#BlackLivesMatter, this time in France. #JusticePourTheo

Once more police violence makes the headlines. In France, Theo a 22-year-old young resident of Aulnay-sous-Bois, a northern Paris suburban city, was stop-searched by four special forces police officers few days ago. The search was aggressive verbally and physically; the telescopic (expandable) baton of one of the police officer was forced in the anus of the young man. Theo, who is black, was insulted with slang racial words including the N-word.

The police officers sprayed tear gas into Theo’s mouth, then dragged him, handcuffed, to their car. Theo was in excruciating pain covered with his own blood. Once in the police station, another police officer immediately called the SAMU (emergency medical unit). The doctors were appalled to see the damage on his body with a 10cm (3.5 inches) tear in the rectal region, with a perforated rectum; he was rushed to a hospital operating room. His injuries are serious with possible life damage. He has to keep a fecal diversion with colostomy probably for the next few months.

From Aulnay to the rest of France, the outcry was broad. Mothers of “the city of the 3000”, the neighborhood where Theo lives with his family, led demonstrations. Singing the Marseillaise to affirm that France was their nation, they also said that they were fed up with the police acting like “cowboys”. They expressed their immediate concern, demanding if their sons would be the next one to be raped by police. Some said “we are not here to be on television; here we have doctors, engineers, but we are suffocating.”

They want justice not only for Theo but for all the youth of “les quartiers,” these suburban neighborhoods that have been left out of urban policies. Meanwhile, Theo’s case is in the hand of a lawyer ready to address police violence with his case.

A former police union leader, in charge of security for the right wing political party “les Republicains” was recently elected mayor of Aulnay sous Bois. He based his campaign on law and order. Although he extolled the virtue of strong police presence, he condemned this police violence calling it unbearable and unacceptable. He understood that this time the usual argument that the victim because of his police record somehow deserved the treatment inflicted on him would not work as Theo and his entire family have had exemplary lives. In his surprise visit, even President Francois Hollande played the good guy argument in an attempt to calm down the boiling cities fed up with state and police violence.

The delinquent deserving police aggression is a political argument that has been used repeatedly in recent years to justify increasingly violent police intervention and ID checks based on profiling, including statistical profiling.

Theo’s case was referred to the Defender of the Rights, “an independent administrative authority that oversees the protection of rights and freedoms and promotes equality to ensure access to rights”. This authority had warned President Hollande about the unnecessary character and lack of supervision of ID checks, to no avail. In 2016 the Defender of Rights published a report stating that the youth that had the color of Africa, north and sub-Saharan, were 20 times more subject to ID checks. The report documents discrepancies in the treatment of populations, based on appearance, age and location of the control. The numbers show a degradation of the situation in the suburban areas with only 5% of these young pursuing legal actions against police abuse. The president of this authority declared that Theo’s affair was not a short news affair but a societal and political affair. He insisted on the importance to question these “random” ID checks poorly reported with no actual legal justification,” adding that the police of the republic should be the police for equality.

In 2009, the National Center for Scientific Research showed that in general the police control is determined by the clothes worn as well as the color of their skin, rather than something that done by the young people checked.

Part of the stigmatization or disqualification as full human being is in the language and attitude of the state authority. They are systematically addressed with “tu,” the informal you. According to the Defender of Rights, the informal “you” is used in 40% of the control of the young men of these neighborhoods compared to 16% for the general population. They are also insulted in 21% of the cases compared to 7% for the rest of the population.

The vast majority of the ID checks have no legal or investigative basis, but they are very effective in making feel the young person not belonging and always under scrutiny. Despite the recent riots, the inhabitants of these neighborhoods are committed to assert their proud presence against the constant humiliation and stigmatization encountered. People nationwide are supporting their call for dignity.

ACAT, an association dedicated to fight torture, produced a comprehensive review of the situation in France. Between 2005 and 2015, they counted 26 casualties caused by police, of whom 22 were people of color. Last summer, for example, Adama Traoré died in police custody after. The family is still demanding an explanation as to why he died.

Depoliticizing state violence is a way of justifying it. Many reports have demonstrated that something needs to change in the national policies that mistreat and racialize the youth in France. In this electoral period the stakes are high and the struggle to stop the disqualification of citizens calls for solidarity, as the mothers of Aulnay-sous-Bois demanded. It is part of the struggle for immigrants’, refugees’ and women’s rights. In this time of enmity when victims are made the culprits, people in France need to join the resistance.

(Photos Credit: Bondy Blog)

The University Currently Known as Rhodes: Stop shooting at us! Stop shooting!

Watch this video:

What do you see? Is it a turning point, a tragedy, a farce, or just another day of escalating violence? Stop shooting at us! Stop shooting! What do you see when you watch this video? What do you hear?

For the past year and more, students across South Africa have led the national debate, and struggle, towards, and away from, justice, democracy and equality. Starting with the assault on a statue of Rhodes at the University of Cape Town to today, students have consistently pushed everyone to engage in a national movement-based inquiry into, again, justice, democracy and equality. From #RhodesMustFall to #OutsourcingMustFall to #PatriarchyMustFall to #FeesMustFall, and between and beyond, students have insisted that the time for waiting is long past due. From primary and secondary schools to universities, students have taken on racism, sexism, classism, cis-privilege, homophobia, transphobia, and violence, and intersections of violence, of every sort.

Time and time again, they have been met with State violence, from the language of members of the national government to the weapons and arms used by police and private security. While these incidents have been reported, the video of yesterday’s “event” has caught the attention of many. “President Jacob Zuma has instructed the justice, crime prevention and security cluster to `deal with the mayhem’”, but it’s not clear which mayhem is being referenced. “Rhodes University management says it’s outraged at how police manhandled and shot at students on campus”, but then who called the police in the first place?

None of this is new. Worse than not new, it’s all too familiar. As the editor of the Con Magazine lamented, “It’s like the eighties again. South Africa is an angry place, burning itself out at all ends. Beefy white men in police uniforms are hiding behind hedges and shooting at students. They are firing into the Rhodes University campus. The Black body is violated. White Lady Babylon be shoving. Babylon be shoving. All the time. Police open fire at students without warning. They shoot. They shoot without warning. At unarmed students. They grab and bully and shove and violate and traumatise and shoot.”

For some, while reminiscent of the 80s, the theater of violence is also new, in that it has been in process for quite some time: “Fees Must Fall is about how a democracy deals with a history of oppression. It’s about healing broken bones, about a generation’s phantom limbs and its children refusing amputation.” A year ago, Sisonke Msimang noted, “South Africans can no longer educate their children on the basis of luck and the goodwill of overstretched students. The students who have been protesting since April have not yet won the results they are after. Despite this, the mass action has served as a powerful reminder to South Africans that they are capable of far more than they are presently achieving. Emboldened by the courage of those who took to the streets, older South Africans have also been inspired to tell their stories. We are all beginning to understand that what has been hidden must now be made public.”

What has been hidden has been hidden in plain sight. Now, the students are making demands, in what many feel is a revolutionary moment. Their demands are impossible. Faculty commissions and others have suggested possible avenues towards more equitable fee and educational funding structures. Free education is possible. Whether the danger in student demands is the possibility of free, or even mostly free, education or the fact of students organizing and making demands no longer matters, because what now sits alongside their demands is State violence. It’s State violence that is barricading the roads, all in the name of protection. Today the arrested students were released: “It emerged in court charges against them had not been properly formulated.”

Watch the video. What do you see? What do you hear? “Do you feel our pain? Do you feel our pain!”

“Rhodes becomes the university currently brutalised by police”

 

(Video Credit: The Oppidan Press / YouTube) (Photo Credit: The Daily Vox)

You gave up the moral authority to declare a state of emergency decades ago

What qualifies as a State emergency, and who gets to call it? Not the State of Maryland and not the City of Baltimore. They lost that privilege decades ago.

After decades of publicly acknowledged police brutality directed specifically at Black and Brown skinned residents of the city, of spending millions of dollars to support violent extremists in the Baltimore City Police Department, neither the City of Baltimore nor the State of Maryland has the moral authority to declare a state of emergency. They wouldn’t know an emergency if it bit them.

Since 2011, Baltimore has invested $5.7 million in lawsuits dealing with police brutality. As Ta-Nehisi Coates noted, “The money paid out by the city to cover for the brutal acts of its police department would be enough to build “a state-of-the-art rec center or renovations at more than 30 playgrounds.” Instead, the money was used to cover for the brutal acts of the city’s police department and ensure they remained well beyond any semblance of justice.”

Coates grew up across the street from Mondawmin. Considerably earlier, I lived most of my pre-school life across the street from Mondawmin. We both understand the lie of peace and responsibility when they come from the mouths of State representatives. As Coates argues, “When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con.”

What’s this war in Baltimore? Freddie Gray was killed while riding in a police van. Violence in police vans is so ordinary it has its own lexicon. There’s the “rough ride”, when the handcuffed and perhaps shackled prisoner is not seat belted, and so is thrown all over the van. This is also known as the “cowboy ride.” Then there’s “bringing them up front” where the driver slams unexpectedly on the brakes, throwing the prisoner against the cage behind the driver’s seat. This is also known as the “screen test”.

Last September, The Baltimore Sun ran a major investigation into the payouts, including the stories of horrible police violence against Black women: 87-year-old Venus Green; 26-year-old Starr Brown; 58-year-old Barbara Floyd. Between 2010 and 2014, 31 people died in `police in encounters’ in Baltimore. The culture of police brutality, Baltimore’s disgrace, has long been public knowledge. Did anyone in Annapolis or on the Baltimore City Council even contemplate stating that there is an emergency in Baltimore?

Individuals and agencies that have absolutely no moral authority to declare any kind of emergency are now in charge of declaring and maintaining a State of Emergency. None of this is a surprise. As John Angelos, Orioles team executive, noted early on, “My greater source of personal concern, outrage and sympathy … is focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the U.S … plunged tens of millions of good, hard-working Americans into economic devastation, and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American’s civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of an ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state.”

In his 1962 essay, “A Letter to My Nephew”, James Baldwin alluded to a slave spiritual, “You Got a Right”:

“You got a right, I got a right,
We all got a right to the tree of life.
Yes, tree of life.

The very time I thought I was lost,
The dungeon shook and the chain fell off.
You may hinder me here,
But you can’t hinder me there.
‘Cause God in the Heaven’s
Going to answer my prayer.”

We all got a right to the tree of life.

 

(Photo Credit: Jim Bourg / Reuters)

…And Ishrat Jahan is dead

President Barack Obama went to India last week. He declared that India is “not simply an emerging power but now it is a world power.” President Obama suggested that India’s emergence as a world power now gave it the authority to “promote peace, stability, prosperity.”  He embraced Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He met with leaders of the business community and spoke to the Parliament. He met with university students, he danced with primary schools students.

The President of the United States of America met with many people of the Republic of India. He talked of peace between nations, in particular Pakistan and India. He announced that the United States would support India’s permanent membership on the United Nations Security Council.

Security is on the minds of many in India, and across South Asia. Many want to redefine security. National security. Personal security. Community security. Many of those who seek an alternative to security through military means and, even more, through the militarization of domestic spaces are women. President Obama did not meet with those people. He did not meet with those women who counsel nonviolent alternatives to security based on arms and force. Instead he talked about the Security Council

President Obama did not meet with Medha Patkar, the driving and visionary force behind the Narmada Bachao Andalan movement, a movement of tribal and aboriginal people, of farmers and peasants, of women, and of supporters. Narmada Bachao Andalan is a nonviolent direct action mass and popular movement that this year celebrates, in song and struggle, twenty-five years of organizing for real security. This began as a struggle to stop a big dam being erected on the Narmada River, and has evolved into an alternative vision of statehood, nationhood, security. President Obama did not meet with Medha Patkar, and no one is surprised.

President Obama did not meet with Irom Sharmila, who has been on a hunger strike for ten years now. In early November 2000, in the state of Manipur, insurgents attacked a battalion. The battalion retaliated, later, by mowing down ten innocents standing at a bus stop. Included among them was “a 62-year old woman, Leisangbam Ibetomi, and 18-year old Sinam Chandramani, a 1988 National Child Bravery Award winner.” A pregnant woman was also reported as being one of the dead.

The army knew it could act with impunity because it was covered by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, or AFSPA. AFSPA was imposed in Manipur in 1961. Much of the rest of the Northeast has been under its rule since 1972. According to government reports, more than 20,000 people. By the government’s own statistics, tens of thousands of people, have been disappeared, tortured, beaten, abused. In Manipur, this began in 1961. By 2000, it had gone for almost four decades.

A young 28 year old woman, Irom Sharmila, decided enough was more than enough. She entered into an indefinite fast, a hunger strike that would continue until the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is rescinded, the soldiers withdrawn, the people restored. November 4 marked the tenth year of Sharmila’s fast. President Obama did not meet with Irom Sharmila, and again no one is surprised.

President Obama did not meet with these women of peace, considered by many to be the true Gandhians. Nor did he meet with Ishrat Jahan.

In 2004 there was a `police encounter’ in Ahmedabad, in the state of Gujarat. Police encounter is a delicate euphemism for extrajudicial killings. Extrajudicial killings is a discrete euphemism for police murder, assassination, torture, disappearance, terror.

In 2004 the police encountered Ishrat Jahan. She was nineteen years old, a college student. She and three others were gunned down. The police claimed they were part of a terrorist organization and were planning to kill the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Five years later, in 2009, a police investigation determined that Jahan and her three colleagues had absolutely no ties to any terrorist organization of any sort. It was further determined, by police, that assassinations had been planned and carried out by senior officials who wanted to impress the Chief Minister. In a word, they were seeking promotion. Through security.

Jahan’s family was relieved and demanded further inquiry. The Gujarat High Court appointed a Special Investigative Team to delve deeper. The State of Gujarat appealed to the Supreme Court to disband the SIT, saying the High Court had no power, had no standing, when another agency was already investigating. The Supreme Court decided against the State … and for due process, and perhaps the people. This has been described as “an embarrassment to Gujarat government.” The investigation will continue.

…And Ishrat Jahan is dead. As she lies with the tens and hundreds of thousands killed in the name of security, killed and tortured in the pursuit of prosperity, Ishrat Jahan haunts the peace of so-called world powers.

 

(Photo Credit: BBC.com/AFP)

 

Democracy beyond asylum

On July 14, during the second day of hearings for Judge Sonia Sotamayor, Senator Charles Schumer noted, smiling: “in the nearly 850 cases you have decided in the 2nd Circuit, you ruled in favor of the government — that is, against the petitioners seeking asylum, the immigrants seeking asylum — 83 percent of the time. That happens to be the exact statistical median rate for your court. It’s not one way or the other.” These numbers are meant to assure us that, when it comes to foreigners and asylum seekers, the Judge is ok. She has a balanced record.

Asylum is a legal court procedure with rules and codes and whatever else. But it’s also about sanctuary, an inviolable place of refuge, of safety from seizure. The people who seek that asylum, the asylum of refuge, are not all immigrants, nor are they all `foreigners’. Where in this country can the seekers go to find asylum?

Not Santa Monica. The American Civil Liberties Union sued the city of Santa Monica this week for violating homeless peoples’ rights by harassing and arresting them, all while the city cuts back on beds for the homeless. They call it “a deportation program for the homeless”. It sounds like the poorhouses of England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when the State fenced off the common land and forced peasants to move to find work, and then passed anti-vagabond laws, which criminalized unregulated popular movement. And so a cheap, reserve labor force came into being. What profit does Santa Monica wrest from the bodies of the twenty first century imprisoned poors?

Nadine Chlubna is a 56 year old schizophrenic paranoid woman who fears spaceships and the Santa Monica police force. Only the police have actually ever done her any harm, having arrested her three times and mocked her delusional fears of interplanetary aliens. Where is asylum for Nadine Chlubna? Not in Santa Monica.

Santa Monica was the mother of Saint Augustine of Hippo. You can read all about her in The Confessions. It’s good stuff. And you know where Monica and her son Augustine were born and lived much of their lives? North Africa. They were Berbers from what is today called Algeria. Augustine moved to Italy, and, after her husband died, Monica followed. As immigrants, they found asylum. Would the same happen in Santa Monica or in Italy? I doubt it.

The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless just released a report, Homes Not Handcuffs, which lists the ten meanest cities in the United States, those that most viciously and thoroughly criminalize the homeless and militarize the streets and all public spaces. Number one? Los Angeles, just down the road from Santa Monica: “A study by UCLA released in September 2007 found that Los Angeles was spending $6 million a year to pay for fifty extra police officers to crack down on crime in the Skid Row area at a time when the city budgeted only $5.7 million for homeless services.” Six million for 50 cops, 5.7 for all the homeless. It’s a delicate balance. You know what the crimes were? Jaywalking. Loitering. Serious stuff.

Here’s what six million dollars buys: “Police brutality against homeless people intensified during the crackdown on crime in Skid Row.  In June 2007, the Los Angeles County Community Action Network reported one example: two L.A. Police officers attacked a petite homeless woman, who may have been mentally disabled, with clubs and pepper spray.  Police reportedly beat her and tied her down.” Six million dollars doesn’t buy asylum, doesn’t buy security. It buys beat-downs, tie-downs, lock downs, and fear. At six million, it’s a bargain.

In Bradenton, Florida, the ninth meanest city in the U.S., a police officer arrested a homeless woman, and tried to help her maintain her possessions. Everything she owned was in a shopping cart. The officer, Nicholas Evans, pulled the cart alongside his car for the 12-mile drive to the county jail. Imagine that. He was punished. Imagine that. I hope he learned his lesson.

In Denver, “two women were confronted by police at the 16th Street Mall when trying to help out homeless individuals.  One of the women gave a homeless man a hamburger and a dollar in front of two undercover police officers.  One of the police officers proceeded to chase her down and forced her back to where she gave the homeless man the burger.  One undercover officer said that he could arrest her for giving money and food to a panhandler after dark.  When she questioned that such a law exists and asked to see his badge, the police refused to do so and told her to leave.” Another woman bought a fleece blanket for a man in wheelchair, outside the same mall. Denver winters, high in the Rocky Mountains, are cold, in more ways than one: “when she tried to give the man the blanket, an officer told her to stop and asked her for identification.  While the police confronted her, the man in the wheelchair left.  She was subsequently arrested for interfering with law enforcement.”

From sea to shining sea, undercover and uniformed police are harassing the homeless and anyone who tries to offer assistance. Where is asylum in this world? What is the word for the system in which women and men who need help and women and men who want to help are made to feel the full heat and weight of the security State? In the United States, it’s called democracy, democracy beyond asylum.

(Image Credit: https://cangress.wordpress.com)