Tag Archives: Prison-Industrial Complex

The Racial Hierarchy of #AllLivesMatter

I did not in any way have plans to write this brief essay. I know I have taken a break from writing and I always planned to return and work harder than ever to build The Resist Daily as an online publication. Yet, I feel I need to comment on the on-going debate between #BlackLivesMatter, “#AllLivesMatter”, and yes, even “#BlueLivesMatter.” Two Saturdays ago at #NN15, Democratic Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley were both interrupted by Black Lives Matters protesters. Both of their responses were, “#AllLivesMatter.” (Note: I am using quotation marks for both #BlueLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter because they have proven to be disingenuous and racist forms sloganeering to contribute further violence to Blacks’ experience) Now, whereas Martin O’Malley stayed, listened to #BLM’s concerns, Bernie Sanders left as he cancelled his meetings with Black Lives Matters representatives. Rather than having our agency and our thoughts respected, #FeelTheBern defenders heaped condescension upon condescension towards #BlackTwitter. The ensuing clapback such as #BernieSoBlack drew the ire of Sandernistas online. What Sanders defenders refuse to understand was that #BlackLivesMatters is not about a “single” issue, it’s about basic survival and Black people’s right to exist.

The Black Lives Matter movement is a human rights movement in a similar vein to the Civil Rights struggle of the 1950’s and 60’s. It was founded by three Black women: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. There are currently 23 CHAPTERS of Black Lives Matter in the United States, Canada, and Ghana. It is not simply a hashtag, but an organized movement dedicated to exposing and ending police brutality, racial profiling and mass incarceration: ALL THREE of which negatively and unjustly impact Black women and men. This is the crucial difference between the Civil Rights Movement and BLM: whereas during the CRM, leaders such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. dared the state to arrest them and thus making them martyrs, BLM is resisting the very state apparatus that was expanded: the police state with its S.W.A.T. teams, its “war” on Black Men Drugs, and now privatized prison industry. Black Lives Matter is a response to virulent White Supremacy and state violence. Many of the White liberals who dismiss #BLM do so with the understanding that racism has not adapted to our post-Jim Crow world. Many white conservatives who speak of the good old days of Martin Luther King Jr. wearing a suit and tie enter the conversation with a twisted sense of patriotism and remain far often too selective about when to talk about “limited” government.

Just like the Civil Rights Movement faced backlash and state violence and had to counter racist propaganda from officials like the late Governor George Wallace, #BLM too has its opponents. At no point has #BlackLivesMatter argued that “ALL” police officers were antiBlack racists. Unfortunately in a racist society, White Supremacy is still seen as primarily individual prejudice and a private sin. To claim that #BlackLivesMatters’ protests versus police BRUTALITY and racial profiling is the same thing has hating all police officers IS FLAT OUT FALSE. This means that people really are not listening to stories of pain and destroyed families; they’d rather insist on the false narrative of White innocence and superiority, all which are contingent upon the racist myths of Black criminality. Unfortunately, this is where the often times overtly racist “#BlueLivesMatter” stands. If indeed #BlueLivesMatter were an ACTUAL movement rather than racist propaganda, why are not its advocates going after video games that promote lethal violence versus police officers (like Grand Theft Auto)? It begs the question when posts from “#BlueLivesMatters” include celebrations of police brutality, black death,

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and fascist understandings of community.

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Police are here to serve and protect, not SEEK AND DESTROY (Thank you, Michael Bay). “#BlueLivesMatter” isn’t about uniting people or organizing and networking to protect human life; it’s about propagating anti-Blackness and glorifying death and fear.

“#AllLivesMatter” may cater to a more progressive crowd, but it relies on a more subtle notion of prejudice in the form of color-blind racism. Time and again, statistics show that the persons who are most likely to get arrested and face police brutality for non-violent offenses are Black and/or Native American. These are facts, but what #AllLivesMatter does is not only make the anti-intellectual move of denying concrete data, this rebuttal (because again, it’s not even a movement, just a slogan) is a product of lazy thinking and willful ignorance. No one has actually argued that “no other lives matter.” Even in multicultural Canada, a mural of Sandra Bland was vandalized with “#AllLivesMatter”; why? what’s the proof in that action? When people say, #BlackLivesMatter, they are saying we live in a society that still has a racial hierarchy, and that hierarchy is exposed when it comes to police brutality, racial profiling, and the Prison Industry. Now, if Black Lives matter, those at the very bottom, it is only then that ALL LIVES can TRULY matter. It’s as James Cone said about #BLM, if we can get the bottom right, we can make everything upright.
From a Christian perspective, we worship a justifying God who cares about even the minute details, from the sparrow to the lilies in the field to every hair on our head. Divine providence starts from the bottom-up, lifting the lowly to new heights in fellowship with God and neighbor. #BlackLivesMatter is a call back to a God whose Son went to the very bottom of the world in Sheoul, who was raised up from death, and now whose Spirit resides in the life of the faithful as well as inspires all persons who are resisting oppression everywhere.

Lessons From #Selma50: #4: Mississippi STILL Burning #TCUCRBT

Frederick Jermaine Carter, 26, was found hanging from a tree in an upscale , mostly white subdivision in Greenwood, Mississippi. Authorities originally ruled it a suicide. However, local residents know the truth. Jermaine Carter was the victim of a good ole fashioned lynching. According to U.S.A. Today, Carter was last seen with his step-father in Sunflower County Mississippi. He had a history of wandering off resulting from a mental illness. Tragically, he was the victim of a heinous hate crime because of his decision to wander into an white suburban neighborhood. He was a victim of what many in Mississippi have known and experience all too well, the phenomenon of “not knowing your place.” Sadly, this case of a modern day lynching that occurred in December of 2010 never received any national recognition and is virtually unknown to all besides the residents of Greenwood and nearby areas. Make no mistakes about this incident though, many residents still vividly remember this incident and are certain that this was not a suicide but yet another terror attack by white supremacy that is still deeply entrenched in much of the country today.

 

I first learned of this story from a female receptionist from the Hampton hotel that I stayed in while in Greenwood. I went to write a reflection on my experiences in Greenwood and my visit to various historical sites in the area such as the Fannie Lou Hamer burial site, the remains of the store in which Emmett Till’s infamous encounter with Carolyn Bryant occurred, and the Emmett Till Historic Intrepid Center. As we talked I learned more about Mississippi in a two hour conversation than I did from any of the historical sites I had visited. My conversation with this woman shaped my next lesson I learned from visiting Selma and other civil rights historical sites. The history of places like Greenwood, Mississippi is often left solely in a historical context. However, the truth is that many of the issues that plagued these areas are still alive and well over 50 years later. In essence, as the receptionist told me “not much has changed in the state of Mississippi,” at least as far as the everyday living conditions of the citizens are concerned.

 

Perhaps it is no coincidence that Frederick Jermaine Carter was lynched a mere ten minutes away from where Emmett Till was murdered in the not too distant past. On August 28th, 1955 the fourteen year old Till was taken away from his great-uncle’s barn house. At which point he was beaten, his eyes were gouged out, shot in the head, and his body was disposed in the Tallahatchie River with a 70 pound cotton gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire. What was the crime that Till committed? Secondarily, it was speaking/ whistling at the married 21 year- old white woman Carolyn Bryant. Primarily, it was the violation of the unwritten law in Mississippi in which white power reigned supreme. Much like Frederick Jermaine Carter, Till had ” stepped out of place,” and was made into an example to anyone who dare challenge the rule of law. Lynchings, however, are not the  only parallel between what we know as a historical view of the reign of white supremacy and its current state.

 

Voter disenfranchisement is just as big an issue as it has ever been. It is no secret that although Mississippi had a larger African American population in various spots throughout the state, many did not have any control over their political circumstances during much of the 20th century. In fact it was only at the expense of much bloodshed that voting equality came to the state. This process did not happen overnight rather it was a  long and gradual process. Pivotal in the development of these rights were the establishment of COFO (Council of Federated Organizations), The Freedom Summer, the MFDP (Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party), and the  notorious death of three civil rights workers in 1964 (of which the 1988 film Mississippi Burning is based on). Today while there is an absence of blatant terror tactics, other more formal, legal methods have been put in place to disenfranchise African American voters. The private prison industry has played a major role in this endeavor. As I found out, Mississippi is home to several private prison imported from other states including California. Not only does the state import the prisons but it also imports the prisoners from those states as well. These private prisons are not usually located in the city but outside of suburban areas. This allows the total population of  the prisons to count towards the overall population of the suburban areas. With the inflated population growth suburban areas are afford more representation in local politics. So although the prisoners do not get to participate in the political process they are used as political tools to enhance the political power of the elites who already dominate political systems. The vote of African Americans becomes minimized in favor of those who live in suburban areas. Thus in many instances even if African Americans constitute a larger portion of the population this is not reflected in the political representation in various areas.

 

Beyond voting disenfranchisement, the historical narrative that dominated the perception of Mississippi still exists today in other aspects as well. Whether it be in education, public accommodations, employment opportunities, or public housing. Walking through cities such as Greenwood, it is immediately apparent which part of the town a person is in. When one is in an impoverished neighborhood with dilapidated houses and very few businesses one can be sure they are in a predominantly African American neighborhood. However, when one crosses the railroad tracks the stark contrast is unmistakable. The predominantly white neighborhoods are filled with plenty of houses rich in history and texture that can  be marveled at. This did not happen by accident. The receptionist that I conversed with in a Greenwood hotel gave me an anecdote of housing discrimination that she had personally experienced. She and her husband tired of their lot in Greenwood attempted to purchase a living space in a different part of the town. For a small living space in the white part of town the realtors would not budge on their offer of 950 dollars a month. However, the woman alongside her husband decided to encourage one of their white friends to also attempt to purchase the same space. Their friends were offered the exact same space for 400 dollars. According to the receptionist this practice was not uncommon for the area and many of the  African American residents had given up on trying to move to other parts of the  town.

 

These stories help to illuminate the dangers that arise when we only consider the historical context of places like Greenwood, Mississippi. We forget about the ongoing struggle that continues in these places today. We forget about understanding the changes that are necessary to affect the day to day lives of the individuals that still live in these place. We become deceived into believing that white supremacy has all but vanquished in society. Voting disenfranchisement, housing discrimination, educational disparities, and lynching are not just historical artifacts of a distant past. They constantly shape the realities of many who deal with systemic inequality in the present context. If one needs furthers proof of this look no further than a recent news story from the LA Times. On March 19, 2015 (yesterday), the body of 54 year old Otis Byrd was found hanging from a tree in Claiborne County, Mississippi. It has been reported that Byrd, an African American male was found with his hands tied as he had seemingly tried to escape the noose. At this stage authorities have yet to rule whether this death was a homicide or suicide. However, much like the residents of Greenwood in the case of Frederick James Carter there are serious doubts that this was a suicide. Something that has thought to have been long since eradicated from our society in all probability has reared its ugly head again, modern day lynchings. The point here is clear. Unless we recognize that white supremacy is not a socio-historical artifact relegated to the past,  these incidents will continue to occur.

 Photo Description: “Emmett Till Historical Marker. Sumner, MS. Green sign, gold text, square shape, describing the events of Emmett Till’s lynching.. Found on Flickr. Jimmy Emerson 3/22/2008. 

Lessons From #Selma50: #3 From White Sign to White Mind

Many know the story of Nashville, Tennessee as the country music hall of fame. Musicians from Elvis Presley to Johnny Cash and many others have walked down those streets. The recognition that the city has been given because of its role in the development of country music has even resulted in a popular television show with its namesake. However, there is also a different history in Nashville that exists alongside this narrative that we already know. It also played a crucial role in the development of the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950’s and prominent leaders during the movement such as: James Lawson, C.T. Vivian, Diane Nash, James Bevel, and Congressman John Lewis. Furthermore, it is home the the most comprehensive Civil Right library in the country. Nashville is also home to the first health center that trained African Americans called the MeHarry medical college. So why has Nashville’s rich history during the Civil Right Movement and beyond been overlooked. Again I turn to lessons that I learned from conversation with various members of the community. Kwame Lillard, a civil rights veteran reasoned that this was because of the insufficiencies that resulted from the movement. Chief among those was the transition from eradicating the white signs [legislation] to eradicating the white mind [white supremacist ideology, practices].

 

So what exactly is the transition from white signs to white minds? It begins with the assumption that racism is actually an oligarchical beast. It is both individualistic as well as institutional. Both aspects can be mutually reinforcing. One cannot be eradicated without eliminating the other. White signs in a very literal sense are the policies enacted under Jim Crow that systematically disenfranchised African Americans and many other minorities from the political process and public accommodations. White signs describes segregated schools, buses, lunch counters, housing, employment opportunities, and every other form of explicit representation in which “Whites Only” is the written law. White signs was the major battleground in which the civil rights struggle took place. When the Nashville Five refused to move when the sought to integrate lunch counters in the South they had effectively waged war against the white signs. When these same individual continued to execute CORE’s plan of testing the federal law via Boynton v. Virginia 1960 which mandated integrated transportation facilities they were once again attacking white signs. During the  famed March on Washington in 1963 John Lewis and others gave speeches that were pivotal putting pressure on the U.S. government to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Both the speeches and the ensuing legislations were aimed at ending white sign. What had yet to be addressed was white supremacist logic itself.

 

White minds, according to Lillard, are the dominant ideologies created by the fog of white supremacy that continues to disenfranchise African Americans in society today. He noted that one of the shortcomings of the activism from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s is that it did not go far enough. Indeed activists were effective in the ability to force America to deliver on its promises of equality in the areas of voting rights and public accommodations it did nothing to attack the ideologies and cognitive notions that allowed a racial hierarchy to permeate every aspect of society including the government. He compares the struggle for civil rights to warfare tactics. When the Allied Forces invaded Normandy in what would be the largest seaborne invasion in history, they did not stop once all of the troops had landed there. They aimed for and achieved a total and decisive victory over the Germany. Movement leaders got to Normandy ( equal access to public accommodations, and voting rights) but did not go for the total annihilation of a system. They did not confront the mindsets that made so many uncomfortable. Underlying ideologies remained the same and could be repackaged in various forms. To state simply the Civil Rights Movement did not confront the heart of white supremacy.

 

So what would we be necessary to finish what was started by Kwame Lillard and so many more during the Civil Rights Era of the 1960’s? One solution is to recognize that white supremacy is not just a question of civil rights; it questions the very fabric of what it means to be human. As Lillard expresses it is a transition from advocating for civil rights to advocating human rights. Human rights should not be simplified as to not recognizing the various racial disparities that affect black and brown bodies for a more general concern for humanity. Rather it recognizes the racialized nature of laws, norms, and various institutional structures. However, it goes beyond recognition of those structure and deals with issues of how to help oppressed and marginalized groups reclaim their human dignity and respect.

 

An example of this is with voter disenfranchisement laws throughout the country. Several states including my home state of Kentucky have laws that do not restore voting rights to citizen upon return from incarceration. In the state of Kentucky alone there are over a quarter million citizens who are denied their right to vote because they have a criminal conviction on their record. This measure of institutionalized racism has had a particular severe effect on the African American community in the state. Over ⅕ of the state’s African American population cannot vote because of these restrictions. Activist such as Jordan Mazurek and Greg Capillo have worked with the Stop Mass Incarceration Network to end this particular injustice. In a recent legislative session they petitioned for the Kentucky state senate to hear House Bill 70, which would offer reform to the current system in the state. In doing so they have found a way to transition to the struggle against the white mind. There are various other examples of how to move from  as Lillard suggests attacking white signs to white mind, however, it is imperative that we realize the struggle for human rights and equality is never over.

Photo description: ([Black] man drinking at ‘Colored’ water cooler in streetcar terminal, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma” ca. July 1939), found on Flickr. original photographer unknown.