movement and It Will be Digital

I’ve been going to racial justice marches in New York City for nearly 20 years (for Abner Louima, for Amadou Diallo, for Sean Bell, for Ramarley Graham) and I’ve never seen anything like the mass protests in response to Eric Garner. This gives me hope.

This is one view of what the movement looked like last night in New York City:

Protests like this one happened all over the U.S. With respect to Gil Scott Heron (who told us that The Revolution Will Not be Televised), this movement is and will be digital. More precisely, this new civil rights movement is spreading quickly because it is digitally augmented through Twitter, Vine, Instagram and other social media platforms. The movement is also, simultaneously, in the streets. It is both/and – both digital and material – at the same time. And this, too, gives me hope.

The both/and, digital/material feature of the new civil rights movement means several hopeful things.

It means that it’s both youth-led movement, and it is intergenerational. It means that it’s both youth-led and leaderless, in the traditional sense. It also means that it both circumvents and subverts legacy civil rights organizations that are now mostly corporate-funded or corporate-affiliated. It means that it is a multi-racial, multi-ethnic movement.

The both/and quality of the new civil rights movement means that while much of the organizing is happening online – through websites like Ferguson Action, and email newsletters like thisisthemovement published by DeRay McKesson (@deray) and through Twitter hashtags #EricGarner #BlackLivesMatter #ShutItDown – people have been showing up in the streets for 118 days now.

The demands of the new civil rights movement are, of course, both posted online and demand real, concrete action in the material world.

Today is a day for hope.

No Indictment in Eric Garner Case

On July 17, 2014 Eric Garner was approached by NYPD officers on a street in Staten Island. The NYPD suspected Garner of selling untaxed cigarettes, not in packs or cartons, known as “loosies”, a violation of the law usually handled by a ticket. This interaction quickly escalated and ended with the death of Mr. Garner at the hands of NYPD officers.

GarnerProtests_Lynchings

  (Image by Jessie Daniels – CC – attribution, non-commercial)

Almost all of the interaction between the NYPD and Mr. Garner was recorded on a cell phone video camera. One officer, Daniel Pantaleon, can clearly be seen pressing down on Mr. Garner’s body while several other officers gather around his body. On the recording, you can plainly – and painfully – hear Mr. Garner yelling,“I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!” The person who recorded that video, Ramsey Orta, was indicted on a previous and unrelated charge.

Garner’s death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner. And, in August, several thousand of us from around NYC marched on Staten Island to protest this death at the hands of police.

GarnerProtest_Justice

(Image by Jessie Daniels – CC – attribution, non-commercial)

Yet, today, a grand jury on Staten Island decided to not to indict Pantaleon. The reporting by most mainstream news outlets here in New York is focused on the scurrilous “will there be ‘rioting’ in the wake of this decision?” angle. But make no mistake, the no-bill decision by the grand jury in New York is not a local issue. As Nick Mirzoeff argued in a post earlier today about the Mike Brown case in Ferguson:

This is a systemic failure, not a local issue in St. Louis. For the election of Barack Obama has not changed the underlying structures of what Joe Feagin and Sean Elias call “systemic racism,” which “refers to the foundational, large-scale and inescapable hierarchical system of US racial oppression devised and maintained by whites and directed at people of color” (Feagin and Ellis 2013: 936). As Angela Davis has argued, the penitentiary system was a vital pillar for the white supremacy created after the abolition of slavery (2007). Legal scholar Michelle Alexander has called her analysis of the New Jim Crow at work in today’s prison-industrial complex, a “racial caste system” which is “creating and perpetuating a racial hierarchy in the United States” (New Jim Crow: 16).

In short, white supremacy and racial hierarchy are not incidental parts of the justice system as we now have it but are constitutive of it. What Ferguson has made visible cannot be simply “fixed” by a review of the grand jury system or other tinkering. White supremacy is the system. Many (white) people are not ready to go there yet. We have to help them.

Just as the decision in Ferguson to not indict Darren Wilson in the death of Mike Brown is not an aberration, so too is the decision to not indict Daniel Panteleon in the death of Eric Garner. This is the system of white supremacy at work, and it works with the efficiency of a well-oiled machine. Justice isn’t merely indicting one officer or locking up one cop, it’s changing the whole system. Justice means dismantling the machine of white supremacy so that it no longer churns up black bodies with regularity.

Rodney King speaks with fans before pres (Rodney King)

Right now, there are many people that I respect who are calling for body cameras on police as a way forward to racial justice, but a video didn’t make a difference for Eric Garner. And, a video helped ACQUIT the officers who beat Rodney King nearly to death. So, even as President Obama goes ahead with a request for $263 million of dollars for body cameras for 50,000 police, I’m not persuaded this is a solution. While I get the desire to “do something” in the face of the ongoing injustice, body cameras seem like a techno-solution to systemic racism that needs to be addressed by other means. The fact is, the system of white supremacy keeps churning in a way that protects (white) cops and keeps damaging black bodies.

Police officers, security guards, or self-appointed vigilantes extrajudicially killed at least 313 African-Americans in 2012. A recent report by grassroots activists estimates that every 28 hours a black man is killed by police. While the report can and should be faulted for not paying enough (or, indeed any) attention to the extrajudicial killings of cisgender and transgender women of color, the report is valuable to the extent that documents killings that the federal government is not.

As the Wall Street Journal reported today, hundreds of police killings are not counted in federal statistics (paywall).  The report looked at data from 105 of America’s largest police agencies and found that it is “nearly impossible to determine how many people are killed by the police each year.” They also found that the FBI numbers about police killings vary greatly from those provided by the Centers for Disease Control and by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. According to the report:

“more than 550 police killings between 2007 and 2012 weren’t included in the FBI’s national tally.  The Journal looked at internal FBI records and found that while the 105 departments had 1,825 police killings, only 1,242 were reported as “justifiable homicides” by the FBI. The Journal “identified several holes in the FBI data” — of the 105 agencies contacted, justifiable police homicides from 35 agencies weren’t in the FBI records at all. Police in Washington, D.C., for example, didn’t report police killings to the FBI from 1998 to 2008, when the city “had one of the highest rates of officer-involved killings in the country.” In 28 of the 70 agencies that did report homicide data, the FBI report was missing records of police killings. And “missing from the FBI data are killings involving federal officers.” (from Meghan DeMaria, The Week)

Instead of body cameras on police, I’m more inclined to want to see federal action to collect data on police involved killings. Yet, the research tells me that gathering statistics is not likely to change the system of white supremacy either.

As Jamelle Bouie noted in his piece about the research of Jennifer Eberhardt, we know that—among white Americans—there’s a strong cognitive connection between “blackness” and criminality. “The mere presence of a black man can trigger thoughts that he is violent and criminal,” observes Eberhardt and colleagues in a 2004 paper. Basically, the twisty-racial dynamic plays out like this: tell people that blacks are over-represented in prison, and it triggers thoughts of crime, which leads to fear, which causes people to follow their fear and embrace the status quo of unfair, overly punitive punishments, like not indicting NYPD cops for homicide.

So, what is to be done to dismantle this system of white supremacy? To paraphrase Ella Baker, until the killing of black people is as important to the whole nation as the killing of a white person, we cannot rest.

GarnerProtest_EveryMothersSon (Image by Jessie Daniels – CC – attribution, non-commercial)

Angela Davis on Stuart Hall’s Policing the Crisis Today

Last week, scholars at Goldsmiths, University of London, convened to remember the work, life and legacy of Stuart Hall. Professor Emerita Angela Davis offered the key note (35:00):

Professor Angela Davis: Policing the Crisis Today from Goldsmiths, University of London on Vimeo.

In this talk she ties the events of Ferguson, Missouri to Stuart Hall’s classic text Policing the Crisis. (H/t to @WailQ)

There are more videos from the conference here.

Research Brief: Race, Racism, Policing and Cameras

Here is your weekly research brief with some of the latest research in the field of race and racism. Given the recent attention on police brutality as a form of racism, and the call among many activists for body cameras (or, OOVCs -“on officer video cameras”), I thought I would take use today’s research brief to share some of the relevant research. One special note about this research brief: below I include a report from “The Police Foundation” that strongly supports the use of OOVCs. This report has been reported on by the Guardian and the New York Times, but beyond that, I cannot vouch for it since I do not know who or what is beyond the foundation publishing it and it hasn’t been subjected to the usual peer review. That said, I thought people might be interested in reading the actual report since it is getting a good deal of attention.

As always, I note which pieces are freely available on the web, or “open access” with (OA), and those behind a paywall with (locked).

Research in the Dictionary

Race, racism and policing:

  • Bhattacharyya, Gargi S. Dangerous Brown Men: Exploiting Sex, Violence and Feminism in the ‘War on Terror’. Zed Books, 2008. Abstract: Why is the public presentation of the war on terror suffused with sexualised racism? What does this tell us about ideas of gender, sexuality, religious and political identity and the role of the state in the Western powers? Can we diffuse inter-ethnic conflicts and change the way the West pursues its security agenda by understanding the role of sexualised racism in the war on terror? In asking such questions, Gargi Bhattacharyya considers how the concepts of imperialism, feminism, terror and security can be applied, in order to build on the influential debates about the sexualised character of colonialism. She examines the way in which western imperial violence has been associated with the rhetoric of rights and democracy – a project of bombing for freedom that has called into question the validity of western conceptions of democracy, rights and feminism. Such rhetoric has given rise to actions that go beyond simply protecting western interests or securing access to scarce resources and appear to be beyond instrumental reason. The articulations of racism that appear with the war on terror are animated by fears and sexual fantasies inexplicable by rational interest alone. There can be no resolution to this seemingly endless conflict without understanding the highly sexualised racism that animates it. Such an understanding threatens to pierce the heart of imperial relations, revealing their intense contradictions and uncovering attempts to normalise violent expropriation.
  • Brunson, Rod K., and Jody Miller. “Young Black Men and Urban Policing in the United States.” British journal of criminology 46, no. 4 (2006): 613-640. Abstract: People of colour living in disadvantaged urban communities have been shown to be the disproportionate recipients of both proactive policing strategies and various forms of police misconduct. As a consequence, a growing body of research has begun to examine the relationship between blacks’ experiences with the police and their perceptions of police legitimacy. While urban minority young men are primary recipients of proactive policing efforts, few studies have examined in depth their particular experiences with the police. Drawing from a broader qualitative study of violence in the lives of African-American youths from a distressed urban community, this paper examines 40 young men’s experiences with and perceptions of police harassment and misconduct. Our findings highlight young men’s sense of themselves as symbolic assailants in the eyes of the police, suggest the importance of measuring the impact of accumulated negative experiences to better understand minority/police relations, and add additional currency to recent findings on the significance of procedural justice. (locked)
  • Cashmore, Ernest, and Eugene McLaughlin, eds. Out of Order?: Policing Black People. Routledge, 2013. Abstract: First published in 1991, this book evaluates and compares the problematic relationships that have sometimes existed between police and Afro-Caribbean people in Britain and in the United States of America. Contributors from both sides of the Atlantic assess conflicting claims from police and black communities, as to whether some police are racist or too brutal in their operations. Although this book was written in the early 90s, many of the issues discussed remain interesting and relevant to our society today. (locked)
  • Rowe, Michael. Policing, Race and Racism. Taylor & Francis, 2004. Abstract: Over recent years race has become one of the most important issues faced by the police. This book seeks to analyse the context and background to these changes, to assess the impact of the Lawrence Inquiry and the MacPherson Report, and to trace the growing emphasis on policing as an ‘antiracist’ activity, proactively confronting racism in both crime and non-crime situations. Whilst this change has not been wholly or consistently applied, it does represent an important change in the discourse that surrounds police relations with the public since it changes the traditional role of the police as ‘neutral arbiters of the law’. This book shows why race has become the most significant issue facing the British police, and argues that the police response to race has led to a consideration of fundamental issues about the relation of the police to society as a whole and not just minority groups who might be most directly affected. (locked)
  • Shalhoub‐Kevorkian, Nadera. “Racism, Militarisation and Policing: Police Reactions to Violence against Palestinian Women in Israel.” Social Identities 10, no. 2 (2004): 171-193. Abstract: This article moves beyond the discussion of police racism to a broader account of the militaristic racism of policing in Israel. The highly permeable boundaries between the military, society and the political conflict all affect how violence against women is policed. Focusing on case studies of police officers’ perceptions of abused Palestinian Israeli women — members of an ethnic and indigenous minority — this paper considers key features of the policing of violence against women in a militaristic context and during a continuous political conflict. Police officers’ philosophies and actions in law enforcement concerning violence against women are critically scrutinised. The findings indicate that while some aspects of cultural difference between the indigenous ethnic group and the majority are relevant to policing, focusing predominantly on the ‘cultural characteristics’ or ‘ethnic traditions or rituals’ of the policed population and denying the effect of the political conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as a factor in the militarisation of policing can reinforce rather than ameliorate ethnic prejudice, racism and discrimination. (locked)

 

Cameras and policing:

  • Ariel, Barak and Tony Farrar. “Self-Awareness to Being Watched and Socially Desirable Behavior: A Field Experiment on the Effect of Body-Worn Cameras on Police Use-of-Force.”  (Report of The Police Foundation, 2014) This randomized controlled trail represents the first experimental evaluation of body-worn video cameras used in police patrol practices. Cameras were deployed to all patrol officers in the Rialto (CA) Police Department. Every police patrol shift during the 12-month period was assigned to experimental or control conditions. Wearing cameras was associated with dramatic reductions in use-of-force and complaints against officers. The authors conclude: “The findings suggest more than a 50% reduction in the total number of incidents of use-of-force compared to control-conditions, and nearly ten times more citizens’ complaints in the 12-months prior to the experiment.” (OA)
  • Goold, Benjamin J. “Public area surveillance and police work: the impact of CCTV on police behaviour and autonomy.” Surveillance & Society 1, no. 2 (2002): 191-203. Abstract: Drawing on a recent study of the impact of closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras on policing practices in a large English police force, this paper considers whether the presence of surveillance cameras affects the working attitudes and behaviour of individual police officers. In particular, this paper asks whether CCTV makes the police more accountable or more cautious in the exercise of their discretion in public spaces. Although noting that in certain circumstances CCTV may inadvertently help to reduce incidences of police misconduct, this paper concludes by arguing that more needs to be done to prevent the police from interfering with the operation of CCTV and gaining unauthorised access to potentially incriminating video evidence. (OA)
  • Harris, David A. “Picture This: Body Worn Video Devices (‘Head Cams’) as Tools for Ensuring Fourth Amendment Compliance by Police.” Texas Tech Law Review, Forthcoming (2010). Abstract: A new technology has emerged with the potential to increase police compliance with the law and to increase officers’ accountability for their conduct. Called “body worn video” (BWV) or “head cams,” these devices are smaller, lighter versions of the video and audio recording systems mounted on the dash boards of police cars. These systems are small enough that they consist of something the size and shape of a cellular telephone earpiece, and are worn by police officers the same way. Recordings are downloaded directly from the device into a central computer system for storage and indexing, which protects them from tampering and assures a defensible chain of custody. This article explores the good that BWV can do for both the police and members of the public, particularly how these recordings might play a role in assuring that officers comply with Fourth Amendment search and seizure rules. Field tests of BWV in Britain have shown that police used the devices to keep records and record evidence, and that the devices were a uniquely effective bulwark against false complaints. Coupled with a requirement that every citizen encounter involving a search or seizure be recorded, and a presumption that without a recording the factfinder must draw inferences in favor of the defendant, BWV can help resolve disputes over search and seizure activities, and give the public a heretofore unattainable degree of assurance that police officers enforcing the law obey it as they do so. While BWV is certainly no panacea, and presents significant issues of tampering and reliability, it can help bring accountability and rule following to an aspect of police behavior that has largely proven resistant to it. (OA)
  • Young, Jacob TN, and Justin T. Ready. “Diffusion of Ideas and Technology: The Role of Networks in Influencing the Endorsement and Use of On-Officer Video Cameras.” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice (2014): 1043986214553380. Abstract: On-officer videos, or body cameras, can provide objective accounts of interactions among police officers and the public. Police leadership tends to view this emerging technology as an avenue for resolving citizen complaints and prosecuting offenses where victims and witnesses are reluctant to testify. However, getting endorsement from patrol officers is difficult. These incongruent cognitive frames are a cultural barrier to the utilization of innovative technologies. Understanding the mechanisms that lead to the deconstruction of these barriers is essential for the integration of technology into organizations. Using affiliation data collected from a large police department in Southwestern United States over a 4-month period, we find that interactions with other officers provide a conduit for facilitating cognitive frames that increase camera legitimacy. (locked)

 

Happy reading! Let me know if you’d like your publication to appear in an upcoming Research Brief by using the ‘contact’ form.

Being a Scholar after Michael Brown

I was driving home following a late night of teaching when my best friend gave me the news from Ferguson. There would be no indictment for Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer responsible for shooting black teenager Michael Brown dead in the street. Sadness hung between words, but our conversation was hauntingly calm. No hint of shock to register. “I’m comforted to hear you reacting the way I did,” he told me. I understood, I thought: We were non-reactionary, but not without reaction.

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(Image source)

At a time like this I’m finding it’s a disorienting thing to be critical scholar of white supremacy. Not in a way that has anything to do with surprise or even disgust. I think I have fully shed naïve surprise I held at one time about the pathologies of white supremacy – the things white people will do and say that demonstrate such a soulless disconnect from human empathy that I told my friend, “most white people are walking dead and don’t even know it.” Shells of human beings who project their own inhumanity onto racial others, often in cruel and horrifying ways; more often by “kinder, gentler” means no less destructive of human life. All mystified to them – by them.

 

My disgust is real, but without surprise to buffer it, it’s mostly just pain – and that is real too. To watch my friends and people I love bear agonizing witness to their own living murders by proxy. To see them imagine their own children laid out like garbage on the street. To know the white world will do that and then rationalize their deaths without batting an eye and with never-ending drumbeats of support – subtle and loud, institutional and collective. To hear and read “BLACK LIVES MATTER!” – as pained, but resistant declarations, but also perhaps appeals to an imagined white audience that I know mostly doesn’t care and who are so pathologically sick they will sometimes even mystify their apathy into the sincerely held belief that they do. To listen and read people of color speak the apologies for white supremacy from their own mouths and written words. Truly, it is the most depressing when these rationalizations come from people I know and love. I feel such sadness.

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(Image source)

Which brings me back to the substance of my disorientation. I am involved in the work of gathering evidence on a subject for which we already have mountains of support. In most disciplines scholars participate in a scientific process where they literally make new discoveries about things no one knew before. I think to myself, “gosh, how fun and exciting that must be.” For me and for other critical scholars of white supremacy, there are very few truly and truthfully new discoveries to make. I reviewed a manuscript the other day by a social scientist who had excavated a “novel” and “unexplored” process by which anti-black stereotypes were created and maintained. So cynical, after reading the abstract I scribbled in my own personal notes: “News alert! Everyday practices reinforce anti-blackness and racial hierarchy!” I will end up writing a review that incorporates supportive, constructive, and hopefully useful feedback. Of course I will. After all, that is my job.

 

I am involved in teaching a subject for which ignorance is literally a never-ending fountain. All the lessons have already been taught a thousand times over, and yet will never fully be learned. I am the “time-to-make-the-donuts” guy – shuffling along day by day. “Time to teach about white supremacy,” except, it’s not funny. I stood in a classroom the day after the grand jury’s decisions came down, knowing that at any moment a white student might “innocently” throw a phrase that could penetrate a black student like a bullet. Voice cracking and imbalanced, I told my students, “I can’t let that happen today.” Of course, it’s an empty promise. The best I can do is promise to tend to the wounded and strategically challenge the shooter if it happens. When it happens. Of course I will. After all, that is my job.

As a critical race scholar I am a true believer in the permanence of white supremacy. When I tell people that they often ask me, “Well then, why do you bother doing what you do?” I’ve made sense of it as generations of critical scholars before me have – because if oppression is this bad with regular, everyday resistance, imagine where we would be without it. Because I believe that while we may not topple white supremacy, we can construct knowledge that can be used to reduce human misery. Because there are audiences of students and activists who are hungry for liberation, thirsting in a way that ignorance cannot and will not quench. Because speaking and seeking liberation and love in a world bent on domination is not just resistance but perhaps the most fundamental and beautiful act of human spirit – it is life.

 

Today those explanations fail me. Today I’m finding it’s a disorienting thing to be a critical scholar of white supremacy. I need to spend more time reflecting on what that means. I need to think and talk with others about what that means and how to use our shared logic strategically. And I will. After all, this is not the job, but it is the work.

 

Social Alexithymia and White Response to Police Brutality

veraNote: My dear friend and colleague, the great and beloved Hérnan Vera, professor emeritus at the University of Florida, died yesterday after a long illness. His influence and impact on his colleagues, including his many students, will last for the ages. He practiced well the empathy about which we have written, as below (from 2010). RIP

The late Hérnan Vera and I have written about the importance of the breakdown of empathy as part of the creation of racist systems, including discrimination and its racial framing. We have coined the term “social alexithymia” for the inability of a majority of whites to relate to the commonplace, past and present, police brutality and other racial oppression faced by African Americans and other Americans of color.

Discover magazine’s blog reported in 2010 on research study by the Italian scientist Alessio Avenanti, who

recruited white and black Italian volunteers and asked them to watch videos of a stranger’s hand being poked. When people watch such scenes, it’s actually possible to measure their brain’s empathic tendencies. By simulating how the prick would feel, the brain activates the neurons of the observer’s hand in roughly the same place. These neurons become less excitable in the future. By checking their sensitivity, Avenanti could measure the effect that the video had on his recruits …. most interestingly of all, he found that the recruits (both white and black) only responded empathetically when they saw hands that were the same skin tone as their own. If the hands belonged to a different ethnic group, the volunteers were unmoved by the pain they saw.

Interestingly, like we have argued,

Avenanti actually thinks that empathy is the default state, which only later gets disrupted by racial biases. He repeated his experiment using brightly coloured violet hands, which clearly didn’t belong to any known ethnic group. Despite the hands’ weird hues, when they were poked with needles, the recruits all showed a strong empathic response, reacting as they would to hands of their own skin tone. … strong evidence that the lack of empathy from the first experiment stems not from mere novelty, but from racial biases.

He also gave the recruits the Implicit Association Test

which looks for hidden biases by measuring how easily people make positive or negative connections between different ethnic groups. For example, white Italians are typically quicker to associate positive words with the term “Italian” and negative ones with the term “African”. And the faster they make those connections, the greater the differences in their responses to the stabbed black and white hands. … All in all, Avenanti says when we see pain befall a person from our own racial group, it immediately triggers resonant activity in our own nervous system. When we see the same event happening to someone of a different race, these simulations are weaker and take longer to form.

These anti-empathetic reactions are most serious for those who have the greatest power to oppress others, to cause great, routine, and recurring pain in racialized others, which is typically whites in Europe and the United States.

In the U.S. case, whites’ recurring discriminatory actions targeting Americans of color — including thousands of police brutality and other malpractice incidents over the last decade — require a breakdown of normal human empathy. Most social theorists have missed the importance of the fact that all human life begins in empathetic networks–the dyad of mother and child. Usually central to these first networks is basic human empathy, a desire and ability to understand the feelings of others. Without empathy on the part of mothers and other relatives, no child would survive. As it develops, racial oppression severely distorts human relationships and desensitizes the minds of those oppressing others.

Oppression requires in oppressors a lack of recognition of the full humanity of racialized others. Psychiatrists use the term alexithymia to describe people unable to understand the emotions of, and empathize with, others. Hérnan and I have suggested going beyond this individualistic interpretation to a concept of social alexithymia.

Essential to being an oppressor is a significantly reduced ability to understand or relate to the emotions, such as recurring pain, of those targeted by oppression. Social alexithymia thus seems essential to the creation and maintenance of a racist society.

What needs to be explained most is not the reality of human empathy and solidarity—the problem often stated by western philosophers–but rather how this empathy for others gets destroyed and how human beings develop anti-empathetic inclinations essential to racial oppression.

Native Americans Mark Thanksgiving with ‘National Day of Mourning’ Protests

FirstMourning_1970

(Image source)

Today, in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Native Americans will gather to mark a “National Day of Mourning,” as they have for more than 40 years. The protests began in 1970 by Wamsutta Frank James and are carried on by his son, Moonaum James.

PlymouthProtest_2008

(Image source)

In an interview with the Boston Globe, James said demonstrators are not against Thanksgiving, but rather want to “correct the history” of the holiday that suggests that the Pilgrims and Native Americans coexisted peacefully. “We’re not there to condemn, and not there to do anything other than point out some truths,” he said.

 

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(Image source)

It’s expected that more than 100 people will gather today at noon and then continue with rallies at Plymouth Rock and at the site of the Metacomet (King Philip) historical marker to remember the Native Americans who died after the Europeans arrived in the 1600s and to highlight the struggles some Native Americans face today.

 

Remembering Black Lives Unjustly Lost

People attend a vigil to honor Michael Brown in Brooklyn

Yesterday morning after the Ferguson Grand Jury announcement that it would not indict officer Darren Wilson I woke up in a panic thinking the world was ending. I lay in bed buried in emotions and listened for sounds of the impending apocalypse outside my window. But it was quiet. At least, quiet where I live in an urban suburb of Seattle. To me this silence sat in jarring, atrocious contradiction to events of the night before and to the ongoing protests, outrage, and violence still happening all over the nation.

And I started thinking about disconnect. About how the racist system discourages human bonds because when we can’t empathize with each other, it makes it easier to keep us divided and the dominant hierarchy intact. It also makes it much, much harder to see the big picture: the systemic, pervasive nature of white-generated racism and its deep roots. We are pushed to be ahistorical and individualistic. If you scour the Internet right now, you can easily find boatloads of “I” pieces, posts, tweets, rants, etc. But how easy is it to find something that connects the dots across time and geography, and stirs within us some sort of visceral, heartfelt understanding that builds communal resistance?

I decided to launch a ten hour Twitter campaign during which I protest-tweeted every 15 minutes the face, name and age of an unarmed Black life taken by police or security since 1998, and it got some attention.

tweet_drscott

The method I used for this form of hashtag activism is worth mentioning for what it reveals about racism and visual narratives circulated through mainstream media and social media. I included place of death with the header ‘Unarmed. Shot. Killed’ under the hashtags #FergusonDecision #BlackLivesMatter. I used the same template for each tweet to show the continuous, connected and systemic nature of this violence. I also worked to use images of the victims that ran counter to stereotypical imaging of Black people – portrayed them as happy, educated, employed, family members, parents, human beings – to encourage not only person-to-person ties, but personal investment. What I discovered in locating these images was not very surprising. ‘Angry’ photos were used by social and new media far more frequently even though alternatives were available and if alternatives were used, signals of humanity were often cropped out rendering them more like mugshots.

tweet_melanie

Of the 40 Black lives I profiled, 65 percent were Black men under the age of thirty. Many were parents. More than we’d like to realize, were children. These profiles have gotten hundreds of retweets on Twitter so far and not nearly as many trolls as I would have thought. I have culled them together into a Storify slideshow below that frankly, really speaks for itself (scroll over the images to see text).

I hope you will join me in connecting with and sharing these stories, reflecting upon the profound unnecessary loss of life, and considering how far we still have to go in undoing racial inequity. In solidarity.

Obama and Immigration “Reform”

On November 19, after a long delay, President Obama issued an Executive Action on Immigration Reform that contained three stipulations. First, more resources will be given to law enforcement personnel charged with stopping unauthorized border crossings. Second, the President will make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs to stay. Third, the President announced steps “to deal responsibly with the millions of undocumented immigrants who already live in our country.”

The first provision will please opponents of unauthorized immigration and the second will be supported by business interests. They are not likely to give rise to controversy. The third provision, however, has already caused a furor among conservative Republicans. For example, Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz asserted that Obama’s “actions are . . . unconstitutional and in defiance of the American people who said they did not want amnesty in the 2014 elections .” House Speaker Boehner, brimming with vitriol, stated that “President Obama has cemented his legacy of lawlessness and squandered what little credibility he had left .”

Once again, white-oriented Republican leaders reached in their demagoguery tool kit and grabbed their standard response to all things Obama: Obama is dishonest, the problem is his fault, and the American people are on their side. Of course, they won’t do anything to fix it.

Many individuals sympathetic to the undocumented‘s difficulties are in a festive mood. But there is a factor to consider before we can truly celebrate: we need to see President Obama follow through. Angelo Falcón, President t of the National Institute for Latino Policy, puts it as follows:

We are . . . concerned that the President will not fully exercise his power of executive action to impact on all those who should be eligible for legalization, and expect that they will be shortchanged in terms of what should be basic human rights benefits such as health insurance. President Obama’s record also demonstrates that his public pronouncements do not necessarily result in effective federal action, with agencies such as Homeland Security consistently undermining the President’s rhetoric.

I share Mr. Falcón’s misgivings. I’ll wait and see how things turn out before I celebrate.

Ferguson: No Indictment in Shooting of Michael Brown

On August 9, Ferguson Missouri officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed, African American teenager. Brown’s dead body was left in the street for four and a half hours, baking on that hot summer asphalt. On August 25, Michael Brown’s parents buried their son, a young man who had been college-bound at the time he was gunned down. Tonight – 108 days later – Missouri prosecutor Robert McCulloch chose not to indict Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown, citing a lack of physical evidence and “conflicting eyewitness accounts” in the case. In a long, sometime rambling public statement, McCulloch blamed “social media” and the “24-hour news cycle”  as “challenges” in coming to a verdict in the case.

parents of michael brown hold a photo of the slain teen

(image source)

If you have not been following the case of Michael Brown, his death joins a long lineage of young, black and brown men (and women and trans people) killed by white supremacist violence. Since his death in August, many have been placing Michael Brown alongside Emmett Till, as part of a tragic legacy. And, this legacy is only getting worse through legitimation. Whereas Emmett Till, and so many other lynched, were killed by extrajudicial means – as Ida B. Wells found – the killing of Michael Brown is intrajudicial – it is within the law. Sanctioned. Blessed, even, by the prosecutor as a “tragedy” which we can learn to “profit from” in a “productive way.”

The fact is that there is no reason that the U.S. has to have so many deaths each year of its citizens at the hands of police. It’s simply not required. Other western, industrialized nations organize themselves differently, do policing differently, and have radically fewer police-induced-deaths than we do here in the US.

police shootinss by country

(Image source)

These deaths at the hands of police, primarily of young black and brown men, is a choice. And, we can make a different choice.

Shortly after the press conference by McCulloch in Missouri, President Obama made a statement from the White House about the events in Ferguson. He began his remarks by emphasizing the “rule of law” and highlighting the need for “peace” and the importance of protecting “property.” As he began speaking, police in Ferguson began deploying teargas, resulting in a telling split screen of the President and the protests.

SplitScreen

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On the same day that President Obama offered this tepid, muted and halfhearted support for the people of Ferguson, Missouri he also awarded civil rights heroes Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner the (posthumous) Medal of Freedom honor.

Even as the prosecutor refused to indict Wilson and the President of the US moved to mollify collective outrage at the shooting, protestors were in the streets.

Dasha, 29, arrested in Ferguson

(Image source)

Such protests speak to the deep rage at the continued injustice of the routine killings of young black people on the streets of the U.S.

The events in Ferguson puts me in mind of this quote from a speech from an earlier movement for social justice:

“[There comes] a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop.”

I want to know: where do I go to put my body upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus to make the destruction of black bodies stop?

Because I am ready.

This must end.