Tag Archives: Race relations

I Cover Hate. I Didn’t Expect It at My Family’s Jewish Cemetery

Traditions don’t protect you from death, or the life of anxiety in preparation for it.

 

ARIANA TOBIN, ProPublica
February, 2017

When it comes to death, my family honors all of the Ashkenazi Jewish traditions: We name our children after dead relatives, we sit shiva for a week, we gather around trays of fruit and lox and cream cheese, we cover the mirrors, we say the Kaddish prayer, we each toss three shovelfuls of dirt into the grave, and we wait a year to put a stone on top of it. When I got my driver’s license at 16, my mom asked me not to sign the organ donor card because Jews are supposed to be laid to rest in one piece. When I turned 18 and signed it anyway, I couldn’t stop imagining her face when she found out after I’d died in a car accident.

But traditions don’t protect you from death, or the life of anxiety in preparation for it. When I told my grandmother — her mother called her Malka, her sisters called her Mollie — that I had an opportunity to teach English abroad, I knew what to expect in response: “That’s nice, baby, but why don’t you find a teaching job around here where it’s safe?” That, and a $20 bill she couldn’t necessarily afford to give.

But when I added, “I’m going to a place in Belarus called Minsk; it’s a big city,” her reply took me by surprise. “Minsk!” she exclaimed. “That’s where my mother was from! I guess you could go. Maybe you’ll see where they lived?”

I did go. I didn’t see where they lived because that place does not exist anymore, thanks to World War II and the Soviets. To identify the symbols of Judaism left in a city that was about 37 percent Jewish in 1941, you have to squint at the stone facades of buildings and say, “Yes, I think that might be a Hebrew character.” You have to stare hard, and wonder, “Hmm, is that Yiddish?”

There are statues and plaques here and there. But look as one might, there are few relics of Jewish death. When you visit Khatyn, a memorial to the victims of “the Great War,” you learn about the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, but little to nothing about what religion they practiced. Nor are there signs marking entire villages of Belarussians, Jews and non-Jews, that became unmarked mass graves. When I would ask my students and co-workers and friends, “What happened to the Jews here?” all most of them would say was, “They left.”

Here, of course, we know why they “left.” My relatives who stayed in Eastern Europe died. Those who moved to America lived. Every single one of my great-grandparents was a first- or second-generation Eastern European immigrant to St. Louis. If you’ve been following the news this week, you probably know where this story is going: Almost all of my immigrant ancestors are buried in the Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery, where nearly 200 graves were vandalized this past weekend.

I’ve been to only one funeral at Chesed Shel Emeth, which is in University City, about 15 minutes from where I grew up. I certainly wasn’t there when they buried my grandmother’s mother, Alice, the immigrant from Minsk, more than 40 years ago. Her tombstone wasn’t among the ones vandalized. But I know the idea that it might have been desecrated — that it is even a possibility — is on Grandma Mollie’s mind today, and on my mother’s as well. I know because for the last several days all we’ve been talking about are relatives like “little Grandma Alice,” who never grew to 5 feet, who cooked elaborate noodle kugels, whose husband died young, who never really learned to drive or speak English and who was scared of strangers unless her family was around.

I’m privileged to have grown up in St. Louis, a place where my grandparents wanted me to stay because it felt “safe” to them — a place they’d made their way to with the help of documents that we know weren’t entirely accurate or complete, and they became citizens anyway. So when a news link about my family’s Jewish cemetery popped up in the group chat for a reporting project on hate crimes that I’m involved in at ProPublica, I wasn’t prepared. Nor was I prepared when I called home and my mom told me that she was going to exchange cash for gold in case “things get worse” and that my dad — who has never considered shooting anything in his life — had wondered out loud about getting a gun.

I wanted to say, “You’re overreacting.” But I can’t, really, in part because it’s so hard to gauge the threat. Data on hate crimes — against Jews and everyone else — is miserably incomplete and poorly tracked. My job is about presenting facts to contextualize the news of the day, horrible as it may be. This time, I had to tell my family that I didn’t have them.

We don’t know if the vandalism at Chesed Shel Emeth was technically a hate crime. The motives behind it may well be uncovered. What we do know is that there is a long tradition of desecrating Jewish cemeteries, from Nazi Germany to present-day France and New York. And whatever the particulars, the news hit at a time when the Jewish community has been put on edge by threats to Jewish community centers where kids go to preschool and their retired grandparents take Kabbalah-infused yoga classes.

That’s why our project, “Documenting Hate,” an attempt to create a reliable database of hate crimes and bias incidents, asks victims to submit their stories. When I read the submissions, it’s clear that defining “hate crimes” can be as elusive as reliable data tracking them. It’s just as clear that we need to make the attempt to define them, report them, investigate them — to gather enough, at least, for context.

Yes, it’s about confronting the ugliness and comforting the scared. But it’s also about giving real answers, using actual numbers and telling true stories when our children ask questions like, “What happened to the Jews?”

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Ariana Tobin is an engagement reporter at ProPublica, where she works to cultivate communities to inform our coverage. She was previously at The Guardian, where she was an engagement editor focused on audience analytics, social media, and SEO best practices. Before that, she worked at WNYC, producing the technology-focused Note to Self podcast. There, she helped launch the multi-platform Bored and Brilliant and Infomagical series, which analyzed information on nearly 30,000 participants’ smartphone habits.

Ariana has also worked as digital producer for APM’s Marketplaceand contributed to outlets including The New Republic, On Being, the St. Louis Beacon, and Bustle. She graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, and studied on a Fulbright grant in Minsk, Belarus.

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Rage over Racism: America Asked For It

In Chains, by Marcela, Creative Commons

In Chains, by Marcela, Creative Commons

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
September 17, 2016

Many years ago, I was waiting in Boston’s Park Street T-station on my way to Cambridge, when a group of African-American teenagers came down the stairs.

They were a swarm of loud, boisterous kids. Was my reaction one of amusement? Or perhaps happiness at seeing so many young people having a good time? No. I had a white person’s reaction. I felt myself tense. I moved away from the group. I gripped my luggage bag tighter. Honestly, I was a bit afraid.

Then suddenly I caught myself. What was I doing? These kids weren’t bothering anybody. They weren’t even aware I was there, they were too busy laughing and singing with each other. I relaxed, they caught their train, I got my train and that was that.

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But my reaction bothered me deeply. I asked myself over the few next days why had I reacted in such a negative, bigoted way. Then it began to dawn on me that almost all the news or entertainment I had seen about African-Americans was biased against them. This was pre-The Cosby Show, pre-Obama, pre-any positive depictions of African-Americans. They were drug dealers, they were violent, you couldn’t trust them, they would rob you or hurt you just as soon as look at you, etc.

And although I had several good African-Canadian friends back home, and had reported on the large black community in Halifax for many years and so should have known better, these negative images were planted in my mind. Worse, because I had quietly let them infiltrate my thought process, they were affecting the way that I acted.

But that’s how racism works, especially institutionalized racism. It’s like an unseen deadly virus. Many people, including myself, would never consider ourselves racist or bigoted. The very idea would seem laughable. We have black friends, we follow black sports stars, we listen to black singers and performers, we read black authors.

But underneath, we’ve been infected. Perhaps by the messages we got from our parents. Perhaps we were swayed by friends growing up.  Perhaps we pay too much attention to the stereotypes we see in movies and on TV. Perhaps we let media coverage of black lives, which rarely depicts positive images, quietly undermine the reality of black lives, which are just as complex, rich and fulfilling as any others.

Many good things have happened over the past quarter-century. There are many more black men and women in positive roles on TV and in movies. America elected a black president. Many African-Americans earn an income that would’ve been unthinkable in the 1960s. Donald Trump was wrong when he said that African-Americans have never had it so bad, which only illustrates another subject on which he is ignorant.

Yet I find myself pessimistic, some 25 years after I stood in the Park Street T station, that America will ever be able to deal effectively with its racism problem. Racism is THE problem that the haunts this country, and has since its birth.

Now Trump and the alt-right movement have opened a Pandora’s box of racism and bigotry, and made it okay again for people to be openly racist, in a way they’ve haven’t since the 1950s. Add to this vile brew the repeated shootings of unarmed African-American men by police across the country, and the unhinged often hysterical reaction to Pres. Obama, and America’s long-standing racist streak has been laid bare again.

Perhaps the moment that illustrated this best recently week was the Trump campaign’s Ohio State official who, on camera, claimed that racism “had not existed” in the United States before Pres. Obama, and that Obama was to blame for all its current manifestations. When she was growing up, she continued, she never saw any racism.

This is, of course, ridiculous. But the fact that a person involved in a presidential campaign in a somewhat important regional role thought it would be okay to make such a statement illustrates how much many Americans have lost their way.

A couple of days ago a friend of mine, an African-American university teacher who is normally the voice of calm reason in such events, who tries to keep a cool perspective on the racism question, reached the breaking point. They were angry and they let everybody know they were angry in a voice that shocked me. And I thought to myself, if this person is saying enough is enough, then we are just in the beginning of what might be a very bumpy ride for white Americans.

It’s not as if we don’t deserve it. We’ve been asking for it for a long, long time.

Copyright Tom Regan 2016

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

~~~

 

Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92. He is based near Washington, D.C.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

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New York’s Colour Line, Between Black and Blue

When American police officers shot dead two black men – Anton Sterling and Philando Castile – within 24 hours in the sweltering heat of July, thousands took to the streets to protest against the violence that they say is predominantly aimed at African Americans. Two days later, a sniper killed five police officers, who were guarding a demonstration. His aim? To kills as many white cops as possible. The reciprocal violence exposes a raw inflamed wound, where many hoped there was a scar. Photo by Ruth Hopkins, © 2016

When American police officers shot dead two black men – Anton Sterling and Philando Castile – within 24 hours in the sweltering heat of July, thousands took to the streets to protest against the violence that they say is predominantly aimed at African Americans. Two days later, a sniper killed five police officers, who were guarding a demonstration. His aim? To kills as many white cops as possible.
The reciprocal violence exposes a raw inflamed wound, where many hoped there was a scar. Photo by Ruth Hopkins, © 2016

RUTH HOPKINS
August, 2016

When American police officers shot dead two black men – Anton Sterling and Philando Castile – within 24 hours in the sweltering heat of July, thousands took to the streets to protest against the violence that they say is predominantly aimed at African Americans. Two days later, a sniper killed five police officers, who were guarding a demonstration. His aim? To kills as many white cops as possible.

The reciprocal violence exposes a raw inflamed wound, where many hoped there was a scar. Has Martin Luther King’s dream evolved into a nightmare? In 1903, sociologist and chronicler W.E.B. DuBois presciently wrote that the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of ‘colour line’ the invisible line that divides the darker and lighter races in America. Despite King’s civil rights movement, which has found a worthy successor in the Black Lives Matter movement, achievements such as desegregation in schools and the first black president in the White House, the colour line seems sharper than ever.

And although awareness of institutional racism – see for example Beyoncé’s and Kendrick Lamar’s  protest performances against the mass incarceration of people of colour – is growing, the reality on the ground is refractory.

New York has the nation’s largest police force, the NYPD, and is also one of the most racially mixed cities in the country. The men and women in blue and the black and brown communities are frequently at loggerheads.

Delrawn Small died on a sidewalk in Brooklyn on Independence Day, 4th July, after a police officer in plainclothes shot him following a dispute about a traffic violation.

A few days later NYPD Police Commissioner William Bratton added insult to injury. During a radio interview he blasted the Black Lives Matter movement, which gained national and international fame with demonstrations against police violence against black people. Bratton said that the activists should stop “yelling and screaming at cops about police brutality because it accomplishes nothing.” This led the occupation of City Hall Park under the banner #ShutDownCityHallNYC, where protesters demanded Bratton should be fired because he is a racist. They rechristened City Hall Park to Abolition Square.

To everyone’s surprise – but certainly not as a result of the protests, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised – Bratton resigned on 2 August. Some breathed a sigh of relief that his controversial term had ended, while others were sad to see him go.  He is credited in law and order circles for stemming soaring crime rates in New York City in the nineties, during his first appointment as NYPD commissioner. But his opponents say Bratton’s approach has led to a drastic deterioration in race relations between the police and people of colour in New York.

Those detractors viewed Bratton’s re-appointment as police chief in 2014 with suspicion. Progressive mayor Bill de Blasio won the elections with a promise to improve relations between the police and minorities in the city.

From that perspective, Bratton’s appointment was indeed a strange choice. He is the architect of ‘Broken Windows’, an approach to crime reduction he embraced as NYPD boss in the nineties. Broken Windows led to aggressive surveillance, investigation and enforcement of minor offenses committed mainly by people of colour. The theory is based on the premise that minor violations of the law, such as a broken window, adversely affect social cohesion and thus produce more serious offenses. The rationale behind the doctrine is that crime rates will go down if you tackle all offenses equally thoroughly. Although the Broken Windows theory is theoretically colour blind; formally not aimed at a particular group, it did not work out that way in practice.

Bratton’s approach led to ‘overpolicing’ of mostly minorities, who were stopped, searched and often arrested on street corners. There is no objective reason to supervise these groups more. For example, while the rate of drug use among whites and non-whites is roughly the same, African Americans are detained and arrested much more frequently. A 2014 study published by the American Psychological Association furthermore found that police view black children and youngsters as older and more dangerous than their white peers.

Human rights lawyer Chaumtoli Huq was arrested in 2014 on 'broken windows' grounds. On a sunny summer day in Times Square Huq, a Bangladeshi-American, had her face and body pressed against the window of a restaurant. "I shouted, ‘I’m not resisting the arrest. I’m not resisting the arrest’." When her husband and two children returned from a visit to the bathroom in the restaurant they saw her shoe lying on the crosswalk. Huq had been pushed into a police car. Photo by Charles Meacham, © 2014

Human rights lawyer Chaumtoli Huq was arrested in 2014 on ‘broken windows’ grounds, while waiting for her husband and children to return from visiting a restaurant bathroom. When her family came outside they saw only her shoe lying on the crosswalk; Huq had been pushed into a police car. Photo by Charles Meacham, © 2014

Human rights lawyer Chaumtoli Huq was arrested in 2014 on ‘broken windows’ grounds. On a sunny summer day in Times Square Huq, a Bangladeshi-American, had her face and body pressed against the window of a restaurant. “I shouted, ‘I’m not resisting the arrest. I’m not resisting the arrest’.” When her husband and two children returned from a visit to the bathroom in the restaurant they saw her shoe lying on the crosswalk. Huq had been pushed into a police car.

That day, Huq and her family had attended a demonstration on Times Square against the Israeli occupation of Gaza. Times Square was a manic hustle and bustle of demonstrators, tourists and New Yorkers. The police officer arrested her after he had told her to move from the sidewalk and she had explained to him that she was waiting for her husband and children to return.

“He pressed his lower body against my pelvis, I could not move. After he twisted my arms behind my back, he pushed them up, so I could only walk bent over. “

In the car on the way to the police station, the officer grabbed Huq’s identification from her purse. “I’m a lawyer, so I told him that was not allowed without my permission. He then said to me: “You are my prisoner, I can do what I want. ‘” Months after the arrest Huq still suffered from insomnia and a feeling of discomfort, “like I was sexually assaulted.”

But it could have ended much worse. Exactly one day earlier, on July 17, 2014, Eric Garner was also standing on a sidewalk when a New York police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, approached him. He accused Garner of selling illegal loose cigarettes and Pantaleo tried to handcuff Garner. When the six foot tall Garner pushed Pantaleo’s arm, the officer grabbed him in a chokehold from behind, around his neck. Chokeholds were and are prohibited within the NYPD. Garner fell to the ground with Pantaleo still holding him. Five other police officers stood around and watched. They heard Garner’s last words: ‘I can’t breathe’ ‘I can’t breathe,’ which became the rallying cry of the Black Lives Matter movement. Garner died some time later.

Garner put the Big Apple’s racial divide between black and blue on the map. His death was widely reported in the media and was one of the first high profile cases the Black Lives Matter movement rallied around.

Since then, the NYPD has tried to improve relations with the communities. It has designed new guidelines around the use of force by police officers. The new policy includes improved definitions, streamlined research and better documentation and monitoring of the use of force.

Edwin Raymond, Photo Ruth Hopkins © 2016

Police officer Edwin Raymond, above, says community relations problems are deep seated. Photo Ruth Hopkins © 2016

But the real problem is much more deep seated than a chokehold, says Edwin Raymond. Raymond works as a police officer in ‘transit’, which means his work place is the vast web of New York’s underground subway transportation. Last year he joined the “NYPD 12”, minority officers who started a lawsuit against the NYPD because, so they say, they were deemed to comply with ‘inherently racist’ quotas for arrests. “Officers are expected to hide in broom closets, refuse rooms and rest rooms. The doors in these rooms have vents and officers would have to peek through the vents.” According to Raymond his superiors expected him to hide in these rooms so he could arrest unsuspecting commuters for minor offenses, such as ‘jumping the turnstile’. People who can’t afford train tickets are usually poor and non-white New Yorkers.

Annabelle,* a 33-year-old black writer and rapper, was late for an appointment a few years ago. At the turnstiles, she found her card wasn’t working properly. “The machine spat out my card, because there was not enough money on it, but I had just paid. So I jumped over the turnstile and out of nowhere a cop appeared. I tried to explain to him what had happened, but the handcuffs were already around my wrists.” The cop arrested her and she was transported to a police cell in ‘the tombs, a large complex of police cells in Manhattan and then on to New York’s largest prison, Rikers Island. Her stay at the notorious detention centre lasted only three days, but has had a huge impact on her life as it resulted in a criminal record. At the time, employers were allowed to run a check for criminal records before interviews. Ten months ago, that changed and employers can only do a background check after they have the applicant a job. Finding work was practically impossible for Annabelle: “I would apply everywhere, but would never hear back from them.” She now works at a direct-sales company, selling energy contracts door-to-door. Some months she still doesn’t earn enough for the subway fare to get to work.

Raymond, the whistle-blower, knows the negative spiral that many black youth end up in. Its trajectory is a sequence of negative steps: a young person wants to apply for a job or go to school, but skips the fare because he or she has no money for a subway ticket. He gets caught because the police have produce a certain number of arrests, this leads to a criminal record for the kid and as a result he will have a hard time finding work and education. Raymond, who still works as a cop: “I never participated in this quota system. I went out there and I policed properly, I used discretion and would arrest people when I had to.” Raymond’s stance on the issue first led to friendly ‘chats’ with his superiors, then his application for overtime and leave days would be rejected. “I’ve seen people being slammed to the floor just because they spat on the floor, took up two seats in the train or because they were kissing their girlfriend goodbye and were blocking the turnstiles. They are arrested just because you need a day off or you need overtime. And these quotas barely exist in white neighbourhoods.” Raymond’s ultimate refusal led to dismal work evaluations, which are crucial to career progression.

Whether or not there is a possible quota system is a sensitive issue because of the profound implications of the lawsuit Floyd vs. New York. David Floyd, a young African American was one of the plaintiffs in a collective civil lawsuit against the city of New York in 2013. The city was held responsible for ethnic profiling and unconstitutional stopping and frisking people of colour. The case exposed a racist undercurrent within the police. It led to compensation for the victims, but also to a federal monitor – a supervisory body – which issues reports on the issues that were central to the lawsuit.

The figures support Floyd’s and Raymond’s experiences and allegations. Preeti Chauhan, a researcher at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, conducted a study in 2013 on the demographic composition of people who were arrested for misdemeanours. The research concluded that non-white males between 18 and 25 years were three times more likely to be detained and arrested compared to white men in the same age group.

Raymond, who grew up in East Flatbush, an African American neighbourhood in Brooklyn, knows what this feels like. He lived in a small apartment with his brothers and single father who had emigrated from Haiti to the Promised Land. “One day a group of officers in plainclothes jumped out of a car and threw me against the fence and started going through my pockets, I was shocked and put my  hands up and asked ‘what did I do’ and I was told to ‘shut the fuck up’. They let me walk and it was just such a traumatizing experience, because, on the corner the actual criminals in the neighbourhood were watching me and I remember thinking the police have to be racist, because the only thing I had in common with the criminals was our race. Later, as a police officer, I would learn that officers are required to get a certain amount of stop and frisk.” That Raymond and his co-plaintiffs complain about a racist system of ethnic profiling is a sign that the comprehensive system of control and accountability that Floyd created, is not functioning properly.

In 2014 a young police officer, Peter Liang, shot and killed Akai Gurley, a young black man.

In 2014 a young police officer, Peter Liang, shot and killed Akai Gurley, a young black man in a case that continues to reverberate. Photo by Ruth Hopkins, © 2016

A recent ruling by the Supreme Court, Strieff, offers little hope for change. With a narrow majority the Supreme Court decided in June that an arrest, search or interrogation of a person, conducted without reasonable suspicion of a criminal offense, can be deemed legitimate, if it turns out there is an outstanding fine or an earlier offense committed by that person. Such a flexible interpretation of the law will lead to ethnic profiling and excessive use of stop and search, Judge Sonia Sotomayer wrote in an exceptional dissenting opinion. Sotomayor broke an unwritten rule: she explicitly mentioned the problem of the racial bias of the law. She not only referenced W.E.B. duBois, but also contemporary authors Ta-NeHisi Coates and Michelle Alexander, who wrote the ground-breaking the New Jim Crow, on the racial bias of the criminal justice system in the US.

While ethnic profiling has thus become easier at the federal level, the NYPD is trying to mend broken down relations at the city level.

In 2013, Bratton appointed Susan Bratton Herman a deputy-commissioner to head the department of collaborative policing, with the aim to heal the damaged relationship between blue and black, before guns are drawn or chokeholds applied.  Herman explains in her office at Police Plaza, the NYPD skyscraper in downtown Manhattan: “Collaborative policing is about promoting shared responsibility for public safety.” Herman works with other departments within the police, city services, but also with the community: residents, activists and religious leaders. Her department launched an initiative in four police districts where 1300 police officers are exempt from ‘911’ emergency calls. They are instructed to start conversations with locals, to be a visible presence and to cooperate with shelters for battered women and the homeless. Collaborative policing has also led to Ceasefire, an initiative in North Brooklyn where gangs and crews who are responsible for shootings and murders take a seat at the table with local residents and the NYPD. Herman hopes to address violence crimes through conversations and the power of communication. The NYPD could not produce figures on the impact of these projects. Herman’s office is also closely involved in changing the policy around marijuana possession, moving away from arrests and instead issuing a summons. Since the new policy was introduced, marijuana arrests have declined by 40%, according to an NYPD spokesman.

These and other reformed enforcement policies have reduced the number of arrests and enforcement interventions. But the question is whether the reforms really address the problem, because despite new policies, minorities are still targeted disproportionately. Sotomayor’s ground-breaking dissenting opinion was so remarkable because she explicitly mentioned race. Race and racial discrimination are rarely mentioned in policy reforms. As a result, it is possible that the number of arrests drops, but the tripled risk of arrest for young non-Caucasian men can continue to exist. Despite extensive reforms at Rikers Island – the prison population fell from 25,000 in 8000 over two decades – 95% of the population is still black or Hispanic. The organization Reforming Police Organizing Project (PROP) produced a report a few months ago on 524 ‘broken window’ charges (among others disorderly conduct and marijuana possession) that came before in courts in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx. Approximately 90% of the suspects were black or Hispanic, which is an indication of an underlying racial prejudice.

The anger about the injustice of these figures was palpable when in April of this year, Ken Thompson, a prosecutor in Brooklyn, advised a judge not to impose a prison sentence for Peter Liang. In 2014, Liang, a young police officer, shot and killed Akai Gurley, a young black man. Gurley lived in one of the projects in East Brooklyn, a predominantly African-American district that is regularly patrolled by the police. Liang came up a dark stairwell, with his finger on the trigger, when he heard a strange noise. He fired his gun. The bullet ricocheted against the wall and landed in Gurleys chest. When Liang was charged and found guilty of manslaughter it caused a stir, because until then barely any police officers had been prosecuted, let alone convicted, for the shooting of a civilian. But the hope that change was afoot soured when Thompson recommended that house arrest and community service was a more appropriate form of punishment.

Nicholas Heyward Senior, a tall man with a gold front tooth, stood in the crowd in front of the DA’s office and he shouted along with angry protesters, “NYPD, KKK! How many kids have you killed today?”

Heyward lost his 13-year-old son, also named Nicholas, 22 years ago when an inexperienced agent saw him in the stairwell of a building, playing with a toy gun and shot him. “The NYPD has killed my son and I’ve fought for recognition for 22 years.”

Hawa Bah also feels let down. Every day, when she sets foot outside her Harlem apartment, there’s a chance she might bump into the cops who killed her son, Muhammad four years ago. The DA decided not to prosecute them. Bah, who immigrated from Guinea to USA five years ago, explains in tears what happened. “My son called me and he sounded sick and confused. I rushed to the apartment. When I saw him, I knew he needed help, so I called the ambulance.” But instead of paramedics, police officers arrived at her door. “I told them my son needed psychological help but they pushed me aside.” Muhammad had barricaded himself in the apartment and according to the NYPD, he opened the door naked and armed with a kitchen knife and tried to stab a cop. The police shot eight bullets, one to the heart and a bullet in his head. Self-defense, the police claimed. However, according to Bah there was no knife. The NYPD could not produce the weapon, they said Hurricane Sandy had damaged the storage unit with forensic evidence.

“Muhammad was not a criminal; he was a working student, a loving guy who was always there for others. He needed medical help, but instead he was slaughtered like an animal. The NYPD has never apologized. They see us as slaves that you can kill when you want. Don’t they know that slavery was abolished?”

New York Hip Hop artist KRS-One rapped in 1993 in Sound of Da Police about the unmentionable: the unresolved history of slavery in the US and how it has had a formative effect on the organization of the police.

The overseer rode around the plantation

The officer is off patrolling all the nation

(…)

And if you fought back, the overseer had the right to kill

The officer has the right to arrest

And if you fight back they put a hole in your chest!

James P. O'Neill, NYPD Chief. Photo @NYPDChiefofDept, Twitter

James P. O’Neill, NYPD. Photo @NYPDChiefofDept, Twitter

Several historians, including Victor E. Kappeler, professor at the University of Eastern Kentucky, write that the predecessor of the American police were slaves patrols and night guards. They had to catch escaped slaves and return them to their ‘rightful owner’. When the first police forces were established between 1820 and 1850, they were mainly employed in the suppression of slave rebellions and race riots. Monica Dennis, a New York Black Lives Matter activist believes that that history is still felt today: “Our capitalist society is built on the exploitation of black bodies. It is inconceivable that black people will decide who they are and what they do. That’s why there is so much surveillance in black neighbourhoods. “

The City Hall Park occupiers also claim the police is a continuation of the overseer on the slave plantations. They’re demanding, among others, that the NYPD budget should be re-invested in communities of colour in New York.

It’s unlikely that James O’Neill, Bratton’s handpicked successor, will calm the frayed stand-off between the occupiers and the officers. O’Neill is a strong supporter of neighbourhood policing, which, say his opponents, boils down to Broken Windows-based harassment of minorities. As long as there is no recognition of the “colour line” that divides Americans, non-white New Yorkers, will, despite reform efforts, remain victims of racist policing policies.

Copyright Ruth Hopkins 2016

*Update: Annabelle is not the real name of the person interviewed. This story was changed at 8:34 PT Aug. 23 to remove her real name to protect her privacy.

Veteran South African/European journalist Ruth Hopkins spent two and a half months on a fellowship in the United States with the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery and the Marshall Project in New York, investigating the similarities between issues facing both the American and South African criminal justice systems.

Related stories by Ruth Hopkins:

The Irreconcilable Narratives of America’s South, by Ruth Hopkins, Wits Justice Project

In Montgomery the narrative of a proud confederacy is visceral and dominant and is echoed in its street names, buildings, signs and statues. But the Equal Justice Initiative, instead of protesting the display of Southern pride and honour, has started an elaborate and ambitious remembrance project that not only includes the collection of soil from sites of lynchings to remember the victims.  . … read more

Prisoners at Angola Prison. Photo © Ruth Hopkins 2016

The Prison Rodeo  By Ruth Hopkins

Angola prison, formally known as the Louisiana State Penitentiary, is built on 18,000 acres of land in an American river basin nestled in between the Mississippi river and Lake Killarney. It would be beautiful if I hadn’t seen the disturbing pictures of African American prisoners picking cotton while a big white guy on a horse oversees their work. Angola prison takes its name from the Angolan slaves who picked cotton on the slave plantation that used to thrive on these very grounds.

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RuthHopkins-FAORuth Hopkins is a senior journalist with the Wits Justice Project in Johannesburg, South Africa. She wrote a book on trafficking in women in/to Europe, which was published in 2005 (Ik laat je nooit meer gaan, I will never let you go again), based on five years of research in Albania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and the Netherlands.

In addition to her journalistic work, Ruth set up and taught a human rights course at a journalism college in the Netherlands. Ruth was named print Legal Journalist of the Year by Webber Wentzel 2011 – 2014.

Read more of Ruth Hopkin’s work on F&O here.

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Woody Guthrie, ‘Old Man Trump,’ and a racist foundation

WILL KAUFMAN, University of Central Lancashire
January, 2016

Woody Guthrie, March 8, 1943. Photo by Al Aumuller/New York World-Telegram/UUS Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division, digital ID cph.3c30859

Woody Guthrie, March 8, 1943. Photo by Al Aumuller/New York World-Telegram/UUS Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division, digital ID cph.3c30859

In December 1950, Woody Guthrie signed his name to the lease of a new apartment in Brooklyn. Even now, over half a century later, that uninspiring document prompts a double-take.

Below all the legal jargon is the signature of the man who had composed “This Land Is Your Land,” the most resounding appeal to an equal share for all in America. Below that is the signature of Donald Trump’s father, Fred. No pairing could appear more unlikely.

Guthrie’s two-year tenancy in one of Fred Trump’s buildings and his relationship with the real estate mogul of New York’s outer boroughs produced some of Guthrie’s most bitter writings, which I discovered on a recent trip to the Woody Guthrie Archives in Tulsa. These writings have never before been published; they should be, for they clearly pit America’s national balladeer against the racist foundations of the Trump real estate empire.

Recalling these foundations becomes all the more relevant in the wake of the racially charged proclamations of Donald Trump, who last year announced, “My legacy has its roots in my father’s legacy.”

By the time he moved into his new apartment, Guthrie had traveled a long road from the casual racism of his Oklahoma youth.

He’d learned along the way that the North held no special claim to racial enlightenment. He had written songs such as “The Ferguson Brothers Killing,” which condemned the out-of-hand police killing of the unarmed Charles and Alfonso Ferguson in Freeport, Long Island, in 1946, after the two young black men had been refused service in a bus terminal cafe.

In “Buoy Bells from Trenton,” he denounced the miscarriage of justice in the case of the so-called “Trenton Six” – black men convicted of murder in 1948 by an all-white jury in a trial marred by official perjury and manufactured evidence.

And in 1949, he’d stood shoulder to shoulder with Paul Robeson, Howard Fast and Pete Seeger against the mobs of Peekskill, New York, where American racism at its ugliest had inspired 21 songs from his pen (one of which, “My Thirty Thousand,” was recorded by Billy Bragg and Wilco).

In the postwar years, with the return of hundreds of thousands of servicemen to New York, affordable public housing had become an urgent priority.

For the most part, low-cost housing projects had been left to cash-strapped state and city authorities. But when the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) finally stepped in to issue federal loans and subsidies for urban apartment blocks, one of the first developers in line, with his eye on the main chance, was Fred Trump. He made a fortune not only through the construction of public housing projects but also through collecting the rents on them.

When Guthrie first signed his lease, it’s unlikely that he was aware of the murky background to the construction of his new home, the massive public complex that Trump had dubbed “Beach Haven.”

Trump would be investigated by a U.S. Senate committee in 1954 for profiteering off of public contracts, not least by overestimating his Beach Haven building charges to the tune of US$3.7 million.

What Guthrie discovered all too late was Trump’s enthusiastic embrace of the FHA’s guidelines for avoiding “inharmonious uses of housing” – or as Trump biographer Gwenda Blair puts it, “a code phrase for selling homes in white areas to blacks.” As Blair points out, such “restrictive covenants” were common among FHA projects – a betrayal, if ever there was one, of the New Deal vision that had given birth to the agency.

Only a year into his Beach Haven residency, Guthrie – himself a veteran – was already lamenting the bigotry that pervaded his new, lily-white neighborhood, which he’d taken to calling “Bitch Havens.”

In his notebooks, he conjured up a scenario of smashing the color line to transform the Trump complex into a diverse cornucopia, with “a face of every bright color laffing and joshing in these old darkly weeperish empty shadowed windows.” He imagined himself calling out in Whitman-esque free verse to the “negro girl yonder that walks along against this headwind / holding onto her purse and her fur coat”:

    I welcome you here to live. I welcome
    you and your man both here to Beach Haven to love in any
    ways you please and to have some kind of a decent place to
    get pregnant in and to have your kids raised up in. I'm
    yelling out my own welcome to you.

For Guthrie, Fred Trump came to personify all the viciousness of the racist codes that continued to put decent housing – both public and private – out of reach for so many of his fellow citizens:

    I suppose
    Old Man Trump knows
    Just how much
    Racial Hate
    he stirred up
    In the bloodpot of human hearts
    When he drawed
    That color line
    Here at his
    Eighteen hundred family project ....

And as if to leave no doubt over Trump’s personal culpability in perpetuating black Americans’ status as internal refugees – strangers in their own strange land – Guthrie reworked his signature Dust Bowl ballad “I Ain’t Got No Home” into a blistering broadside against his landlord:

    Beach Haven ain't my home!
    I just cain't pay this rent!
    My money's down the drain!
    And my soul is badly bent!
    Beach Haven looks like heaven
    Where no black ones come to roam!
    No, no, no! Old Man Trump!
    Old Beach Haven ain't my home!

In 1979, 12 years after Guthrie had succumbed to the death sentence of Huntington’s Disease, Village Voice reporter Wayne Barrett published a two-part exposé about Fred and Donald Trump’s real estate empire.

Barrett devoted substantial attention to the cases brought against the Trumps in 1973 and 1978 by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department. A major charge was that “racially discriminatory conduct by Trump agents” had “created a substantial impediment to the full enjoyment of equal opportunity.” The most damning evidence had come from Trump’s own employees. As Barrett summarizes:

According to court records, four superintendents or rental agents confirmed that applications sent to the central [Trump] office for acceptance or rejection were coded by race. Three doormen were told to discourage blacks who came seeking apartments when the manager was out, either by claiming no vacancies or hiking up the rents. A super said he was instructed to send black applicants to the central office but to accept white applications on site. Another rental agent said that Fred Trump had instructed him not to rent to blacks. Further, the agent said Trump wanted “to decrease the number of black tenants” already in the development “by encouraging them to locate housing elsewhere.”

Guthrie had written that white supremacists like the Trumps were “way ahead of God” because

    God dont
    know much
    about any color lines.

Guthrie hardly meant this as a compliment. But the Trumps – father and son alike – might well have been arrogant enough to see it as one. After all, if you find yourself “way ahead of God” in any kind of a race, then what else must God be except, well, “a loser”? And we know what Donald Trump thinks about losers.

One thing is certain: Woody Guthrie had no time for “Old Man Trump.”

We can only imagine what he would think of his heir.

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“Racial Hate at Beach Haven,” “Beach Haven Race Hate,” “Beach Haven Ain’t My Home” and Guthrie’s untitled notebook writings: all words by Woody Guthrie, © copyright Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., all rights reserved, used by permission.The Conversation

Will Kaufman is Professor of American Literature and Culture, at the University of Central LancashireThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Return to F&O Arts

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

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The racist in the mirror

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
January, 2016

DieAgain/Flickr/Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/people/diegain/

DieAgain/Flickr/Creative Commons

He’s there. Every day. Staring back at me. A white, late middle-aged man, who lives in an overwhelmingly white neighborhood. While he has a few financial woes, he has lived most of his life in comfort. He’s had a decent diet, good health care, good jobs, and his children go to good local schools.

He doesn’t get profiled at airports. He can’t remember the last time he was stopped by the police for anything. Most of the places where he shops, the movie theaters he frequents, the restaurants he likes, are in ‘nice’ neighborhoods.

He cares about issues of race and has always encouraged his children to think of people as equals, but other than talking about it, and writing the occasional column about it, he really hasn’t done much.

He has two or three black friends. He really doesn’t know anybody who’s Hispanic, and the only Asian Americans he meets on a regular basis are the ones he meets when he stops in at the local dry cleaner or pharmacy.

He is, of course, me. I am the very personification of white male privilege. I am a racist.

It’s odd to write about yourself in this way. You have one idealized image of yourself that you hold in your head, but who you really are in the world around you is a different matter. I do care about racism, and I do think it’s the worst problem that America has, but if I’m totally honest with myself, my concerns are little more than a white guy just trying to sound like he cares, but who doesn’t really do much about it.

It’s a problem that white people have in this time and in this place. We cannot bring ourselves to admit that we live in a racist society and that by living in that racist society and enjoying its benefits, we are racists.

Many whites, if you were to ask them about racism, would say “Well, I’ve never said anything bad about black people.” And on the surface they’re probably right. On the surface. Or if you were to ask them about racism in our society their answer would probably be something like that they know it exists but many of the blacks that they know seem to be doing okay, and heck, we have a black president, that they can’t be racist because their favorite actor is Will Smith, or that they think it’s cool that one of the leads in the new Star Wars is black, or that their favorite basketball player is Stephen Curry etc., etc.

But it’s what they don’t see, or don’t want to admit that they see, that makes us all part of a racist conspiracy that effectively denies blacks and other minorities the same opportunities, benefits and choices that those of us who are white take so for granted that we barely even think of them.

Everywhere we look we can easily see the tentacles of this institutionalized racism and its grip on our society and culture.

The most obvious example is the number of African-American males who have been, or will be, incarcerated. (One in three.) Study after study has shown African-American men are jailed more often (or in the worst case, executed) at far greater numbers than whites who are charged with similar crimes. In schools, African-American kids are punished far more often than white kids.

African-Americans have a much more difficult time buying a house, and when they do they pay higher mortgage rates. You’ll often find several liquor and gun stores in African-American neighborhoods but no grocery store. When there is a grocery store, the food is often inferior but still costs more.

How many TV shows are there where black actors and actresses have leading roles? And what about Hollywood? After last year’s brouhaha about the lack of any minorities being nominated for Academy Awards, Neil Patrick Harris, the host on the TV broadcast of the award ceremony, joked that night’s award ceremony was where Hollywood would honor the “best and the whitest.” It really wasn’t so funny.

Television news reports, especially on conservative outlets like Fox News but also on more liberal ones like CNN or MSNBC, regularly refer to protesters in groups like Black Lives Matter, or local gatherings that have protested police killings, as “thugs,” which is the new way for these folks to say “niggers” without actually saying it.

African-Americans on welfare are stigmatized as lazy and shiftless and only interested in government handouts. But in reality, far more whites are on welfare, but seldom face the same condemnation: you’ll never see the media (conservative or otherwise), or politicians, refer to whites on welfare in these terms

Justice Antonin Scalia, a longtime opponent of affirmative action, during a recent Supreme Court hearing on the issue, brought up the popular theory in conservative circles that maybe top universities are just too “advanced” for minorities, that they have a better chance of succeeding at less strenuous educational institutes. And so one of the leading legal voices in the United States basically called African-American kids stupid and not as smart as white kids.

Maine Governor Republican Paul LePage, just a few days ago, recycled the oldest black stereotype of them all: the black man after white women. You know, the stereotype that lead to many black men being lynched not so long ago in America.

How many white parents have had to have the “talk” with their teenage sons to not talk back to the police, to just do as they say, to not give them any reason to, well, shoot you. I never had to have that talk with my teenage son. Because I’m pretty sure he never be pulled over while driving just because he’s a white kid. That’s the way our culture works. And instead of us being outraged or demanding change, most people are actually okay with it. Just as long as they don’t hassle their kids.

We Americans live in a racist society. The evidence is overwhelming, as you can see from the examples provided above. Those of us who benefit from this system want to pretend that we don’t see it, because if we really did see it, it would require making substantial changes. But most of all, we don’t want to look in the mirror and see a racist.

But as long as whites continue to live in a system that consistently denies equality to African-Americans and other minorities — and I’m not talking about government handouts here, I’m talking about the way we treat people in their everyday lives — and we are compliant in the maintenance of that system, then we are racists.

And facing that fact is absolutely one of the first things that we have to do if we’re going to solve this problem.

Copyright Tom Regan 2015

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

 

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Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.

 

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Remembrance and Refugees

 

ROD MICKLEBURGH
November, 2015
Vancouver, Canada

Kazoo Yatabe. Photo by Randy Enomoto © 2015

Kazuko Yatabe lays a wreath on behalf of her Canadian Forces veteran husband Fiji Yatabe. Photo by Randy Enomoto © 2015

Two days before the numbing atrocities of Paris, I went to the annual Remembrance Day ceremony at the Japanese-Canadian War Memorial in Stanley Park. It was a simple, almost homespun occasion, far removed from the military-like precision of the packed event at the city’s main cenotaph downtown. A black-robed priest gave a purification prayer, clapped three times and performed a spiritual cleansing by waving about a long baton festooned with white paper streamers. He then talked six minutes past the proscribed 11 a.m. time for the two minutes of silence. No one seemed to mind. Beside me, a teen-aged girl wiped away tears, while an elderly Japanese-Canadian woman in an ordinary gray kimono stood with head bowed, eyes tightly closed.

There was a pointed theme to this year’s Remembrance Day in Stanley Park, that made it more relevant today, given some of the hateful fallout in Canada to the mass murders in Paris on Friday November 13. The ceremony commemorated this year’s 70th anniversary of the formal acceptance of Japanese-Canadians into the Canadian Army.

At a time they were still branded “enemy aliens,” had been forced into internment camps and work gangs, when their families had been stripped of their possessions, 120 Nisei signed up for a special, military intelligence unit to help in the fight against, yes, Japan. And then it was only pressure from British and American military commanders that finally forced Canadian authorities to admit them into the army. In an intensely moving moment, Kazuko Yatabe, widow of veteran Eiji Yatabe shuffled forward to lay a memorial wreath on behalf of her husband.

Was it all only this month? After Paris, bowing our heads in remembrance on that sun-bathed morning feels light years away. Yet, looking back, as hearts harden towards welcoming desperate Syrian refugees to this land of relative bounty, the event seems to take on a deeper meaning. Some of the same prejudice and unwarranted fear that imposed internment on thousands of law-abiding Japanese-Canadians is sadly afoot, again. Since Paris, a mosque in Peterborough has been torched, a Muslim woman in Toronto severely assaulted, others verbally harassed and some have reported being shunned in supermarket line-ups, over worries they might be suicide bombers. Ant-Muslim graffiti is on the upswing. Meanwhile, and arguably worse, there has been a disturbing rise of opposition to Canada’s plan to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year. A sensible suggestion by British Columbia Premier Christy Clark that the northeast of B.C. might be a good place to settle some Syrians sparked an immediate online petition calling for a referendum on admitting refugees to the region. It quickly attracted more than a thousand names. Similar petitions across the country to halt the influx have also attracted widespread support.

Of course, the petitioners don’t come out and say they don’t want Muslims here. They cite security concerns. The possibility that one of the suspected nine Paris terrorists might have been among the hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming through Europe has been seized upon. No matter that the terrorist ringleaders were French and Belgian. And no matter that Canada is taking refugees from relatively-stable camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, not from the huge, heartbreaking crowds thronging to Europe. While the government’s ambitious refugee deadline might be well served by extending it a month or two to ensure the process unfolds smoothly, “security concerns” have been seized upon on as reason to keep “them” out. With proper screening in place, there is no evidence that these refugees, most of them families, pose a security threat, other than to those, perhaps, who think just being Muslim is suspect.

A Canadian naval officer confiscates a fishing boat from its Japanese Canadian owners during WWII. Photo: R.C.N. DND - Library and Archives Canada DAPDCAP 556450

A Canadian naval officer confiscates a fishing boat from its Japanese Canadian owners during WWII. Photo: R.C.N. DND – Library and Archives Canada DAPDCAP 556450

All of which brings me back to last week’s Remembrance Day in Stanley Park and the special attention paid to the internment of more than 20,000 Japanese-Canadians. As with the current hostility toward Syrian refugees and Muslims, facts and context meant nothing. After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour, Japanese-Canadians were overtaken by a tidal wave of irrational fear and prejudice that stigmatized all of them, based only on their race. In British Columbia, where almost all lived, there was wild talk everywhere about a sinister “fifth column” of Japanese, loyal to their mother country, plotting to undermine the country from within. Japanese-Canadians were looked on with suspicion, merely because of events far beyond the borders of Canada they had nothing to do with.

They were different. They might be up to something. Sound familiar? Yet not one incident of sabotage or disloyalty was ever uncovered.

It is distressing to see the same emotions whipped up all over again. Lest you think I’m stretching the comparison, I give you Roanoke, Virginia in the United States, where the anti-refugee hysteria is far more deep-seated and pronounced. Calling for an end to assisting Syrian refugees to resettle in the area, Mayor David Bowers drew a parallel to the fears Americans had about ethnic Japanese in the U.S., after Pearl Harbour. He applauded their internment, which, he said, had kept America safe. Sometimes, words fail….

There is some good news, however. In 1942, almost no one, except a few brave members of the CCF and civil libertarians, spoke out against internment. This time, many, many Canadians and others are rallying to embrace Syrian refugees and denounce those who single out Muslims, who use their prejudice to stand in the way of these unfortunate victims of a terrible war coming to Canada. If only more had spoken out 73 years ago.

“Lest we forget,” event moderator Gordon Kadota reminded us on Remembrance Day. Indeed.

Copyright Rod Mickleburgh 2015

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Rod Mickleburgh F&ORod Mickleburgh has been a journalist for more than 40 years, with stops just about everywhere, from Penticton to Paris to Peking. Managed a few awards and nominations along the way, but highlight was co-winning Canada’s Michener Award with my highly-esteemed Globe and Mail colleague, Andre Picard, for our coverage of Canada’s tainted blood scandal. Left the Globe, my reporting home for more than 22 years, in the summer of 2013. Have my name on two books: Rare Courage, containing first person-accounts from 20 veterans of World War Two, and The Art of the Impossible, a tale of the wild and wooly 39 months of British Columbia’s first New Democratic Party government led by Dave Barrett. Co-authored with Geoff Meggs, The Art of the Impossible won the Hubert Evans Prize for non-fiction at the 2013 British Columbia Book Awards. Currently investigating time management, without regular deadlines. Visit Rod Mickleburgh’s WordPress site, Mickleblog.

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Unpacking the backpack of Christian privilege

PENNEY KOME: OVER EASY 
November, 2015

Starbucks red cups, advertising image

Starbucks ad for red cups

So Starbucks has won 2015’s first “War On Christmas” prize, by offering seasonal red, green and white paper coffee cups that some evangelicals deem not Christmasy enough. And it’s only the beginning of November! While I usually try to ignore such skirmishes, the kerfuffle made me think of Harvard professor Peggy McIntosh. Her 1989 essay, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” changed millions of lives, including mine. Now I want to take up her challenge and suggest that members of the erstwhile Christian majority in U.S. and Canadian society also carry invisible knapsacks of Christian privilege.

I encountered Peggy McIntosh’s essay in the early 1990s, when I served on the board of Calgary’s Women Looking Forward, a coalition board that included women from the community as well as representatives from women’s groups in the Alberta city. Although Calgary seemed to be almost all-white when I arrived in 1987, WLF did have some women of colour on the board, mostly from immigrant groups. One woman, Theresa Woo-Paw, went on to become a provincial cabinet minister. To raise our own awareness of unconscious assumptions that might be discouraging more ethnic women from participating, the WLF board took part in a consciousness-raising exercise based on Peggy McIntosh’s essay about what white people take for granted.

My first reaction to McIntosh’s essay was fury – like most white people who read it for the first time, especially those of us who have worked for civil rights and human rights since the 1960s. Before long, though, her observations made sense, especially in the context of U.S. racial relations. McIntosh was perhaps the first to point to systemic privileges, things that might seem outside an individual’s control but that have unequal impacts on individuals’ lives.

After McIntosh spent several weeks writing down insights and checking them with Harvard colleagues, both white and African-American, she wrote: “I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious… White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks…” She said that her identity as part of the majority conferred privileges or advantages such as:

  • When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my colour made it what it is.
  • I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
  • I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods that fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.
  • I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.
  • I can swear, or dress in second-hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.
  • I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
  • I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of colour who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.

“…For me, white privilege has turned out to be an elusive and fugitive subject,” she went on. “The pressure to avoid it is great, for in facing it I must give up the myth of meritocracy. If these things are true, this is not such a free country; one’s life is not what one makes it; many doors open for certain people through no virtues of their own.”

McIntosh’s feminism gave her the initial insight that led her to wonder about a racialized discrepency. “I have often noticed men’s unwillingness to grant that they are over-privileged, even though they may grant that women are disadvantaged,” she wrote. Her notes to workshop facilitators say to encourage participants to write about other areas where they see some people at a disadvantage – including religion – as long as they do so from a personal, autobiographical perspective, as she did.

“Please draw attention to the specificity of ‘my sample,'” she wrote. “I compared my circumstances only with what I knew of the circumstances of my African-American female colleagues in the same building and line of work. This sample is very specific with regard to race, sex, region, location, workplace, vocation and nation.”

With her words ringing in my ears, I turn to recent discussions about the 2015 Starbucks holiday season cup, and the reasons that people I like and respect have given for maintaining this time of year as exclusively a space for Christmas and Christians. [But not including American “evangelist internet and social media personality” Joshua Feuerstein, who started the Starbucks so-called “scandal” with a cell phone rant.] http://www.joshuafeuerstein.com/about-josh/4585043155

1. “We’re all raised in a Christian culture,” said one friend.”You can’t escape it.” But Jews have always lived alongside the mainstream, adapting with their own Christmas traditions, such as an annual Chinese dinner and a movie. My Muslim friends delivered Christmas gift baskets last year. I’d have to research to know what to send them for Ramadan. McIntosh said: “When I am told about our national heritage or about ‘civilization,’ I am shown that people of my colour made it what it is.” Christians can say that much more easily than Jews, or Muslims, or even First Nations people. (Let’s talk about Thanksgiving, eh?) Christians still assume that theirs is the mainstream culture, but that’s hardly the case now, if it ever was.

2. Many symbols are common to several religions, and often more recent religions overwrote already-popular faiths. My choir is singing a song about the Rock of Ages for our Winter Holidays concert, a song that was offered as Christian. News flash: Rock of Ages is a Hanukkah song. McIntosh said, “I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.” Christmas carols blaring from speakers in every mall and public plaza re-affirm Christian privilege, as well as urging shoppers to buy more. (I can’t even imagine how store staff feel after two months of the constant repetition. Worse, a friend in retail reports shoppers often say, “Merry Christmas,” and get miffed if the response is, “Happy holidays.” ) No such musical extravaganza greets Hannukah, or even Chinese New Year’s, which occurs just over a month later.

3. Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis argued that her “religious freedom” allowed her to refuse marriage licenses to same sex couples. As the mother of an adult gay child living in Alberta, I think her position ironic and immoral. The irony is that her “freedom” means that some people I care about don’t feel safe on Calgary streets. Peggy McIntosh wrote: “I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.” Christians complain they “don’t feel safe” using words like God and Jesus – that people react by rolling their eyes. My child deserves to feel safe too, and not have to worry about a pickup truck pulling up behind them loudly on a quiet street and disgorging five mouthy guys with baseball bats, as has happened to more than one LGBTQ friend of mine.

4. Unlike Christianity, many faiths emphasize seeking, discussion and debate. I’m a Unitarian. An old joke says that if a group of Unitarians was climbing a mountain and came across a fork in the road, with signs pointing either “To Heaven” or “To Discussions About Heaven’s Existence,” the Unitarian group would go to the discussion. My Jewish friends get into arcane debates to show off their knowledge; their joke is, “Two Jews, three opinions.” McIntosh wrote, “I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.” Christians often ask, “So how do your people interpret….” this or that. Short answer: depends on the person.

5. Christian statutory holidays mark the turning of the year just as the seasons do. Workplaces and public institutions make far fewer accommodations for religious fasts, like the month-long Ramadan holiday; or 10 day feasts, like Chinese New Year’s – or even East Indian Christmas, Diwali, which also rotates through the year. McIntosh wrote: “I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of colour who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.” Christians can observe their own holidays without hindrance, but members of other faiths must fit their celebrations into workplace schedules designed around Christian events.

6. Finally, there is the question of dissent. Christians feel free to criticize other faiths, especially Islam. But the reverse is not necessarily true. After the murders at Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris last January, people whom I had previously believed to be level-headed were prepared to round up all Muslims and – well, they never got to “send them away” or “put them in camps,” but news reports showed some yahoos did go to their local mosques to harass women wearing hijabs. McIntosh said, “I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behaviour without being seen as a cultural outsider.” I can’t speak for how Muslims feel, but I felt pretty beaten up after a week arguing with otherwise-intelligent people who wanted to deport them all.

Some Christians are also bothered by the “war on Christmas” mentality, but for different reasons. Last year, Stephen Ingram, an Alabama Methodist youth minister, wrote, “The very fact that people feel that it is their duty to mandate Christ in Christmas is, in and of itself, an act of heresy….”

He continued: “I know many very well-intentioned people believe that they are fighting the good fight and are experiencing religious persecution, but that is simply a wrong way of thinking. If you are a Christian in America, you have to stop pulling the persecution card. It is not persecution just because you do not get everything you want or because you can not do whatever you please….”

Or more to the point, he says, the issue is that Christians cannot force everybody else to do what they, the Christians, want. “Christianity, as defined by the life and teachings of Jesus, never depended or insisted on being the majority, in power or even influential. It was a religion that lauded the weak, meek and the poor….”

“…When we try to force God on others we reincarnate some of the worst epochs of our religious history, and default on its core founding principles of Love, Grace and Hospitality. When we assume these seats of power and belligerently insist that we take priority and our voice is the only voice that matters, we are not representing the man who called for humility, peacemaking. meekness and self sacrifice. What we do is become pawns in larger economic and political narratives, not the narrative of Christ as found in the Bible. We do not serve the one we call the Prince of Peace, we serve corporate America, politicians who use religion for their platforms and men and women who ride the coat tails of Jesus straight to power.”

Personally, I see religion as one of the mechanisms for maintaining class privileges in our society, which has been described to me as Anglicans at the top, Catholics marching close behind, United Church in the rear, and other religions barely visible. McIntosh said, “One factor seems clear about all of the interlocking oppresions. They take both active forms, which we can see, and embedded forms, which as a member of the dominant group one is taught not to see….”  For me, insisting that Christmas is the only December holiday is embedded form, a privilege or advantage that Christians take so much for granted that they resent having to share the month.

For Christians, I leave the last word to Stephen Ingram: “As a person of faith, you do not have to keep Christ in Christmas. He is already there. He is there with the lonely, the depressed, the joyful and the confused. He is there with the widow and the orphan, with you, with me and with the atheist. As people of faith it is in these places, fueled by grace love and hospitality, we cannot bring Christ back to Christmas but join with him in the work he is already doing, and sometimes work he is already doing – in spite of the best intentions of his people.”

Copyright Penney Kome 2015

Penney KomePenney Kome is co-editor of Peace: A Dream Unfolding (Sierra Club Books 1986), with a foreward by the Nobel-winning presidents of International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War.

Read her bio on Facts and Opinions here.

Contact:  komeca AT yahoo.com

 

 

References and links:

Starbucks’s Red Holiday Cups Inspire Outcry Online, New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/10/business/starbuckss-red-holiday-cups-inspire-outcry-online.html
National Seed Project, White Privilege
…. :http://nationalseedproject.org/white-privilege-unpacking-the-invisible-knapsack

Stephen Ingram, The Heresy of “Keeping Christ In Christmas:” http://www.organicstudentministry.com/?p=61156&utm_campaign=shareaholic&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=socialnetwork

Joshua Feuerstein, who started the Starbucks so-called “scandal” with a cell phone rant: http://www.joshuafeuerstein.com/about-josh/4585043155

~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and we do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. Please visit our Subscribe page to chip in at least .27 for one story or $1 for a day site pass. Please tell others about us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Ferguson’s Damned Details

The Grand Jury decision Nov. 24  not to indict Darren Wilson ignited protests in Ferguson, Missouri. Photo by Jesse Chan-Norris via Flickr, Creative Commons

The Grand Jury decision on Nov. 24, not to indict Darren Wilson, ignited protests in Ferguson, Missouri. Photo by Jesse Chan-Norris via Flickr, Creative Commons

DEBORAH JONES: FREE RANGE

November 25, 2014

Ferguson, Missouri, burst into flames after Monday night’s announcement that a grand jury found no cause to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown on August 9. Some 700 National Guard troops were immediately summoned, with 2,200 reinforcements added Tuesday, to quell rioting.

Darren Wilson, photographed in a medical office after shooting dead Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Photo released by the St. Louis County Prosecutor's Office photo

Darren Wilson, photographed in a medical office after shooting dead Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Photo released by the St. Louis County Prosecutor’s Office

As many words as tears have been spilled in the killing. (See below for selected documents and journalism that offer a fairly comprehensive overview of the case.)

Here are some thoughts about Ferguson, offered from a relatively safe, calm and quiet seat in Canada, thousands of kilometres and a culture removed from Missouri.

The world news is filled with the unceasing slaughter of warfare, natural disasters and disease, and yet for months the little town of Ferguson, near St. Louis, has topped international reports.

The killing that made it famous seems almost mundane: men clashed on a street on a summer night, and a nondescript police officer killed a typical young man.

To consider the facts of Brown’s death ordinary is not to downplay the horror, nor to disregard the impact of the tragedy on everyone involved. But, sadly, it’s a fact that people  around the world are regularly killed by local police; on Sunday in Cleveland, Ohio, a 12-year-old boy carrying a replica gun was fatally shot by a policeman. Few such killings receive the intense scrutiny Ferguson has experienced.

Brown’s death has drawn such attention that the United Nation’s human rights chief  issued a statement  today on the “disproportionate killings of African-Americans by U.S.police.” In the wake of Monday’s grand jury decision, my social and news media was deluged with opinions about it by every expert alongside every Tom, Dick and Harriette. The riots have been widely reported on every continent, and protests staged in many American and foreign cities.

Why?

The story of Ferguson is deceptively simple, and beguiling: a tale of authorities versus delinquents, blacks versus whites. devils versus angels. Officer Wilson compared 18-year-old Brown’s appearance that night to “a demon” in his testimony to the Grand Jury. Demonstrators in Ferguson, and elsewhere, have screamed for Wilson’s head as a killer, while emphasizing Brown’s loving family and academic interests. The rush to judgement of all parties began long before the grand jury considered the case, and the decision against laying charges only inflamed the protests, as well as sparking criticism of the jury and the process.

Michael Brown at his high school graduation, shortly before he was killed. Photo from St. Louis Public Radio

Michael Brown at his high school graduation this year. Photo from St. Louis Public Radio

I know almost nothing about Darren Wilson’s character, skills, education, training, perspectives, or motivation on the night he shot Brown dead. I have equally little information about Brown. But here’s the thing: I’m pretty sure that most of the people pronouncing on the case are equally ignorant.

I am, however, certain of one thing: Wilson is not the devil Brown’s defenders have made him out to be. Even if the policeman is eventually found criminally culpable, he cannot fairly be cast as the central villain of Ferguson’s and America’s woes. Not only would that be too easy, it would let the true villains off the hook.

The real devil, as the saying goes, is in the details. The details that have made Ferguson a global news story have little to do with Brown, or Wilson, or even their home town.

From this foreigner’s perspective, the devilish details lie in America’s obsession with the colour of people’s skin, its tragic history of slavery and discrimination, a racial divide that is worsening as the promise of the Civil Rights Movement fades, and well-documented social and economic inequality. 

That Missouri’s Grand Jury did not indict Wilson for Brown’s death may turn out to be a good thing, even if the policeman is blameworthy.

Without Wilson as a scapegoat, without criminal charges to toss like red meat to the crowds of enraged protesters, Ferguson and America cannot ignore the social, racial, economic and political context of Wilson and Brown’s clash on the street that August night.

The Grand Jury did not provide simple black and white solutions. America remains under a shroud of grey. 

Copyright Deborah Jones 2014

Contact: Editor@factsandopinions.com

Overview:

 The Marshall Project:  Collated news and opinion items about Ferguson
Moyers and Company: What We’re Reading About Ferguson
U.S. and international reporting on Ferguson by the New York Times;  BBCFrance 24;  South China Morning Post; and Russian Television (RT.com) 

Original documents:

Guide to the Facts and Issues  and Evidence released from the Grand Jury, collated by St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s press stream, of videos and news releases
 

What next?

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon in October announced a Ferguson Commission, tasked to:

  • “Conduct a thorough, wide-ranging and unflinching study of the social and economic conditions underscored by the unrest in the wake of the death of Michael Brown; 
  • “Second, to tap the expertise needed to address the concerns identified by the Commission – from poverty and education, to governance and law enforcement; 
  • “And third, to offer specific recommendations for making this region a stronger, fairer place for everyone to live.”

Related works in F&O’s archives:

Deadly Force in Black and White America. By Ryan Gabrielson, Ryann Grochowski Jones and Eric Sagara, ProPublica

An analysis of statistics supports what has been an article of faith in the United States’ African American community for decades: Blacks are being killed at disturbing rates when set against the rest of the American population. Young American black males in recent years were at a far greater risk of being shot dead by police than their white counterparts – 21 times greater, according to a ProPublica analysis of federally collected data on fatal police shootings.  

Michael Brown, Ferguson and the nature of unrest. By Garrett Albert Duncan, The Conversation

Many Americans share president Barack Obama’s sentiment regarding the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. This is clearly indicated in the deeply felt hurt experienced by so many and the massive swell of moral support people of all backgrounds offered to the young man’s parents in recent days. But to suggest that all, or even most, Americans feel the same would be severely misleading.

Six Days in Ferguson: Voices from the Protests. By Lois Beckett, ProPublica

On the afternoon of Saturday, August 9, a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, 18-year-old Michael Brown. The killing sparked immediate protests in Ferguson which was followed by a heavily militarized police response that drew national condemnation. Here is a day-by-day chronology of what happened in Ferguson, drawn from the best reporting by journalists and witnesses on the ground. 

 

Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, Facts and Opinions performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from non-journalism foundations or causes. We appreciate and need your support: please click here to purchase a $1 day pass, or subscribe.   Sign up using the form on the right side of our Frontlines blog to receive posts by email. Contact us at Editor AT factsandopinions.com. 

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Six Days in Ferguson: Voices from the Protests

 

by Lois Beckett, ProPublica
August 15, 2014

On the afternoon of Saturday, August 9, a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, 18-year-old Michael Brown. The killing sparked immediate protests in Ferguson which was followed by a heavily militarized police response that drew national condemnation.

Here is a day-by-day chronology of what happened in Ferguson, drawn from the best reporting by journalists and witnesses on the ground.

Saturday, August 9

“I know they killed my son. This was wrong and it was cold-hearted… [He] doesn’t kill, steal or rob. He doesn’t do any of that.”

Lesley McSpadden, Brown’s mother, overheard speaking to an acquaintance at the scene of her son’s shooting.

“Ferguson police just executed my unarmed son!!!”

Words on a sign held by Brown’s stepfather.

“Police have brought out the large gear in #Ferguson.”

Tweet from St. Louis alderman Antonio French, Saturday, 4:35 pm.

“Don’t shoot me!”

Protesters held up their hands as they faced off against police officers with barking dogs, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Sunday, August 10

“We want this to come to a conclusion quickly.”

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson.

“How can we protect our children?”

A mother screams at County Executive Charlie Dooley as he visits the protesters.

“Ferguson killed my son. Ferguson flat-out murdered my son in the street.”

Brown’s stepfather, Louis Head, sitting by a memorial for Brown on Sunday.

“It’s bad… I don’t blame the police, but they can’t keep up.”

Jimmy Muhammad, 32, told the Post-Dispatch that he and others had just fought off a gang of young men with guns who tried to break into his uncle’s store, which was one of several stores targeted that night.

Monday, August 11

“Michael Brown didn’t get due process. The still unnamed police officer who shot the 18-year-old black teenager dead in Ferguson will get plenty of it.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Monday editorial focused on the broader context behind the outrage over Brown’s death, including the racial profiling of black men.

“After that was done and people were leaving, I remember seeing him off to the side. He kind of just came up to me and said, ‘We made it.'”

Raquan Smith, one of Brown’s friends, describing what Brown told him the day he graduated.

“This is exactly what is supposed to be happening when an injustice is happening in your community. You have kids getting killed for nothing.”

DeAndre Smith talks to a Post-Dispatch reporter about the looting on Sunday night.

“Look out here right now. The lack of black police officers either on the street or at the administrative level… This whole area, this city is a racial powder keg.”

Jerryl Christmas, 50, a defense attorney and former prosecutor for the city of St. Louis, talking to the Los Angeles Times at a protest on Monday.

“Fuck the police.”

Julie Bosman of The New York Times describes what protesters are singing in Ferguson, 6:46 pm .

“Insurance is high, gas is high, but that’s not why I get mad. At the end of the day, when I’m driving home, they ask me to pull over and get out of the car. No ‘license and registration, please.‘ Get out of the car. Lay on the ground. Put your hands on your head.”

Ricky Jones, 34, at a protest in Ferguson on Monday night .

“These are the next kids to get shot, right here.”

St. Louis resident Troy Woods describing the young demonstrators massed on a hill on Monday night.

“These m———— came out of the cut and sprayed me in the face like this is a f—– video game or something.”

A 23 year old resident of the neighborhood near West Florissant Street, a center of protests. The young man said police had sprayed tear gas in his face and hit him with rubber bullets. “I was just trying to get to my sister’s house,” he told the Washington Post.

“You have a son, I have a daughter. Let’s go home now.” “No, I’m tired of putting up with this.”

A Washington Post reporter hears a conversation between the female passenger and the male driver of a car approaching the police line, with “NWA’s “F— the Police” playing loudly from its speakers.”

Tuesday, August 12

“He’d accomplished it. In the last two months, man, Mike was there every doggone day and he was giving it his full effort.”

John Kennedy, one of Mike Brown’s teachers at Normandy High, describes how hard Brown had worked to get his high school diploma.

“‘Get the f—k on the sidewalk.’ His exact words were get the f—k on the sidewalk.”

22-year-old Dorian Johnson, who was with Brown when he was killed, gives MSNBC his account of their interaction with the police.

“This is how the boy died! With his hands up in the air!”

Kendrick Strong, 42, at a protest in front of the St. Louis County prosecutor’s office on Tuesday morning.

“See this dent? I got smacked in the head with a flashlight because I didn’t say, ‘Yes, sir.’ I was 14 years old.”

Aha Sen Piankhy, 38, describing his motivation for being at a protest in Clayton, Missouri, on Tuesday morning.

“We’ve sold a variety of handguns, shotguns and AR-15s. All of the sales are having to do with home defense.”

Steve King, owner of Metro Shooting, a gun store near Ferguson, told the St. Louis Business Journal that gun sales had spiked 50 percent in response to recent events. Both black and white customers had purchased firearms, he said.

“Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!”

Protesters in Ferguson, Tuesday night, 7:34 pm.

Wednesday, August 13

“Very shaken.”

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson describes the condition of the officer who shot Brown. Jackson said the officer was injured in his confrontation with Brown. The “side of his face was swollen” and he went to the hospital for treatment, he said.

“The clock is ticking and the time is late. This situation has been thirty years in the making.”

Malik Ahmed, the C.E.O. of Better Family Life in Ferguson, to New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb.

“This story’s going to get out there. It’s going to be on the front page of The Washington Post tomorrow.” “Yeah, well, you’re going to be in my jail cell tonight.”

Washington Post Reporter Wesley Lowery, describing his conversation with a police officer after he was arrested for “trespassing in a McDonald’s.”

“Oh, God.”

Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson’s response when a Los Angeles Times reporter told him on Wednesday night that police have arrested two journalists. “I told them to release them,” he then said.

Thursday, August 14

“We have a right to protest 24 hours a day. Our constitutional rights don’t expire at 9 p.m.”

St. Louis alderman Antonio French, on his release from jail on Thursday morning. French, who has been live-tweeting the protests, was arrested at Wednesday night for “unlawful assembly.” He said a police officer dragged him out of his car.

“We are appalled.”

Washington Post Executive Editor Martin D. Baron, in a statement on Lowery’s arrest.

“We must demilitarize the police.”

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) decries the use of military-style force against protesters in Ferguson.

“The police response needs to be demilitarized.”

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) decries the use of military-style force against protesters in Ferguson.

“There is never an excuse for violence against police or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting. There’s also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests or to throw protesters in jail for lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights… we’re all part of one American family.”

After discussing the situation in Iraq, President Barack Obama makes a statement on the events in Ferguson.

“I don’t want to see tanks on American streets, period.”

Iraq war veteran Tyson Manker, 33, to Los Angeles Times journalist Matt Pearce, in Ferguson.

“This is a place where people work, go to school, raise their families, and go to church… But lately it’s looked a little bit more like a war zone and that’s unacceptable.”

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon pledges that there will be a “much better and much different tone” in response to the protests.

“I’m not afraid to be in this crowd.”

Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ronald Johnson, who was sent in by Gov. Nixon to lead a changed police approach to the protests, talks to reporters in Ferguson. Johnson, who is African-American, is a Ferguson native.

“Tell her Capt. Johnson is sorry and he apologizes.”

Johnson responds to a man who asks what he would say to his niece, who had been tear-gassed.

“Yes, that is Thomas the Train.”

FOX2 reports on changed tone of the protests on Thursday night.

“Weird party/protest vibe hard to explain, it’s a Partest.”

Post-Dispatch photographer David Carson, describing mood on Thursday night.

“I’m excited… relieved.”

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson tells the Los Angeles Times about his reaction to the calmer protests.

“It is a celebration. Now, we can focus on Mike.”

A protester to KMOV reporter Craig Cheatham.

Friday, August 15

“The officer who was involved in the shooting of Michael Brown was Darren Wilson.”

After nearly a week of protests, Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson names the officer who shot Michael Brown. Wilson is a six year veteran of the force with no disciplinary record. He was responding to a “strong-arm” robbery at a convenience store. Wilson encountered Brown at 12:01. By 12:04, when another officer arrived, Brown had been fatally shot.

“Where’s the footage?”

Laura Keys, 50, of St. Louis, responding to the new police account of Brown’s death. “I can’t believe this is the tactic they are using, bringing up a robbery to make the victim look like he was the person who created this whole mess,” she said.

“Stills from the convenience store.”

Reporters, including Los Angeles Times reporter Matt Pearce, immediately share the two pages of images the police provided to journalists.

“After viewing Brown and reviewing this video, I was able to confirm that Brown is the primary suspect in this incident.”

Police release the incident report of a reported robbery at a convenience store just before Brown’s shooting.

Creative Commons

Further reading:
A letter to Missouri police forces from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, from media outlets and advocacy organizations
Michael Brown, Ferguson and the nature of unrest, an essay by Garrett Albert Duncan in Loose Leaf, Facts and Opinions

 

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