You chose not to listen. You chose not to act.

The reality of the situation right now, in Chicago and in Minneapolis, but also everywhere else is this:

First of all, it should not have taken seeing video evidence to convince so many White Americans that police violence was happening — and happening pretty frequently — because Black America (as well as basically every other marginalized section of our population) has been telling us all for years/decades/centuries about widespread police violence, and society chose not to listen or believe them.

Second, many more White Americans are *continuing* to put their heads in the sand and their fingers in their ears, just as they did after the 1991 footage of Rodney King — except now there’s wall-to-wall evidence available, which makes the indifference and denial look far more deliberate.

Third, even if you believe that it is just “a few bad apples” in these police forces, the rest of that old expression is “spoil the bunch” — and if you don’t remove the rot then it will spread. Every one bad / violent cop probably undermines the hard work of thousands of law enforcement officials who are selflessly putting the lives of innocent people before their own or are simply acting appropriately every day on the job.

Every leader of a city government or police force who attempts to cover for or cover up or excuse police abuses is reducing the force’s ability to build trust with its community to be able to do its job. Misconduct and acts of violence should be cause for termination. Mishandling those acts should be cause for resignation.

Stop acting like everything is a one-off episode. We know it’s not.

Protecting children and students by empowering them

Promoting the rights of children, youth, and students is vitally important for keeping them safe. We’ve seen the footage this week from Spring Valley High School of a girl being body-slammed and seriously injured by a police officer in her school — an all-too-common occurrence. While this itself is a grave abuse (➚) and clearly one escalated by racism and misogynoir (learn more➚), one additional element we need to be aware of is how many schools (including in Massachusetts) have adopted policies that may limit our ability to find out about these incidents in future.

Such measures include monitoring students’ internet communications on campus and restricting or confiscating cell phones. While some of this is ostensibly to reduce distractions, its secondary (and I hope unintended!) effect is to reduce the ability of students to record authority figures or otherwise get the word out about abuses or inappropriate behaviors by adults who are supposed to be keeping them safe.

This doesn’t just apply to inappropriate uses of physical force to contain situations, but also to other types of abuse. There have been more than enough institutional sex abuse scandals erupting in recent years to learn from. These often occurred in eras where children and youth were neither respected nor readily empowered to document illegal actions (of any kind) by adults in positions of power. We now know that young people are endangered when they are unable to advocate for themselves against powerful adults or institutions and are unable to prove what is happening.

It would be a serious mistake to move toward policies that prioritize omnipresent surveillance and policing while deprioritizing student rights and student privacy. Such an approach doesn’t foster a culture of being willing to constructively stand up to authority or institutions when there are abuses or illegal activity. (And reportedly, a student who tried to intervene physically in this case to protect his or her classmate from abuse was also disciplined by the school, which should raise some similar questions too.)

In immediate terms, while we always hope these things won’t happen in our schools, if they do happen, it’s much better that we know about them quickly so we can stop them and act against those responsible. For that to happen, students must feel comfortable about coming forward and be empowered to do so. Part of a safe learning environment is not just taking a “public safety in schools” approach but also ensuring students can advocate for themselves when something isn’t right.

In the bigger picture, I believe that the latter approach – respecting the rights of young people and protecting their ability to blow the whistle on abuses of power without fearing recrimination – also helps promote a generally more engaged and empowered civic attitude for a lifetime. Part of our education system should be to encourage people to defend each other and themselves from abuses of power wherever it may occur. It should never be to teach our children that they are powerless to stop injustice, illegal activity, or abuse.

AFD Micron #45

Other students in the Spring Valley High School video are terrified and still. Other adults are in the room and do nothing. Public abuses of power make people frightened of authority and more subservient, even after we all agree they are abuses. The officer’s been fired; good, but you can hardly still act surprised if people of color feel threatened by state authority.

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Ferguson + 365 Days: A Culture of Police Impunity

On the anniversary of Mike Brown’s death, another abusive police crackdown played out.

Map: Ferguson, MO within St. Louis County. (© OpenStreetMap contributors)

Map: Ferguson, MO within St. Louis County. (© OpenStreetMap contributors)

Last year, on August 9th, the death of Mike Brown at the hands of a police officer pushed the chronic abuse of an entire community at the hands of police to the forefront of global news media and kicked off a national movement.

Ten days ago, on August 9th 2015, the first anniversary of his death, people began tweeting links to articles and feeds about violence breaking out in Ferguson. I naively thought that people were posting old articles, as a reminder of the trauma that Ferguson residents endured last year in the wake of Mike Brown’s death. It wasn’t until the next morning that I realized that the links being posted were brand new. It’s been a year to the day, yet St. Louis County Police Department still doesn’t seem to want to fix the problem.

Over the past year, Whiteness and its privileges have been under the microscope. More and more people of color, especially Black people, are able to document their interactions with Whiteness — from the smallest micro-aggressions to major instances of Police Brutality and abuse. Ferguson in the past week alone has shown examples almost all of these issues.

On the night of August 10th, a 19-year-old White girl decided she was going to show solidarity with St. Louis PD as the tension increased at the ongoing Ferguson anniversary protests. The girl is quoted saying that she was there to protect the police, because she would rather have something thrown at her, than to have something thrown at and possibly injure cops.

It seems strange that someone would feel that police with guns riot gear would need protection from peaceful protesters. Meanwhile, the same instinct isn’t felt for a 12 year old Black girl detained by St. Louis County PD in Ferguson during protests. When the news spread on Twitter of the girl’s arrest, the STL PD account was quick to respond that the girl had an ID that stated that she was 18 years old, despite the fact that there were eyewitness accounts of the girl stating that she was 12 when asking why exactly she was being detained. Apparently she posed the same threat that Dajerria Becton posed in McKinney, Texas: being young, Black, and female in front of the police.

Earlier that same day, prominent activists Netta Elzie and DeRay Mckesson were both arrested, along with many others, during a peaceful protest at the Ferguson courthouse. It wasn’t until the following day, upon release, that other detainees came forward on Twitter with stories of being abused by the police — who ignored their requests not only to know why they were being detained, but also requests for things such as rolling down the windows in hot police vans.

This level of neglect harkens back to the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, or the death of Sandra Bland in Texas. In both of those instances, the police claimed that the victims hurt themselves, but the negligence shown toward the detainees makes one think that any pre-existing issue anyone might have had could only have become worse in police custody.

While Black protesters were detained abusively, an armed group of vigilantes called the Oath Keepers showed up at Tuesday night’s protests weren’t even approached initially by police and the legality of their presence had to be reviewed before the police ever asked them to leave. As usual, the threat of White violence (against Black protesters) was apparently less dangerous than the protesters’ unarmed presence.

Virtually all of this — incredibly — played out in front of global news media again, just like the first time around.

It’s been a year since the death of Mike Brown at the hands of a Ferguson police officer, and it seems as if the police there has not learned a single lesson. It is still treating unarmed Black citizens as a threat. Its attempts to “control” already peaceful situations only raise tensions higher. With the growing list of Black and Brown people being murdered by police, and with the entirety of the world watching, Ferguson is a reflection of the entire country’s inability to take any substantial move towards valuing and preserving our lives.

While the movement that expanded in the aftermath of Mike Brown’s death seems to have started very slightly changing the discussion in the country — by refusing to “let it go” — it is telling that the police in St. Louis County feel they can act with such impunity with the world watching.

That means they believe enough people in power or the general public don’t object to their behavior enough to correct it. Or that if they do object, the system will continue to protect them anyway. Sadly, that assumption is probably correct. And with Ferguson being the example of systemic racism on a smaller scale, imagine how that is playing out nationwide, off-camera.

Janelle Monáe: Magical Black Womanist Revolution Music

Guest post by Maria Jackson. You can read her last guest essay here.

I have been a fan of Janelle Monáe since 2008’s Metropolis: The Chase Suite. Hearing her music was like hearing my inner most thoughts, desires, and interests manifest. Her electric, bouncing, soulful, sci-fi sound paired with strong, storytelling lyrics of a quest for freedom had me hooked. Everything Monáe has presented and produced has been created thoughtfully and with a clear-eyed purpose.

Janelle-MonáeMonáe has been hyper aware of her image and how others perceive her ever since she came onto the scene over seven years ago. Preferring to be covered up than baring skin or being “revealing” was choice dictated not only by style, but also by conscious and personal comfort. Her iconic look, bouncy pompadoured coif with a black and white tuxedo (although her wardrobe has expanded and her hair has been down recently) is a uniform in tribute not only to her parents, but also to working class people:

“When I started my musical career I was a maid, I used to clean houses and the girls I used to clean houses with used to always beg me to sing while we cleaned. I lived in a boarding house with five other girls and I would sell my $5 CD out of my room. My mother was a proud janitor, my step-father who raised me worked at the post office, and my father was a trash man. They all wore a uniform and that’s why I wear my uniform to honor them. I have work to do. I have people to uplift. I have people to inspire. And today I wear my uniform proudly.”

 
Beginning with narrative Cindi Mayweather vs. The Wolfmasters, much of Monáe’s musical catalogue tells the story of a future society where androids are sold at auction for the pleasure of their buyers. Specifically androids are the “others” whose independence and freedom are feared by the very same who have created and own them.

In Cindi’s musical sojourn to be free, Monáe references negro spirituals and melds them with the origins of modern sci-fi, citing the influences of Philip K. Dick and the 1927 silent film, Metropolis. Fusing retro fashions of suspenders and the pompadour, while blending sci-fi vision with the frustration and joy entangled in the current realities of living as marginalized person in the U.S., Monáe’s artistry has always been about the very revolutionary act of bringing the outsiders to the forefront of their own stories about love, freedom, humanity, and self-acceptance.

These womanist themes of living at the intersections have continued through each album reaching a commercial and pop culture peek in her 2013 release of Q.U.E.E.N featuring Erykah Badu. Q.U.E.E.N, which stands for Queer, Untouchables, Emigrants, Excommunicated, Negroid, tackles themes of respectability politics, morality, black femininity, white supremacy, inequality and poverty. So, when she and the other Wondaland artists spoke up about police brutality during their performance on the TODAY Show (and were cut off), no one should have been surprised.

Earlier that day the Wondaland artists released Hell You Talmbout (a rework or sequel to the Electric Lady bonus track of the same name) a percussive protest jam made for marching where the names of men, women, boys, and girls killed by police brutality are shouted. Monáe described the meaning behind the song her Instagram:

“This song is a vessel. It carries the unbearable anguish of millions. We recorded it to channel the pain, fear, and trauma caused by the ongoing slaughter of our brothers and sisters. We recorded it to challenge the indifference, disregard, and negligence of all who remain quiet about this issue. Silence is our enemy. Sound is our weapon. They say a question lives forever until it gets the answer it deserves… Won’t you say their names?”

 
The only way you could be unaware of Monáe’s views on Black life in America is to be wholly ignorant of her body of work.

Guest essayist Maria Jackson is a thirty-something, 4th generation Georgia Peach who writes for Shakefire.com and can be heard trading opinions and laughter on the Nerdgasm Noire podcast, with Arsenal For Democracy columnist De Ana and others. Co-owner and full time fatshionista for luvfattax.com.

AFD Micron #5

Systemic racism doesn’t mean white men in suits having secret meetings to decide how racism happens. The murder of Sam DuBose was clearly unpremeditated and spontaneous. It’s also clearly related to the overwhelming dehumanization of black people throughout American history, the normalization of immediately using violence to deal with them, police forces that are willing to cover for each other, and so on; snap decisions made with the weight of enough racist psychology behind them don’t demand conspiracy theories.

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