Tag Archives: black lives matter

Black Square Energy

Earlier this week, a lot of people participated in #BlackOutTuesday by posting a black square on social media, indicating that they were a person that was willing to listen and learn about racial injustice. I chose to not participate, because I felt my actions for the last decade of my life indicated where I stand.

Five years ago, I was an asshole for shutting down highways and streets in the fight against police brutality and racial injustice. I lost friends and jobs because I dared to say “Black Lives Matter.” I regularly received death and rape threats.

Three days ago, Ulta sent me an email that said “Black Lives Matter.” I am white and I am frustrated; I cannot imagine what I would feel if I was Black.

“Why do you care so much about Black Lives Matter? Is your boyfriend black?”

When Mike Brown was killed by Darren Wilson in Ferguson, organizers in DC set up regular protests that disrupted main roads and highways. These marches lacked pre-announced routes; there were no permits, no cluing the cops in to where we would go, what intersections would be blocked, what time we’d be done. MPD would try to beat us to a destination, and we would simply change our route. Sometimes snow plows would be lined up to hide us from tourists on the mall.

I attended every march that my schedule allowed, even occasionally lugging my protest sign to work events and coat checking it. And while I knew publicly talking about what I was doing was going to be polarizing, I didn’t really anticipate how much it would impact my life.

“I’m all for expressing your voice in discontent, but disrupting the lives of others by ‘shutting it down’ is not only inappropriate but illegal…not to mention unsafe.”

Personally, I think it’s pretty fucking disruptive to murder a man and leave his dead body in the road, but what do I know? I became the liberal nut job, the PC police. I lost work contracts, I was blocked on Facebook by “friends.” I was told I was wrong, over and over. People would tell me they had been afraid to talk to me because they thought I was going to be super race baiting obnoxious girl.

Imagine what they would have thought and said if I wasn’t white.

“I support the message, but I really don’t like how you guys are going about it. Do you have to block the highways? And don’t all lives matter?”

Even getting to the DCFerguson protests was always an experience. When I would stand on the train with my sign leaning on my legs, I could feel the discomfort in the air. The coverage of Ferguson had people on edge, and they hated the inconvenience of the road closures. White people wanted to read what I had written, but they didn’t want to be stuck engaging with me.

But as uncomfortable as I made white people, every time I carried the sign onto metro, at least one Black person would say something to me. Sometimes it was a comment about someone on the sign (usually Aiyana Jones); sometimes it was about wanting a better America for his or her kid; sometimes it was “thank you for doing this.”

Over the next few years I would hear “thank you for doing this, thank you for being here, thank you for caring” many times. I have heard it from old ladies, from teenage boys still in high school. Just like when people ask me why I even care, I never know what to say. I can’t imagine a world in which this is not vitally important. There is no choice but to show up.

“Maybe Freddie Gray didn’t deserve to die, but if he was innocent, why did he run?”

N. Carey & W North Ave, Baltimore, April 28 2015

When the Baltimore City Police killed Freddie Gray, I re-routed my energy from DC to Baltimore. When the National Guard was called in to the city, they were placed in the “desirable” tourist district, the Inner Harbor. In West Baltimore, they placed the same riot cops who were causing the problems to begin with.

On one West Wednesday, we marched to Power Plant Live. Even though we were a completely peaceful group, fully separated from the property by a barrier and police, a sobbing white woman came up to us. Of all the people present, she looked at me and asked, “Why are you doing this? Why are they doing this to my business?”

Lady, we’re chanting about justice for Tyrone West. We’re chanting that all night, all day we will fight for Freddie Gray. Lady, listen — it’s not all 100% about you as an individual. It’s about targeting the white, wealthy areas of a city that are shown off to tourists and county bar goers. It’s about business owners who put their businesses in black cities and use black labor, and do not reinvest in the community in which they are growing their own wealth on the backs of.

And if you’re white, you’re going to have to realize it’s not all 100% about you as an individual either — but it is about you, too.

Where was your black square energy when people were posting photographs of Joda Cain and claiming he was Mike Brown? Where was your black square energy when Ferguson police yanked protesters out of their cars, when they illegally arrested reporters like Ryan J Reilly and Wesley Lowery?

Where was this energy when the car Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell were in backfired, causing Officer Michael Brelo to jump onto the hood and fire 15 close range shots through the windshield? And when the judge said he couldn’t be convicted since other cops fired 122 rounds in 20 seconds into the vehicle, and it was impossible to know exactly which bullets had actually caused their deaths?

Where has this energy been hiding while lead has lined the walls and pipes of the homes of Black children, stunting cognitive growth and ruining futures for generations?

Where has this energy been as COVID-19 disproportionally ravages communities of color?

Perhaps the most shocked at a protest I’ve ever been was watching women wearing pussy hats thanking guardsmen for being on Pennsylvania Avenue the day after inauguration. Or when Capitol Police on motorcycles drove back and forth in front of SCOTUS, asking people with baby strollers and puppies to get back on the sidewalk at a Muslim ban protest. There was no tear gas, no zip ties, no stingray, no kettling, no ominous announcement that we must disperse, no extra weaponry, no helicopters.

But now the police are showing you who they are. They have always shown communities of color who they are, and now that you know, you need to keep fighting — even when shops and bars are open, when a COVID-19 vaccine exists. When you have “something better” to do.

W North Ave, April 2016

Because now you know why Freddie Gray ran.

You have an obligation to shut up and learn right now: both about white supremacy, and about police reform. When people of color are speaking, listen. You’re going to have to learn a lot; you’re going to have to come to grips with the fact you’ve accidentally been a microaggressing asshole, perhaps even to people you love.

It’s uncomfortable to realize things you have done have caused pain to others and helped maintain the status quo of white supremacy — but it’s time to get the fuck over it and do your part.

You have to connect the dots on all of the issues, because they’re all related — cops firing nearly 150 times into a vehicle because a car backfired, asking to touch someone’s hair, nude colored shoes being beige, lead poisoning disproportionately impacting Black children, calling Black speakers “so articulate,” good, liberal white families in the city sending their kids to private schools instead of the public ones, the prevalence of liquor stores and lack of grocery stores in many urban areas.

Even if you call out every possible thing you see other white people doing wrong, you will always be one step behind, and you will always have the ability to turn off.

Don’t rely on the emotional labor of Black people in your journey. If you don’t understand something, Google it. Read forums. Read social media. I promise, someone has broken it down for you already.

The June 4th episode of The Daily Zeitgeist inspired me to write this all down. Go listen. Read about the Deacons for Defense. Understand the history of lead in America.

And if you’re able, go put your bodies on the line.

Martin O’Malley: Rebuilding the American Dream, Like He Rebuilt Baltimore

I feel like I’ve been seeing way too much of Martin O’Malley lately. From being a guest on The Daily Show to playing the guitar on The View, O’Malley seems to not be deterred by his approval ratings. To the average person who only watches the debates and listens to the current soundbites, O’Malley sounds like a good candidate for Clinton’s cabinet (or whatever he’s aiming for at this point). I’ve seen many liberal leaning friends and news sources (especially those who consider police reform a primary issue) express their interest in O’Malley. His criminal justice reform plan even lists “build[ing] trust in law enforcement” as a top priority.

But the thing is, in Maryland we all know the truth about O’Malley.

How can the mayor that ordered mass arrests of innocent people and manipulated crime statistics possibly be the President we trust to understand and implement community policing?

How can the mayor who ruined community and police relations possibly be the President (or whatever position he’s going for) we trust to rebuild faith in the police force?

Back in April, I watched Martin O’Malley stop by West Baltimore for a photo op. Starting at the burned down CVS, he slowly made his way down Penn, shaking hands and smiling with the crowd that had gathered to protest the death of Freddie Gray. I’m sure he thought it was a great idea for him to do before announcing that he was running for President — until an angry protestor on a motorcycle started following him. “YOU DID THIS! YOU KILLED FREDDIE GRAY!” the man yelled. O’Malley quickly picked up his pace and escaped into the black SUV waiting for him at the end of the block.

He wasn’t wrong.

Nothing O’Malley has ever done shows he is capable of facilitating a community oriented policing program, or that he even knows what community policing is.

O’Malley now claims that he wants to make community policing a priority — though Baltimore didn’t get its Community Partnership Division until after O’Malley was long gone from Baltimore. O’Malley’s Baltimore focused on manufactured statistics and graphs, not human compassion or an understanding of how to treat the root causes of crime. Numbers get you noticed by White House, after all.

During the first Democratic debate, O’Malley assured us that in his Baltimore, arrests and crime fell.  He was half right — crime did fall in Baltimore, just like it did nationwide. But I don’t really know why he claimed arrests fell; in 2005 there were over 100,00 arrests in a city of roughly 600,000 people. How could crime possibly be falling if the police saw fit to arrest almost 1/6 of the city’s population? Under O’Malley the blanket policy of the BPD appeared to be “arrest everyone — or else.” People were not arrested for committing crimes, they were arrested and held for up to 54 hours with no charges ever filed. When people were assigned bail, they usually couldn’t pay it and would spend a month or two in jail until their cases would be dismissed. In 2006 the ACLU and NAACP filed a lawsuit against O’Malley for this practice. Spoiler alert: the city settled.

While O’Malley’s BPD was making mass arrests, they certainly didn’t prioritize arresting rapists. In 2010 the Baltimore Sun reported that police would aggressively question rape victims, causing 30% of victims to change their accusation to “unfounded” — which was five times the national average. On paper, the amount of rapes in Baltimore declined 80% versus the national average of 8%; the city didn’t even go for a believable, gradual decrease. 

Not to mention, O’Malley did his best to expedite the school to prison pipeline until political opposition was just too much to handle.

When you see Martin O’Malley talking on TV, please don’t let him blind you with charming jokes about the NRA or the honest good he did here with immigration and gay marriage.

Instead, please remember his first legacy — the city of Baltimore.

Remember Freddie Gray. Tyrone West. George V. King. Officer William Torbit Jr.

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 6.17.20 PM

Maryland Police Reform: More Than Prosecuting Freddie Gray’s Killers

In the aftermath of the April protests, the Maryland General Assembly created the Public Safety and Policing Workgroup. The work group has been meeting since June, and the theme seems to be disconnect between government and people — whether it’s cops and citizens or delegates and constituents.

The MGA’s take place in Annapolis, MD – over 30 miles from Sandtown-Winchester. It’s a 40 minute drive or 2-3 hours on the extremely limited public transit that connect the two regions. During the first meeting, I heard some lip service about having meetings in different regions of the state, but the published schedule has always shown the meetings will all be in Annapolis.

The General Assembly’s reform group is composed entirely of lawmakers — a decision that, in my opinion, severely limits their capability of understanding of what’s going on. Senator Catherine Pugh responded to criticism that the group is made up entirely of lawmakers by saying, “this is not a commission. This is legislators looking at potential legislation we can put in place.” If a commission is what it takes for more citizen involvement, then maybe that’s exactly what the group should have been. 

During the course of the MGA’s dog and pony show, I have attended town hall meetings in Baltimore — for the death of Tyrone West, for the investigation the DOJ is conducting in the city. The faces I see at these meetings are not the same faces I see at the General Assembly. Where are these lawmakers who have been tasked with police reform? For reasons that cannot be explained, Delegate Jill Carter was left off the roster — yet she is the most active on the topic of reform. Delegate Carter has spent weekends running meetings that introduce citizens to the DOJ members tasked with auditing Baltimore. She is respected and recognized among those that most need to get their stories heard…yet she was not offered a spot in the group. Without her presence, it is hard for me take the work group seriously. 

Maryland is home to one of the most extreme Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights; it has a lot of provisions that protect cops when perhaps they shouldn’t be protected. For instance, the hearing board that determines if action should be taken against an officer is composed of fellow officers. One police representative informed us that police work is highly specialized and cops are highly trained. Because of this, the LEOBOR provision that police should be the ones to judge other police is acceptable. “Who should judge us? Plumbers? Electricians?” I guess his highly specialized training didn’t cover what a jury is.

During another police Q&A session, police from all over the state explained their hiring practices and requirements. In all jurisdictions, using marijuana more than five times over the age of 21 permanently disqualifies someone for police service. One delegate asked a young representative from the Maryland State Police if this was practical; the police say they would prefer to have college graduates on the force, and marijuana has been decriminalized in Maryland. The officer replied that “these disqualifying factors are disqualifying factors for good reason….they need to understand their actions do have consequences.” There you have it – the mindset is so strong in the police force that the public electing to decriminalize an activity cannot make the cops change their minds.

I saw a lot of people express confusion about the protests that happened last week in front of the courthouse as we waited to see what if Judge Williams would dismiss the charges against the officers who killed Freddie Gray. “Aren’t they getting what they want?” people asked. Well, yes and no. We have a very long way to go before we’re getting what we want — this is bigger than one case. As we move toward Thursday, understand we are worried about more than a change of venue. We’re worried about the system that has been put in place to “fix” the problems.

I guess as long as the MD State Troopers are giving out recruitment brochures when you're pulled over, we have problems.

I guess as long as the MD State Troopers are giving out recruitment brochures when you’re pulled over, we have problems.

I am the Activist who took the “Heartwarming” Picture of the Soldier and Little Girl in Baltimore

I’m the girl that took the picture of the soldier and child in Baltimore that went viral. I meant to capture a sad moment, one of wasted resources and failure. Who knew that so many people think all of our racial and economic problems could be solved if someone would just think to smile at a child?

The accusations of being a pot stirrer, a know-nothing liberal, and race-baiter have been coming at me almost faster than I can read them. Good. Keep it coming. You wouldn’t hate me if I didn’t make you uncomfortable. Keep telling me to forget the misery and to just see the happiness; keep criticizing me for bringing it up. Keep talking about it, because that is the first step. But let’s keep it real when we talk about it.

How can you look at a picture from Baltimore that could easily be from Afghanistan and think it shows a promising future? The problems leading up to this picture continue to be swept under the rug while people mindlessly smile over a picture of a child. How about we focus on the fact that 86% of public school students in Baltimore get free/reduced lunch? How about we focus on the predatory payday loan and checks cashed establishments that people in this neighborhood are subjected to, continuing the cycle of poverty they are in? How about we focus on the fact that I took this picture on Fulton Ave about a month ago, and it’s pretty average for much of Baltimore:

fulton

I don’t find my picture to be tragic because I hate the military or because I hate guns. It seems to me that 30 seconds of critical thinking would clarify that. I find it to be tragic because we don’t give a damn about these communities until the destruction threatens the rest of us. If this was a picture of a child on a field trip to the Pentagon, I’d see how it’s cute. Adorable, even. But that isn’t what this is. This is a community being told they are too vile and worthless for anyone to give a damn about them until they start to burn things down — and even then, people only care long enough to be keyboard activists with uninformed opinions.

Baltimore has a lot of problems, but being a city full of people that want to loot and riot isn’t one of them. I think it’s pretty clear why there was a riot — what did the police expect when they loaded up with riot gear, turned off public transit, didn’t allow children to leave, and instigated pissed off kids whose frontal lobes aren’t fully developed? Yet here we are, painting Baltimore as a city of lawlessness. If we’re going to talk about lawlessness in Baltimore, let’s talk about the millions of dollars used to settle and hide cases of police brutality.

I have watched news anchors and the internet in general wonder why people felt the need to burn the businesses in the community, consequently limiting their own options of where to shop. Over my week in Baltimore, I listened to and talked to a lot of people, from those who were pro-riot to those who were pro-peace. The impression that I got wasn’t that all people necessarily hate all businesses that aren’t black owned — it’s that they hate that the businesses won’t pay living wages or promote people of color. Without the ability to build capital (or even pay rent) and without the experience of being more than entry level employees, how are people supposed to start their own businesses? How will there ever be more black-owned businesses in primarily black communities?

In my opinion, the onus is now on wealthy business owners of all races in Baltimore and the surrounding area to do their part in making the city a more livable place. It’s on the middle and upper middle class residents of Maryland to change the way things are run. I saw an incredible amount of unity build up in one week of Baltimore protests; a level of unity that is rare for any kind of movement. The revolution is here, and “us vs. them” is not going to be black vs white. It’s going to the people who have hopped on board vs. those who haven’t. Do not stand on the wrong side. Support the organizations that are on the ground making a difference. Support the organizations working to feed the hungry children of Baltimore and working to make the streets safe. Do not shop at places that do not allow their entry level employees to grow. Nothing will change over night, but it’s time we start working to provide education and opportunities instead of casting judgement when most of us can’t even imagine what it would be like to live in West Baltimore.

Follow my Facebook and Twitter. You can subscribe to my blog here.  A version of this post also appeared on my Huffington Post blog.

Last Words: I Can’t Breathe / Why Did You Shoot Me / It’s Not Real / Mom, I’m Going to College

For as long as I can remember, I’ve campaigned to end the war on drugs. It’s caused increased violence, a loss of rights, and increased addiction. I’ve kept up on the “isolated incidents” resulting in the death of people and/or their pets, of the ruined lives. But yesterday both my heart and my faith in the American justice system shattered. It isn’t often I feel completely helpless. I’m so sorry for the family of Eric Garner; for all the families of those who have been killed by police. It’s obviously sad when anyone has their life come to an end, but to be killed by those we have chosen to protect is a tragic betrayal. If we’re supposed to trust the police to not harm us, why isn’t there the same level of accountability for them as there is for us?

At this point, whether or not Michael Brown’s hands were up has become irrelevant. The death of Brown has sparked a movement that is larger than one single action. So many people who are content with the status quo of militarized police operations are quick to point out that he was a thug, a criminal — and strong armed robbery means you deserve to be killed. If you believe that, nothing I can say or do can change your mind. That is part of who you fundamentally are. What I can teach you is that the issue is much larger than one incident. It is an American problem, and given racial and social prejudices, it is a problem that manifests itself in the black community.

If you’re uncomfortable talking about how this is a race problem, let’s start by talking about how this is a militarized police problem. This is nothing new.  Michelle Alexander wrote in The New Jim Crow:

According to the Cato Institute, in 1997 alone, the Pentagon handed over more than 1.2 million pieces of military equipment to local police departments. Similarly, the National Journal reported that between January 1997 and October 1999, the agency handled 3.4 million orders of Pentagon equipment from over eleven thousand domestic police agencies in all fifty states. Included in the bounty were “253 aircraft (including six- and seven-passenger airplanes, UH-60 Blackhawk and UH-1 Huey helicopters, 7,856 M-16 rifles, 181 grenade launchers, 8,131 bulletproof helmets, and 1,161 pairs of night-vision goggles.” A retired police chief in New Haven, Connecticut, told the New York Times, “I was offered tanks, bazookas, anything I wanted.”

Now let’s pretend for a moment that every non-indicted officer that killed a black civilian actually was within his or her rights. If officers are using their discretion and aiming to injure whites when they are also within their right to shoot to kill, then they are doing something wrong.

On the right is Dan Bilzerian. On the left is NOT Mike Brown. But that picture was used to convince people Brown was a thug. Hmm...

On the left is Dan Bilzerian. On the right is NOT Mike Brown. But that picture was used to convince people Brown was a thug. Hmm…

Michael Brown was not shot over stealing cigarillos,and it’s misrepresentative to say that the robbery led to the shooting (and this includes people on my side, saying life is worth more than cigarillos). Depressingly, I’ve heard many people say that if you don’t engage in strong armed robbery (or whatever crime it is when speaking of other individuals), you won’t have anything to worry about. I’ve read countless tweets, comments, etc from people: “I don’t commit robbery, so I don’t care about this issue.“ These people are most definitely saying that if the people who commit these crimes end up being shot, then whatever. Everyone that posted that stupid picture of Joda Cain holding a glock, with money in his mouth and liquor to his side, saying it was Brown and that he wasn’t really innocent, is guilty of this. People act like prior criminal acts make it a-ok when someone is shot. Hell, I’ve got a nolle prossed assault charge that could easily be found if the cops gunned me down. But one assault charge does not mean I deserve to die. 

I have read every single page of the grand jury documents. I cycled on this: first I was fully on Brown’s side, as evidence came out I was middle of the road, then when the docs were released I thought I might end up on Wilson’s side. Nope. After it was all said and done, thousands of pages later, I have questions. Maybe it was self defense, maybe it wasn’t. We will never know, and that is the problem. Sure, murder is a legal term and cannot be correctly applied without a trial — but in the vernacular, we use the term more loosely than in the court room. And I’m not buying an “accident.” Not for Eric Garner, not for Aiyana Jones, not for Oscar Grant. Careless, reckless endangerment of human life is a better way to say it than accident. You know what is fucking bull shit? Look at Cory Maye, who was home during a no knock raid on the duplex next door to his. Trying to protect his 2 year old daughter, he killed one of the cops that intruded into his home without announcing himself. HE was convicted of murder and sentenced to death row until, years later, the media got ahold of his story and drew attention to it. If the legal standard for murder is shooting an unannounced intruder in your home, then I think we’re safe to apply it pretty liberally when someone is laying face down on the ground without a weapon and gets shot through the lungs (Grant).

Even if it’s just that accidents are happening, it’s important to hold the police to the same letter of the law that we hold civilians. What message does it send to the community when a cop gets 11 months for shooting someone he knows isn’t armed on the BART platform, but a father exercising his 2nd amendment right and protecting his home gets sent to death row? What message is sent when a cop, 6 seconds after announcing his arrival for a raid, fires his gun into the lower level of the duplex he’s supposed to be raiding, and one of his shots lands in a child’s brain — and he’s simply charged with a misdemeanor? When the fucking MAYOR of Berwyn Heights has his dogs shot in front of him during a botched drug raid, and the PG County PD official response is “We’ve apologized for the incident, but we will never apologize for taking drugs off our streets. Quite frankly, we’d do it again. Tonight.” What message does it send when a cop throws a flash grenade into a baby’s playpen and isn’t charged with anything, while the child is forever disfigured?

CheyeCalvo

Berwyn Heights mayor Cheye Calvo

At the end of the day, human life is precious. There are certainly instances where force is justified, where it’s necessary. But it’s alarming to me that so many people seem to be okay with the notion that fatally shooting a civilian isn’t a last resort. We work to demonize the dead: you are not defined by your rap sheet, or by the ounce of pot found in your house during a drug raid that results in your own death, or by a photo of you holding stacks of hundreds. Even if you were, cops don’t get to play judge, jury, and executioner.

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