Tag Archives: police

Black History Month 2016: Black Lives Matter

1 Feb

black-lives-matterThis is now the sixth year that Social Justice For All (SJFA) has celebrated Black History Month. Sadly, the past year has proven unequivocally why we still need Black History Month. I can only hope all of us in the United States are doing some reflection around our own racism and encouraging conversations around issues of racial disparities and systems of inequities and oppression. I also hope as we have these courageous conversations we have a better understanding of what racism is.

In the wake of Ferguson, Cleveland, New York, and all of the other cities where black voices are being silenced, we have an opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations around race and racism.  I hope all of us who identify as white have some discomfort as we look at how disproportionately black lives are subjected to police brutality or murder — how all of us should be mourning Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Artago Damon Howard, Jeremy Lett, Trayvon Martin, Roy Nelson, Miguel Espinal, Anthony Ashford, and all of the other unarmed black lives lost. It is with profound sadness that I note the statistic (most likely under-reported) that police killed at least 102 unarmed black people in 2015, more than any other race. I find it more than difficult to believe that systemic, institutional, and individual racism did not have a hand in these deaths.

While I identify as a queer white man, I would argue this horrific part of American History is most definitely a queer issue, it is a feminist issue, it is a black issue, it is a trans issue, for the intersectionality here makes it an issue for all people living in the United States.

Equity and Equality are still just a dream when 13% of the people in our country identify as African American (we know this percentage is not accurate because of the many barriers that prevent some African Americans from filling out the census) and far fewer than this are represented in most walks of life. Sadly, the places where African Americans are over-represented include poverty, dropout rates, and incarceration, further evidence that institutionalized oppression still plays a major role in how things work in America. In states like Alabama, African Americans that are or were incarcerated lose their right to vote for the rest of their lives – so much for the 14th Amendment.

I would love to see a point in history when we don’t need Black History, Women’s History, or LGBT History Months. I don’t see that happening until we have a level playing field, which would require eradicating racism, misogyny, and homophobia. This also requires that we see accurate representation in history books and the media of Blacks, Women, and LGBT folk. I can only hope that all of these targeted populations can find ways to build community and work together around issues of equity and equality.

Taking Action: Here we have an opportunity as white people to leverage our power and privilege for black lives. I hope all of us are engaging in conversations that address issues of access, power, and barriers. Can we look for spaces where white people can stand back and stand in solidarity with black people? Can we look for spaces to ensure more black voices are being heard? Please vote and think about the candidate you are voting for this year for President.

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A Good Time To Remember Ella Baker

4 Dec

ella-bakerIn the wake of the death of Eric Garner and Michael Brown at the hands of white police officers with no indictment, I am looking for hope  somewhere.  After learning of the verdict in New York yesterday morning, there is a very sad heaviness for the United States. We have yet another death of a black mother’s son. For me, I am trying to remember Ella Baker and reflect on how much work we still have do around issues of racial equity and equality.

Baker was one of the most influential players in the civil rights movement. Baker’s grandparents were slaves and she would hear stories from her grandmother about slave revolts. After finishing college and graduating valedictorian, she moved to New York and started her life’s path of social justice. Baker fought for civil rights alongside others such as, W.E.B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, and Dr. Martin Luther King. She was also a mentor to our Rosa Parks. Baker’s influence touched the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Baker and another hero of my mine, Howard Zinn, were two of the SNCC’s highly revered adult advisors. Baker remained an activist until her death in 1986.

I leave you with the lyrics to Ella’s Song, written by one of my personal heros, Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon and performed by Sweet Honey in the Rock:

We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes

Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons
Is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons

That which touches me most is that I had a chance to work with people
Passing on to others that which was passed on to me

To me young people come first, they have the courage where we fail
And if I can but shed some light as they carry us through the gale

The older I get the better I know that the secret of my going on
Is when the reins are in the hands of the young, who dare to run against the storm

Not needing to clutch for power, not needing the light just to shine on me
I need to be one in the number as we stand against tyranny

Struggling myself don’t mean a whole lot, I’ve come to realize
That teaching others to stand up and fight is the only way my struggle survives

I’m a woman who speaks in a voice and I must be heard
At times I can be quite difficult, I’ll bow to no man’s word

We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes

Thank you, Ella. Thank you Sweet Honey in the Rock!

Ferguson and the War on Human Rights

15 Aug

FergThe scenes and stories from Ferguson, MO are both tragic and profoundly disturbing.  The death of Michael Brown, Jr., shot in the back by officer Darren Wilson, resonates deeply and clearly sends the message about how black male youth are disproportionately targeted and profiled. That his death sparked brief but significant street violence is understandable, but also sad. That hundreds of people exercising their rights to peacefully demand answers and inform the public have been brutalized by the police takes things to another shocking level. I find myself despondent and distraught, and the whole situation has me reflecting on the intersections of racism, violent culture, and hypocrisy.  It feels to me as though we have learned nothing from history.

I still cannot believe that anyone claims we live in a post-racist society. If anything, the election of President Obama has proved just how deep racism runs and how willing people are to exercise it. From the halls of power to the streets of America, the story is the same. The thread that binds Michael Brown, Jr. to Trayvon Martin to Rodney King is unravelling from the uneasy tapestry of the Civil Rights movement. Sure, we’re all equal now, but if an African American man is someplace that authorities don’t think he should be, that equality evaporates very quickly.

Sadly, the force used to apply that racism is growing exponentially. As the NRA-sponsored culture of guns and violence expands, the reaction to any perceived threat is to shoot first and ask questions later. The officer who shot Michael Brown, Jr. may have felt justified in using his firearm, although that justification is difficult to understand. Even if he did, why did he keep firing until Brown was on the ground dead? How can justice be had for anyone when presumptions of guilt end in the cold facts of death?

The very language we hear from our leaders is steeped in violence. We can’t simply deal with substance abuse, we need a war on drugs. Want to justify endless military action? Start a war on terror. Nothing helps build the prison industrial complex like a war on crime. By waging war on abstractions, we use language to justify needless violence. Those with the least power naturally suffer the most, creating a vicious cycle of loss. When the federal government offloads military supplies to local governments, it is no surprise that those who feel they are fighting these supposed great evils act like combatants rather than civil servants and keepers of the peace.

That irony leads to violent hypocrisy. In the name of protecting the people, suddenly we must gas them. In the name of freedom, journalists must be arrested for being in a fast food restaurant. That hypocrisy is modelled by authorities every day. When George W Bush exercised his executive authority, he was a bold leader; when the President of color does the same thing, he is a malevolent tyrant who must be sued and stopped.When white rancher and known tax criminal Cliven Bundy stands off federal officials, he is left in peace. When people of color peaceably assemble to request answers, they are shot with rubber bullets, gassed, and arrested. And quite sadly, the Mayor seems not to have a clue about racism.  Mayor James Knowles III continues to assert that Ferguson has no racial tension.  Really? The evidence would certainly point to the contrary. Adding to the horrific irony is that Hedy Epstein, a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor, was arrested yesterday along with 8 other protesters demanding justice for Michael Brown in St. Louis.  If this is not a cry for how we look at justice and the intersections of race and power, I don’t know what is. 

And so the cycle spins, with racism, violence, and hypocrisy grinding the marginalized and rewarding the powerful. In the end, the only thing that’s really surprising about Ferguson is that anyone is truly surprised. Sadly, every time we have another violent crime against a person of color from those in power, it is an excruciatingly painful reminder that we do not all start from a level playing field. People of color and other targeted populations are barraged with messages that this is not a safe place; that equity and equality are concepts reserved for those occupying the space of the dominant culture.

Bigot of the Week, April 25: Earl Bullard

25 Apr
Boss Hogg or Earl Bullard?

Boss Hogg or Earl Bullard?

I want to thank my friend and LGBT ally, Jennifer Carey for inspiring me to address this week’s BWA.  Apparently, Earl Bullard and his cronies would prefer drunk drivers in the state of South Carolina to having LGBT folk, specifically Crystal Moore as the openly lesbian police chief of Latta, South Carolina.

Sadly, South Carolina is just one of 29 states that has no legal protection for LGBT folks.  Consequently, one can be denied employment for membership in the LGBT community.  Bullard seems more like a caricature after he spews his homophobic venom:

I would much rather have.. and I will say this to anybody’s face… somebody who drank and drank too much taking care of my child than I had somebody whose lifestyle is questionable around children.

Because that ain’t the damn way it’s supposed to be. You know.. you got people out there — I’m telling you buddy — I don’t agree with some of the lifestyles that I see portrayed and I don’t say anything because that is the way they want to live, but I am not going to let my child be around…I’m not going to let 2 women stand up there and hold hands and let my child be aware of it. And I’m not going to see them do it with 2 men neither.

My goodness. So according to Mayor Earl Bullard children are far safer riding in a car with a drunk driver than a sober lesbian police chief? I must confess, I am having some difficulty grasping the logic here.  I suspect our Bullard also believes there is a Big Gay Agenda trying to take over the world — bwah-ha-haah!

CALL TO ACTION: Bullard’s behavior only proves how desperately we need to pass ENDA and protect the LGBT community from discrimination. Currently, it is legal under federal law to fire someone for being gay. Under state and local law, it depends on each state and municipality whether gay people are protected in employment. Act locally AND nationally — if you have local protection laws, ensure they are enforced; if not, work to get them passed. This year’s midterm elections are a great opportunity to ensure that the next Congress will be ENDA supporting.

DISHONORABLE MENTION this week goes to Georgia’s legislature and Gov. Nathan Deal. In their infinite wisdom, they have passed the most generous concealed carry law in the nation, allowing guns in schools, libraries and numerous other public places. The law also starkly reduces penalties for being caught with a firearm in an airport making the world’s busiest airport, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, one of the most dangerous.

True Christmas Heroes in Connecticut

26 Dec
True Heroes

True Heroes

One of the few bright spots about the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary has been the stories of heroism emerging from the dark events. Most people are familiar with the bravery of the faculty and staff, some of whom lost their lives defending their charges. Great credit goes to the first responders as well, especially the Newtown Police and the local medical examiners. They faced a horror the likes of which most people can never truly imagine and did their jobs with quiet grace and dedication. Between investigating the killings, serving as honor guards at the far too many funerals, and carrying out their usual duties, Newtown police have been working exhausting hours, even with the capable aid of the Connecticut State Police.

Enter the holiday spirit. On Christmas Day, Newtown police Sgt. Steve Santucci released this message:

Patrol officers and sworn personnel will be given the day off to be home on Christmas. Officers from surrounding towns will be patrolling Newtown.

One of the organizers, Lt. Bob Kozlowsky of the Shelton police department said “It’s a police thing.” His chief went to Newtown to pitch in as many other officers from around the area pitched in all the duties necessary to keep Newtown safe. Meanwhile, exhausted Newtown police were given the day to celebrate and relax with their families, something especially important to them this year.

The substitute police tried to keep the story quiet, wanting it to be a gift, not a press release. When it was leaked, they just went quietly about their business. Most of the volunteers either refused to accept pay or donated their one-day check to Newtown and Sandy Hook charities. In a year where public employees have been much maligned by Teahadists and union busters, this story is just one more example of the true dedication exemplified by most public servants.

Our usual Bigot of the Week and Hero of the Week stories will be suspended this week for the top 5 Hero and Bigot of the Year awards. This story, however, was just too wonderful to pass by. Enjoy your holidays, however you celebrate them.

Hero of the Week Award: November 2, First Responders

2 Nov

Hero of the Week

Amidst the horrific devastation that Hurricane Sandy wrought in the Northeastern U.S., thousands of men and women are quiet heroes. “Just doing their jobs,” these first responders and supporting personnel help to make sense of the chaos. They work hard to minimize the impact of the storm on the lives of millions. Fire fighters, EMTs, police, and others band together, efficiently doing the work they have trained to do.

Natural disasters bring untold consequences. The wind damage and flooding that are obvious blend with fires, power outages, injuries, separated families, and a host of other problems. First responders rush into the bedlam, often risking their own health and safety, to make things better for everyone. They deserve our thanks and praise.

In light of the coming election, it is worth noting two things that should be evident but are often overlooked. Almost without exception, these are government jobs. They are paid for by our taxes and are a perfect example of why individual investment in systems that serve everyone are so important. Local governments alone cannot cope on this scale, so having well-funded, organized state and federal systems in place is also critical. Michael Brown, infamous failed FEMA director under George W. can whine all he wants about the “too speedy” response of the Obama administration. It was, in fact, a perfect example of how governments at all levels should work together to make the best of a bad situation.

It is also worth noting that most of these first responders have union organized workplaces. The fact that they are well trained, well equipped, provided with guidelines for work hours and safety, and paid something remotely close to the value of their work arises from that simple fact. The Scott Walkers of the world can complain all they want about the evils of public unions. All those served by these brave people should strenuously object, wondering what their fates might have been in an underfunded response model. Elections have consequences, and what Sandy could have done is a good illustration of where  some politicians want to take this country.

Thanks again to the heroes who serve quietly and powerfully. Your dedication, commitment, and service are shining examples of our nation at its finest.

Honorable mention this week goes to Bob Crowder, a long-time Florida Republican. Crowder, sick of the loony Tea-stained fringe that has taken over his party, mounted a primary challenge to Rep. Allen West, one of the worst of the bunch. (Now THAT takes some doing!) Crowder lost his bid to unseat West in the primaries. This week, he did something remarkable and powerful: he endorsed the Democrat, Patrick Murphy. Murphy would be a great Congressman, and taking down West would be icing on the cake. Crowder, who is the sheriff of Martin County, sums up his view nicely.

As a Republican for over 30 years, I’m embarrassed by the radical fringe that has taken over the party. Sadly, Allen West is their poster child, and the hateful, divisive comments he’s made throughout this campaign make it clear to me he’s the wrong choice for our district.

Thank you, Sheriff Crowder, for standing up for the best candidate and putting the needs of your fellow Floridians ahead of mere partisanship.

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