Friday, December 26, 2014

The Ugly Wart Minnesota Nice Can't Cover Up

In the early 1960s, the Birmingham Sheriff "Bull" Connor unwittingly reinvigorated the Civil Rights Movement by (amongst other egregious actions) calling for the violent suppression of protestors, including children, advocating the use of dogs and fire hoses against Black people and bodies.

"Bull" Connor, photo from here.
"As I have said on numerous occasions, we are not going to stand for this in Birmingham. And if necessary we will fill the jail full and we don't care whose toes we step on. I am saying now to these meddlers from out of our city the best thing for them to do it stay out if they don't want to get slapped in jail. Our people of Birmingham are a peaceful people and we never have any trouble here unless some people come into our city looking for trouble." (Click here for source.)

The #BlackXmas protest organized at the Mall of America on Dec. 20, sought to, in the style of the Civil Rights era, bring attention to the injustices Black and Brown people who amidst the turning gears of systems of justice, economics, education, and housing face unfair treatment and unjust consequences for human behavior while their white counterparts receive different treatment.

It is 2014, the socio-political and economic systems still coalesce to make racial disparities on par with an era in history when a Bull Connor (with the help and backing of the KKK) got elected into public office. This is not an exaggeration. According to some data Black people are even killed at higher rates by police than during the Jim Crow era.

While it is no longer politically correct to be outwardly racist, we are far from a post-racial society. And we are far from those in power serving the needs and interests of the people, as we have ushered in a new era where corporate welfare is the norm, creating a world where hundred million dollars bonuses are given to the same individuals that crashed the economy. A world that has made filing bankruptcy from student loan debt impossible, but the corporations can still file - even as their actions were proven deceitful and in many cases illegal. A world where no one wants to get sick, not because it sucks to be sick or you may die, but because it usually means financial ruin for you and your family. Anyway you cut it our country is in serious trouble, except for the 1%. They're doing just fine. They're doing really well in fact. While it may seem like a big stretch from Bull Connor's KKK endorsed office occupancy to Sandra Johnson's private property Capitalistic temper tantrum, the thinking behind both are the same.

And anyway you look at it racial disparities in Minnesota are some, if not the worst, in the country. When it comes to housing, education, and employment, Minnesota's racial disparities hover at the top. But when it comes to incarceration rates and disparities in policing for low-level offenses, and in particular for Black Minnesotanswe have the highest rates of anywhere in the country. Not Alabama, not Mississippi, not New York, not California, it's us. It's Minnesota. The Mall of America, in particular, is a source of contributing to the highest racial disparity in policing of anywhere in the United States. Does it make sense to raise the country's highest racial disparities as an issue of public crisis? Yes. Does it make sense to raise this issue at the Mall of America, the source of public investigation into it's own purported illegal racial profiling and discriminatory practices? Yes. 

The #BlackXmas peaceful demonstration was meant to propel a discussion about these inequities in our state, using the excruciatingly obvious racially based police murders of the following Black Americans: unarmed teenager Mike Brown, unarmed Father of six and husband Eric Garner, and unarmed 12-year old Tamir Rice as a window to reflect on our own racist institutions. Bloomington City Attorney Barbara Johnson has made a number of statements regarding the peaceful demonstration, and is now on a disappointing and thinly veiled racially motivated mission to go after the perceived organizers of the event. 

Photo from here.
In one of her most recent statements, Bloomington City Attorney Sandra Johnson says: "It's important to make an example out of these organizers so that this never happens again," Johnson said. "It was a powder keg waiting for the match."

But here is the thing: it wasn't a powder keg. From the get-go organizers made clear it was a peaceful demonstration. Some people, working with hundreds, to keep the protest peaceful trained over 250 individuals in how to be leaders and keep the non-violent direct action just that: a non-violent direct action.

The demonstrators came to sing carols created to honor the lives of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, and chants dedicated to Eric Garner. They were met with police in riot gear. The mere presence of excessive police force in riot gear was an escalation, but not by protestors, by the mall and law enforcement officials operating from illogical race-based fear.

I bring up Bull Connor, not to say that Sandra Johnson is Bull Connor, but rather to illuminate that the racially based thinking behind their statements is in fact the same that has plagued this country since it's inception. It's the belief that Black lives do not matter as much or in the same ways as white lives. It's the thinking that is the same. While it's not allowed any longer to be in the forefront, this form of thinking simmers just below the surface under the veil of Minnesota Nice. Yet, you don't have to do much digging to see where it's at - it's in our housing policies, it's in our education system, it's in the mind of our police officers who see Black skin as inherently criminal and inherently violent. And in Minnesota, it's the worst of anywhere in the country. But no one wants to talk about it. Bull Conor talked about keeping their peaceful town peaceful and making an example of anyone who sought to interrupt the order - even as that order was unjust. Sandra Johnson talks about making an example of people for inciting a riot, disturbing the peace of the Mall - even as that order is most likely strongly predicated upon illegal racial profiling and the cops brought the riot gear, even as it's the same type of thinking which causes the murder of Blacks in the first place. Nonetheless who showed up in riot gear? It wasn't the organizers of Black Lives Matter. Her thinking is just as enmeshed in the illogical and irrational fear based decision making as the police who take the lives of 12-year old Black children at the park, which is the same thinking that supported Bull Conor all his life.

The reality is that it is a miracle and testament to the strength and love and beauty of Black community and people, that we haven't violently risen up to oppose a system that works against the vast majority of it's population at every turn. Why does she think that our peaceful demonstration was a powder keg? And the gathering of thousands of white people to honor a brave young man who lost his life to cancer was not a powder keg? What does she think "the match" would have been - surely it wasn't police dressed in riot gear, than what could it have been? Fear drives our minds to illogical places indeed.

Black people are not inherently violent, we are not any more or less prone to criminal activity than any other race in this country. Yet, for very human behaviors, like walking down the street we are murdered without consequence because some police officers are scared. And police are scared nonetheless do to misinformed, race-based misconceptions and assumptions. In this way of thinking, the most glaring contrast for me is this: Any sort of violence, murder, or action is justifiable when a police officer is scared. Yet no action is justifiable when a Black person is alive, let alone scared for their life, not even bleeding from wounds sustained at the hands of the officers in this way of thinking.

The #blacklivesmatter movement opposes any system operating within society that allows for racist behavior to go unnoticed, unchallenged, and unspeakable. So we are speaking out now. Black people deserve to be treated like humans. While Sandra Johnson is not unleashing dogs on the bodies of anyone who affiliates Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, she is using and unleashing the same time of thinking behind it. The same type of thinking that instills fear in the hearts of officers, and justifies the killing of a 12-year old Black child playing at the park.

By and large when you look at violent offenses that actually take other people's lives, it's not Black men, boys, or people that the police should be afraid of in America. It's actually privileged white men. But using this system of thinking, we call what those unfortunate white men did something else, an anomaly. We say they suffered from mental illness, we don't say it's innate to their skin color or culture. And we don't assume that all white men are therefore now threats of committing mass murder. And when they gather en masse to honor their dead and raise awareness of the reason for their dead, we don't say or see their gathering as a powder keg waiting for a match. #blacklivesmatter is about saying that that that system of thinking is wrong. It's about saying that it's flawed.

While many people, of various colors, are hiding behind and arguing ideas about private property or the ways in which #blacklivesmatter is communicating about certain things (i.e. I don't like their chants) remember real people are dying at the hands of police officers. People are incarcerated and families are wrecked - and mostly they are Black and brown. But that isn't because they're something inherently different about Black and Brown people, it's about the thinking and beliefs in the heads of people in power and behind the guns that tells them otherwise. And this thinking is connected to an economic system that allows the 1% to laugh all the way to the bank, while everyday people struggle to provide for their children under the weight of student loans and underwater mortgages.

(If you're wondering what this system of thinking is, it has a name and it's called white supremacy.)

As long as you believe Eric Brown shouldn't have been selling illegal cigarettes or Mike Brown was a thug, or that order at the MOA is more important than raising visibility on the country's worst racial disparities, you support oppression and this type of thinking. When Tamir Rice was murdered by a police officer, some media with cooperation from the police department, ran sources launched stories about the records of his parent, because he was 12 and there was no other way to tarnish his innocence. But playing in the park isn't a crime, you don't deserve death for that or even for being born to a parent with a record. Walking down the street is no crime, regardless of your perceived history as a thug or not, and you don't deserve death for that. Selling illegal cigarettes is not punishable in any court of law by death. And Tamir, at the age of 12 years old, was stolen out of his Mother's arms for no other reason than his race.

Like the closing argument scene from A Time to Kill, how do you humanize them? Easy. Just imagine that they are white and then ask if their treatment make sense? If they still seem like threats or thugs or that their actions are punishable by death? See if it still makes sense. Then you'll find it, the ugliness. The ugliness of racism. You'll find tendrils of white supremacy unfurl in the shadows there. For too many police officers these beliefs and thoughts live in the shadows and the darkness, until they see a little boy walking down a street. Then it is fear, based on an outdated system of thinking, that takes them over.

We all know fear does magnificent things to our eyes, when the shadow becomes an intruder, when the clothes pile on the floor becomes an animal in the house. What #blacklivesmatter is saying is that it is no longer tolerable for that same illogical, irrational, and non-fact based fear to cause the murder of our people or anyone else again, nor the injustice of deaths ruled as homicide with the killer caught on tape to never have the opportunity to go to trial. Yes, we have many nationwide policy solutions to these problems. You can read them here. And we have solutions specifically for Minnesota, and Minneapolis. You can read them here at the end of the photo caption.

But that's not really what we're up against, it's the ideas in people hearts and minds that say things like we can keep waiting to make changes, just simmer down. It's the way of thinking that says our anger is not justified. It's the thinking that says just trust the process. It's in this thinking you will find the tendrils of white supremacy coming out of the shadows, but they are often hard to recognize veiled under Minnesota Nice notions of order.

The bottom line is that we need to come together to take our democracy from the hands of increasingly militarized police that, blinded by the illusion of race, allow fear to control them resulting in killing of our children, our trans identified people, our fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, grandmothers, and grandfathers. We need to claim our humanity back from the greedy clutches of corporations, media, and politicians that would try to measure our humanity by our wealth, our consumption, and meticulously ordered inequity rather than our capacity to affirm the humanity of all people, regardless of their perceived race. #blacklivesmatter is about doing just that.

Whether it's Sandra Johnson or Bull Connor, it's this line of thinking and believing that treating wealthy, cisgendered, straight, white people one way and everyone else another and holding to them to different standards as justifiable, that we've got to relinquish. And we've got to let it go, not just for Black lives, but for undocumented workers, for our trans identified people, for poor white people, for people who have served their time in jail and for women who still receive less pay than men for the same jobs. For everyone. We've got to do it for everyone.

We are not the risk, we are the light. And we're shining a light on white supremacy embedded within our society still, right here in Minnesota. Right here in Minneapolis, and now in the Bloomington City's Attorney office. You can help us or you can be silent. You can help us or you can argue with our ways, you can affirm the humanity of every Black American right now or can you tell us to wait.

But rest assured of one thing, we are many. We will not be silenced. In the state with the largest racial disparities in the country, we will not stop until the lives of Black people becomes a priority. We want the closing of the racial disparities in Minnesota to be attacked with the same ferocity as the building of the Twins Stadium, as the construction of the Vikings Stadium. We want leaders and people in Minnesota to be as gung-ho about racial equality as they are about padding the pockets of the already wealthy and themselves. These conditions of the largest racial disparities in the country weren't inevitable and they are not insurmountable now. 

To the local, city, and state leaders I say this: if you can bypass seeking the people's expressed wishes against something and go forward to tax people clearly against it in Minneapolis in order to build a stadium benefitting the rich, than you can find a way to finance meaningful police and education reforms. It is the height of morally bankrupt Capitalistic thinking serving the 1% that would allow the Mall of America and City of Bloomington to accept over $400 million dollars in public dollars, yet prosecute the very same people that helped pay that $400 million for a peaceful gathering, many of whom happen to be of a different color than those of a much larger gathering of 7,000 mostly white people that went without such a legal attack. If the Mall of America moves forward with prosecution, I challenge the politicians to stand in solidarity with #blacklivesmatter and revoke their public funding. If they want to emphasize their claim as an entity of private property, than let them emphasize it as forcefully in their actual financing.  

Racism is Minnesota's ugly wart, the truth of it's existence lies in the largest racial disparities in the country. Let's stop covering it up, let's get a doctor in to burn it off. Will it hurt? Probably. Will it cost money? Most definitely. Are Black lives worth as much as white lives? Do Black people deserve the same treatment, access, and opportunities as white people in our cities and our state? If you answer yes to those questions, than you can no longer sit by while the racial disparities get worse and worse. If you answer yes to those questions, than help us make Black Lives Matter more than they do now to Minneapolis, to Minnesota, and to the country. Be willing to uncover the vestiges of white supremacy in your own heart, no matter what color your skin is, and once you find it set out to tear it down, and in its place put love. Love drives out fear. Love does not put order over justice. #blacklivesmatter is about love winning over race-based illogical fear. It is love calling us to raise our voices, and it is love calling us to change the world. Change it with us.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Why shut down the Mall of America?

Today, myself along with nearly 3,000 other people rallied at the Mall of America for what is typically the biggest shopping day of the year to protest not just Michael Brown or Eric Garner or Tamir Rice, but the thousands of Black people that have experienced police violence and those who have been killed by the police for hundreds of years.

We are protesting the system of economics, politics, and justice that continues to dismantle Black families and lives by incarcerating people of color for crimes that when committed by white people go without consequence. We are protesting a system that allows police officers to play judge, jury, and executioner for our children while white children are allowed to live. I live in Minneapolis, the city with the largest racial disparities in policing of anywhere in the country. It is time to stop now.

We are protesting a political system that has been bought by and now serves the 1%. Leaving everyone else to fight for scraps between each other, and uses race as one of many identities as a wedge.

The police showed up at the Mall today. They put on riot gear, even as we were a group of peaceful, nonviolent protesters. They blocked streets with fire trucks, snow plows, and cars. They snatched and grabbed community leaders before the protest began and escorted them off the premises, only putting the safety of everyone in jeopardy. We were asking them to be calm. We were the ones asking them to please put down their batons. We were the voices of reason.

And nonetheless we prevailed in keeping everyone safe, not the police who came with one intention: to escalate. In the aftermath of this protest, so many questions are flying around. Many people want to know when we're going to stop. When will our anger run out and what do we possibly hope to gain through this?

And what I want people to know is this,  this is about love. We love our people, we love each other and we don't want to see them hurt and killed by the police anymore. We are angry, but it is love that fuels us onward and our demands are really very simple. 

STOP the police from killing black and brown people.
STOP racially profiling black and brown people.
Demilitarize the police. 

We aren't the enemy, you are meant to protect and serve us. 
Those are our demands. It's not on us to come up with solutions because we did not create this problem. Yet we still have some solutions. You can read them here and here.

White people: you know how to police white communities with out terrorizing and killing each other at the rates you do to us. So figure it out. These are our demands, stop killing us and stop racially profiling us and demilitarize the police, we are not your enemy.

Yet since it would appear the world only listens when something effects the almighty cathedral of capitalism, we are here to make you listen. I leave you with these words from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when he penned his letter from a Birmingham jail:

"Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country's antireligious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."

You can read the whole letter here

It's really simple, stop killing us and we'll let you return to shopping and driving in peace.

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Minneapolis, MN, United States