Stop Resisting*

Warning: The following blog contains video content that is extremely disturbing and is posted for educational purposes only. Please watch at your own discretion.

PBS – Need to Know: Crossing the Line at the Border

I’m posting the link to the PBS documentary on the murder of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas at the San Diego border because there are two words that haunted me when I read about the recent altercation between police and a black family at a Fairfield, Ohio pool. The words are “Stop Resisting.” It would seem that these are the magic words that police and law enforcement officers utter to magically transform and safeguard their actions into an act of subduing a “violent criminal”…in the case of today’s situation, a 12 year old girl (read about it HERE.) With Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, the officers claimed that he became violent and needed to be subdued as they were transporting him back to Mexico…even though, as the video above shows, his feet were bound and ultimately his trousers were nearly torn off.  We hear the officers shouting “stop resisting” while he is repeatedly tazed and crying for his mother. In the end, he can be seen lying unresponsive on the ground (this happened in plain view of many people crossing the border and was captured on a camera phone.) We hear echoes of this command to “stop resisting” when we look at the Eric Garner video and see an unarmed man being choked to death. We hear it when the officer who shot and killed Tamir Rice case (also a 12 year old) claims that the “he had no other choice.”

IMG_0249These cases all began with assumptions. Assumptions and specific choices by the victims: that they could get away with breaking a minor law (Eric Garner); or escape a traffic violation or child support (Walter Scott); or in the case of Tamir Rice that he could play with a toy gun, or in the case of this week’s 12 year old, that she could go to a pool and swim with someone who had no suit. But it is the assumptions of those doing the policing that are repeatedly turning these stories into funerals. The assumption that a teenager wearing a hoodie is going to rob somebody and doesn’t belong in the neighborhood (Trayvon Martin); the assumption that a large framed teenager walking in the street is an unwelcome and lethal threat (Michael Brown); the assumption that a bikini clad 15 year old is going to cause physical trouble (McKinney, TX); the assumption that a 12 year old girl at a pool is a threat to a fully grown, armed and body armor clad man (Fairfield, OH); and of course the assumption presented in the PBS video above, that a hog tied immigration detainee with a broken ankle is a potentially lethal menace to at least 10 border patrol agents (Hernandez-Rojas.)

“The more that black and brown people, immigrants and the disadvantaged are assumed to be violent threats, and the more they are targeted by what feels like a “renaissance in racism,” the more they are going to feel the need to violently fight back.”

If all of this sounds ridiculous it is because, tragically, it is. There is no logic or justification for the psychology that is being exhibited as a standard in the way policing works in the United States. The only thing that is extremely clear is that the behavior being trained into the way people are policed in our country (regardless of the race of the officers…see Freddie Gray) is that if an alleged perpetrator has black or brown skin, regardless of their gender identity or if they have an accent, they are assumed to be older, more devious, more violent and more of a lethal threat to public order than they most likely are.

Our culture is playing with fire. The more that black and brown people, immigrants and the disadvantaged are assumed to be violent threats, and the more they are targeted by what feels like a “renaissance in racism,” the more they are going to feel the need to violently fight back.  All of this has the potential to spiral even more out of control than it already has.  As a civil society, we must look at the social construct we call race and actually deal with it. The truth is that we are no where yet near living in a world where it is either useful or welcome for a biologically, genetically and ethnically white woman to choose to be “black” so that she can co-opt her place in “fighting the good fight” ; particularly, when black and brown people who can’t choose to be anything else are being shot, beat up, targeted and abused, not only by deranged white supremacists, but even by the very people who are supposed to be protecting us all. The social construct of race was not created to keep white people in…it was created to keep everyone else out (see: #europeanimperialism & #onedroprule.) Until we deal with that  inequity, there will be no real just and fair inclusion…or policing for any of us.  And until we deal with it, people of color most certainly will not “stop resisting.”

*Please note: this post was written before news of the murders at Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina had broken. Out of respect for the grieving families, I will not post commentary until an investigation has begun and the community directly impacted has decided on how they need to be supported. Please hold them in your hearts.

No Dinner Plans

michael-brown-grad-photo

The following is a statement that was made for the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Larger Fellowship upon the news of the “No Indictment” decision from the Grand Jury examining the case against Darren Wilson in the murder of Michael Brown.

The tragic irony of the grand jury decision from Ferguson, Missouri coming so close to the Thanksgiving holiday is inescapable. We should be preparing dinner, not a cultural war. In a metaphorical sense, we should be talking about how many more people we can put around the table, not how many more people will be turned away. This ongoing struggle between black and white is a global disgrace and the combination of this decision and the deluge of news that we sift through also highlights how we are asked to “choose” where we put our attentions for justice. You see, the media and the ignorant would have us believe that Ferguson and Immigration are separate issues; that voting rights and health care, are about different things; that environmental justice and marriage equality effect different populations. But no, they all impact one very specific group of people: The Other.

You see, it is “The Other” that is feared. It is “The Other” that is vilified. It is “The Other” that is left behind, left out, marginalized and shot in the street.

Yes, we should be preparing dinner…

You see, if we were preparing dinner, we would be asking ourselves, “what will feed the people coming to table?” “What will make them feel welcome and nourished?” “What can we share that will fill their needs?”

Instead, too much of our time is focused on getting and keeping stuff or defending our rights to stuff or creating more stuff…

…when we should all be enjoying the stuffing and stuffing ourselves full with an abundance of love.

Right now, we are seeing the product of setting a table for some instead of a table for all. The food is there; the finest dishes are set, the crystal and flatware polished; the linen is crisp and clean. But with only a few at the table, most of the food will go to waste, the place settings will collect dust and tarnish and the meal will be incomplete. Only one opinion will be expressed in a flat conversation and everyone will leave deeply unsatisfied.

So let this be a lesson to us moving forward. Black people are not the enemy; white people are not the enemy; Immigrants are not the enemy; Latinos are not the enemy; Asian people are not the enemy; Transgender people are not the enemy; Bisexual people are not the enemy. The only enemy is when any of us is treated like “The Other,” and turned away from a table that should be set first with love. And let’s not forget that even then the real enemy is not “The Other” but “The Us.”

Let’s start preparing dinner…a meal where we are all welcome and fed.

Sending a prayer to the family of Michael Brown, the people of Ferguson and to everyone else who is feeling utterly helpless at this moment to a “system” that is not a system, but a sickness.

Crazy Making: The Short Road from Boston to Ferguson

Crispus AttucksOctober 22, 2014 is the 19th Annual National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation.  This day has received renewed interest in light of the events at Ferguson, Missouri this year and because we are finally hearing the real stories of police brutality against people of color. Men, women and children of color as well as transgender men and women, people with physical and mental disabilities  who have suffered at the hands of those who are being paid to serve and protect are finally being seen and heard.  Sadly however, too many of their voices are being heard only after they have been silenced.  We are all called to action to fight the institutionalized oppression by militarized police that has been at work much too long in the United States.

On October 18, I attended the 59th Annual Freedom Fund Dinner of the San Diego Chapter of the NAACP and I was particularly grateful for the keynote speaker, Professor Theodore M. Shaw from the University of North Carolina School of Law. During this distinguished and much lauded professor’s address, he used an expression that immediately made me perk up: “Crazy Making.” This is a common urban slang expression that I also often use to describe the effect of insane, repetitive behavior, and I’m sure I got the expression from a sitcom or at least from pop culture somewhere. He said it several times to great effect speaking about the state of black people in America: the continued objectification and persecution felt by blacks in America, particularly black men is “crazy making”; if you come from a legacy of violence and lack of access, poverty and starvation, both physical and intellectual, it is “crazy making”; to be viewed as a monster by a culture…”crazy making.” He’s right; it’s a wonder more of us aren’t truly insane.

The events this summer in Ferguson, Missouri have become another touchstone in what seems to be an ongoing pattern of police targeting black youths with excessive gun violence. There are those who have already written off the court case, believing that the accused murderer Darren Wilson will be acquitted. But the sad truth is, not only is this not new, but there is an eerie precedent going back nearly 250 years that makes it clear the degree to which this situation is status quo in America. In 1770, John Adams, future President of the United States, stood in court and defended 6 British soldiers who had fired upon and killed a number of unarmed men in what would be called the Boston Massacre. Most specifically, one of the casualties was a black runaway slave by the name of Crispus Attucks. We often get the picture of the men killed in the massacre (including Samuel Gray, James Caldwell and ultimately Samuel Maverick and Patrick Carr) as being heroes of the early American Revolution. In addition, we also think of John Adams as a man who dedicated his life and career to “liberty.” But the historical data comes across a bit differently. Adams’ words from the original court documents describing the crowd that attacked the soldiers say a great deal about his opinion of the accused:

“We have been entertained with a great variety of phrases, to avoid calling this sort of people a mob.-Some call them shavers, some call them genius’s. -The plain English is gentlemen, most probably a motley rabble of saucy boys, negroes and molattoes, Irish teagues and out landish jack tarrs.-And why we should scruple to call such a set of people a mob, I can’t conceive, unless the name is too respectable for them: The sun is not about to stand still or go out, nor the rivers to dry up because there was a mob in Boston on the 5th of March that attacked a party of soldiers”[1]

Further on in the court documents we also find this assessment of Attucks (who was classed as ‘mulatto’) by Adams:

“[…]this reinforcement coming down under the command of a stout Molatto fellow, whose very looks, was enough to terrify any person, what had not the soldiers then to fear? He had hardiness enough to fall in upon them, and with one hand took hold of a bayonet, and with the other knocked the man down: This was the behaviour of Attucks;-to whose mad behaviour, in all probability, the dreadful carnage of that night, is chiefly to be ascribed.”[2] 

Crispus Attucks had escaped from his enslaver some 20 years previous and had endured not only the persecution of being black in a slave economy, but the continued fear of being caught as a fugitive. His post slavery career had been spent largely at sea where, again, he was always subject to oppression and threat of recapture. By the night he was killed, Attucks had banded with a group of other seamen, and by dint of their trade they had an already contentious relationship with the British Army. But as an escaped slave, Attucks was particularly at risk of being pressed into service in the army at any time against his will. Simply put, by any standard, the life that Crispus Attucks had led to this point would have been “crazy making.”

Michael Brown was killed on August 9, 2014 for walking in the street. But video footage shows him having a confrontation with a convenience store clerk over cigars just prior to his murder. Darren Wilson’s traffic stop was unrelated to this at the time alleged theft, but certainly Michael Brown was carrying the awareness of his  previous interaction with the store clerk with him. The court will now try to paint Brown as someone who was dangerous and “worth” killing. Brown was headed to college in a few days and by all reasonable character accounts, had a clear sense of wanting and knowing how to manifest a productive future. So why have a confrontation with a store clerk over cigars (note: video footage shows he actually paid for them)? Why put up even a slight fight against an armed and clearly confrontational officer? The continued objectification and persecution felt by blacks in America, particularly black men…the legacy of violence and lack of access, poverty and starvation, both physical and intellectual…being viewed as a monster by a culture…it is all “crazy making.”

I won’t ever claim that black men are not to be held accountable for their actions. Nor do I intend to make the point that all black men are crazy or that we all steal. But to think that black men have had a 200+ year history of being public targets for various kinds of police brutality in the United States is astonishing. Both Crispus Attucks and Michael Brown are regarded as martyrs, but for very different reasons. We are taught to look at Crispus Attucks through the rosy view of his contribution to the American Revolutionary War. Clearly by John Adams account, there were those who would prefer to have seen him as the 18th century equivalent of a “thug” just as some would like to paint Michael Brown the same way today. Part of me has to believe that Crispus Attucks’ actions actually had little or nothing to do with feeling a patriotic kinship with a nation and people who would enslave him, make him a 20 year fugitive and keep his life in constant threat. I believe that Crispus Attucks’ actions had more in common with Michael Brown in that moment when he had the altercation in the convenience store. These are both acts of social disobedience that say to a hostile American culture, “I am not a slave in body or in spirit! I am here! I am real!  I am a human being!” These are both men demanding a place in their world and willing to do something crazy as a way to show it.  But in the end, the only truly crazy ones are us if we don’t use their legacies to end the real “crazy making” policies, systems and psychologies that plague people of color and primarily black men in this country.

End racialized police brutality NOW!

National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, October 22, 2014 – #O22

[1] http://www.crispusattucksmuseum.org/

[2] Ibid.

The Only Fight

brown-cancer-ribbon

The symbol to the left is normally used to denote support for cancer awareness.  I’ve turned it upside down as a symbol of my commitment to end the cancer of racism.  Upside down, its shape is also a reminder that the United States never passed a law against lynching…one of the most explicit and brutal acts of institutional racism in the history of this nation (although the government “apologized” in 2005.)  One of my earliest memories is the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot.  46 years later, black men are still being gunned down out of racially motivated hatred.  Where is my government?  Where is my church?  Where are my people?  

I offer the following plea to all people during what sometimes feels like a perpetual night of horror that has lasted my entire life.  If you agree, please share this image and these words:

WE believe in a truly United States…

We demand an immediate and more engaged national response to racism.  We insist on aggressive action from our leadership (government, faith, social, etc.) and we encourage hands on action and vocal responses to injustice that demonstrate the power and will of THE PEOPLE to dismantle institutionalized racism in America once and for all. 

Racism in the United States is a global embarrassment and demands our priority attention.  The question of race is part of every cultural, ethical and spiritual aspect of life in this country.  As a result, American racism is a sickness that lies at the root of economic inequity, environmental abuse, health disparity, immigration justice, gender, sexuality and gender identity marginalization, political and social disenfranchisement as well as countless other gross injustices, past and present.

We will no longer tolerate the specific issue of racism being sidelined.  THE PEOPLE have the power to turn American racism into history.  We demand change TODAY. 

– A.D.