Tuesday, August 19, 2014

#30SOL for #Marissa418

Art by Dignidad Rebelde
The criminalization of blackness is a disastrous and ongoing legacy of our society. It is actively killing and maiming our sisters and brothers, and the massive events in Ferguson have demonstrated the great lengths we will go to in protecting this tradition.

It is in this context that Marissa Alexander is currently fighting for her freedom in Florida. She was sentenced with 20 years in prison after having fired a warning shot into the air to avoid an attack from her ex-husband. In stark contrast to George Zimmerman, Alexander was denied a 'Stand Your Ground' defense. She has been granted a chance at a retrial, but she faces an expensive and grueling uphill battle.

I'll be posting more details here in the coming weeks from myself and other voices. But in the meantime, @KilljoyProphets is organizing a series of opportunities to speak up and take action. In particular, there is a call for Christian voices to "proclaim good news to the poor...to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free" (Luke 4:18). Thus, it's rallying cry: #Marissa418.

As part of that campaign, we are gathering #30SOL testimonies from Christian voices speaking boldly against injustice. You don't have to be an expert. You don't have to be highly trained orator. Just share what Marissa Alexander's struggle and #Marissa418 mean to you--in 30 seconds or less.

Be sure to check out these amazing sample submissions from Emily RiceSuey ParkSarah MoonMihee Kim-KortMicky Jones, and Christena Cleveland.

Send your submissions to ByTheirStrangeFruit@gmail.com by August 24th to be included.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Michael Brown. Ferguson.

It's essential that you stay informed about what is happening in Ferguson. It's important that you hear the stories (the full stories), that you go beyond what is covered in the news. It's important that you not become entrapped by smear tactics of the empowered.

With this in mind, I am highlighting here some of the vital elements of Michael Brown's killing. So much of this is drawn on the brave reporting and lived experience of others. It's vital that you to go to the links, follow the twitter accounts, and actively support the folks I link to below.


This is about the killing of young black man. He was not a suspect. He was walking down the street. Multiple independent and unrelated witness describe that he was shot multiple times from a distance with his hands up in surrender. No ambulance was called to the scene. Instead, the officer call in to dispatch for more officers, cars, and K-9s to be brought in from multiple precincts. Increased police presence incited anger and agitation, even as Michael Brown's was left on the street for hours (see this excellent video report).

Ferguson police declined to interview witnesses (but sure to listen to their testimony yourself). No incident report has been released for the shooting. The situation quickly escalated when police called in M-16s, armored trucks, tanks, tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper shots (not days later, but within hours of the shooting...before any violence from the crowd). 

Each evening, once the media packed up to go home, protestors became the targets of increased police violence. The morning news showed the protester aftermath and response, but not the police instigation of it. By Wednesday, increased media coverage revealed what the residents of Ferguson had been dealing with all along (another important video here). Even then, the media has been actively prevented from fully covering the police action in Ferguson.

Shortly thereafter, events seemed to take a turn for the better. Capt. Johnson showed a completely different approach by removing the riot gear and marching with the protesters. It set an entirely different tone. The protesters were the same, the anger was the same, the demands were the same. The police behavior changed and the situation drastically deescalated. But still no answers about Brown's killing.

The next day, there was a press conference to release the name of the cop who killed Michael Brown. They did so, but rather than releasing an incident report about cop Darren Wilson and the shooting, they released one of Brown allegedly shoplifting earlier that day. Instead of pictures from the crime scene, they showed footage from the shop's security camera. It was nothing short of character assassination of the victim.

As it turns out, Officer Wilson's approaching Michael Brown had nothing to do with the earlier incident. The videos from the convenience store are complete inadmissible in court. And police knew it. But the media coverage had already been effectively hijacked. But the court of public opinion? The biases of a jury? The perpetuation of victim blaming? The media? The video is still admissible for all those things. The narrative was crafted.

Thus, after four days of peaceful protest, the crowd was re-instigated. @thetrudz notes that "It takes a lot of practice to face the but of a gun and not physically defend yourself. They are learning as they go while under military siege...When someone harming you, the common reaction is physical self defense, if able. [Civil Rights Movement; CRM] activists were trained how not to react. This is hard...CRM had months of planning/training." (See also, The Cross and the Molotov Cocktail).

Over the weekend, curfews were imposed at midnight to stop the protests and to send the media home. These were intentionally violated as acts of civil disobedience and in a statement of free speech. Sunday evening, police fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and sound cannons into crowds with little to no warning. This was hours before the curfew was supposed to be in effect. Children were in the crowd, and were hit. Media were threatened. Residents used milk from McDonalds to treat victims' burning eyes. Monday morning the news described it as looting. The police said they were responding to  gunfire. It turns out it was fireworks.

Amnesty International has sent a delegation to Ferguson, the first time they have ever done so in the United States. Meantime, a private autopsy was released showing Michael Brown was shot six times. Several at long range (including into his palms), and some at short range (including the top of his 6'4" head).

For now, we're in a holding pattern. Each day continues a vicious cycle in which frustrated citizens are antagonized and frighted. They react. The police wait, do nothing to remedy the specific incidents of vandalism or disorder (the citizens are left to handle that), and then move in en masse against the entire crowd with tremendous force. The cycle continues. If things calm down in Ferguson, it will be because of the efforts of the clergy and key leaders in the protest, not through any of the aggressive actions of the police

There are many aspects to this story. 
The criminalization of black bodies plays into this. 
This is reflected in fact that Michael Brown can be on trial for his own murder. That the surveillance videos can be used to imply that his killing was justified. White mass murderers are arrested, but a black boy will be shot on sight for walking in the street. Black victims will have their criminal records examined, their academic grades questioned, their parental upbringing challenged. It requires overcoming tremendous odds to prove to public opinion that a black victim did not deserve to be killed.

Earlier this month, John Crawford III was killed while holding a toy gun  in a Walmart in Ohio (an open carry state). He called out "it's not real," but it didn't matter. Meantime, white folk walk through Target with real assault rifles. And can you imagine what would happen if the protestors in Ferguson showed up like these guys? The double standard is extreme. And it's costing lives. The media and police can't (won't) differentiate between black/Brown bodies that are peacefully protesting and those of their criminalized stereotypes. Will you?

White media bias plays into this. 
Newsrooms are overwhelmingly white. Given well-established white undereducation about race, what makes us think they are qualified to cover these stories? Many are quick to suggest a black reporter might be biased. That itself reveals our own prejudice. Because dominant society considers a white perspective to be a 'default' and neutral stance, half the story is missing. 

Social media is often deemed untrustworthy, but in the absence of reporters, this is how most of the videos, images, and evidence has been made public. When mainstream media went home, or was turned away, this is how we heard what was going on. These platforms allowed individuals to get the word out, by providing access and amplification of Black voices that wouldn't otherwise exist.

History plays into this. 
Redlining map of St. Louis.
You can clearly see Ferguson in the top right.
All of this has happened before. The immediate decision to use riot gear and German Shepherds demonstrates the gross and callous insensitivity of the Ferguson police. And it has all been explained before (see Tupac Shakur and Malcolm X--the latter’s example played out again almost exactly in Ferguson in 2009). When Civil Rights history is glossed over in white schools and white society, the result is an uninformed, uncontextualized view of current events. We perpetuate the same violence we have been committing against Black neighborhoods for decades. This is the context for Ferguson. It's this sort of police behavior that Black citizens have dealt with years. And then Brown was shot.

White silence plays into this. 
If your family, community, or church has not consistently done the work of discussing and dismantling systems of racism, do not be 'shocked' when events like these occur or when white churches stay silent. How many white onlookers felt Brown's killing was being blown out of proportion? How many saw the protests as an overreaction? After so many calls 'to wait to get the facts,' from sources white folks could 'trust' (read: non-black sources), it turned out the facts were even worse than we feared. The more we hear the worse it gets. And in the meantime, the citizens of Ferguson have been struggling on their own.

Drew Hart reminds us (through Dietrich Bonhoeffer) that "the church was mute when it should have cried out, because the blood of the innocent cried out to heaven." Instead of sanctimoniously saying "wait, wait" (as the white clergy did in Birmingham), listen to the lived experiences of black folk that tell us the reality of the world in which we live.

Laila Lalami notes "If you want to learn about privilege in this country, you only need to ask who gets the benefit of the doubt." Take note when your mind says "yeah, but..." or "we need a balance" or "we should get the full story." Consider where these instincts come from, and in whose favor they likely are. Who does your instinct tell you to believe? Who is it your instinct to correct? Are you more likely to be directing your critiques at the oppressed or the oppressor? Do you actually want peace? Or just quiet?

Don't be tricked into thinking you're playing 'devils advocate,' when you're simply reiterating the position of power and maintaining the marginalization of the oppressed. Instead, be skeptical of your reactions. We live in an "intensely physically segregated country." White folk that believe police treat black and brown people fairly, aren't around enough to notice. Christena Cleveland notes (through MLK) that "it is hardly a moral act to encourage others patiently to accept injustice which he himself does not endure." You have a choice. Who are you going to believe? The oppressed or the oppressor? The powerful or the powerless? 

Sure, there are complexities and caveats. But those aren't the voices that need amplifying--they're already getting plenty of coverage. Many of us only get our news from the seats of power. Media that is operating under the assumption of a post-racial world. Media that arrives in with preconceived notions of who is violent and who is in the right.


At the center of it all, it's still about Michael Brown, a young man who was killed in cold blood by a cop who has not been detained or arrested. Don't lose sight of that.

Take the time to read the links above. He's worth that. The lives of our sisters and brothers deserve that. And some of us have a lot of history to catch up on.

What followed Brown's death, simply revealed to the world what Ferguson (and the rest of Black America) has known for years. Decades. Centuries. And our citizens will still be stuck with a dangerous & racist police force "protecting" them tomorrow. Black Girl Dangerous reminds us that "this happens every 28 hours. There's already been another unarmed Black person killed since Mike Brown"

Don't go back to forgetting. Don't go back to being 'shocked' that something like this could happen. Black and brown folk know they still need to be wary of police, and an innocent boy is still dead. These facts have not, and will not, change over the next weeks and months of Ferguson's story.

Khaled Bey notes that "a dead teen & a decimated community shouldn't be needed for a national conversation on institutionalized racism within police departments." If you’re just starting to listen, lament that it took yet another gunned-down boy and the militarization of a city to get your attention.

What we need now is justice. We need an official autopsy report. We need an interrogation. We need an arrest. We need a legitimate trial. We need safety for our black sisters and brothers. We need the lives of murdered restored. We don't have any of these things. Some of them we will never get.

“They dress the wound of my people
as though it were not serious.
‘Peace, peace!’ they say,
when there is no peace.”
-Jeremiah 6:14

Friday, August 15, 2014

Friday Fruit (8/15/14)

#NMOS14 Columbus
This week, we're setting aside our normal Friday Fruit routine to focus on the week's events in Ferguson.

Much of the narrative was shaped for the nation by where the information is coming from. In an effort to provide some balance, many voices have spoken up via alternative news sources.

Take time. Read these articles. Seek to listen, learn, understand, and act.

Getting some background:


I'll be RTing updates throughout the day from @BTSFblog, but you should also definitely follow @ShaunKing @AntonioFrench @ryanjreilly @AishaMoodMills and @FeministaJones (there are many other folks doing great work. Those will get you started).

Apologies to those who wrote great articles on other topics this week (I promise, I'll include them in next week's group).

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Stay Informed: #Ferguson

If you're getting your news about ‪#‎Ferguson‬ from CNN etc, you’re missing half (read: most) of what’s going on.

(Update: 8/18/14) A summary of events can be found here.

Four  simple things to keep you informed:
1) I’m RTing voices on the ground in #Ferguson from @BTSFblog, but you should also definitely follow @ShaunKing @AntonioFrench @ryanjreilly @AishaMoodMills and @FeministaJones (there are many other folks doing great work. Those will get you started).

2) Watch the video of what happened Wednesday night.

3) Attend the nearest National Moment of Silence vigil tonight at 7pm (https://t.co/0cDssc7VD4; Hint for my nearby neighbors: there’s one in Goodale Park)

4) Sign the petition asking for changes that are so basic it's heartbreaking: https://t.co/Uwpnx7fbFw

Update (11:30pm): Here is a list of articles that are all well worth reading:

Getting some background:
9 Things about Ferguson that Will Make You Go Hmmm
Police Dispatch Tapes From Michael Brown’s Shooting
Standoff in Ferguson [Video]
Eyewitness to Michael Brown shooting recounts his friend’s death
Michael Brown’s Death Didn’t Happen in a Vacuum
Understanding What’s Happening in Ferguson
Ferguson Names Shooter But is Still Doing it Wrong

On Mike Brown in Church: The Importance of Sitting in Lament
I Raise My Hands: A Prayerful Response to Ferguson
Strange Fruit that Hangs from American Seminaries: A Letter from a Black Seminarian
When Terror Wears a Badge
Ferguson Is Closer Than You Think
First they came for the Black people, and I did not speak out
I Don't Know How to Talk to White People About Ferguson
In defense of black rage: Michael Brown, police and the American dream
America Is Not For Black People
When Parenting Feels Like a Fool’s Errand: On the Death of Michael Brown

More Reflections (Updated 8/17/14):
Things To Stop Being Distracted By When A Black Person Gets Murdered By Police
Black Bodies and White Souls
The Cross and the Molotov Cocktail
Dispatches from Ferguson
A Little Peroxide for the White, Wounded Quest
Ferguson, Missouri, Your Community, and Why "Waiting for the Facts" Is a Bad Ministry Plan
John Perkins: The Sin of Racism Made Ferguson Escalate So Quickly
On Race, the Benefit of the Doubt, and Complicity

Monday, August 11, 2014

Timeline of Racism (Part 2)

Click to enlarge
We continue our look at the history of racism against African Americans in the United States. We pick up the story just after WWII:

When American soldiers returned home after fighting in World War II, most of them were the immediate beneficiaries of the GI Bill, which is largely credited with the massive expansion of the American middle class during the 1950's and 60's.

Many soldiers used the GI Bill to go to college, beginning a precedent that would yield benefits for generations to come. But most Black soldiers could not avail themselves of this benefit at the hundreds of universities that only admitted white students.

The GI Bill also helped soldiers buy a house, the primary source of wealth-building and economic stability in the United States. As homeowners, they could then establish credit and could financially invest in the growth of their community. But redlining practices (first begun by the Federal Housing Administration, and later adopted by Realtors and community developers), ensured that black homebuyers were kept out of the most upwardly mobile neighborhoods and restricted to areas with fewer resources and opportunities. Often these areas were near waste treatment facilities or industrial plants, and had poor access to parks, green space, or modern amenities (see post: Environmental Racism). Black buyers were unable to qualify for financing in any other parts of town.

Even when Black buyers could find houses to buy and mortgagors to lend, established white homeowners were uncomfortable having black neighbors, and as Ta-Nehisi Coates notes, there was significant profit to be made from this situation. In a practice known as 'blockbusting' speculators would play on white homeowners' fears to induce them to sell their properties at less than market value. They would then turn around and sell these houses to Black first-time home buyers 'on contract,' which meant the seller would remain in possession of the deed until the entirety of the mortgage was paid off.

Buyers were at the mercy of the seller and could not earn any equity while the mortgage was being paid. Coates notes that if the buyer "missed a single payment, he would immediately forfeit his $1,000 down payment, all his monthly payments, and the property itself. It was a "predatory agreement that combined all the responsibilities of homeownership with all the disadvantages of renting—while offering the benefits of neither." Once again, Black families found themselves indentured to White profit and greed (closely paralleling the crippling sharecropping tactics of the post-civil war era).
Redlining map of Chicago

Keeping up with this scheme, and the hope of "the American Dream," Black homeowners often had to carry multiple jobs and to forgo other middle class purchases, such as a car for commuting to their work. With both parents maintaining multiple jobs, kids might have been more on their own after school, maybe receive less help with homework, or perhaps had to work to contribute as well. All to line the pockets of white speculators, rather than investing in their own futures, or that of their children.

Furthermore, because taxes for school funding are tied to property values, the declining tax base due to white flight also led to a defunding of local schools. The misnomered 'separate but equal' policies reinforced white parents' decisions to segregate themselves. As a result, black children received exponentially fewer resources in their schools, further dampening their prospects for attending college (even if their parents had managed to attend before them).

Discrimination in hiring was (and continues to be) prevalent in all parts of the country. Black workers often did not have access to the thriving manufacturing jobs that were at the heart of so many middle class towns across the United States. It was also during this time that unions were gaining strength. Members could boost their earnings by collective bargaining and could be assured of greater job security and quality. But many unions discriminated on the basis of race, and so once again, Black families missed out.

In the meantime, new tough-on-crime laws were becoming popular in both local and federal legislatures. Certain drug use through the '60s and '70s was associated with social movements, becoming symbols of anti-establishment and gaining popularity predominantly among the young, white, American middle class.

For years, those that could afford to do so turned to powdered cocaine use. But when crack cocaine was developed in 1984, it was sold at much lower price and became available in urban and low-income areas. In cities that were already segregated across racial/economic lines, this meant that a disparity in drug choice began to emerge.

When the political strategizing led to a legislative crackdown on drug use, the sentencing differences for these drugs were stark. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 mandated that possession of 5,000 grams of powdered cocaine carried the same sentence as possession of only 50 grams of crack, a 1:100 disparity.

The continued consequences of these policies are staggering.  Though black folk represent only 13% of drug users (paralleling national racial demographics), they account for 35% of drug arrests, 55% of convictions, and 74% of those sent to prison on drug possession charges. Indeed, even though 72% of drug users are white, black men are 13 times more likely to be sent to prison for a drug offence than white men (see post: New Jim Crow). The result is the continuation of legal, government-sanctioned practices that began in the post-civil war era through biased incarceration tactics.


The legacy of the issues outlined here is clearly reflected today in our education system, our housing, our health care today (see post: Disparity By the Numbers). None of this history is very old and the oppression that originated with slavery has never really ended. As the laws have changed, and racism's manifestations have morphed, its destructive repercussions for Black Americans remain. How can we demand that we all 'just get over it' when the abuse has never actually stopped?

Through it all, Black triumphs of spirit, culture, finance, and intellect have contributed to our society in profound and lasting ways. At each point in our history, there have been heros rising above circumstance to advance themselves, and those around them. Even today, there are fortunate individuals who have achieved greatness against great odds. But their success does not discount the barriers they faced, and that continue to be faced by so many others.

Whose contributions are we missing? Whose voice has been silenced? Whose ideas have been squelched, and whose talents has been suppressed by unjust distribution of resources? Can we even imagine the total consequence of this legacy of oppression?

“Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice, who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing and does not give him his wages"

How have you seen racial history play out in your story? 
What are the salient moments in history for your family?
Creative Commons License
By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at @BTSFblog