Sunday, December 14, 2014

Obama Refused To Meet Moms Of Sons Killed By Police #BlackLivesMatter

Moms of sons slain by the police visit the U.S. Dept. of Justice.

Congressional staffers of color walked off the job to protest police brutality and to demand justice. Many of the staffers hugged moms of slain sons who were in Washington DC to speak out.
Hosted by Mothers Against Police Brutality, CODEPINK, National Congress of Black Women and Hands Up DC Coalition, mothers who have lost their children to police brutality traveled to Washington DC from December 9-11 to call for police accountability, policy reform and justice for victims’ families. 

Eternal pain forces mothers of slain black men to speak out for policing changes, The Washington Post, December 11, 2014

Mothers recount sons' deaths; protests go on, Click2houston, December 10, 2014

USA Today — 5 Things to know for Wednesday (Mentions Wanda Johnson), USA Today, December 10, 2014

Monday, December 8, 2014

Calling Out White Privilege Isn't Pigeonholing: A Glossary Of Terms

Voices of Grief and Struggle: Public Forum for Mothers
Coming to DC to Demand Police Accountability

Dec 9-11, Washington DC
With so much debate swirling around racial injustice in the U.S., people of color are suggesting that it's time for white people to have conversations -- with each other -- about racism and white privilege.

In these often hostile discussions it's become clear to me that people are using the two terms interchangeably, if as they meant the same thing.

Everyone is free to define words they use in their own way, so this is my glossary of basic terms and what they mean when I use them to post on social media.

This is the belief that certain things are true of entire large groups of people who share a similar appearance. For example, the claim that a group of people who appear to be the same race are naturally hard-working or naturally lazy would be an example of racism. It often goes along with the belief that certain races are inferior or superior to other races.
Source: "A woman stands in the rain near a taxi going by on Broadway in lower Manhattan June 18, 2009 New York City." This experience has been described as destination discrimination.
Institutional Racism
This is the expression of racism through structures of government and society that preference certain races and disadvantage others. It might be seen in schools and universities, in hiring practices, or in policing. For example, my friend Janet Weil was arrested in San Francisco protesting the Eric Gardner grand jury decision along with lots of other people who were shutting down Market Street. Police arrested all the young men of color first and only then began arresting the older white women, even though the women were facing off at the police line side by side with the men.

White Privilege
This is a result of racism that preferences white people such that all people who appear to be white experience certain advantages in society, whether they recognize it or not. One does not need to act racist, sound racist, or hold racist views in order to experience the advantages of white privilege. For example, a taxi cab will stop for you but not for the well-dressed African American professional standing on the same block as you also trying to hail a cab. Another example: when I lived in Tokyo in the 1983, my Japanese friends were denied admittance to a trendy nightclub while I was waved through by the doorman.

My father explained white privilege to me when I was still quite young by saying, "You are white. That does not make you better than other people, but it does make you luckier -- because there are a lot of advantages to being white in our country." For example, when my teenage sun goes skateboarding in the middle of the road at 2am and the police stop him, they do not kill him or arrest him but instead issue him a ticket. This is the outcome even though my son fails to apologize and even argues with the officer while failing to address him as "sir."

Privilege is often invisible to those benefiting from it, and systems of information control are designed to keep it that way. One way I have heard this described is, "He was born on third base but thinks he hit a triple."

This is the concept that all struggles for justice and self-determination are connected and must act with awareness of one another to be effective.  For example, feminism cannot be for white women only, and it weakens itself when it focuses exclusively on matters pertaining to privilege, such the glass ceiling for female executives. The term was coined and subsequently elaborated by KimberlĂ© Crenshaw, an African American law professor, in 1989.

Economic Privilege
Much economic privilege attaches to white privilege. A glance at the relative net worth of black, brown and white people in the U.S. attests to this. Of course there are economically disadvantaged people of every race struggling to get by in these times of galloping austerity. Poor white people still have white privilege, but it can be hard for them to perceive this as the war against the poor rages on, and their families suffer.

This is how we define ourselves. It is inherently unjust to assign identities to other people. For example, many people object to being assigned to one of two genders at birth and then pressured into conforming to other people's expectations of that gender for life.

This usually means assigning an identity to someone else in such a way that it excludes the other facets of their self-chosen identity. For example, calling someone a dumb blonde is attaching a label that reduces the person to a stereotype based on appearance.

This means the same thing as labeling, with extra emphasis on the restrictive nature of the label. For example, calling someone a liberal as if this carried with it a whole set of beliefs and behaviors that could then be assumed.

This is a contrived identity applied to all members of a certain group, whether it fits those people or not. For example, it is a common stereotype that wealthy people are greedy.
Dr. Henry Louis Gates being arrested on the porch of his home in Cambridge, Mass. Source: Wikipedia
The belief that some things or ideas or people are more valuable than other things, ideas or people. Facts and further evidence do not tend to have an effect where prejudice is already entrenched. For example, police insist on arresting a Harvard professor whose front door has jammed for breaking into his own house.

This is unequal treatment of an individual or group, and could be either advantageous or not. For example, once racial quotas were introduced into college admissions to redress institutional racism, some white people claimed this made them victims of reverse discrimination.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Militarized Policing, School Lockdowns And Our Culture Of Violence

Source: Debra J. Groom blogging on
"School district officials wanted to alert district residents that there were no problems today at Oswego High School or Leighton Elementary School. Five state police vehicles were parked along Buccaneer Boulevard Friday, Nov. 3, but were there as the New York State Police Troop D canine units conducted training at the high school while providing a community service to the district."
Yesterday we stood in freezing rain outside of Bath Iron Works for an hour during the shift change. Aside from the ankle deep slush it was warming to be standing with the Smilin' Tree Disarmament Farm organizers of the annual Advent series of vigils outside the gates where weapons of mass destruction are made by hard-working Mainers.

Some of the workers were quite angry to see us while others exchanged friendly greetings with Bath resident Bruce Gagnon, a regular outside the gates when the shifts change. Hundreds walked or drove by Bruce's sign: "Zumwalt Provocative Expensive" referring to General Dynamics' (the corporation that owns BIW) latest product. One worker assured Bruce that "Ships protect the peace, ships keep us safe." Bruce politely disagreed, noting that the Zumwalt is a first strike weapon.
Maine's entire Congressional delegation paying homage at the launch of a $4 billion Zumwalt destroyer last April at BIW.
While standing I had time to connect with peaceworker Jane, who is 83 years old and can hold a sign for an hour in freezing rain without wearing gloves. Jane recently moved to Maine from Vermont, where she worked extensively in counter recruitment in the schools. Military recruiters in public schools use local, state and federal tax support to provide access to teenagers and sometimes even children younger than that. It's one of the ways education dollars are redirected to support the aims of our highly militarized and violent culture.

Another way came to light when we circled up at the end of the vigil. A vigiler who works at Rockland High School told us that she came out of her office this week to find the school was in lockdown mode. These are drills which are supposed to keep students and staff safe in the event of a school shooting. However, this drill went far beyond locking doors and closing window shades.

Every student was ordered to line up his or her backpack in the halls and then hide in a classroom while police moved through the packs with several police dogs trained to sniff out drugs. None were found, nor did the school have information that any would be found. Just a drill, folks. The dogs also sniffed the cars in the parking lot, including those of the adults who work there. A warrantless search that, again, found nothing. It seems clearly designed to scare people, and the woman who told us about it indeed reported that she found police dogs sweeping through the halls very intimidating.

At least one school board member has raised questions about the drill, as reported in the Bangor Daily News on Dec. 5:
Rockland police, assisted by canines and their handlers from the Knox County Sheriff’s Office and Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, took about 45 minutes to search for drugs, said Rockland police Detective Sgt. Chris Young. He said students were instructed to take their backpacks and leave them in the middle of the hallway outside their classrooms and then return to class. 
The dogs came through and sniffed the lockers and backpacks, he said. One of the dogs detected something in a backpack, which was opened, but no illegal substances were found...
The school-wide search was done at the request of principal Renee Thompson. Thompson said that there had not been problems with drugs at the school, but she wanted to be proactive and send the message to students and the community that there is a zero tolerance for drugs on campus.
Also zero tolerance for the Constitution, apparently. Hope the U.S. government students don't get those questions wrong on the AP exams they weren't studying for while helping police and sheriffs practice teaming up to intimidate an entire student body.

If, like me, you're keeping tabs on the creep of fascism in the USA, you could note that your rights are checked at the door when you enter a school run by the likes of Principal Thompson. Or Oswego High School in New York, or who knows how many others with militarized police and county sheriff's departments bringing in dogs for your "safety."

If you're in Maine you can join  the Smilin' Trees Disarmament Farm's annual Advent peace vigils at Bath Iron Works (BIW) on December 13 and 20.  Folks meet from 11:30am on Washington Street in front of the BIW administrations building. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

We Will Remember (Plessy v.) Ferguson, We will Remember Brown (v. Board of Edu)

I don't know why it took me so long to notice the eerie resonance between names of the landmark Supreme Court cases on institutional racism and the watershed event of Mike Brown's execution in Ferguson, Missouri. Last night at a book group of girls and women a teacher handed out some background on the two historic rulings, and seeing the words in print finally jogged my brain into making the connection. 

Plessy v. Ferguson established the odious concept of "separate but equal" public facilities being constitutional in 1896, beginning with a ruling by Judge Ferguson of the Criminal District Court of New Orleans, the Louisiana Supreme Court and SCOTUS following suit. Jim Crow segregation laws, lynching and suppression of voting rights were in full swing. Mr. Plessy had tried to sit in a train car reserved for white privilege and had been arrested.

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas overturned the legal basis of segregation in public schools in 1954. The SCOTUS ruled that "separate but equal" in education was a denial of equal protection under the law as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. Oliver Brown was a father who brought suit on behalf of his daughter, Linda Brown, who had to commute a long way to her segregated school because the local school was reserved for white privilege.

Now for years to come students will learn about the turning point in U.S. race relations that Mike Brown and Ferguson, Missouri have come to represent. Mike Brown was far from the first young man of color to be executed with impunity by a white policeman. Why should that particular wrongful death become the tipping point? 

It could be because his body was left lying in the street, riddled with bullets, in view of his family home. That act of cruelty and disrespect has sparked outrage and various protests to highlight the fact.  

From Buzzfeed:
On Saturday, November 29, 2014, days after the Grand Jury Decision, Knox College Women’s Basketball Player Ariyana Smith bravely held a one woman demonstration at the Knox College v. Fontbonne University game held in Clayton, MO.  During the singing of the national anthem, Ariyana walked with her hands up towards the American flag and fell to the ground for a full 4.5 minutes to bring awareness to the inhumane killing of Michael Brown in which his body was left to lay on a neighborhood street for 4.5 hours.

It could be because the Grand Jury that failed to indict Officer Darren Wilson to stand trial for Brown's death was conducted with such blatant bias and such poor application of due process. It's far from the first time that has happened, either.

Maybe the outrage that just won't stop is a sign of the times. Times in which neoliberals (e.g. presidental wannabe Hillary Clinton, who has said exactly nothing about the travesty of justice in Ferguson) are soundly trounced in midterm elections because liberal voters in vast numbers were too disillusioned to go to the polls.

Times in which white liberals are hopping mad at being called out on their white privilege. "I'm not racist!" they squeal, as if it were the same thing. They organized with black radicals fifty years ago! They're poor, too! Essentially they're angry because electing the first African American president did not deliver the "Get out of racism free card" they believed it did. (Like the reforms of the 60's and 70's were supposed to have ushered in a post-racist America. Uh huh, right.)
Clay Jones at  
But here's a theory: maybe Mike Brown's emblematic death became a watershed moment in the U.S. precisely because words matter, and they resonate deep in our unconscious where memories, fears and guilt roil.

Now and for the future, we will remember Ferguson and we will remember Brown.

Help get moms of young men of color who have been killed by the police to Washington DC on December 10 to confront lawmakers. Donate to support their trip.

Read their stories here:

Friday, November 28, 2014

White People Sure Do Get Angry About Racism...Their Own Racism

Photo by Becky Warthell from Portland, Maine the night following the Ferguson grand jury announcement.
It's been eye opening how many angry white people have crawled into view following the Mike Brown grand jury travesty of justice. They seem positively gleeful sharing the character assassination factoids repeated on Fox News and the like. It's getting hard to go anywhere in central Maine where I live without encountering gratuitous hate speech aimed at Brown and his community. How best to respond?

What I feel like saying when people are going on like this is some version of: Did you ever have an 18 year old son and did he ever do stupid stuff like walk down the middle of the street or talk back to cops, and did the police execute him without trial?

But what I actually said in response to racist spew the other day at a hair salon was: A black man is three times more likely to be killed by police than a white man. Three times. That's nationally.*

The spewers were extremely shocked that I, a white woman, spoke up and entered their loud public conversation. Conflict and political discussions are to be avoided at all times in polite society, and I think are viewed as inherently dangerous. I'm pretty sure if the women having the discussion had known that one of their listeners deeply disagreed, they would have not expressed themselves until I had departed.

I warned the woman washing my hair that I was about to say something. She became very nervous, conciliatory, and ratcheted up the inane chatter about any subject she could think of that didn't matter.

No one made any response to what I said, and the racist remarks ceased. In fact, it was downright silent for a good five minutes. Then, conversation turned to the neutral topics of cooking and shopping.

My first impulse was to decide never to go to that salon again. But I challenge myself on that impulse, because insulating myself from people who disagree with me is no way to learn. My impulse to do that is, I think, cowardly.

Since I'm not moving to an urban area anytime soon, there's not much danger of it happening anyway.

But I can feel people pulling away from each other along the divide of white supremacy versus equal rights. This is how civil wars get started. Later, people will report that they had lived with their neighbors in peace for generations, agreeing to disagree, until one day the powers that be wanted a civil war. The propaganda machine went into overdrive pumping out hateful invective at that point, and the mass violence it was designed to incite eventually ensued.

I like to look for patterns, and I believe history matters.
Source: Organizing Notes
Governor Dudley declared in 1704 a "General Thanksgiving" not to celebrate the brotherhood of man but for: 
[God’s] infinite Goodness to extend His Favors ... In defeating and disappointing ... the Expeditions of the Enemy [Indians] against us, And the good Success given us against them, by delivering so many of them into our hands...
Let me give another example. On Facebook this Thanksgiving there were a couple of good articles (here and here) about the true story behind the myth of a chummy dinner between Pilgrims and Native Americans. I shared them on my page as I went about collecting food, cooking, and looking forward gratefully to a warm meal with family and friends.

Apparently these articles offended some Facebook friends. (I define a fb friend as someone who gets my posts in their news feed. It has very little to do with friendship as practiced outside of cyberspace.)

One of them wrote:
Goodness people...let's repurpose Thanksgiving so that it is not associated with any historical event and is merely a day set aside for giving thanks. It's been done around the world for eons...after the harvest is in a feast is held and gratitude is expressed, end of story. It needs no politicizing. It's a traditional day to gather with family and friends to cook and eat and acknowledge that we have so much to be thankful for its almost overwhelming. Giving thanks is nourishment for the soul. It' strengthens family and community. It's necessary for human culture. We do not need to feel guilty about Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving!
Can you tell this person is white? What was your first clue? Here's a comment a younger member of the same family added: "Growing up we might have been white, but we certainly were not privileged."

Wow. Just, wow.

People who claim that politics can be avoided are nearly always from the dominant group in society. It's a luxury they can afford. They are willing to be tone deaf when indigenous people object to celebrating events associated with genocide. They aren't very interested in listening to the truth of people who don't share their experience and/or their point of view.

I never understand how we're going to learn anything if we won't listen to others, especially others with whom we disagree.

So, I'll keep on marching with people like videographers Regis Tremblay
 and the very talented Lauren Kennedy.

I'll keep on listening and reading as much as I can. And I'll be thankful when another friend shares moving words from a woman of color, Lauryn Hill, who revised and covered "These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things" in this song entitled "Black Rage."

Listen, and you just might learn something.

*CORRECTION: I misquoted former ACLU of Maine and senatorial candidate Shenna Bellows. What she actually said at a rally way past my bedtime on Nov. 25 was that a black man is three times more likely to be arrested than a white man. That's nationally. In Portland, Maine the rate is 2.6 times more likely.

The actual data on the rate of black and white deaths by police shooting is not collected nationally. But for comparison here is a decade's worth of data on the NYPD:

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Justice Or "Just Us" In #Ferguson Failure To Indict Darren Wilson ?

Portland, Maine Nov. 25, 2014
If Darren Wilson is innocent in the matter of Michael Brown's death, what is to be feared from bringing the matter to trial? A grand jury failed to indict Wilson this week, and the protest that has never stopped since the unarmed teenager was shot to death months ago erupted yet again. For centuries the African American community in this country has complained that when the white establishment talks about justice, it really means "just us" is to benefit from application of the rule of law.

People are fed up with racist policing. Mothers like Collette Flanagan who have lost their sons to abusive police repeat offenders are fed up and will march on Washington to demand justice. The National Bar Association is fed up with abuse of the grand jury system to protect racist police officers and is calling for federal prosecution of Wilson. Amen to that.

People fed up with abuse at the hands of unaccountable police force overthrew the regimes in Tunisia and in Egypt. The fact that they are back under the thumb of violent, oppressive governance following their Arab spring does not change the fact that once people have lost the will to continue being oppressed, they are a powerful force.

Rioting is the language of voiceless, so it is said. History tends to support this view.
WCSH Channel 6 t.v. news covered both the 5pm rally and the 9pm rally and march
From my personal vantage point, I have seldom carried a sign through the streets that got more interaction and attention than the one I held last night in Portland, Maine: BLACK LIVES MATTER.

As we left my friend's house to walk to Monument Square, we passed two young boys on the street. They seemed to be about twelve years old. One was black and one was brown, possibly Latino. He smiled broadly and said, "That's right!" as he gave me two thumbs up. That made my tiredness vanish and I felt glad to be there.

 Many more people affirmed the message: by honking, by thanking me, by affirmative replies like, "Yes, they do!"

Two college students fell into step along with us and reported the conversations that had erupted at their schools after the Ferguson grand jury fail. One of the young women was white, the other of east Indian descent. She said her schoolmates don't get that racism still exists. I said, "Because. Obama." and they erupted with laughter. They were excited that we were headed to a rally and they joined us, taking over our "Justice for Mike Brown" sign while Pat distributed candles.

Portland is very white for a city; it's far north, and even its large African diaspora populations from Somalia and Sudan don't move the demographic needle much toward diversity. Many of the white winos and junkies hanging in doorways reacted as we went by with the signs, too. More than one of them said petulantly, "White lives matter, too" or "All lives matter."

The power of false dichotomy is really phenomenal. Black men are 2.6 times more likely to die at the hands of police than are white men in Portland, Maine according to former ACLU director and senatorial candidate Shenna Bellows' remarks last night around 9:30pm in Monument Square. It's a national problem. But if I carry a sign saying their lives matter, I'm presumed to be saying white lives don't. Such is the power of propaganda which from infancy pushes consumers in the USA to pick a team and root for it.

If you're on the white ally team, here are some meaningful things you can do right now. And here's a link to sign the NAACP's petition demanding federal prosecution of Darren Wilson. Because. Ferguson.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Emperor: We Are Determined To Go To Our Grave In #Afghanistan

Bagram airfield, Parwan.  Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
Of course President Barack Obama is not really an emperor. He is celebrity spokesman for an empire of oligarchs that spans the globe, makes all its big decisions in secret, and uses nation-states and their heads as puppets to effect control of the movement of people, resources and information.

But since he's the lame duck head of the empire, it's his lack of clothes I'll focus on today. The war in Afghanistan is over! Except, long live the 13+ year war in Afghanistan!
Post-Afghan presidential elections, Ambassador Cunningham and the new Afghan national security adviser, Hanif Atmar, congratulate each other after signing the Status of Forces Agreement that Hamid Karzai would not.
(Photo: Shah Marai/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)
It's been way too long since I blogged about Afghanistan. It has been too dispiriting how the citizens of the empire have accepted bland announcements of the faux closure of that particular battlefield in the endless war on terror. Discouraging how they ignored the continued operation of Bagram Air Base and its state of the art torture prison. Demoralizing how they spouted the propaganda line about NATO upholding the rights of women and girls -- while security deteriorated with each passing day, and even Kabul became unsafe for an uncovered woman to walk out from home. Depressing how the standard of living and life expectancy and infant mortality rates continued to shame us, the imperial occupiers. Dubious how my fellow citizens continued to pretend to believe that "we" had brought "democracy" to a country that ought to be grateful. Grateful for a bumper opium crop!

Just this week I heard a 25 year old veteran bragging about how he never went outside the wire during his entire tour of duty in Afghanistan. But he was chock full of information about that country and its culture that he couldn't wait to share with teenagers. Imperial hubris in the flesh, with tormented eyes that made it difficult to meet his gaze.

I nearly blogged about the outcome of the recent presidential elections in Afghanistan, tragic as they were. Outgoing President Hamid Karzai was a man hard to admire, but damn if he didn't hold out until the bitter end in his refusal to sign the Status of Forces Agreement that the U.S. was trying to ram down his throat. Ok, maybe he did so out of fear of assassination rather than any kind of principled stand. But still, wasn't the refusal to submit to the SOFA one of the small victories in the Iraq debacle, a war that has been prematurely declared over several times, too? Because the SOFA we bully our subject nations into signing guarantees immunity from prosecution for military personnel and contractors: their impunity yet another stain on the USA's soul.

The election was long and drawn out, plagued by violence, racked by accusations of fraud. The future of SOFA was never really in doubt, because both candidates had already promised to do what the empire required. Here, in the empty words of the White House press office, is the visible part of the agreement:
Statement by the President on the Signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement and NATO Status of Forces Agreement in Afghanistan 
Today we mark an historic day in the U.S.-Afghan partnership that will help advance our shared interests and the long-term security of Afghanistan. After nearly two years of hard work by negotiating teams on both sides, earlier today in Kabul the United States and the new Afghan Government of National Unity signed a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA). This agreement represents an invitation from the Afghan Government to strengthen the relationship we have built over the past 13 years and provides our military service members the necessary legal framework to carry out two critical missions after 2014: targeting the remnants of Al Qaeda and training, advising, and assisting Afghan National Security Forces. The signing of the BSA also reflects the implementation of the Strategic Partnership Agreement our two governments signed in May 2012. 
Today, Afghan and NATO officials also signed the NATO Status of Forces Agreement, giving forces from Allied and partner countries the legal protections necessary to carry out the NATO Resolute Support mission when ISAF comes to an end later this year.
So, how surprised are we by news that Obama has secretly agreed to send more troops back into Afghanistan? Not that surprised, at all.
Obama paid a surprise visit to Afghanistan last May, receiving adulation from the military personnel stationed there.
Lest we become too discouraged to even contemplate the next decade(s) of war on the people of Afghanistan, here's tireless peaceworker Kathy Kelly on the view from Kabul:
I wish that NATO’s commander could have joined Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs) Afghanistan as they visited an extraordinarily sustainable project, called “Emergency.” This Italy—based network of hospitals and clinics has been particularly remarkable for effectively saving and improving the lives of many Afghan people, over the past 13 years, while at the same time rejecting any form of war or use of weapons within its facilities.
Read the rest of her fine piece "Uncomplicated, in Afghanistan" to find more news about people making love, not war in Afghanistan. Then, you can donate to the Afghan Peace Volunteers' Duvet Project to provide warmth and employment to people who will try and survive yet another winter of war.
Seamstresses deliver finished duvets for distribution to those in need. Photo source: Voices for Creative Nonviolence website
As the emperor congratulates himself on wading ever deeper into the graveyard of empires.