#Justise4All No. 10

⟦ Guest Post: From the Desk of Patrick Waldo ⟧

Patrick Waldo is a friend of my friend and music colleague, Steff Reed. He wrote the following detailed experience regarding police interaction and White privilege. As a disclaimer to the disclaimer, the views and opinions expressed are that of the original author, and do not necessary represent that of the owner of this blog (wink).

Disclaimer: This post is not for cookies or likes. This is for generating ideas about ways to use privilege.

Thursday, February 25, 2016: Today I was walking through Hell's Kitchen at about 11:30am and saw this cop pull up next to a young Black high schooler. He looked no older than 15 or 16. She rolled her window down and told him to come to the car. Without getting out of her seat, she started questioning him. "Where are you going? Where do you go to school? Why aren't you there right now? Where are you from? How do I know you go to that school?"

The boy was patient and calm and extremely polite, given the fact that he was literally walking along a public sidewalk minding his own business and was now being interrogated by a police officer. At one point I heard him ask nicely, "Why are you asking all of this?" The officer said "I'm just doing my job." At that moment I approached the car. She stopped questioning him, turned her attention to me, and asked me what I was doing. I replied "I'm just doing my job." She looked annoyed and asked "And what is that?" I said "To make sure innocent people don't get harassed by police." I told her I was going to pull my phone out and film her, which I did. I kept a safe distance so as not to "interfere" with her brave police work, and I filmed the rest of their interaction. When she was done talking to him, he walked off and I kept an eye on the police to make sure they left him alone. They didn't. They crept closely beside him as he walked in the direction of his school. I caught up to him and asked him if he was okay. He was noticeably scared and nervous. I asked him what she said to him in the last moments and he said they were going to follow him to his school to make sure that was where he was going.

I gave him a Black Lives Matter wristband because in that moment I felt like the police officers and everyone else passing by and doing nothing while an innocent kid was being harassed by police conveyed the opposite message, that his life didn't matter. I told him his rights in case this happened again. That he has the right to remain silent, but that what he did, speaking calmly and politely to the officer while answering her questions truthfully was the perfect way to handle the situation. I suggested next time he use coded language to convey to the police that he knows his rights and won't be easily violated. "I'm sorry officer, am I being detained?" If the answer is no, calmly walk away. Get on a train or go to a bodega but leave the situation. If the answer is yes, the officer has to have reasonable suspicion to detain him, so ask "What reasonable suspicion do you have that I am committing a crime?"

By the end of our conversation, he was approaching his school. I told him I was going to wait outside to make sure they left him alone. He shook my hand and thanked me and went inside. The police officer got out of her car and walked inside behind him. It seemed like she stayed in for an eternity. Her partner waited outside with the car running. When I asked her partner to roll the window down so I could let her know about the environmental effects and health hazards of idling engines, she refused at first. When she finally rolled it down and I told her kids are more susceptible to the effects of idling engine pollution and asked that she turn her engine off since she is sitting right in front of a school, she rolled her eyes, rolled her window back up and went back to playing on her phone. New York's finest.

Eventually the first officer emerged from the school. I was worried the boy would be with her in handcuffs, arrested for truancy or something equally absurd. For those of you who think that's a stretch, Google "school to prison pipeline." It's a very real and shockingly awful thing. I was relieved to see her walking out alone. I don't know what further harassment he might have endured inside the school, but I could at least relax knowing he wasn't going to a police station for being a teenager. Or not today at least.

I asked her if she knew how police in this country got their start? If she knew that the first police were slave catching patrols, roaming around looking for runaway slaves that they could lock up and return to their owners. Their purpose was to control, punish, and surveil Black people, and to make it crystal clear that any rebellion or pushback or attempt to gain freedom was out of the question. I asked, "You realize the similarity right? Of using your power to harass and intimidate a young black man who is walking through a neighborhood committing no crime at all? You understand why that would give someone pause, right?" She ignored me, got in her car, and drove off. The interaction was over at least.

It was an uncomfortable experience, not preferable at all. I would have been happier ignoring the encounter as I walked by it, telling myself the boy was probably going to be fine and nothing bad would happen and I could go on my way. But the discomfort and inconvenience I felt from going a few blocks out of my way and having my schedule interrupted for 15-20 minutes doesn't compare to the discomfort and inconvenience so many People of Color live with every day, as they are forced to explain to authorities why they are walking through their own neighborhoods or walking to and from their own schools.

So my challenge is this, white friends, get involved. Be the change you want to see in the world. Get uncomfortable, inconvenience yourself, and FILM THE POLICE. Film the police. Film the police. You have every legal right to film the police in New York and many other states, as long as you aren't interfering with police activity. So don't interfere, don't escalate the situation, but stand nearby and film the interaction. Let your presence be known. Show the person being questioned that you care about their rights, and show the police officers that you are watching them and won't let them get away with any misconduct. Some officers act professional and ignore you. Other officers get angry that you are filming them and turn their attention to you. Good. You have now successfully diverted attention away from the person being questioned. If the officer asks you why you're filming them, you have every legal right to remain silent. Or you can be polite and say "Just to make sure everything goes smoothly, officer. For your safety and everyone else's." Or you can be brutally honest and say what I say. "Because I don't trust you. Too many cases of police misconduct and police brutality have gone unchecked for too long, and I don't trust that you will report this interaction honestly if something does go wrong." You might be surprised how often pulling a cellphone out and filming ends a police interaction. They would much rather move on to someone who doesn't have a camera over their shoulder filming the entire interaction.

This is our privilege. Use it. A Black man might do the same thing but be stopped a block away because he "fits the description" of a suspect they are searching for. If he has a warrant for this arrest because of one unpaid parking ticket, he is now under arrest and headed to jail. That usually isn't our reality. Whether it's because they think we are more litigious, or more powerful, or better connected, or whatever, police officers treat us differently. It is a fact of life. They behave better around us because they don't think they can get away with as much. That's why broken windows policing targets communities of color almost exclusively. If they policed white neighborhoods the way they police Black neighborhoods, we would have used our privilege to overhaul the NYPD a long time ago. But they don't, and so we ignore it, and they get away with it. So let's commit to not ignoring the glaring disparities in policing, and use our privilege for something other than smoking weed in public, or hailing a cab, or getting out of a police interaction. Let's use our privilege for something other than ourselves. Film the police. Because we can and we should.


#Justise4All No. 9

⟦An open letter to New York Republican Congressman Peter "Pete" King⟧

In response to his 5-paragraph moralized critique of Beyoncé Knowles's song, "Formation," the subsequent music video, and her performance at Superbowl 50.

Sent via fax + email to Congressman King's Office on Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Congressman King:

As I'm sure you have most likely received various correspondence regarding your dismissive, invective assessment of the music video and recent performance from Beyoncé Knowles-Carter's latest record, "Formation," far be it from me to make an effort to stand out in what I hope are a flurry of well-thought-out responses to this acerbic yet feeble attempt at calling out this woman and her work as part of the so-called "anti-cop" agenda.  That said, my name is Joseph P. Murray, a citizen of your State, and I am writing to express my personal disgust as well as my outright exasperation at your callous, insensitive assessment.   Should you decline to continue, let me state here first that the racially biased tone and wholly uneducated premise behind your words are the stuff of political ineptitude which activist groups like Black Lives Matter - the group you so easily latched on to because it's the one getting the most press vs. you actually doing the work of investigating theirs - are working to dismantle.  Your glaring prejudices regarding Black and Brown communities in the State of New York, and, indeed, National Communities of Color, have undoubtedly forced the hand of many People of Color to reclaim their narrative from disparaging lightweights like you.  However, considering the amount of systemic discrimination still present today that is experienced by those communities on a regular basis, you would do well to take a few moments to read what I and others like myself have to say.

Before diving into the bulk of your subject matter, it is important that you understand the severity of the claims you've levied against Mrs. Knowles-Carter and the demographic she represents.  It is quite clear through your succinctly ignorant statement that your understanding of Black American culture, in all its facets and idiosyncrasies, is not only something of which you express no real knowledge, but also no desire to at least respect that multifaceted aspect of said culture & people.  When Black and Brown Americans go out of their way to create art that unapologetically speaks to their identity, particularly when it calls to mind the generational oppression experienced by these groups, having an outside commentator like yourself use that artistic expression to further a political agenda only furthers the stereotypes about the politics of prejudice being used as a tool to further subjugate marginalized demographics.  Your words now solidify your complicity in this, and since I highly doubt that an apology from you for such crass behavior is not on the horizon, while not invoking any authority to speak on behalf of other People of Color, I deign to say that I'm not alone in my lack of surprise at this typical partisan posturing.

"Formation," as a Black American artistic statement, was certainly designed by this Black American female artist and her team to promote various aspects of Black American life in places like the deep south.  It doesn't just make a "ritualistic reference to Michael Brown and Ferguson," as you so carelessly put it.  It also speaks to Black poverty, Black music, as well as Black feminism and womanism.  If there was a category under which low-information culture observers like yourself absolutely needed to place this piece, one could argue that it is an African American woman-lead push back against the ills of a White Patriarchal society, something that Women of Color experience doubly due to their intersectional existence as both a marginalized ethnic demographic and also identifying as Female.  Something that, again, you simply cannot understand; something with which you have, again, admittedly refused to sympathize.

But to your point about this musical piece being "anti-cop:" as the adopted, mixed race, Afro-Colombian son of a working-class Irish Roman Catholic family, many of whom are civil servants, many of whom have served and are serving as members of the NYPD, I find it completely offensive that you would have the unmitigated gall to not only use the deaths of young Black American men and boys at the hands of law enforcement to support your baseless accusations, but that you would also call forth the killing of Officers Lieu and Ramos to act as untouchable pillars of your unfounded, shrewdly formed opinions.  Your using these crimes against humanity here is nothing less than the blatant political objectification of dead men.  Such disgraceful, tactless rhetoric is the stuff of unhinged Tea Party pundits, although I will commend you for your not being discriminatory in this case.  I'd rather a disillusioned elected official be as all encompassing as you've been here when he decides to make a disingenuous assessment of things that literally have nothing to do with his experience, his legislation, or his majority constituency.

Congressman, I can state to you openly - as this correspondence will also be shared as an open letter - that I have lived a privileged existence, being part of a transracial adoption.  I am grateful for my life experiences, having been cared for by an amazing family and network of friends.  But even in that privilege, any free thinking individual can see just how antagonistic law enforcement and police culture has been towards marginalized groups like Black and Brown Americans in these United States.  To say otherwise, or to turn this historically perpetuated antagonization back on these communities outside of context is depressingly indicative of an unlearned mind in these matters.  Though you are only one of a long list of poorly educated leaders in terms of race relations and identity politics, the chastisement of your ill-begotten review of this music video and Mrs. Knowles-Carter's performance couldn't be more important.  It is a necessary step for People of Color as they seek honorable goals that include justice, economic stability, and liberation.

Lastly, if you've stuck around long enough, it is imperative you understand that "Formation" visualizing the idea of marginalized People of Color fighting back against police violence is also a part of Black American culture.  Let me be plain: Black and Brown people in this country having to defend themselves and deal with police differently than White people is a part of Black and Brown culture.  It is as much a mainstay as Beyoncé's song making references to cornbread & collard greens, as much a facet of Black American life as her capturing Black hairstyles, New Orleans parades, Southern funeral processions, and Gospel music.  So, again, when any Man or Woman of Color chooses to highlight any aspects of their culture through whatever mediums inspire them, it is simply not your place to condemn it.  It never was, and it never should be.

Having graciously taken the time to give you some insight into these things, and since you are so devoted to supporting police officers, I'd like to close this letter with a simple question: What, in your career, do you stand behind when it comes time to actually stand up for cops?  We've just seen how much support - or lack thereof - the city of New York has for its men and women in blue, as is evidenced by the measly 1% salary increase agreed upon by both NYPD and municipal representatives.  Interestingly enough, I do not remember you being as vocal via the news or social media regarding law enforcement in response to that political snafu as we have seen you speak out against Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and her music.  One has to wonder, then, if the son of a cop is really doing enough for cops during his tenure as a Congressman, or if he is merely paying lip-service in the interest of public attention so as to save face at this complicated time in America.

I'm betting money on the latter.

It may be that in time, Congressman King, you actually take a few moments out of your busy schedule to have a care for the people that Beyoncé is representing with projects like "Formation."  It may be that someday, you do your research before you go about the business of racist dog-whistling to make yourself feel better about your political stances.  But, unlike the "fable-telling" you are so convinced is what ultimately transpired in the killing of Mike Brown, I'm not about to sit here and type something I don't believe to be true.  I'll leave that up to fine individuals like yourself.  It's quite possibly the one thing right now where you are already doing a fantastic job.

Joseph P. Murray

PS - to your closing remarks: no group or organization has worked harder "to save innocent Black lives" than Black people.  That anyone else in this country can be credited with such a claim would be, in your words, "a lie from beginning to end."  Do better.


#Justice4All No. 8

On the American Economy and Structural Oppression

via Facebook

This week, friends and I got into a social media discussion about the implementation of drug testing for welfare recipients. The debate has been raging for some time now, with some cities putting the concept into effect (with dismal results, I might add: in Alabama, only 2% of those tested were found to be active users). Our comments, of course, brought out a White Conservative Facebooker who challenged the idea of there being a need for those in need to go through such rigorous prerequisites in order to receive assistance. After some back and forth, a one Joshua Bartlett posted a meme with a series of statements once falsely attributed to Norman Rockwell, but still a popular internet comeback to the liberal demand for socialist programs like Welfare and Social Security. I decided to take up the challenge of answering these statements, and I now post the results here for you to ponder. Enjoy.
NOTE: The numbered statements are his; the asterisked responses are mine

"A parse, then, Mr. Bartlett:

1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity, by legislating the wealth out of prosperity.

**In this country, we have NEVER seen just whether or not that works. We have NEVER been presented with legislation that actually demands the very wealthy and White elite give their actual fair share of what they’ve “earned” in order to help sustain the most poor and marginalized, and if such legislation ever existed, it was shot down immediately, so your point here is moot.

2. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.

**The very nature of capitalism negates this entire concept as it pertains to the idea of social welfare and socialist programs. By definition, the biased accumulation of wealth in a free market means that someone, or some group, has been able to bypass the toil and backbreaking work it takes to build up the kind of riches we see being lauded by this society’s top earners. Not only that, they’ve been able to pass it along to their successors, be it their children or other such beneficiaries, instead of utilizing what they’ve bequeathed to benefit the State which allowed them to do this in the first place.

3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.

**You’re absolutely right. Which is why SLAVERY, a Government-sanctioned institution where tortured, oppressed Africans were brutally forced into servitude, working for no pay and negligible human rights, was one of the most successful economic practices for a burgeoning sovereign principality like the nascent United States. White imperial colonizers took EVERYTHING from Black + Brown people, as well as First Nation’s People/Native Americans, in order to cultivate and establish their wealth, their prosperity, and a secure future for their progeny.

4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it.

**The concept of justice, for example, in the form of reparations for the descendants of slaves and indigenous people is not about multiplying wealth. Indeed, the nature of a fair and equal distribution of resources has nothing to do with wealth, but rather a reallocation of assets and natural materials that would provide the most marginalized and systematically oppressed in this country with the tools they need to actually cultivate a stable quality of life for themselves in ways that have otherwise been denied them for reasons that include race, gender, orientation, religion, and creed.

5. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work, because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that my dear friend, is the beginning of the end of any nation.

**If you are convinced that this is true, then you, Joshua Bartlett, only have YOUR demographic’s predecessors to blame. That this United States of America even exists is the wet dream of a group of miserly elitists who took the opportunity they saw in the discovery + expansion of a “New World,” and made every possible effort to wield that world to their will, at the expense of millions of lives and to the tune of trillions of dollars. If you’re so upset about “half of the people” not pulling their weight, and the end of this nation, then I suggest you grab a time machine, go back a few hundred years, and hit up one of those 18th Century Revolutionary meetings where the Founding Fathers were debating whether or not to abolish slavery and establish a truly egalitarian society (or at least pretend that they would). Tell them to pack up their things, get back on their boats, and go revolt against their oppressors in their European countries of origin, instead of putting people in chains and destroying the land + hard work of people that had no intentions of doing such things to them. Tell them that the misery and subjugation they would levy against countless innocent people, both through bondage and violent prospecting, would ultimately spell the death of the empire so many of them were seeking to create. Tell them that if they knew what was good for them, they’d thank God and the Universe for the positions in which they found themselves, and to keep on the path many of them were determined to follow was a path that would lead their descendants to the very place in which we find ourselves now: at the precipice of the inevitable destruction of a civilization that, by all standards and practices, and for all intents and purposes, is unsustainable.

You tell them that, and see how they respond to you. In the meantime, some of us are trying to get justice and get free, and if you can’t understand that, then YOU, my dear friend, are in the wrong line of discussion, and should probably find something else to do.