Category Archives: race

Martin Luther King: Bernie Sanders, Killer Mike, Nina Turner and Cornel West

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day and it is a good day to think about the work necessary to bring about justice.

I believe that Bernie Sanders is sincere. His campaign releases this video on the eve of Martin Luther King day.   A few quick observations:

  1.  The lack of editing is a signal of this video’s credibility.  Note that this is a single take . . . no edits, no cuts to remove something that would hurt a political campaign.  This starts with microphone checks and becomes a rigorous conversation between four intellectuals.   After they are done, Dr. Cornel West yells: “Whooo hoo . . . that was rich!”  I agree.
  2.  Shortly after the 20 minute mark Killer Mike begins to pitch the Bernie Sanders campaign to black nationalists.  Malcolm X gets a shout out by Senator Turner!  A minute later Mike points out that Sanders is comfortable in tough conversations with people of color.  Sanders brushes off the compliment and returns to the message.
  3. “Titles are good, purpose is better.” Senator Nina Turner makes the argument to use your access. (6:30)
  4. West’s anger toward Obama is palpable.   And Senator Turner’s experience with Hillary Clinton is interesting at the 42 minute mark.
  5. At the 17 minute mark Bernie Sanders talks about his early civil rights organizing experience in Chicago.  Particularly he notes that the northern liberal university (University of Chicago) ran segregated student housing — which necessitated a sit in.  He talks about his experience organizing with CORE and mentions fighting segregated schools.
  6. I also like the sincere emotion that comes through.  Senator Turner who says that Sanders made her heart leap.  The compliments, the gentle physical contact . . .all point to a great series of relationships.

It’s a good and interesting video.  Also an artifact worth consideration in the field of presidential rhetoric.  Contrast this to most pandering politicians.

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Filed under capitalism, communication, human rights, intersectionality, memorial, protest, race, representation

Obama pardons Valerie Bozeman: drug war reflections

Kyle Swenson has an excellent write up on Valerie Bozeman in the Broward Palm Beach New Times.  Bozeman was convicted of drug charges and received federal mandatory minimum penalties.  She was pardoned from her life sentence by President Obama after 23 years in prison.  This is an excellent read complete with a sympathetic protagonist, grimy drug kingpins, incompetent defense attorneys and a guilty judge.

Swenson does a good job explaining how low-level offenders were getting astounding sentences.

But as anxiety over crack grew, the statute was hijacked. The use of “851 enhancements,” as they came to be called, became a huge prosecutorial hammer. The marching orders for federal prosecutors were for no mercy.

In 1989, then-Attorney General Richard Thornburgh ordered U.S. attorneys to “charge the most serious, readily provable offense.” Victory in the courtroom was “measured by the length of sentence you could get if you secured that prosecution,” explains Price. So 851 enhancements — which could trigger a life sentence if an individual had two prior felony convictions — became an easy way for the government to notch a heavy win.

“It was a time when we turned our backs on rehabilitation and support, and our criminal justice system and sentencing law became much more punitive,” Price says. “We were locking up people who we didn’t like and were afraid of. But we were also locking up a lot of people who really didn’t deserve the lengthy sentences we were doling out.”

Source: Valerie Bozeman Is Pardoned by Obama as America Wrestles With Fallout From the War on Drugs | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

Bozeman got a life sentence and learned about the 851 (mandatory minimum) penalties that sent her to prison only years later.  Note that the ‘old timers’ — the prisoners who are sentenced to life became a legal research unit under the direction of Bozeman.

In between chores, Bozeman shot off urgent letters to court-appointed lawyers, like SOS messages stuffed in bottles and pitched into the ocean. Most were ignored. Eventually, she received a letter from Judge Ungaro patiently explaining that Bozeman had been sentenced to life because of a statute known at “851 enhancement.”

With that phrase in her mind, she began visiting the prison law library, where she finally began to unlock what exactly had happened to her.

Soon, Bozeman called together the old-timers. Bozeman had a one-question pop quiz. “Do you know why you got a life sentence?”

Blank looks bounced back at her. One by one, Bozeman sent the women to their cells for their sentencing paperwork. Together they bushwhacked through the legalese until they found it: 851. “The ladies didn’t understand why they were sitting there with a life sentence,” she says today. “They just didn’t know.”

Source: Valerie Bozeman Is Pardoned by Obama as America Wrestles With Fallout From the War on Drugs | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

The essay is also ripe with some terrifying statistics about the drug war and incarceration.  In particular the use of the federal 851 statute (mandatory minimums) to coerce suspects to admit guilt.

Between 1980 and 2013, the number of drug defendants incarcerated in federal custody had exploded from 4,749 to 100,026 — a 2,006 percent uptick. Fifty percent of all federal inmates were serving time on drug charges.

Not only did mandatory minimums put small-time dealers in prison for long periods but 851 enhancements also had another harsh effect. Because the decision to file rested solely with the prosecution, it could be used as a threat: If you go to trial, we’ll file an enhancement.

A study by Human Rights Watch showed that in 2012, “the average sentence of federal drug offenders convicted after trial was three times higher (16 years) than that received after a guilty plea (5 years and 4 months).” When sentencing enhancements were in play for defendants with prior convictions, defendants “who went to trial were 8.4 times more likely to have the enhancement applied” than those who pleaded guilty.

New York Federal District Judge John Gleeson noted that use of 851s had gotten out of control. He wrote in an October 2013 decision that they brought on “the sentencing equivalent of a two-by-four to the forehead.” As a result, so many people chose to plead guilty rather than take chances at trial that a federal criminal trial was “on the endangered species list,” he said. “The government’s use of [851 enhancements] coerces guilty pleas and produces sentences so excessively severe they take your breath away.”

Proof was in the data: In 1980, only 69 percent of defendants in federal drug cases pleaded guilty and took plea deals; by 2010, 97 percent did.

Source: Valerie Bozeman Is Pardoned by Obama as America Wrestles With Fallout From the War on Drugs | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

This essay is a worthwhile read and a thoughtful reflection on the drug war.  Thanks to Longreads for the suggestion.

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Filed under capitalism, class, do-it-yourself, drugs, human rights, prisons, punishment, race, representation, resistance

Sandra Bland and police killing

It feels indulgent to write about anything other than the murder of Sandra Bland at the hands of police officers.   I don’t have much to add to the sad and terrified discourse surrounding the Bland killing.

But it gets you thinking about how a human being like Texas officer Brian Encinia becomes so brutally callous as to cry “good” when the suspect he is slamming to the ground declares that she has epilepsy.

Or how a young activist headed to a new job in a new place might run afoul of the police system she had critiqued.

Edited video, officer suspended, suspicious death in the jail.  These things should enrage you and be motivation for culture change which is deeply necessary.   Watch the traffic stop video if you can:

Rest In Power Sandra Bland.

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Filed under human rights, memorial, police, punishment, race, representation, sexism, Surveillance

Defection from white supremacy

What does it look like when white people defect from the traditions of white supremacy?  It probably looks (and sounds) like South Carolina Representative Jenny Horne talking about removing the confederate flag from the South Carolina state house.

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Filed under communication, human rights, kindness, memorial, race, representation, resistance, vulnerability

Killer Mike gets some time to talk

Tavis Smiley invites Killer Mike for two sincere discussions on PBS.  Killer Mike does not pull any punches and the topics are legit.  Righteous, respectful and thoughtful.   I can’t figure out how to embed, but these are both worth watching.

http://video.pbs.org/viralplayer/2365520459

http://video.pbs.org/viralplayer/2365520563

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“That comfort that you are experiencing is destroying our country!”

Welcome to W. Honky territory.  I just discovered his videos and appreciated his accusatory tone and  salty authenticity.  Turns out he has a youtube channel with his rural truck-cam post-work pov videos.

It took three videos from W. Honky before I ran into this nice gem where he calls upon white Americans to acknowledge the benefits they get from white supremacy.  Specifically he calls upon white people to film themselves articulating their understandings of white privilege.  “To get white people to take some responsibility.”

Honky is light on intersectional analysis.  Consideration of ability, sex and nationality in relationship to race sort of enter in the late part of the video.  Thinking about all layers of oppression at the get-go, what Mari Matsuda calls: “ask the other question,” foregrounding multiple frames of identity at the same time might help support Honky’s key suggestions of accountability and public dialogue.

And of course, given that the key problem is white supremacy might one try to privilege non-white speakers?  Many other persuasive people of color have made almost the same arguments and yet not had the same traction as W. Honky.  We might note that those who are most deeply to benefit from white supremacy may not be listening to thoughtful women of color, but they might listen to W. Honky.

People like Honky (and myself) benefit from white skin privilege, which means access.  A good example of W. Honky’s articulation of what to do about white privilege is his piece on the Bass Pro Shop (boycott).

It is an interesting arc and you come to wonder about the creator (Jorge Moran).  I have a suspicion that this is a character, a performance. Even if it is, I’m impressed with the quality of the arguments, the passion and the realness.  More is the accessibility – I would like to drink a beer with this guy and talk about race.  He seems honest about power and at the same time ready to think slightly out-of-the-box about class, race and identity in general.  He seems like the kind of guy I’d like on my team.

Y’know?

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Filed under class, communication, critique, learning, race

Thinking about racist fraternities who love Waka Flocka Flame

Yesterday the noxious video of Oklahoma frat guys chanting racist stuff on a bus hit the interwebs.  The chant not only bragged about preventing “niggers” from joining the fraternity, but also threatened lynching.

The fraternity was dismantled and student members told to move out of their house (and two members were kicked out of school).  I think it is worth thinking about this moment in time not only for the accountability for racist insults (which I support) but also the redemptive narratives of those-kids-weren’t-that-bad (which I think is worth examination).

One redemption thread was that the closure of the house was going to mean that the long-time chef of the fraternity house Howard Dixon would lose his job.  Fundraisers quickly raised tens of thousands of dollars for Mr. Dixon.  In addition to brightening the reputation of the fraternity members, this also points toward the nasty preference to imagine that a ‘few bad apples’ are what spoiled the bunch.

Having attended several fraternity-rich universities, my take is that the whole system is a nostalgic white supremacist dream.  To select your friends and cloister is an invitation for toxic entitlement to blossom.   (Thinkprogress has some good context for this particular fraternity.)

My initial thought about SAE was that the interwebs were enraged because this example is such old-school bigotry that its an easy critique.  The language about gamergate or sexualized violence at college campuses seldom gets this kind of swift action.  I think we doth protest too much.   It’s easy to point as SAE as racists while ignoring larger structural injustices.

Waka Flocka Flame, an unlikely political advocate, rushed in with a quick cancellation of a show.  Initially I was wondering how many of the racist chanting frat guys on the bus ALSO had tickets to go see Waka Flocka Flame?   Quite a few it turns out.

Racism doesn’t mean that you aren’t into black culture or hip hop.  The poisonous element of this racist chant was the proud exclusionary bragging of a (mostly white) frat in keeping out black people.   Checking in with the Reddit thread on this discussion, a number of people made the same observations.  That they had known white-identified people who were into rap music and also prejudiced.   As one commenter put it: “It’s sad… they can be performers, servers or the nannies. They could be their life-saving doctor, their pastor, their therapist, their mailman, and pretty much everything else in the world. Except simply a person.”

The double consciousness of racists.  To objectify and divide marking difference to ensure that white supremacy continues.   I wasn’t surprised when someone mentioned that Waka Flocka had been hired by this very fraternity to perform at a show.   Thus the video of Waka Flocka Flame shotgunning beers and performing for what seems like a mostly white Oklahoma SAE crowd last year.

It puts Waka Flocka’s cancellation of the show in a slightly less charitable light.  We might read it as solidarity against racist injustice.  We might also call it covering your public relations.

Turns out Waka Flocka has a ton of fraternity shows on youtube. Check the Baylor video where he explains that he doesn’t like a woman in the crowd grabbing his ass.  Note his justifications at 2:05.

Let’s note that the Baylor Waka Flocka show has some visibility  of the entitled audience members who are consuming Waka Flocka Flame.  When Waka is grabbed he explains that he “feels like a bitch.”  It is dumb sexist stuff, but we can also note his refusal to be grabbed and the part about “in my community.”  I think Waka Flocka Flame probably has crazy stuff happen during his live shows (including being grabbed), but something about this rebuttal suggests that this moment is ‘beyond the pale.’

The normalcy of partying to Waka Flocka and then having a racist admission policy (and chanting about it) seems like the interesting part of this SAE duality.  Challenging racism in our day and age needs to be more rigorous and intersectional than this one example, but its a good thread to get access to some key arguments.

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Filed under academics, hip hop, juxtaposition, race, representation