The Police State Has Come Home to Roost

As the massive uprisings have shocked a (white) nation, centering the injustices and abuses that black people face at the hands of the police, a disturbing trend is emerging from the Trump administration: bringing in federal agents to literally kidnap protestors off the streets and “arrest” them for protesting. 

Later announced as Operation LeGend, these squads of Gestapo militarized jocks have eschewed whatever Constitutional Oath they were probably sworn to take, have tear gassed peaceful protestors, Moms, Dads, and an army Vet who came to the streets of Portland to call them out on their hypocrisy—and are making their way to Albuquerque, Kansas City, and Chicago. The (mostly white) American people are shocked by the fascist tactics of Trump and his last desperate re-election bid as a tough on crimes president. 

Where is the crime? I don’t rightfully know, honestly. Is destroying federal property and taking down racist monuments violence in the face of the constant murder of black and brown people? Is setting fire to police stations violence when those same police have beaten and tortured those protestors? Is destroying buildings violence when it was the ancestors of those black people, laboring as less-than-human and enslaved, that built those buildings to begin with? 

“Crime” aside, these tactics are not new, and they should not be surprising. Activists, organizers, black and brown communities have been raising this alarm for years. This is not simply the symptom of a Trump candidacy in a spiral as he desperately attempts to hold on to the last shred of power in the final months of a cataclysmic re-election campaign. This is not simply his desire to reallocate attention and energies away from the rising cases of Covid-19 and the preventable deaths that are on his hands (will he care? No. Probably not, but it might hurt his bottom line once he leaves office). This is not merely his want to push the story away from the millions of people laid off, unable to access unemployment benefits in a spiraling economic downturn the likes of which none of us have lived through. 

And this did not start with Trump. 

We are reckoning with the consequences of allowing Trump free reign of a terrorist organization that has been steadily developed and trained, militarized and weaponized during the Clinton, Bush, and Obama Administration. Yes, a bipartisan expansion of the police state that has diverted funds away from our education, our public transportation, our healthcare and so much more into the hands of the Pentagon and weapons contracts and military equipment. 

We’ve perfected a machine that a monster like Trump will use with absolute glee.  

For years, we’ve watched ICE and DHS officials sweep men, women and children into immigrant detention centers, deny them their rights and deport them back to countries they might not have lived in for decades; Trump’s deportation policies are a continuation of the Obama Administration’s own. We’ve listened to stories of constant monitoring of our Muslim brothers and sisters post-9/11 by the FBI and CIA, with the blessings of Democratic and Republican Representatives-the Patriot Act is supported in Congress with little blowback while it increases constant military surveillance of ourselves, our neighbors, and black and brown communities.

During the Obama Administration, police in military garb clashed with Indigenous protestors at Standing Rock, who were fighting against the contamination of their water source, resulting in indigenous people being pelted with tear-gas, rubber bullets, arbitrary arrests and trumped up charges. All protestors faced the same violence that Portland is facing now. Nearly four years later. 

We’ve watched the budget for our Defense Department balloon into a money guzzling force of chaos, and little remorse for whatever constitutional barometers it was meant to hold. Whatever the Pentagon couldn’t use anymore was bankrolled into the police; we’ve decked out our men and women in uniforms with tanks, machine guns, and weapons like long range acoustic devices that is capable of causing hearing loss. 

And if people weren’t affected by the violence faced at the hands of poor communities, of black communities, of undocumented communities, they didn’t care. What use was there? The police were still there to protect them! 

We were white! 

As more federal agents are deployed around the country, as more Moms and Dads speak out—and this is not negating the black mothers who have always been there, at the front of the protests—as veterans come out of retirement to put their bodies on the line, we must come to the conclusion that the full force of our ignorance, our purposeful blinders will lead the police to turn on us. 

To put it simply, it has come home to roost. Are we prepared to meet it? 

(Photo Credit 1: Noah Berger / AP / Star Tribune) (Photo Credit 2: AP / WUSA9) (Photo Credit 3: Reveal)

I have a question for those of you who continue to say “not all cops are bad”

I have a question for those of you who continue to say “not all cops are bad” or to share the heartwarming photos of a black man supposedly buying lunch at Cracker Barrel for 2 white cops, or to remind us that the important thing is to be kind to everyone (because, after all, we want to feel GOOD, don’t we?):

When you learned about the horrific abuses of children by pedophile priests, how widespread it was, how the church tried to cover it up and would move pedophile priests from one parish to another, did you say “Hey, not all priests are bad?” Did you tell the victims how they should feel or how they should formulate their ‘message?’ Did you put an “I Support My Local Priests” sign on your front yard? Did you share touching photos of a little boy hugging a “good” priest? Did you balk at the idea of removing the statute of limitations for the abuse? Did you disbelieve the victims’ stories? Did you tell them that somehow it was their fault? Did you remind everyone to be kind to each other and that priests were hurting too? Did you say “Well, we ask so much of priests, you know, with having to solve the community’s social problems and that whole celibacy… thing?” Did you say “How do we know the kid didn’t come on to him first?” “All s/he had to do was comply and it wouldn’t have ended so badly?” Did you watch the movie Spotlight and think “Well, they didn’t really tell the priests’ side of the story?” Did you think it was OKAY for a diocese to cover up the abuses and move a priest from one parish to another, only to abuse more children? If you learned that someone you knew was abused did you tell them “Well, all kids matter, not just you” 

I’m guessing the answer to these questions is no. And, if the answer is no, then you best do the important work of asking yourself why you think or say these things about #BlackLiveMatter and the response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the countless others at the hands of the police. Do the work. Love and kindness aren’t spread through platitudes, they’re spread through DOING THE WORK.

(Photo Credit: Mainichi / AP / Matt York)

So, You Want to Defund the Police? Start by Busting the Police Union

All around the world, people are waking up to the idea that the criminal justice system has been designed to brutalize and punish black and brown individuals—from videos of black men and women dying at the hands of police officers, to tear gas and other human right abuses being levied at protestors demanding solutions to police brutality—the system of police is not meant for the oppressed class. Defunding and demilitarizing them is only the first step for the realization of abolition; but how do we begin to understand the power behind the police? 

Short answer, it’s their union.

Long answer, it’s the power that the police unions over the years have been able to amass, even at the backing of major labor organizations (most disappointingly, being on part of the labor council by the AFL-CIO). The influence that they wield when making policy recommendations and funding politicians really should not be ignored. If we are looking toward defunding as the first steps in the goal of abolition, then the potential backlash from cop unions and their supporters should be researched, analyzed and dismantled before they can halt the movement towards defunding.

Already, we are seeing leaders of cop unions attempting to tamper down criticism by creating even more scandal for themselves and revealing the racism that is so deeply ingrained in the system of policing and the criminal justice system. The head of a Baltimore police union called Black Lives Matter protesters a “lynch mob”. In Philadelphia, another referred to demonstrators as “a pack of rabid animals”. A democratically elected black prosecutor in St. Louis is a “menace to society” who must be removed- “by force” if necessary, because she was in favor of police reform. And yet another union president, in NYC (where police have been absolute murderous with protesters), begged to not be treated, “like animals”. They’re attempting to put a stop to any reforms—no matter how small and miniscule—and they’re powerful enough to stop them. One single police union has spent more than $1 million on state and local races in 2014.

Police unions are the strongest and most powerful unions in the country. Their ability to negotiate contracts that give them almost full immunity when their members harm and kill someone is abhorrent, “Typically, such contracts are chock full of special protections that are negotiated behind closed doors. Employment contract provisions also insulate police from any meaningful accountability for their actions and rig any processes hearings in their favor; fired cops are able to appeal and win their jobs back, even after the most egregious offenses. When Daniel Pantaleo, an NYPD officer who was involved in the 2014 murder of Eric Garner, was finally fired, the police union immediately appealed for his reinstatement and threatened a work slowdown.” 

It is time for all labor organizations, no matter how small, to not only condemn the violence of the police force but actively work to dismantle an institution that’s history is stained with the blood of the working class and immigrants. As noted in Kim Kelly’s impassioned article, “No More Cop Unions”, the history of police violence has been against workers during strikes or at protests, “Despite their union membership, police have also been no friend to workers, especially during strikes or protests. Their purpose is to protect property, not people, and labor history is littered with accounts of police moonlighting as strikebreakers or charging in to harass or injure striking workers. The first recorded strike fatalities in U.S. history came at the hands of police, who shot two New York tailors dead as they tried to disperse. During the Battle of Blair Mountain, the police fought striking coal miners on the bosses’ behalf. In 1937, during the Little Steel Strike, Chicago police gunned down 10 striking steelworkers in what became known as the Memorial Day Massacre. In 1968, days after Dr. Martin Luther King addressed a group of sanitation workers, Memphis cops maced and assaulted the striking workers and their supporters, killing a 16-year-old boy.” The president of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumpka, a former president of United Mineworkers of America harshly criticized the police for engaging in violence against striking minors. 

The AFL-CIO is now facing calls to disaffiliate from its association with the International Union of Police Associates (representing over 100,000 law enforcement employees as well as emergency personnel) from 21 council members from the Writers Guild of America East, citing the policies and the actions of the police union as being consistent with, “authoritarianism, totalitarianism, terrorism and other forces that suppress individual liberties and freedoms.” The AFL-CIO has already disaffiliated from other unions in the past, including the Teamsters, SEIU, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. The federation has already disaffiliated some powerful unions, so it has the potential to kick out an organization that has no business calling itself a union. 

This is but one step in demanding the end of police violence and terror; this is but one piece of an interlocking system that needs to be collapsed, but it will be a preemptive strike in the already powerful attempt to squash legitimate demands to doing away with police.

If you are a union member, or someone interested in demanding the end of AFL-CIO’s association with the International Union of Police Associations, please sign this petition from No Cop Unions. Please also encourage your union local to condemn the violence against protesters or issue a statement in support of Blacks Lives. Solidarity means solidarity with the workers and all oppressed members of society, not solidarity with the muscle of the state and the capitalists. 

Workers of the World Unite! We Have Nothing to Lose but Our Chains!

(Photo 1 Credit: ABC News) (Photo 2 Credit: The Guardian / Star Tribune)

Covid Operations: We must address the cruelty

Collins Khosa

In the past day or so, the news has suffered a crescendo of iterations of brutality: police brutality; the brutality of racist, White supremacist violence; and the brutality of designating certain populations as disposable, not important to consider when `opening up’ states, cities, countries. This is a snapshot of today’s three faces of brutality: Collins Khosa; Ahmaud Arbery; and the Arlandria/Chirilagua neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia.

Collins Khosa, 40 years old, lived in the Alexandra township, in Johannesburg, South Africa. April 10 was the fifteenth day of the national lockdown, a lockdown enforced by both local police forces and the South African National Defence Force, SANDF. On April 10, members of SANDF saw Collins Khosa and a friend in his yard. The SANDF members saw a cup half full of liquid, which they assumed was alcohol. They asked Collins Khosa whether that was the case, and Collins Khosa correctly answered that drinking alcohol on one’s own premises was not a violation of the lockdown rules. The SANDF members then demanded that Collins Khosa step into the street, so that he might be taught a lesson. Then the SANDF members taught. They beat Collins Khosa to death. Now the Khosa family is in court, demanding an investigation. As they explain, their “case is not about the justification for the lockdown or its extent. It is about combating lockdown brutality”. Lockdown brutality. Leading South African constitutional lawyer Pierre De Vos asks, “Why has there been less public outrage (and less debate) about Khosa’s death and about other lockdown brutality by law enforcement officials, than there has been about the ban on the sale of cigarettes, on the one hand, and about those complaining about the ban, on the other? Is it because soldiers largely patrol working class and poor areas and not the leafy suburbs where most white people live? Is it because victims of brutality have been predominantly black? Or is it because the perpetrators of the abuse have been largely black?”

The past two days have seen numerous reports of lockdown brutality across South Africa, and South Africa is not alone. For example, it was reported yesterday that in Brooklyn, in New York City, of the 40 people arrested for violation of social distancing, 35 are Black, 4 are Latinx, 1 is White: “The arrests of black and Hispanic residents, several of them filmed and posted online, occurred on the same balmy days that other photographs circulated showing police officers handing out masks to mostly white visitors at parks in Lower Manhattan, Williamsburg and Long Island City. Video captured crowds of sunbathers, many without masks, sitting close together at a park on a Manhattan pier, uninterrupted by the police.” Why has there been less public outrage and less debate?

Ahmaud Arbery

At the same time, videos circulated showing the cold-blooded murder of Ahmaud Arbery. Ahmaud Arbery was a 25-year-old Black man, a former high school football player, an active athlete, an all-around good guy. Ahmaud Arbery went jogging through a neighborhood in Brunswick, Glynn County, Georgia. Two White men decided that Ahmaud Arbery was dangerous `resembled’ someone suspected of burglary. There were no burglaries, there was no suspect, there was no reason, other than that of Being Black. Being Black was evidence enough of criminality. The two men followed, hunted, Ahmaud Arbery and shot him, killing him. The two men were not charged with any offense. That all happened February 23, in the early afternoon. Only this week a video emerged showing what actually happened. Only this week were the two White men finally taken into custody. Had it not been for the video, they would be free as any other White man with a gun in the United States. Needless to say but it must be said, Ahmaud Arbery was unarmed. The line from police brutality to `citizen brutality’ in the prosecution of some imaginary crime is a short, direct line.

The Commonwealth of Virginia released Coronavirus data this week, the same week that the Governor, a medical doctor, announced that it was time to start `re-opening the state. The data was broken down by postal zip codes. In the small northern Virginia city of Alexandria, itself hotspot, one zip code stood out, 22305, the largely working-class, Latinx immigrant and first-generation neighborhood of Arlandria/Chirilagua. In Arlandria, a community of around 16,000 residents, 608 residents were tested, and 330 tested positive for Covid-19. That’s an extraordinary 55% of the test population testing positive. Why have so few been tested? Because so many are deemed `ineligible’ because of status or income. That leads to a situation in which people only get tested if they can pass various stringent hurdles. In a press conference today, the Tenants and Workers United, a chapter of New Virginia Majority, demanded “expanded access to testing, ensuring tests and treatment are free, and providing housing so that residents can safely isolate.” Repeatedly, they invited Governor Ralph Northam to leave the Governor’s Mansion and come to Alexandria to see what’s actually happening. Earlier in the week, the Legal Aid Justice Center responded to Northam’s plan to `re-open’ Virginia by labelling the proposal “reckless and cruel”. As Legal Aid Justice noted, “Due to systemic racial inequities, infection and death rates are highest in Black and brown communities. In our state capital of Richmond, 15 of the 16 deaths from COVID-19 were Black residents. In Fairfax County, while only 17% of the population is Hispanic, 56% of all confirmed cases are Hispanic.”

It’s all cruelty actually, rather than brutality. Brutality suggests that those committing the acts of violence are somehow “brutes” or “animals”. Cruelty, on the other hand, suggests that those committing the violence range between indifferent to the pain of others to actually taking pleasure in inflicting pain on others. As with the Khosa family pursuit, this concerns more than this particular police officer or that particular White racist, although they must be addressed. It addresses the whole system of disposable populations, a Black man sitting in his front yard, a Black man jogging down the street, an entire Brown neighborhood, all of them trying to make it through another day. Why has there been less public outrage and less debate? We must address the cruelty that structures our lives.

Azucena, member of Tenants and Workers United

(Photo Credit 1: Daily Maverick) (Photo Credit 2: New York Times) (Photo Credit 3: Tenants and Workers United / Facebook)

#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)