Thinking About Audre Lorde And Ferguson

I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. That the speaking profits me, beyond any other effect.

–Audre Lorde, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”

Last night, sick to my stomach, I watched the “Prosecutor” of Police Officer, Darren Wilson, explain to the town of Ferguson and the world why the life of the unarmed teen, Michael Brown was not worth a trial (See yesterday’s post, “Ferguson on My Mind”.) He explained why Wilson was justified in shooting him five or more times, two of those shots were to the head. I was disgusted by how much the Prosecutor sounded like the Defense Attorney for Wilson and not the one responsible for making sure he went to trial.

Immediately following the announcement that Wilson would not stand trial for killing Brown, I watched Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, in pain as she heard the verdict. I cried for her and I cried for the families of other black victims whose lives were not worthy of consideration from the American judicial system. Michael Brown never had a chance in that court room.

I hugged my daughter closer to me because unarmed black girls and women get shot by police officers and racist citizens, too. They, too, can be victims of a judicial system that does not recognize their humanity (See the story of Marissa Alexander in The Root.) I cried because for way too many people in this country, black lives have no value.

I watched President Barack Obama talk to Americans about our country being built on justice, and all I could think was “no, it wasn’t, it was built on thievery and slavery.” He continued by telling Protesters that he is standing by the statement given by Michael Brown’s family to protest peacefully.

His sentiments felt shallow because not only has he failed to admonish the behavior of police who racially profile and carefully carelessly snuff out the lives of black youth, but he also failed to connect with the Brown family in a meaningful way. He couldn’t even offer as simple of a statement as he gave Trayvon Martin’s family when he said, “If I had a black son, he’d look like Trayvon Martin.”

I asked, “How do I write about this? How can I write about this when I am in so much pain for the future of our children?”

Twitter IThis morning, I awakened to the heaviness of the night before, still feeling ill. I picked up my phone and immediately got on Twitter. I read the Tweets from the activists in Ferguson and noticed a significant number of white people spewing anger and hate at the activism in the area. They wanted to silence the voices in Ferguson. They called them hateful names and wished bodily harm on them, but Ferguson activists ignored their comments and continued to address their ultimate goal: to make #blacklivesmatter.

As I continued with my morning routine of dragging Nina out of bed to get her dressed for school, I still pondered TwitterIIhow I would write about Ferguson. Between the news media using language like “rioting” instead of “protests” or “social unrest” and others on Twitter attacking the activists for the work that they were doing, I was utterly disturbed by the way in which the narrative was being told. The story of black people protesting the systemic victimization TwitterIIIof black bodies was being constructed by the mass media as deviant. It was sick and twisted to watch people stand up for the protection of property in ways that they would not stand up to protect a teenager’s life.

Meanwhile, Nina came down stairs and picked up her pen and finished working on whatever she was writing the night before. She was upset when I told her that it was time to go to school. She told me that she needed to write.

I thought to myself, “What would Nina do if she were confronted with some type of struggle in her 7 year old life?”

She would definitely write.

So, as I walked her to school this morning, I became determined to write/right a story of Ferguson.

During this walk, Nina and I talked about writing. I told her that she may not understand what I mean right now, but she must “right” the world with her writing. I reminded her of her magical powers and that everyone doesn’t possess the ability or desire to write as she does. I told her that she needed to use her writing powers for good: She must tell the narratives of people who don’t possess her magic to write. She must tell their stories because other people needed to hear her truth. Because her truth is important. Her voice is important. Never stop writing.

I needed her to hear these things, on this day in particular.

We have a responsibility to write/right the stories that are being told about Ferguson. Audre Lorde said in the “Transformation of Silence,” “We share a commitment to language and to the power of language, and to the reclaiming of that language which has been made to work against us. In the transformation of silence into language and action, it is vitally necessary for each of us to establish or examine her function in that transformation and to recognize her role as vital within that Transformation.”

I know that when I am no longer around to be the voice for people through my writing, I know someone else who will continue in my place.

#BlackLivesMatter

Advertisements

Ferguson on My Mind

In the news today:

One Brown body.

One Brown body lying in the street.

One Brown body lying in the street for four hours.

One Brown body lying in the street for four hours, cold, on a scorching hot August day.

One Brown body lying in the street for four hours, cold, on a scorching hot August day. Refusing to see the humanity in black bodies, this Brown body lay uncovered without a sheet.

One Brown body lying in the street for four hours, cold, on a scorching hot August day. Refusing to see the humanity in black bodies, this Brown body lay uncovered without a sheet. At least two bullets to the head and four to the arm, maybe even more.

One Brown body lying in the street for four hours, cold, on a scorching hot August day. Refusing to see the humanity in black bodies, this Brown body lay uncovered without a sheet. At least two bullets to the head and four to the arm, maybe even more. The gut wrenching sound of crying rings like a tortured freedom bell.

That one Brown body lying in the street was somebody’s child.

Next week’s news story . . .

Another black body lying in the street.

In Memoriam, Michael Brown

Image courtesy of phanlop88/FreeDigital Photos.net.

Image courtesy of phanlop88/FreeDigital Photos.net.

No “Foto Friday” picture today, folks. Today we light a candle for Michael Brown, who was killed on Saturday, August 9, 2014, by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. For Brown–and for all victims of police violence–we will seek justice and we will not forget you. Rest in Peace.

Jaywalking while Black

downloadTo me, jaywalking seems like a minor infraction. At most, it is a misdemeanor violation that might lead to a ticket or a fine, but recent events illustrate that it has become probable cause for harassment, suspicion, arrest, and violence.

On May 20,  2014, an African-American professor at Arizona State University in Tempe was arrested after a confrontation with an ASU police officer (Stewart Ferrin) that began as a result of her jaywalking. According to Assistant Professor Ersula Ore, she was crossing the street to avoid construction. Although others had done the same, she was the only one stopped for jaywalking. In the footage taken by the cruiser’s dashboard-mounted camera, Ore asserts that in her three years at ASU she had never seen anyone pulled over for jaywalking. And I must concur. There are two things I know from all my years on large university campuses: Construction and jaywalking are ubiquitous. I have never seen someone who was stopped–let alone arrested–for crossing the street in the wrong place or at the wrong time. The tickets issued from the constant stream of students, faculty, staff, administrators, and other pedestrians for jaywalking would be enough to keep the campus police busy all day, every day.

The campus officer was clearly displeased with Prof. Ore questioning his probable cause and his authority. Ore seemed incredulous that he would treat a “citizen” and a “professor” in such a disrespectful manner. When Ferrin attempted to put handcuffs on Ore and arrest her, she resisted and the officer slammed her to the ground. After this, she can be heard asking, “Are you serious?” as she is lying in the street.

Crosswalk

A crosswalk near my home.

Certainly, there are those who have argued that incident’s escalation was the professor’s fault. But to paraphrase Ore, How is someone supposed to behave when she is being disrespected and manhandled?

Although she stands fast in her assertion that her civil rights were violated, Ore pleaded guilty to the lesser offense of resisting arrest and was sentenced to nine months probation on August 1. Prosecutors dropped the original charges of “obstructing a public thoroughfare,” refusing to produce identification, and aggravated assault on a police officer.

While Prof. Ore’s situation left her physically and psychologically battered, she was not broken. Unfortunately, Michael Brown, the young black man killed by police on August 9 in Ferguson, Missouri (a St. Louis suburb), did not escape with his life. Early reports indicate that after visiting his grandmother, Brown and a friend were walking home when a police officer told the 18-year-old to get off the street. Not surprisingly, the police officer’s version of the events differs greatly from the witnesses, but both sides agree that Brown was unarmed.

I would like to believe that trumped up charges of jaywalking are not the new “driving while black,” “stop and frisk,” or “papers, please.” But these cases remind us that even in this so-called post-racial America we must continue to proclaim both our humanity and our citizenship rights. As W. E. B. Du Bois stated in 1906, “We claim for ourselves every single right that belongs to a free-born American, political, civil and social; and until we get these rights we will never cease to protest and assail the ears of America.” Black communities–in fact, all communities– are entitled to “freedom from fear” that those who ostensibly “protect and serve” in reality have malevolent intent.

 


See also:

Catherine Calderon, ASU Professor Gets 9 Months Probation for Resisting Arrest in Incident that Sparked National Attention, The Republic|azcentral.com, 1 August 2014.

Emma Lacey-Bordeaux, Arizona Professor’s Jaywalking Arrest Quickly Gets Out of Hand, cnn.com, 30 June 2014.

Dean Schabner, Witness Says Missouri Teen’s Hands Were Up When Cop Shot Him, abcnews.go.com, 10 August 2014.

Conner Wince, ASU English Professor Pleads Guilty to Resisting Arrest, The Republic|azcentral.com, 9 July 2014.

Video of ASU Professor’s Arrest

 

Foto Friday: Springfield Race Riot

Springfield, Illinois is the home of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Springfield was also the site of a race riot in August 1908. Sculptures commemorating the riot are located across the street from the Lincoln Museum.

A scene from the Springfield Race Riot

A scene from the Springfield Race Riot

The outrage from the riot led to the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909.

Please click here for more on the history of the race riot.

"Acts of Intolerance"

“Acts of Intolerance”

This sculpture by Preston Jackson was inspired by photographs of the riot’s aftermath.

Springfield Race Riot marker

Springfield Race Riot marker

Historical marker, Union Square Park, Springfield, Illinois.

Springfield3

Close-up of sculpture.

Springfield2

Close-up of sculpture.

Foto Friday: Sojourner Truth

In honor of Black History and Women’s History months, 2 Dope Sistahs will be posting photos of our visits to historical sites on Foto Fridays. This week’s pictures are from Battle Creek, Michigan, where anti-slavery and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth lived for more than twenty years.

Sojourner Truth carte de visite

Sojourner Truth carte de visite, sold to support herself.

Sojourner Truth (c. 1797-November 26, 1883) was born into slavery in Ulster County, New York at the end of the 18th century. Known as Isabella (or Isabella Baumfree/Bomefree), she freed herself (walked away) from slavery in 1826. An advocate for abolition and women’s rights, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth in 1843. Truth’s narrative, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, is available on the web and can be downloaded free of charge. Click here.

SojournerTruth1

Sojourner Truth Monument in Battle Creek, Michigan

12-foot statue of Sojourner Truth at Monument Park

SojournerTruth3

Sojourner Truth’s signature, from April 1880, Sojourner Truth Monument

Sojourner Truth was unable to read and write, but the above is a representation of her signature.

SojournerTruth5

Headstone, Oak Hill Cemetery, Battle Creek, Michigan

Sojourner Truth is buried at the Oak Hill Cemetery. This stone marker was installed in 1946 by the Sojourner Truth Memorial Association. It replaced the original gravestone.

SojournerTruth6

Historical marker, Oak Hill Cemetery

Several members of Truth’s family are also buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.

Underground Railroad Memorial

Underground Railroad Memorial

Although it honors Harriet Tubman and other Underground Railroad “conductors” rather than Sojourner Truth, I decided to include the above picture. This 14-foot statue is also located in Battle Creek.

Our Favorite Civil Rights Books

The 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington has 2 Dope Sistahs thinking about the Civil Rights Movement. Often the narrative is decidedly male-centered, so we decided to share some our favorite books that focus on women’s activism.

wcover[1]

Melba Patillo Beals, Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High

annemoody

Anne Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi

4freedomssake

Chana Kai Lee, For Freedom’s Sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer

LettersFromMS

Elizabeth Martinez, ed., Letters from Mississippi: Reports from Civil Rights Volunteers and Freedom School Poetry of the 1964 Freedom Summer

soulisrested

Howell Raines, My Soul is Rested: Movement Days in the Deep South Remembered

BusBoycott

Jo Ann Gibson Robinson, The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It: The Memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson

light-of-freedom[1]

Charles M. Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle

EllaBaker

Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement

trailblazers

Vicki L. Crawford, Jacqueline Anne Rouse, Barbara Woods, eds., Women in the Civil Rights Movement: Trailblazers and Torchbearers, 1941-1965

freedomsdaughters

Lynee Olson, Freedom’s Daughters : The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement

Hey 2Dope Readers, did we miss your favorite? Don’t be shy. Leave us a comment and tell us your favorite titles!!!

_________________________

There are great resources on the internet. We have included a few links below:

Malcolm X vs. Bayard Rustin Debate (January 1962)

Martin Luther King, Jr., A Letter From a Birmingham Jail (April 1963)

Martin Luther King, Jr., Speech at the Great March on Detroit (June 1963)

Fannie Lou Hamer’s Testimony, Democratic National Convention (August 1964)

Do the Right Thing: The Central Park Five

balanceOn January 1, 2014, Bill de Blasio was sworn in as  the 109th mayor of New York City, the first liberal to hold that office in twenty years. The selection of the leader of the nation’s largest city always garners national attention, and November’s election was no different. Aside from the focus on his proposed policies, de Blasio’s multiracial family (his African-American wife, Chirlane McCray, and their children Chiara and Dante) was fodder for pop culture.

However, it was not de Blasio’s personal life that interested me, but his ideas of reform and righting wrongs. He has pledged to end the stop-and-frisk policy and to “settle the Central Park Five case because a huge injustice has been done.” Although in this case, justice delayed is justice denied, I am hopeful that de Blasio will “do the right thing” and end the city’s legal battle over this case.

In 1989, New York mayor Ed Koch called the sensational, racially charged Central Park Jogger case “the crime of the century.” On the night of  April 19, a 28-year-old, white investment banker–later identified as Trish Meili– was brutally beaten and raped while jogging through Central Park. The police quickly set their sights on a large group of African-American and Latino teens who were in Central Park, some of them harassing and even beating others in the park.

From the larger group of young men in the park that night, the police focused on Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Kharey Wise. The young men, who were between 14 and 16 years old, became known as “The Central Park Five.” Although they all denied their participation in a rape at first, after being interrogated by police for hours on end (between 14 and 30 without attorneys or parents present) and being deprived of sleep, food, and drink, the frightened young men began to turn on each other.

The 2012 Ken Burns documentary, “The Central Park Five,” tells the story of these young men. They contend that their confessions were obtained under duress, that they only parroted stories fed to them by the police, falsely believing that their “confessions” would allow them to return home to their families. However, the confessions–although recanted–sealed their fates. The Five were charged with a number of felonies including rape, attempted murder, sodomy, sexual abuse, and robbery.

Kevin Richardson was convinced that “the truth is gonna come out.” There was no DNA evidence that linked the five teenagers to the crime. In addition, their confessions told conflicting stories about where the crime took place and even the manner in which it was committed. Nevertheless, in two separate trials in 1990, the young men were convicted and sentenced to serve between 5 and 15 years in prison.

McCray, Richardson, Salaam and Santana were all released having served nearly

The Central Park Five (2012), a film by Ken and Sarah Burns.

The Central Park Five (2012), a film by Ken and Sarah Burns.

seven years in prison, leaving only Kharey Wise in prison. In 2001, Wise crossed paths with Matias Reyes. Years earlier the two had an altercation at Rikers Island Correctional Institution while they were being held there. Matias, a serial rapist, had confessed to a series of rapes and a murder when he was apprehended in August 1989. After talking to Wise, Matias, who had “found religion” during his incarceration, realized that Wise had been convicted of a crime he committed. He decided to “do the right thing” and confess to his involvement in the Central Park Rape. In addition, the DNA evidence matched Reyes to the rape.

In 2001, the defense requested that the guilty verdicts of the Central Park Five be overturned. Their convictions were vacated in 2002, and in 2003, the “Central Park Five” filed suit against the prosecutors and the police department for $250 million. At this point, the case remains unresolved, with the next hearing scheduled for January 21. No amount of money can give these men back the youth they missed in prison. So, it’s not exactly justice, but it’s a start. Let’s hope that Mayor de Blasio will “do the right thing.”

Related Articles and Posts:

Foto Friday: Sojourner Truth

In honor of Black History Month, 2 Dope Sistahs will be posting pictures of our visits to historical sites on Foto Fridays. This week’s posts are from Battle Creek, Michigan, where Sojourner Truth lived for more than twenty years.

Sojourner Truth carte de visite

Sojourner Truth carte de visite, sold to support herself.

Sojourner Truth (c. 1797-November 26, 1883) was born into slavery in Ulster County, New York at the end of the 18th century. Known as Isabella (or Isabella Baumfree/Bomefree), she freed herself (walked away) from slavery in 1826. An advocate for abolition and women’s rights, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth in 1843. Truth’s narrative, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, is available on the web and can be downloaded free of charge. Click here.

SojournerTruth1

Sojourner Truth Monument in Battle Creek, Michigan

12-foot statue of Sojourner Truth at Monument Park

SojournerTruth3

Sojourner Truth’s signature, from April 1880, Sojourner Truth Monument

Sojourner Truth was unable to read and write, but the above is a representation of her signature.

SojournerTruth5

Headstone, Oak Hill Cemetery, Battle Creek, Michigan

Sojourner Truth is buried at the Oak Hill Cemetery. This stone marker was installed in 1946 by the Sojourner Truth Memorial Association. It replaced the original gravestone.

SojournerTruth6

Historical marker, Oak Hill Cemetery

Several members of Truth’s family are also buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.

Underground Railroad Memorial

Underground Railroad Memorial

Although it honors Harriet Tubman and other Underground Railroad “conductors” rather than Sojourner Truth, I decided to include the above picture. This 14-foot statue is also located in Battle Creek.

What I Hope For. . .

Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin

Today, February 5, 2014, would have been Trayvon Martin’s 19th birthday. To honor his life, which was so brutally and tragically cut short, I am reposting my blog from July 11, 2014, written after listening to testimony during the George Zimmerman trial.

________________________________

On Wednesday the defense rested in the State of Florida v. George Zimmerman. Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager who was walking home from a convenience store, in 2012. Some time in the near future, we will find out whether the jury was convinced by Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense.

As this trial comes to a close, I am still thinking about the testimony of Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother, last week on July 5. I admired her courage on the stand, and I felt agony when I heard the 911-recording, in which there is a scream and then a gunshot. When she identified that scream as being her son’s voice, I’m sure she was “dying inside but outside [she was] looking fearless.”

When it was the defense attorney’s turn to question Fulton, he had an odd line of questioning about “hope.” The defense tried to shake her resolve by asking, “You certainly had to hope that was your son screaming even before you heard it. Correct?” She replied, “I didn’t hope anything. I just listened to the tape.” Then later in re-cross, the defense asked, “You certainly would hope that your son Trayvon Martin did nothing that led to his own death. Correct?” After some wrangling she said, “What I hope for is that this wouldn’t have never happened, and he would still be here. That’s my hope.”

She handled herself beautifully against the defense’s implication that her “hope” might have influenced her response to the 911-recording, that she was more interested in getting a conviction than hearing the “truth” about her son. The defense’s “truth” is that the unarmed teenager was the aggressor, and Zimmerman shot him in self-defense.

Unfortunately and tragically, there are many other cases in which young black men have been targeted because they fit the profile of a “suspect,” because they were in a places they didn’t “belong,” because they were playing loud music, or some other equally inane justification. I have been to the building where Amadou Diallo, a 23-year-old West African immigrant, was killed by New York City police officers (wearing plain clothes) in 1999. Diallo fit the profile of a rape suspect. When reaching for his wallet, the officers assumed he was reaching for a gun and fired 19 bullets into his body.

Amadou Diallo Place, The Bronx, New York

Amadou Diallo Place, The Bronx, New York

I have stood under the street sign (Wheeler Avenue in the Bronx) named in honor of Amadou Diallo. Will there be a street sign with Trayvon Martin’s name on it one day?  “What I hope for” is that there won’t be any more street signs like “Amadou Diallo Place.” I don’t want to see memorials to young black men whose lives were cut down before they really began, signs in memoriam of short lives with tragic ends instead of long lives and great accomplishments.