Truthout Stories http://www.truth-out.org Wed, 26 Nov 2014 17:57:57 -0500 en-gb Riot as the Language of the Unheard: Ferguson Protests Set to Continue In Fight For Racial Justice http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27686-riot-as-the-language-of-the-unheard-ferguson-protests-set-to-continue-in-fight-for-racial-justice http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27686-riot-as-the-language-of-the-unheard-ferguson-protests-set-to-continue-in-fight-for-racial-justice

"It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard." Those were the words of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in March 1968, weeks before he was assassinated. Today parts of Ferguson are still burning after a night of protests following the grand jury's decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, who killed Michael Brown. At least a dozen shops in the Ferguson area have been broken into and burned. A number of businesses burned for hours before firefighters arrived. We speak to Rev. Osagyefo Sekou of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and Jelani Cobb, director of the Africana Studies Institute at the University of Connecticut and a contributor to the New Yorker. "For over 100 days [the protesters in Ferguson] have been primarily nonviolent in their approach to this," Sekou says. "They gave the system a chance, and the system broke their heart."

TRANSCRIPT:

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman. We are broadcasting from St. Louis, Missouri, from Clayton and Ferguson. And despite the subfreezing weather here, Ferguson is on fire. Our guests are Reverend Osagyefo Sekou, Pastor from the First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts who was dispatched to Ferguson by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, went to high school here in St. Louis and has family in Ferguson. And Jelani Cobb is with us. Associate Professor of History and Director of the Africana Studies Institute at the University of Connecticut, also a contributor to the New Yorker magazine. Reverend Sekou, let's begin with you. Describe the scene of the streets. In fact, when we're finished here, these protests are not finished. You're headed to yet another protest right behind us. We are standing in front of the Clayton Courthouse where the grand jury deliberated over the last months. The Clayton Courthouse is called the Justice Center.

REV. OSAGYEFO SEKOU: Well, it seems the case that the name of the center is inappropriate given the high level of repression and undemocratic engagement by the prosecutor, the Governor. These young people have been betrayed every level of government. As West Florissant burned last night, democracy was on fire last night. The Constitution shredded. And young people who have been backed into a corner, abused by the police system for many years — as you mentioned earlier, I went to high school here. I remember being told by my mother and my sister not to go through Ferguson. I remember police sticking their hands in our underwear and accusing us of being drug dealers when we were just some preppy kids with argyle socks attempting to go on dates. The rage that we have seen today, last night, is a reflection of the kind of alienation and the few options that young people feel like they have to express their democratic rights at this moment.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to talk about what burned and what didn't. We were on South Florissant. In fact, I saw Jelani at South Florissant. The riot police were lined up. There were armored vehicles, automatic weapons. They were really taking on the protesters. But when we went to West Florissant where the buildings are, the businesses, mainly black-run businesses, there was no National Guard in sight. When we were here months ago, when we were here months ago on West Florissant, you cannot even make a turn there. They had completely sealed off the area. But last night, to our shock, we drove unimpeded right down West Florissant. People were breaking windows. They were setting the buildings on fire. This is black Ferguson that was left by the National Guard, is that right?

REV. OSAGYEFO SEKOU: Yes. I was there for some two hours and witnessed first-hand the lack of response by the fire department, the casual nature, the way in which the way the police engaged. They eventually shot tear gas. But what we are seeing now is this was a primary example of the racial divide in Ferguson, in St. Louis, and the nation. Because this story has always been about Mike Brown and bigger than Mike Brown. Every other day in America, every other day, some black or brown child is subject to the arbitrary violence of the state with little to no recourse that every other day in America, a mother is writing a funeral program that would perhaps be the elegy of the democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: Jelani, I saw you on South Florissant. That is where the Ferguson police — the newly built Ferguson Police Department is. Describe the scene and what you saw.

JELANI COBB: Initially, there was a crowd gathered out there. People were silently hoping against hope that there would be — that there would be an indictment. And there was none in the offing. People were there. They were hearing the long-winded and insulting statement the prosecutor Bob McCulloch gave before announcing that there would be no indictment. Then you begin to see tensions ratcheting up. But as that happened, there was kind of a noose structure that the police enacted. They were on the kind of north side of the street. And then in short order, you saw armored vehicles and a very significant number of police kind of marching in formation with weapons — some had weapons drawn. There were tear gas canisters that began to be fired. They had people hemmed in, in essence, on South Florissant.

And as you said, on West Florissant, it was shocking to see the lack of police presence there. And so, we heard earlier in the evening, we heard from Governor Jay Nixon as well as last week on Friday at a press conference that Mayor Francis Slay of St. Louis gave, and they use the word "restraint." They said that the police would be restrained in their response. It seemed as if somehow they gotten the message, perhaps, that people wanted to be treated like human beings. And then we saw what restraint looked like last night. Restraint was a kind of nonchalant approach to what was happening on the black side of town with a hyper-vigilant approach to what was happening on the white side of town.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to read a quote of Dr. Martin Luther King. This was what three weeks before he was assassinated. It was March 14, 1968. He said, "It's not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent and intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say, tonight, that a riot is the language of the unheard." That is Dr. Martin Luther King three weeks before he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, April 4, 1968. Reverend Sekou?

REV. OSAGYEFO SEKOU: It is quite relevant to this moment, the reality that these young people face. We hear it all the time for 100 days, them saying that I'm ready to die because I don't have anything to live for. School systems have betrayed them. The President has betrayed them. Eric Holder has betrayed them. Governor Nixon has betrayed them. Chief Jackson has betrayed them, the electoral system has betrayed them. They have extremely limited options, school systems decrepit, no economic opportunity. And so — then on top of that, to see their brother, their son laid in the street for 4.5 hours and to have wound upon wound that they are in a situation where that the destruction of property seems the only way that they can vent their rage because they have been given no recourses. And so, while the president calls for calm but is not dispatched enough resource to hold Darren Wilson and a draconian police force accountable, we of simply betrayed them. It is a shame that the nation has engaged as such behavior among the most vulnerable young people in our nation.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the issue, Jelani Cobb, of civil rights charges being brought against Darren Wilson? I mean, Eric Holder, the Attorney General, is retiring — leaving his position, but he did come to Ferguson. Yesterday, President Obama was in the White House and he honored 18 people. Among them were three posthumously; James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner. The state did not bring charges against the men who killed these three civil rights workers in 1964. But then the federal government did.

JELANI COBB: Right. There's been this conversation around this. One of the things that happens here, is that people will say the narrative that we have heard, we heard Mayor Giuliani say something along these lines, former Mayor Giuliani of New York, say something along these lines that people are rioting, that they have no respect for democracy, that they have no respect for other people's lives, other people's property. In fact, people have rioted and rebelled last night precisely because of the opposite. Because the traditional mechanisms of democracy have failed them. So, people did not riot immediately. There was some small scale skirmishes, but largely, people kind of withheld their anger in hopes that the actual system of legal recourse would grant them some relief in a situation of Michael Brown's death. That did not happen. And failing that, people began to enact the plan of last resort.

When Eric Holder came here in the summer, he counseled restraint, he counseled people to give the legal system an opportunity to work. And last night was a refutation of that. That given all their patience, that given all their hope, given all their idealism, despite what we've seen with Trayvon Martin, despite what we've seen with John Ford, John Crawford, rather, in Ohio, despite what we've seen with Oscar Grant — all these circumstances that we can outline — people still had faith that the legal system might give them a modicum of justice. It is difficult to say that there's a likelihood that there's going to be civil rights charges now. It would be very difficult to prove that this was done kind of racially motivated or that Mr. Brown was intentionally deprived of his civil rights. And so, I'm not much more optimistic than the people who were out on West Florissant rioting that the legal system will give any kind of recourse.

AMY GOODMAN: In 162,000 cases in 2010, grand juries, these federal cases, grand juries decline to return an indictment in 11. Of 162,000 federal cases. Reverend Sekou, this is the first night of protest, and I wanted to ask a question about the timing. There was a big discussion about whether the decision would be announced 48 hours later, 24 hours. In the end, they decided to announce it at night — late at night. Why? Did that contribute to what happened in the streets?

REV. OSAGYEFO SEKOU: I mean, it was clearly orchestrated in such a way that it created a context of provocation. That it was during the summer that it had become evident that the later it got, the hotter it got in terms of people's relationship to the police. And so is seems that way. But, as we think about this reference to the civil rights movements, these young people have been in the street for over 100 days. A third of the way of the Montgomery bus boycott. With limited resources, limited access to the civil rights tradition, limited support from various institutions and infrastructures. But for over 100 days, they been primarily nonviolent in their approach to this. They gave the system a chance, and the system broke their heart. And then many of them right now as we speak, 125 of my colleagues are in the streets right now prepared to engage in acts of civil resistance in a nonviolent tradition. There will be ongoing nonviolent protests. I mean think about that. This is the second longest protest, I believe, brother here's story, in 50 years of black people, calling America to account, making her say and be honorable to the things she has placed on paper. And so, rather than demonizing these young people, we should be celebrating. Because what they're doing is stretching that living document of the Constitution and creating a space for the possibility for America to be true to what she said on paper.

JELANI COBB: Can I add, can I add to this, Reverend Sekou? One of the things that we saw that was personally most inspiring here was that people began here in a community they said was not extensively organized. And they taught themselves rapidly how to organize. And they came out in that brutal, unforgiving, relentless heat of August and protested and marched and protested and a thunderstorm struck in that first week. You saw thunder and lightning in the sky, and people were marching and protesting saying, black lives matter, hands up, don't shoot.

We saw the weather change. We saw an early winter set in. And despite all of those obstacles, despite the aspersions from the official parts of this community as well as from other individuals that were in unsympathetic to this cause, people came out again night after night after night, and they refused to let Michael Brown's death be in vain. I think that is what we should take from this. This story is not over. The flames are a preface, they are not a coda. This story has not ended. I think that people will find some means of achieving justice in the long haul, and that people here are committed to doing whatever they need to do for as long as they need to do it to make sure that that happens.

AMY GOODMAN: And tonight, what are the plans? In terms of organized protests and what you understand of what else will be happening?

REV. OSAGYEFO SEKOU: Well, there are actions happening right now as we speak throughout Clayton, bearing witness to the injustice that these young people have experienced and that this city and community has experienced. There will be a action and people will be gathering at Kiener Plaza at noon today and subsequent action and there will be ongoing actions every day on every hour in this place for over 100 days. People have been in the street willing to put their bodies on the line, risking arrest, tear gas, pepper spray, because they are trying to keep alive the best of the democratic tradition.

AMY GOODMAN: Jelani Cobb, we have ten seconds. Your final thoughts?

JELANI COBB: The only thing that I can say is this, Ferguson is America. That what happened here is not atypical. This is a national problem and something that we all need to be mindful of it, or we will see more Fergusons in the future.

AMY GOODMAN: There are helicopters flying overhead right now. We're standing in front of what is known as the Justice Center where the grand jury said no indictment. That's right, they refused to indict officer Darren Wilson for the killing of Mike Brown, an 18-year-old African-American teenager August 9, 2014. That does it for our broadcast from Ferguson and Clayton. I want to thank our guests Osagyefo Sekou Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain, as well as Jelani Cobb and Vince Warren and special thanks to our team.

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News Wed, 26 Nov 2014 13:35:46 -0500
Black Lives Matter: Ferguson Erupts After Grand Jury Clears Officer in Michael Brown Killing http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27684-black-lives-matter-ferguson-erupts-after-grand-jury-clears-officer-in-michael-brown-killing http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27684-black-lives-matter-ferguson-erupts-after-grand-jury-clears-officer-in-michael-brown-killing

A grand jury in St. Louis, Missouri has chosen not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager. The decision follows three months of deliberation by the jury of nine whites and three blacks, including four hours of testimony from Wilson himself. The grand jury decision set off outrage in Ferguson and communities across the country who see Brown's killing as part of a wide-scale pattern of police mistreatment of people of color. In a statement, the Brown family said: "We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions." We hear from St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch and go to the streets of Ferguson where Amy Goodman interviewed protesters last night.

TRANSCRIPT:

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We're broadcasting from just outside the Clayton County Courthouse in St. Louis, Missouri where, on Monday, a grand jury voted not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the killing of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown. After three months of deliberation that included testimony from Wilson himself, the jury of nine whites and three blacks decided that Wilson should not be tried for any of the criminal charges he faced. Not first-degree murder, not second-degree murder, not voluntary or involuntary manslaughter. Many are questing the timing of the release of the grand jury decision, which came late at night instead of in broad daylight. Soon after the grand jury decision was read, police fired tear gas at protesters in Ferguson. The grand jury decision set off outrage in communities not only throughout St. Louis, but across the country who see Brown's killing as part of a wide-scale pattern of police mistreatment of people of color.

Here in Ferguson, at least a dozen stores were broken into and burned. A number of businesses burned for hours before firefighters arrived. Sporadic gunfire was heard throughout the night in the Ferguson streets. Police arrested at least 61 people. A large crowd gathered outside the Ferguson Police Department as the grand jury's decision was announced. The crowd included Michael Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden, who broke into tears after hearing Wilson would walk free. In a statement, the Brown family said "We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions." The statement continues, "While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change." The family has asked for support of the Michael Brown Law, which would ensure police officers wear body cameras. St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch announced the grand jury's decision here at the Clayton County courthouse Monday night. McCulloch said jurors had found "that no probable cause exists to charge Officer Wilson with any crime."

BOB MCCULLOCH: The duty of the grand jury is to separate fact from fiction. After a full and impartial and critical examination of all the evidence in the law and decide that evidence supported the filing of any criminal charges against Darren Wilson. They accepted and completed as monumental responsibility and conscientious and expeditious manner. It is important to note here that and say again that they are the only people, the only people who have heard and examined every witness and every piece of evidence. They discussed and debated the evidence among themselves before arriving at their collective decision. After their exhaustive review of the evidence, the grand jury deliberated over two days, making their final decision. They determined that no probable cause exists to file any charges against officer Wilson and returned a no true bill on each of the five indictments.

AMY GOODMAN: Bob McCulloch, the prosecutor himself, faced public scrutiny throughout the grand jury investigation, with calls for him to resign over allegations of a pro-police bias and questions raised about an unusual grand jury process that resembled a trial. McCulloch bristled when a reporter asked what message the grand jury's decision had sent.

REPORTER: Mr. McCulloch, you're somebody questioned by many members of the community with cases that have happened in the past, so how do you feel making this — announcing this decision and what message do you think it sends to the community that says that they have had numerous members of their community, young, predominantly black males killed by police with impunity, what kind of message do you think this decision says to them?

BOB MCCULLOCH: Well, a much better message than what you are sending, that young men being killed with impunity. They are not being killed with impunity. We look at every case that comes through, and whether they are young black or white men.

REPORTER: I think people looking at this from around the country are going to be struck by the fact that there is not a single law in the state of Missouri that protects and values the life of this young man who unquestionably was shot and killed dead. There is no dispute about that by the police officer. What do you say to people who wonder, is there something wrong with the laws here that allows this to happen? That after this happen says, we just move on, essentially, and this is justice? Is this really justice or is there something wrong with the laws in the state that would say this is OK?

BOB MCCULLOCH: It is another question that, really, I don't have an answer to that question, that what's wrong with the law. There are no laws to protect us. Every law out there is to protect the safety of every individual regardless of their age and regardless of their race. And so, if those laws are not working, then we need to work to change them.

AMY GOODMAN: Shortly after the grand jury's decision was announced, President Obama spoke in a nationally televised address and urged protesters to stay peaceful and police to exercise restraint.

PRES. OBAMA: We need to recognize that this is not just an issue for Ferguson. This is an issue for America. We have made enormous progress in race relations over the course of the past several decades. I have witnessed that in my own life. And to deny that progress, I think, is to deny America's capacity for change. But, what is also true is that there are still problems and communities of color aren't just making these problems up.

AMY GOODMAN: There you've got the voices of officialdom. Now for the voices from the streets. Democracy Now! is on the ground in Ferguson Monday night as protesters were met by walls of police officers, many in riot gear and heavily armed. The burning and property damage was worst on West Florissant, a strip of largely black-run businesses. The National Guard, heavily touted by the governor? We didn't see them there. We did see, though, a heavy police presence just blocks away on South Florissant, home to the Ferguson Police Department headquarters. That's where we began. We're here on South Florissant. Down the road are fires. Cars are on fire. We're following a group of protesters. Right now the police in riot gear. We have also seen state troopers are moving in. So, we are going to follow the protesters who are walking down the street.

POLICE OFFICER: Move back! Move back!

AMY GOODMAN: Here is clergy who are talking to the police. They are just shouting "move back!"

POLICE OFFICER: Move back! Move back! Move back!

REV. WALTRINA MIDDLETON: A militarizing force [Indiscernible]

POLICE OFFICER: Move back!

CROWD: Don't shoot!

POLICE OFFICER: Move back!

CROWD: Don't shoot!

POLICE OFFICER: Move back!

REV. WALTRINA MIDDLETON: They have a right to assemble. Do not [Indiscernible] people.

POLICE OFFICER: Get out of the street!

PROTESTER: We're out of the street but where do we go? Where do we go?

POLICE OFFICER: Move back!

POLICE OFFICER: —onto the sidewalk.

REV. WALTRINA MIDDLETON: We were trying to. We were there. They told them to move, and we were told that we could peacefully assemble here, and we did. And now they're here and Officer Wenning [sp] is still being aggressive. They're not bothering anyone. Can they stand here? They have a right — we were told that under the rules of engagement that they could peacefully assemble. They are here. They are here.

POLICE OFFICER: [Indiscernible] are breaking the rules ma'am. Where I need you to be is on the sidewalk

REV. WALTRINA MIDDLETON: OK, we have a right to peacefully assemble.

POLICE OFFICER: But this is breaking the law.

REV. WALTRINA MIDDLETON: The Street is blocked off, isn't it?

POLICE OFFICER: Yes, ma'am, it is.

KATRINA REDMON: My name is Katrina Redmon, and I'm very disturbed with the police presence out here. People were peacefully protesting. People got maced and teargassed. This is ridiculous. Look, all these officers for what reason?

PROTESTER: They thought [Indiscernible] black people was going to calm us down?

KATRINA REDMON: This is ridiculous to me.

PROTESTER: We don't give a [Expletive].

KATRINA REDMON: And this is, unfortunately, what my city has turned into.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Wilson?

KATRINA REDMON: Obviously that is a problem. It's the reason that everyone has a problem the fact that officer Wilson wasn't indicted. I mean, he killed an unarmed black teenager. There is no excuse for that. I mean, it was a man that was killed and it's somebody that walked away from it. And this is the reason that we are all out here because nobody gets answers. Nobody has had an answer since this has all happened. And that is a problem for us. And we want answers, essentially. Because it seems like the only way you can get away with murder is if you got a badge.

PROTESTER: If you got a badge you can get away with murder baby!

KATRINA REDMON: Which is unfortunate.

AMY GOODMAN: What will you be doing beyond tonight?

KATRINA REDMON: I'm going to continue to follow up and protest and make sure our voices are heard. Just because he wasn't indicted doesn't mean that the people of Ferguson or Florissant or Hazelwood or the surrounding areas are going to rest. If we have to come out here every single night and protest and make it be know that is a problem for our city with the black community, we will. I have no problem coming out here every single night to protest.

AMY GOODMAN: How do think things could change where you'd feel some hope?

PROTESTER 1: I mean, really I feel like all they had to do was indict him and things could have been peaceful. Things have been peaceful up to the point where they said that they don't care and he didn't do anything wrong. So, all they had to do was admit that they were wrong and right that by arresting him and things would calm down, at least a little bit, until they try to tell us he innocent again.

PROTESTER 2: At the end of the day black live don't matter to them, at the end of the day. At the end of the day, black lives don't matter to these cops, at the end of the day. We be locked up more than everybody in this whole community. You know what I'm saying? Get charged real quick, everything. We get false things put on us and everything. These cops is grimy. Everybody on his police force needs to get fired including the captains all the way down to whoever. Everybody got to get fired. Rubber bullets onto women and children. Peaceful protest. You know they don't care about no black lives. They know that. Come on, now. Black lives don't matter. Let's be one hundred. Black lives don't matter.

PROTESTER 3: That's the truth.

PROTESTER 2: Black lives don't matter. I ain't sugar coating nothing man. Black lives don't matter, y'all.

PROTESTER 1: Black lives don't matter to nobody but black people. So, we going to show you all how we feel, and that's what it is.

PROTESTER 2: Come on. It is what it is. Drug down the street, left there for four hours. Trash get picked up quicker than that. Come on, now. Come on, now. That's disrespectful. That's disrespect.

PROTESTER 3: What he say, what he say. We going to shake the heavens.

PROTESTER 1: We going to shake the heavens. If we don't get it, shut it down.

PROTESTER 2: Disrespectful from the jump.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you going to be — were you out protesting from August 9th?

PROTESTER 2: Of course, of course. I straight seen people get shot with rubber bullets. I didn't get shot. You feel me? I'm blessed.

PROTESTER 1: We've been gassed, we've been teargassed—

PROTESTER 2: Been all that. Black lives don't matter to these people.

PROTESTER 1: Maced and everything, and chased. People have been beaten. That's what happened the first day. That's how the rioting started the first day. A little boy got bit by a dog and it just cracked off since then.

PROTESTER 2: On citizens, on citizens. They firing onto citizens. Matter of fact, they firing onto their "so-called" citizens. That's how they look at us, their "so-called" citizens.

PROTESTER 1: They raised $400,000, $400,000 for Darren Wilson. For what? What is he going to do with $400,000 now? he just got a paycheck for killing someone. That is a nice paycheck — for killing somebody.

PROTESTER 3: He got a medal for killing a kid.

PROTESTER 1: Yeah, for killing a kid.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think it's possible the federal government will bring civil rights charges —

PROTESER 3: No.

PROTESER 2: No.

PROTESER 3: No.

PROTESER 2: No.

PROTESER 3: No.

PROTESER 2: No.

PROTESTER 2: It's like, it's like end of like a hundred something days ya'll.

REV. WALTRINA MIDDLETON: I'm Reverend Waltrina Middleton with the United Church of Christ National Youth Office. And I am here to keep the peace, but also mostly to support and stand with these young people who have a right to peacefully assemble and to express themselves. And I feel like they have a right as a natural reaction to be angry and to be heard in response to such suffering and pain. For so long, they've been told to be quiet, to be silent, and just to conform, and now they have an opportunity to express themselves. For many of us, we're not used to hearing these young people articulate themselves in this way, but this is their street, this is their home they have a right to be here and they have a right to say, you know what? One of our brothers was murdered and killed and we are responding to that pain. And I think sometimes in this society we're not used to, especially, to hearing young people of color speak so firmly and strongly about their rights.

AMY GOODMAN: What is your response to the grand jury decision not to indict officer Wilson?

REV. WALTRINA MIDDLETON: I'm hurt by it. I wonder myself, I'm looking forward to seeing what evidence was presented to them, to see if they had an opportunity to make a fair and balanced decision. It's hard to really say because we don't know what was put before them. But I do think that it is important that we take a look at this system to see if it is actually working. Is justice having an opportunity to prevail? Is democracy actually taking place. Because when you have a young person who dies and with all the evidence that we have been presented to show that he was unarmed and not a danger or a threat, why is it that they chose not to take this case to trial or to have an indictment? It is troubling to know that, what message is being sent out here to these young people is that their live don't matter. They have the position of, I have nothing to lose because I could just die on the street walking home, so.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe the police to me who are out here tonight?

REV. WALTRINA MIDDLETON: I do feel as if the demeanor is quite aggressive. I think that we were told that young people have a right to peacefully assemble. We were told that they have a right to come here and express themselves, and every thing they were promised is being denied. Everything that they have asked them to do, they have complied. They said to move back, they moved back. They said move to the sidewalk, they moved to the sidewalk. And basically, they're trying to push them out and once again silence them. And when you come to young people who are armed, just dressed in their winter clothes with militarized weapons and tear gas and all of this gear and guns and whatnot, it is intimidating, it's aggressive. How do you expect people to respond, especially after an announcement like that?

AMY GOODMAN: As we walk back behind the police cars and the riot police, there are several buses that say Missouri Department of Corrections, waiting to be filled.

ZECHARIAH WILLIAMS: My name is Zechariah Williams, I'm 19. We are standing in front of the corner coffeehouse. And it's broken into. As you can see glass everywhere. They did this to everything. They broke into beauty supply, they broke into Earn's, they broke into T-Mobile, they burned down a Walgreens, the fish place on the corner, burned down a Little Caesars. They broke into that bank.

AMY GOODMAN: And who is they?

ZECHARIAH WILLIAMS: Police in that bank because they broke into that one too.

AMY GOODMAN: And who is they?

ZECHARIAH WILLIAMS: Just the people that's out here rioting.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you feel about the grand jury decision not to indict officer Wilson?

ZECHARIAH WILLIAMS: It's sad to see. That's sad to see, like, they're family going through that. They're not showing no type of mercy. They tried to charge them on five charges and they didn't indict him on neither one of them.

AMY GOODMAN: Why do you think that is?

ZECHARIAH WILLIAMS: People protect their own. That's true. People will protect their own.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you ever been bothered by the police?

ZECHARIAH WILLIAMS: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you ever been arrested?

ZECHARIAH WILLIAMS: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And what happened then?

ZECHARIAH WILLIAMS: Well, one time when I got arrested, I got punched in my mouth and —

AMY GOODMAN: By?

ZECHARIAH WILLIAMS: Officer Dewight. Sergeant dewight. Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you able to bring charges against him?

ZECHARIAH WILLIAMS: No.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we're standing in front of taco bell. The window has been smashed. We are right in front of AutoZone. It looks like it is about to blow with flames coming out on top of it. Across the street is the tire shop, Auto Tire. There a bunch of young people going in there. They've smashed the windows. A lot of cars going by. A lot of smoke here. This very much feels like ground zero. And people — young people are saying they don't care about us. This is West Florissant, ground zero for the protests. This is Ferguson, Missouri.

PROTESTER: I've been all— I'm from St. Louis. I've been al over there. I just came from where they just announced the verdict at and they shot tear gas. Everything on fire. And this is not what our youngsters were supposed to represent, because this is a new era civil rights movement. I didn't expect it out of them, but I can't blame them for it. Civil disobedience, 'cause ain't nobody — it's just reckless property. And then all of them been knowing and they been over here so — to keep a tab because I'm 43 years of age. All of these over here, they already got their insurance and they already had three months to prepare for this. So, they're not losing out on anything. They probably relocate. But as far as the money value or the monetary value, everything is still going to be the same.

AMY GOODMAN: We're back on Canfield Drive. There are some helicopters at the sky — there's smoke in the air because West Florissant is on fire. But here is the stuffed animal Memorial for Mike Brown who was gunned down right here in the road between the apartment complexes. There are dozens of animals, stuffed animals, a baseball cap — it might be Mike Brown's original baseball cap. This is the place where on August 9 officer Darren Wilson killed Mike Brown. Today, a grand jury decided not to indict officer Wilson for that killing.

PROTESTER: After they played us like that with Darren Wilson, I expect expect for [Expletive] to go hard. It is was it is. Ain't no stopping us. No justice, no peace.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I am Amy Goodman with special thanks to our crew here on the ground, to Sam Alcoff and to Renée Feltz and to Aaron Maté. That report after midnight last night. Today, we're standing in front of the Clayton Courthouse where the grand jury has deliberated over the last months. They call it the Justice Center. When we come back, we will be joined by guests who've been here on the streets as well as a legal expert to talk about exactly what the grand jury did or did not decide. This is Democracy Now! We will be back in a minute.

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News Wed, 26 Nov 2014 12:46:39 -0500
No Justice in Ferguson http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27679-no-justice-in-ferguson http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27679-no-justice-in-ferguson

The grand jury in Ferguson, Mo., has reached the decision many of us dreaded, but fully expected. Now, we must forge our profound disappointment into determination to achieve lasting justice, in Ferguson and beyond.

The Ferguson grand jury decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. In the coming days, Wilson will sit down for major media interviews, and Thanksgiving dinner with his new wife. Michael Brown’s parents will sit with his empty chair, and the knowledge that the man who killed him is not only free, but all over the media — perhaps even celebrated in right-wing media, which may or may not stop short of celebrating their son’s death.

We knew this decision was coming. It’s heartbreaking, but it is not a surprise. This decision was coming when prosecutor Tim McCulloch refused to recuse himself, and governor Jay Nixon refused to appoint a special prosecutor. It was coming when McCulloch referred the case to the grand jury, instead of filing charges himself. It was coming when McCulloch failed to recommend charges to the grand jury. It was coming when the governor declared a state of emergency, and law enforcement agencies purchased even more paramilitary equipment to use on protestors. It’s been coming since August 9, and now here we are.

The wheels of justice have ground to a halt in the Michael Brown case, leaving us in sadly familiar territory. As I said on KFPA-FM’s “Saturday Morning Talkies” this weekend, African-American parents have always lived with the sorrow of sons who never return home, while the men who killed them remain free. Michael Brown’s parents are now members of a centuries-old, exclusive club that no one ever wants to join. It’s most recent members include the families of Trayvon Martin, Darrien Hunt, and John Crawford, among others.

On August 9, the same day that Michael Brown was killed, John Crawford was shot and killed by police officers in Beaverton, Ohio. A customer in a Beaverton Walmart called 911 after seeing Crawford walking around with a pellet gun he’d picked up in the store. Police said Crawford ignored commands to drop the weapon.

Ohio’s attorney general Mike DeWine refused to release the store’s surveillance video, asking the public to “Trust the system” and “let the judicial process work.” In September, a grand jury decided not to indict the officers who killed Crawford. Surveillance video released after the grand jury decision showed that Crawford was talking on his phone when officers entered the store, with the gun pointed at the floor. Officers shot Crawford on sight, within seconds of entering the store.

In Ohio, we were asked to “trust the system,” and that trust was betrayed. Now we are told we must “accept” the grand jury’s decision, and trust that “the system worked.” There is no doubt that “the system worked.” It ran its course, and it yielded the expected result.

“The system worked” quite well for those for whom it is designed to work. We should refuse, however, to call that “justice,” even if the process had resulted in an indictment. It would not amount to the kind of justice necessary to prevent the next city that’s “one dead black teenager away” from exploding into the next Ferguson.

  • We must change the way our communities are policed. Law enforcement officers in every department in the country should be required to undergo racial bias training. These departments must prioritize diversity in the hiring and retention of officers, and be accountable to the public. We must demand an end to programs that give military weapons to police departments.
  • We must demand an end to racial profiling. Law enforcement departments must be prohibited from relying on race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion in its investigative practices, and required to cease or eliminate existing practices that rely on racial profiling.
  • We must demand economic justice. Ferguson and other cities like it didn’t become hyper-segregated dens of economic despair overnight. Changing them requires undoing damage done by decades of federal, state, and local government policies that created segregated metropolises. We must demand investment in education, jobs, and training for young people, instead of surplus military weapons for police departments.

We do not have the luxury of time. With the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice — shot by police officers while playing with a BB gun — Cleveland, Ohio, may have already become “the next Ferguson,” for now.

Until no city is at risk of becoming “the next Ferguson” or “the next Sanford,” and no one’s child is at risk of becoming “the next Michael Brown” or “the next Trayvon Martin,” there can be no justice in Ferguson, or anywhere else.

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News Wed, 26 Nov 2014 11:34:28 -0500
From Buy Nothing Day to Independence Day http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27678-from-buy-nothing-day-to-independence-day http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27678-from-buy-nothing-day-to-independence-day

It's time to make a strategic shift from Buy Nothing Day to a global Independence Day. Let's highlight the importance of framing and narratives, and the power of including the Global South, in a global day of boycott against multinational corporations.

2007- Buy Nothing Day ( Black Friday - day after Thanksgiving) in San Francisco. (Photo: Steve Rhodes)Buy Nothing Day (Black Friday - day after Thanksgiving) in San Francisco. (Photo: Steve Rhodes)

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Everything evolves. It's the movement of life through time. Those things that are fit for purpose evolve into something even more fit, better adapted and more powerful; those that don't fall by the wayside, or worse, sputter along.

Buy Nothing Day, first conceived in Mexico in 1992, and taken to scale by Adbusters magazine, is a wonderful, powerful idea. It has captured the imaginations of thousands of people, all across the world, and bound them together around the idea that deep and lasting happiness cannot be packaged and sold, and it certainly doesn't come in a can of Coke or at the wheel of the latest Audi. It's an appeal to reject the sort of ludicrous and hyperbolic claims that have come to define corporate marketing, and to acknowledge the smothering, unaccountable, often violent power of large corporations in all of our lives. Buy Nothing Day has become an invaluable vehicle to channel energy toward one of the most pressing issues of our time. This year, Black Friday (the same day) also promises to serve as a vehicle of protest and refusal for communities rising up against anti-blackness.

But it has its limitations, three of which stand out. Perhaps there's a way for its already powerful momentum to take shape into an even more powerful form.

Beyond Negative Logic

First, by being inherently "anti" and focusing on the word "nothing," it subtly validates the lies that corporate marketing preaches. Without buying, one infers, there is a gap - literally nothingness. That's the logic of the corporate marketing department. The really powerful and radical truth is that there is freedom in having a day (or a life) in which you do not depend on the acquisition of physical objects for meaning. That thought is in there right now, but it is obscured, and therefore less powerful than it could be. Moving into the more positive space is radical because it reclaims the idea of happiness; it doesn't define it against the enemy's logic, which, as any cognitive scientist will tell you, is a way of activating and validating their frame. We are not fighting for "nothing." We are fighting for freedom, and therefore everything.

The second limitation is that it can exclude some of the people it could most powerfully include. It speaks best to people who live in the world of crass overconsumption. Tell people who are struggling to put food on the table to buy nothing one day as a political act and you will quite rightly get told to wise up. Consumption is not a simple negative; overconsumption, yes; mindless consumption, yes; consumption for its own sake, yes; but consumption per se, no. To claim otherwise is to ignore the reality that billions of us live with every day, all around the world.

Which leads to the third and perhaps most important limitation: the brute politics. This is about limiting the control of private, profit-above-all-else interests, and there is nowhere in this battle more important than the impoverished parts of the world, east and west, north and south. To use a frame that excludes people on those front lines is both deeply limiting, and somewhat inauthentic.

The Psychopathic 1%

Right now, the psychopathic tendencies of the corporate elite are leading them to do everything they can to deepen and consolidate their control, and thereby their ability to extract wealth from some of the poorest parts of the world. And they are very good at it, which is how we have ended up in a situation where, by 2011, 110 of the largest 175 economic entities on earth were corporations, and how they've managed to hoard more than $26 trillion - yes, with a "t" - of the profits they have drawn from the labor and resources of people all over the world through tax havens. And it's how they are subverting democracy the world over. Research from Harvard's Safra Center for Ethics shows that, in the United States, where so many large corporations are based, there is up to a 220 percent return on investment (ROI) for lobbying Congress, the definition of buying political influence, which is another way of saying, corruption (i.e. the use of public power for private gain).

The people on the sharpest end of this corruption are the workers who are not paid a living wage, the people who are stranded without decent health care or education because they are denied massive tax revenues from the sale of the natural resources extracted from under their feet, and the children whose minds are warped by highly sophisticated advertising training them to believe that the next plastic toy is more important to happiness than love, security or appreciation of Mother Earth. That is the political impetus behind what we've been calling Buy Nothing Day, and it could not be more important.

Could these three limitations be overcome if we reframed this concept as a global Independence Day? Independence from corporate control; independence from the idea that we are merely what we consume; independence from the demented screech of corporate advertising; independence from the life-denying tendencies of late stage capitalism.

Fighting the Propaganda Machine

Those two words, standing on their own, are not a perfect, complete frame. They do not, for example, have the "it does what it says on the tin" quality of Buy Nothing Day. But then, Buy Nothing Day has always needed some extra padding to draw out its full meaning and power. Also, at least to start with, it will definitely compete for meaning with national Independence Days in countries all over the world. But that dynamic can also serve the cause. Independence Day is a statement of pride, of autonomy, of self-defined identity. If we can popularize the idea of independence being independence as the 99%, as the majority across borders and boundaries, as a statement of unity against a common foe, then we can continue to break down the serfdom of corporate power that is intertwined with nationalism and other dividing forces that ultimately serve the power elites only.

At the core of Independence Day, we will continue to reject global corporations and their marketing propaganda. This November 28 and 29 is a moment for us to not only be conscious of the cognitive assault of over 3,000 advertising messages directed toward each one us every day, but to also actively engage in the meme wars. To delegitimize corporate power and corporate ability to do business in our countries. To boycott products at every possible touch point. To take back our public spaces from corporate advertising. To culture jam wherever we see the tentacles of multinational brands. To even question the balance between needs and wants in our own lives. And to reclaim our sovereignty by forging new relationships with each other, engaging in the gift and barter economies, building cooperative structures and deifying the commons over private ownership.

The deep meaning of Buy Nothing Day must live and grow. Of that there is no doubt; it makes too powerful a contribution in the fight for a more just and equal world. As Independence Day, we hope it finds a longer life and a larger global constituency.

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Opinion Wed, 26 Nov 2014 13:39:26 -0500
Should We Impeach Chief Justice John Roberts? http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27677-should-we-impeach-chief-justice-john-roberts http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27677-should-we-impeach-chief-justice-john-roberts

Republicans like to talk about impeaching President Obama, but there is a far more deserving candidate for impeachment—Chief Justice John Roberts of the Supreme Court. While the Republicans in Congress have blocked Democrats from enacting much of substance, the GOP majority in control of the Court has been effectively legislating on its own, following an agenda neatly aligned with their conservative party. Step by step, the five right-wing justices are transforming the terms of the American political system—including the Constitution.

They empowered “dark money” in politics and produced the $4 billion by-election of 2014. They assigned spiritual values to soulless corporations who thus gained First Amendment protection of free speech and religion. The justices effectively gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, even as they allowed state governments to create new obstacles for minority voting. The High Court made it okay to take guns to church and more difficult to keep guns from dangerous people. It rendered a series of decisions that collectively shifted political power from the many to the few.

This power grab by the unelected—and supposedly non-partisan—justices has already produced a historic rewrite of America democracy. But it was done by blatantly usurping the decision-making authority that belongs to the elected government in Congress and the executive branch. The Republican justices are not finished with their undeclared revolution. They will continue unless and until people rise up and stop them.

The Roberts Court’s latest target is once again President Obama’s singular achievement, the Affordable Care Act. Under peculiar circumstances just three days after the midterm elections, the Court announced it will hear another legal challenge that threatens to disable and perhaps destroy the new healthcare system.

The timing of this new intervention has a distinct odor of political collusion. The Republican takeover of the Senate is already invoked by Court allies to suggest the justices are merely responding to the will of the people. Some conservative Court watchers tout the new case as a chance for the chief justice to make amends and get with the program. The latest challenge was fashioned in Washington by the same club of right-wing legal foundations and pricey corporate lawyers who have been attacking affirmative action and other liberal reforms since the Reagan administration.

Michael Carvin of the Jones Day law firm is a cocky veteran of the right’s long crusade and the lead lawyer for the new case. He is already boasting of the outcome, even though the intermediate DC Circuit Court of Appeals has not yet ruled up or down as would normally occur before the Supreme Court agreed to consider it. Carvin dismissed the DC Circuit Court, now dominated by Democratic appointees, as a meaningless anomaly. He told a Talking Points Memo reporter he doubts that Supreme Court conservatives “are going to give much of a damn about what a bunch of Obama appointees on the DC Circuit think.” Goodbye to deference and regular order.

But might Carvin’s case still lose at the Supreme Court? “Oh, I don’t think so,” he said. That was his cute way of saying this time Chief Justice Roberts will be on board with the other four conservative justices. Carvin didn’t say why he is so confident, but he and Roberts seem to be old chums. At a Federalist Society event last year, Michael Carvin indulged in a bit of classy namedropping. The admiring conservative society reported that Carvin “told an anecdote in which Chief Justice Roberts approached him and jokingly chided him for having favored appointing Samuel Alito before Roberts.” What does this say about their relationship? Maybe nothing, but one would like to ask a few follow-up questions.

Roberts himself takes offense at accusations that the Roberts Court renders politicized decisions. He has frequently denied the charge. “We’re not Republicans or Democrats,” Roberts told students at the University of Nebraska law school. Unlike some of his right-wing colleagues, Roberts wants to have it both ways. He’s not an ideologue, just an earnest umpire calling balls and strikes.

Baloney. If Carvin and other conservative legal eagles are correct that this time the Chief Justice will rule against the healthcare law, that should give people a prima facie case for considering impeachment. At a minimum, people should demand a thorough public investigation into whether surreptitious political interference occurred (who said what to whom offstage?). If politicians are reluctant to go down that road, people can start their own inquiries. The chief justice should be forewarned what will likely happen if he does scuttle the ACA. I expect “Impeach John Roberts” signs and billboards to start popping up all over America as people finally figure out who did this to them. Hint: it was not Barack Obama.

A prime witness should be Linda Greenhouse, who for decades was the influential New York Times correspondent covering the Supreme Court (now at Yale law school). Greenhouse was admired for her fair-minded analysis and great clarity in explaining esoteric legal arguments, She finds the current state of affairs “profoundly depressing.”

Greenhouse explained in her blog posted at NYTimes.com: “In decades of court-watching, I have struggled—sometimes it seems against all odds—to maintain the belief that the Supreme Court really is a court and not just a collection of politicians in robes. This past week I found myself struggling against the impulse to say two words: I surrender.” (Linda Greenhouse has not herself called for impeachment.)

The new case against Obamacare reads like “a politically manufactured argument,” Greenhouse wrote. She called the maneuvering “a naked power grab by conservative justices who two years ago just missed killing the ACA in its cradle.” As evidence, she cited the unusual twists in Supreme Court behavior. Normally it waits to see if there are conflicting views among circuit courts of appeal before taking a case for consideration. This time, the Fourth Circuit based in Richmond, Virginia, upheld the law. The DC Circuit in Washington has all twelve judges reviewing and seems very likely to uphold the law, since that court is now top-heavy with Democratic appointees. The Supremes went ahead regardless.

Greenhouse cited Michael Carvin’s confident boasting as suggesting the political flavor. She also invoked remarks by Professor John Yoo of UC Berkeley—famous in Bush years as the “torture lawyer” who defended brutal interrogations and a former clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas. On National Review Online, Yoo felt sure Roberts will now support the ACA challenge because the case “gives him the chance to atone for his error upholding Obamacare.” Yoo wrote: “What judge can resist the chance to reach the right legal result, fix mistakes from the past and act with popular support? It’s a Supreme Court trifecta.”

Over-confident Republicans naturally assume the public will be grateful if the Supreme Court rescues them from Obama’s healthcare system. But the first result is bound to be utter chaos and confusion and millions of people—mostly in red states—who discover they are the losers. If the GOP legal challenge succeeds, the High Court will rule that the federal exchanges—created for states that declined to create their own state exchanges—operate illegally because the ACA does not give them explicit authority to dispense the tax credits that subsidize health insurance.

A blizzard of low- and moderate-income buyers of insurance would be suddenly stripped of government assistance—around 5.2 million of them. But there is a cruel twist Republican leaders fail to acknowledge: their own red-state constituents will be the most victimized. Leading right-wing politicians have endorsed the very lawsuit that will punish the Southern and Western states if it prevails, while blue states and northern cities that are operating their own state exchanges may not suffer at all.

The lawsuit now before the Supreme Court, for example, has been formally joined by Senators Cornyn and Cruz of Texas, Hatch and Lee of Utah, Portman of Ohio, Rubio of Florida, Representative Darrell Issa of California and the state governments of Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia, West Virginia, Nebraska, South Carolina and Kansas. If these politicians win, their states are the big losers.

But of course the citizens who will be screwed in the red states are mostly working poor or moderate-income families. Republicans are okay with that. They ostensibly believe that belt-tightening helps build character. The GOP may have a time with blowback from the insurance industry and other providers in the healthcare system. While it’s not widely understood, many billions in federal subsidies help people of limited means buy health insurance but they never actually see the dollars themselves. The money flows directly from the Treasury to the private enterprises. Insurance lobbyists are already on the case, explaining real life to clueless conservatives.

Up to this point, I have barely mentioned the logic of the conservative assault on Affordable Care. Because there isn’t much logic to it. It depends entirely on a narrow-minded reading of the original legislation—so ridiculously literal that only gnomes in a medieval castle could take it seriously. In a nutshell, the right-wing lawyers claim that the law describes how state-run exchanges will be able to dispense federal subsidies to people in need, but the law fails to say explicitly that federal exchanges have the same powers.

Okay, the drafters could have repeated the requisite language to reassure fly-specking lawyers, but really there was never any doubt about the congressional intent. As the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has ruled, the logic of the entire system over-rules any blurred language. The law says explicitly that the secretary of Health and Human Services has the authority to create federal exchanges when and where states don’t want to do it. In other times, any such ambiguity would have been quickly eliminated with a technical fix, routinely adopted by mutual consent.

But the new Republican Party refuses to go along with anything that resembles cooperation and might shine a good light on Democrats. What the right-wingers really hope to achieve is a total breakdown of the ACA’s complex architecture. Throw sticks in the spokes. Force the Obama administration to open the legislation for Republican tinkering. The Supreme Court appears to be pursuing a similar strategy In other words, right-wing senators want Supreme Court right-wingers to accomplish by edict what GOP legislators could not accomplish for themselves.

Barack Obama can win this fight by not giving in to the Supreme Court, even if he temporarily loses there. The president has to call out his opponents and tell the hard truth about their illegitimate abuse of power. People may listen if he genuinely fights for them.

People may recall the last time Americans wanted to impeach a Chief Justice was in the 1950s, when Earl Warren—a liberal Republican from California—championed Brown v. Board of Education in the long legal battle to defeat Jim Crow segregation. Chief Justice Roberts has been leading in the Court in the opposite direction. Instead of comforting the afflicted, he is comforting the comfortable.

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Opinion Wed, 26 Nov 2014 10:59:14 -0500
The Uber-iffic Future http://www.truth-out.org/art/item/27675-the-uber-iffic-future http://www.truth-out.org/art/item/27675-the-uber-iffic-future ]]> Art Wed, 26 Nov 2014 09:09:18 -0500 Is Walmart the World's Worst Corporation? http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27674-is-walmart-the-world-s-worst-corporation http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27674-is-walmart-the-world-s-worst-corporation

Domestically and abroad, Walmart wreaks havoc on the lives of its employees and supply-chain workers, making it a serious contender in Public Eye's competition for world's worst corporation. The company denies a living wage, full-time work, predictable scheduling and employment security to its global workforce of 2.2 million people. Walmart's contempt for the core labor and human rights of its global workforce and supply-chain workers is arguably second to none.

Demonstrators call for higher wages at one of 1,500 Black Friday protests planned at Wal-Marts across the country, in Los Angeles, Nov. 29, 2013. The retailer filed trespassing injunctions in California and four other states to bar protesters from Wal-Mart property. (J. Emilio Flores/The New York Times)Demonstrators call for higher wages at one of 1,500 Black Friday protests planned at Walmarts across the country, in Los Angeles, Nov. 29, 2013. The retailer filed trespassing injunctions in California and four other states to bar protesters from Walmart property. (J. Emilio Flores/The New York Times)

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That was the question posed last week by Public Eye, a counter-event to the World Economic Forum, as it sought a worthy winner for its "lifetime achievement award." For sure, Walmart - which has already won a Public Eye award in 2005 for labor rights violations in its global supply chain - faces stiff competition in the online poll. Among the other outstanding nominees for the world's worst corporation are Goldman Sachs, Chevron, Dow Chemical and Union Carbide.

Walmart's impeccable credentials for the world's worst corporation were covered last week by Truthout. The company denies a living wage, full-time work, predictable scheduling and employment security to its global workforce of 2.2 million people. It drives down wages and labor standards in its enormous global supply chain, most notably in the Bangladesh textile industry and the Thai shrimp industry. Walmart's contempt for the core labor and human rights of its global workforce and supply-chain workers is arguably second to none.

There's also no shortage of worthy nominees for the worst corporation in the United States: Amazon, a company whose disdain for labor rights is legendary, has similar employment practices to Walmart, minus the bricks and mortar; and Uber, the San Francisco-based ride-sharing service whose vice president apparently believes in smearing journalists, has done more than most corporations to promote precarious employment.
 
But even these enemies of decent work cannot compete with Walmart's appalling record:

  • The company's low-wage business model means that most of its 1.3 million domestic employees earn less than $25,000 per year. According to The Wall Street Journal, Walmart cashiers earn an average of just $8.48 per hour.
  • US taxpayers subsidize the nation's largest private-sector employer to the tune of $6.2 billion per year because it pays workers so little that many of them rely on food stamps, Medicaid and other taxpayer-funded programs. The public subsidy for an individual Walmart store may be as much as $1 million per year in higher usage of public-assistance programs by Walmart employees and their dependents.
  • Walmart workers suffer not only from poverty wages, but also from a lack of full-time work and erratic schedules that make it virtually impossible for them to gain second jobs or go back to school.
  • "Associates" who speak out against low wages and poor working conditions face the constant threat of management retaliation. In an earlier round of workplace actions, Walmart terminated 19 workers and retaliated against 40 others for participating in legally protected strike actions and protests.
  • Walmart has engaged in the economic intimidation of lawmakers who oppose its low-road practices. In September 2013, Mayor Vincent Gray of Washington, DC, vetoed a bill that would have provided a living wage for employees at big-box retailers after Walmart threatened to leave the District of Columbia.
  • Walmart's abuses extend to its domestic supply chain. One Walmart supplier, C.J.'s Seafood of Louisiana, committed "grave and systematic" violations of labor rights, including forcing its H-2B migrant workers from Mexico to work 24-hour shifts and paying them 40 percent below the legal minimum wage.
  • Poor conditions are endemic among Walmart's domestic logistics chain workers: Temporary workers at several warehouses under contract with Walmart have repeatedly gone out on strike in the past two years because they work in unsafe and arduous conditions under the threat of termination if they speak out.
  • Walmart has contributed to the corruption of the nation's politics. In September 2014, Common Cause and Public Citizen accused the company of violating federal campaign finance laws by asking employees to donate to its political action committee in exchange for matching donations to a company charity.

But time may be finally running out for Walmart's business model based on poverty wages, poor conditions and worker intimidation. The company's workers and their supporters will engage in strikes and protests on Black Friday at 1,600 retail stores across the country, including at stores in California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Texas and Washington, DC. And criticism is spreading. At a congressional briefing last week, Rep. George Miller (D-California) excoriated Walmart's employment practices for "singlehandedly wreaking havoc on American families . . . making it impossible for hundreds of thousands of workers to have a shot at the American Dream."

Walmart easily deserves the title of the country's worst corporation, and by wreaking havoc on the lives of its employees and supply-chain workers worldwide, it must also be a strong contender for Public Eye's award for the worst corporation in the world.

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Opinion Wed, 26 Nov 2014 14:16:22 -0500
Media Must Tell What Happens - and Why - in Ferguson http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27673-media-must-tell-what-happens-and-why-in-ferguson http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27673-media-must-tell-what-happens-and-why-in-ferguson

There were two things I saw in the media coverage of Ferguson, Mo., recently in the ramp up to the grand jury decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the August shooting death of 18 year-old Michael Brown.

Two illustrations from different times and places, expressed with different intent, but, for me, carrying the same message: We are missing the story.

Ferguson is not just the story about last summer’s tragic shooting death of Brown — unarmed, hands up, according to some witnesses, who apparently were not credited by the grand jury. It is not just the story of the ugly images of a militarized police force pushing back protesters with rubber bullets and tear gas. It is not just about a process many people believed took way too long to decide whether a crime was committed.

The story of this St. Louis suburb is the story of power. It is power that is enforced at street level by the police and up throughout a justice system that has been engaged in the mass incarceration of people of color. It is a political system that powers the criminal justice system in this process. It is a social system that defines people, identifies them in ways that will justify their place in society — high or low, included or marginalized.

In that process, we often come to see each other, to know each other — as good or bad — through media representations. Our reality, then, is a mediated reality. And the media portrayal of African-Americans by television — where most people get their news — has been in the negative context of crime and poverty. The mediated reality is way out of proportion to the actual reality. And the public takeaway too often is that black is bad.

These points are driven home by my two illustrations. First, as I Googled “Ferguson” this past week — with anxious headlines declaring a state of emergency in Missouri and the call-up of the National Guard in anticipation of angry public reaction to a grand jury decision — I saw a photograph on the Los Angeles Times website. The focal point was a blond-haired white woman in a group of protesters. Her sign read “Thug Protestor” and had arrows pointing to herself. I was struck by that photo, and the irony wrapped in irony.

The irony she intended is based on our recognition that she obviously is not a thug, as some people have called the protesters based on the nightly images of confrontation played out on television in connection with Ferguson.

The woman’s point is that we shouldn’t assume that protesters are thugs. After all, she is a protester and, of course, she does not look like a thug. She looks like the All-American Girl. But, in recognizing that irony, we get twisted in the embedded irony. We have to know what a thug looks like in order to know that she is not one. A thug in TV representation is a person of color — black or brown.

So, in trying to deconstruct the social construct of black as bad, she wound up reinforcing it. The second illustration is a confrontation on NBC’s “Meet the Press” between former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson, during which Giuliani, a former U.S. attorney, engaged in reductive reasoning. “The white police officers wouldn’t be there if you weren’t killing each other 70-75 percent of the time,” Giuliani said. So, in other words, it’s your fault — black people everywhere — that your kids might get shot down in the street by police. Look at how bad things are in the African-American communities.

So what is media’s role in this?

We tell people what is important to think about and we even tell them how to think about it. We set public agenda based on what we cover, we frame the stories and we represent people within that frame. Because of this agenda-setting process, people walk away thinking crime is a bigger problem than it really is. Because people of color are more likely to be seen in mug shots than are whites — far more than the numbers would justify — people like the woman in the L.A. Times photo come to see crime in blackface. Sadly, people like Giuliani — people in positions to make a positive difference — can paint by statistical numbers without getting the full picture.

The story we are missing in this process, though, is the one that provides the full context for the story we are being told -- the meaning of it all. The full picture. Sure, we get the facts. We get the who, what, where and when of it all. But not the why. The why is the context.

It starts with why there is such a wide gap in black and white opinion on the case, whether Darren Wilson should have been indicted for a crime. Why do some people accept police action while others distrust it? At bottom, why are some people angry and others afraid?

Ferguson is presented as a confrontation story. The problem with that frame is that it ultimately directs our gaze away from the underlying story, which is to say, the actual story.

Even more, that very framing can determine public opinion. In a story of confrontation between people you have come to associate with wrongdoing and the police you believe are tied to law and order, the demonstrators are going to lose in the battle for public approval. We need to know why young black people see themselves as victims of prosecutorial discretion and the police as an oppressive force in the process. We need to know why they have come to believe there is a breakdown of the law in their community by people who shoot them down in the street — hands up.

We also need to know why other people see things so differently. Television is a big part of the why. It emphasizes the visual. The immediate. The impact. The confrontation between the police and demonstrators in Ferguson will “make for good TV,”President Obama said in calling for peace following the grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson. Good TV. But is it good journalism?

Not without balance, it isn’t. Not without providing some deeper understanding of the meaning behind the images, the story behind the story. Otherwise, the real confrontation is a clash of perception. A racial Rorschach.

People tend to see what they want to see, what they have been conditioned to see. We have to help them see what is. To see and to understand.

That is the media responsibility—to provide the information we need to make enlightened choices about policy, about consumption, about our social interaction. We can’t get there — enlightened decision-making — without understanding the meaning of it all. The context. The why.

In the many stories that have been told since last summer’s confrontations, we have learned more as the result of follow-up reporting. However, even the background stories we are getting, like the ones about the overpolicing of a majority black community by an overwhelmingly white police force, only provide part of the ultimate truth.

Even when the media begin to tell us the more nuanced stories and try to clarify that violence during the demonstrations is being committed by only a small minority of people — people who are taking advantage of the demonstration as cover — the TV images of much larger crowds and explosive confrontations tell us something different.

The tendency among many people in the viewing audience will be to conclude that the demonstrators — overwhelmingly people of color, who already are perceived to be at fault when it comes to issues of wrongdoing — are the people who are responsible when things go terribly wrong. Even when the confrontations are provoked by police. Research shows that the mere display of a gun by one person can cause the other person to be more aggressive.

So the challenge of the media is to cut through all this and to do it with careful decisions about what goes in the frame of the story and what is left out. To do it with decisions about how to balance breaking news with more background, more interpretation, more perspectives in follow-up stories.

While we want to think we are balanced in our reporting, we must consider whether we really achieve that goal. Do you really see the world in a balanced way through a gas mask, or when you are constrained by a bulletproof vest? Is your judgment guided by a sense of journalistic responsibility or a sense of threat? The answer to that question only raises another obvious one and that is, threat by whom? The police? Or the people the police are confronting? What is the perspective you get on such a confrontation from behind police barricades, in a press pen, subject to feeds by the official sources?

Without question, reporting the who, what, where and when of it all from the frontlines is tough. But if we don’t get at the “why” through more thoughtful enterprising stories, all the rest of it has no meaning and no impact in helping people move away from biases to make more reasoned choices.

If we don’t try to do that, then the question we ultimately should be asking is, “Why not?”

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Opinion Wed, 26 Nov 2014 10:06:17 -0500
New Sanctuary Movement Seeks to Protect Undocumented Immigrants http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27672-new-sanctuary-movement-seeks-to-protect-undocumented-immigrants http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27672-new-sanctuary-movement-seeks-to-protect-undocumented-immigrants

Oscar Alfaro hugs his aunt, Carmen Paz, during a watch party as President Barack Obama outlines his executive actions on immigration in a televised address at Casa de Maryland in Hyattsville, Md., Nov. 20, 2014. Millions of undocumented immigrants, like Alfaro, are beginning to make big new plans for their lives, free of the threat of deportation, after Obama announced he would offer reprieves and work permits. (Jabin Botsford/The New York Times)Oscar Alfaro hugs his aunt, Carmen Paz, during a watch party as President Barack Obama outlines his executive actions on immigration in a televised address at Casa de Maryland in Hyattsville, Md., Nov. 20, 2014. Millions of undocumented immigrants, like Alfaro, are beginning to make big new plans for their lives, free of the threat of deportation, after Obama announced he would offer reprieves and work permits. (Jabin Botsford/The New York Times)

The New Sanctuary Movement is defying the law by sheltering seven undocumented immigrants who are at risk of deportation in churches across the country.

Oscar Alfaro hugs his aunt, Carmen Paz, during a watch party as President Barack Obama outlines his executive actions on immigration in a televised address at Casa de Maryland in Hyattsville, Md., Nov. 20, 2014. Millions of undocumented immigrants, like Alfaro, are beginning to make big new plans for their lives, free of the threat of deportation, after Obama announced he would offer reprieves and work permits. (Jabin Botsford/The New York Times)Oscar Alfaro hugs his aunt, Carmen Paz, during a watch party as President Barack Obama outlines his executive actions on immigration in a televised address at Casa de Maryland in Hyattsville, Md., Nov. 20, 2014. Millions of undocumented immigrants, like Alfaro, are beginning to make big new plans for their lives, free of the threat of deportation, after Obama announced he would offer reprieves and work permits. (Jabin Botsford/The New York Times)

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When President Obama went before the American people to say that he was issuing an executive order to empower Immigration and Customs Enforcement, better known as ICE, he made no mention of those who are already in the throes of deportation. What's more, he also failed to acknowledge the seven Latino/a immigrants who have taken refuge in churches - in Tempe and Tucson, Arizona; Denver, Colorado; Chicago, Illinois; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Portland, Oregon - in public defiance of policies that threaten to separate parents from children, and husbands from wives.

The seven are part of the New Sanctuary Movement (NSM), a growing faith-based initiative that presently involves 120 congregations across the country, 25 of them ready, willing and able to provide residential protection to those at risk of deportation. Church World Service (CWS), a 68-year-old service group that has assisted immigrants and refugees since the end of World War II, is coordinating their efforts.

According to Rev. Noel Andersen, national grassroots coordinator for immigrant rights at CWS, the New Sanctuary Movement is a "direct descendant of abolition, part of the Sanctuary tradition, the idea that people of faith can be a shelter, a buffer between unjust laws and the government. In the case of undocumented people, we can literally stand between the laws being enforced by ICE and the people directly affected by those laws."

The impetus for the NSM, he says, harkens back to 2006, when 1,300 undocumented workers employed by meat processing plants in Colorado, Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas and Utah were raided in the largest coordinated immigration enforcement action in US history. Subsequent raids on plants in six additional states further energized - and enraged - people who found these practices repugnant. "Sanctuary has been a way for us to serve a moral imperative," Andersen said, "a way for us to lift up the story of those most impacted by our broken immigration policy."

Such activism is not without precedent. Back in 1982, Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona, became the first US congregation to allow an undocumented immigrant to take sanctuary behind church walls. By the middle of the decade, more than 500 synagogues, churches and temples had followed suit, angering - and in many cases embarrassing - the government.

A year later, in 1986, 16 Mexican and US-based religious leaders were indicted. According to law professor Ellen Yaroshefsky, one of the attorneys who represented those arrested, the 16 were charged with "conspiracy, encouraging and aiding illegal aliens to enter the United States by shielding, harboring and transporting them." Eleven people went to trial, Yaroshefsky says; eight were found guilty, with penalties ranging from probation to suspended sentences, to brief periods of house arrest.

This crackdown has not deterred today's activists. Instead, they say they are following a "prophetic tradition" that is grounded in Scripture.

The canonical Gospel of Matthew is frequently cited: "I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me."

Similarly, an Old Testament passage in which God ordered Moses to establish places of respite for people being persecuted, grounds the NSM and provides the rationale for an Interfaith Covenant of Sanctuary that was completed in October as a model for congregations to consider.

"There are mothers sending their children into the river," the covenant declares, "not the Nile like Moses, but the Rio Grande, in hope that they might escape violence. Children have come seeking safety and to be reunited with their parents and family. If we found Moses in the water, what would we do? If Mary and Joseph fled to the United States to escape violence at home, what would we do? They seek protection from violence, economic desperation, and our policies are seeking to return them to harm."

Dramatic? Absolutely. But as has been well-publicized, the Obama administration has for the past four years deported between 1,000 and 1,100 undocumented people per day, 368,644 in fiscal year 2013 alone.

"We can't allow this to continue," Sarah Lanius, co-founder of Keep Tucson Together, told Truthout. "If the only relief that is possible is for people to go into sanctuary, then so be it."

Lanius is working with Rosa Robles Loreto, a 43-year-old Mexican-born woman who has been in sanctuary at Southside Presbyterian Church since August 7. Loreto was picked up by the Tucson police in September 2010 when she accidently drove her car into a construction zone. After being questioned by the sheriff, she spent two months in Border Control custody but was released after her husband paid her bond. "Her family had hired a lawyer who did the bare minimum," Lanius said. "He failed to ask for the one form of relief available, prosecutorial discretion."

Lanius is referring to a policy, outlined in a 2011 memo written by former ICE director John Morton, that allows the agency to use common sense when determining which cases to pursue. The memo asks apprehending officers to consider a person's criminal history and family ties before initiating deportation proceedings.

"Rosa has two sons, ages 11 and 8," Lanius said. "She came over on a visa, which she overstayed, but her family is rooted here in the US. She has 16 US permanent resident or citizen relatives here. Her kids are fanatic baseball players. Her husband coaches her older son's team and she is a community volunteer. Before she went into sanctuary, she used to organize carpools and supported the team and cheered her sons on, but now her boys only see her on weekends and holidays."

Lanius' frustration is audible as she lambastes the Obama administration's lip service - but inaction - on "prosecutorial discretion." For the last few years, she sighs, "the administration has been saying that they don't want to deport people, like Rosa, who have extensive community connections and no criminal record, but so far they have been unwilling to exercise the authority they themselves have authorized."

Lanius also cites another inherent problem with ICE: the classification of people into categories of "good" immigrants who should not be deported, and their "bad" counterparts who should. "People with criminal records which render them deportable have very often been arrested for something so minor most of us would scoff at it, like shoplifting," she said. "They usually also have families that will suffer when one member is deported." In these cases, she asks why they can't just pay a fine or do community service, the same penalty that would be given to a US citizen who commits a similar offense.

It's a great question, so far unaddressed by the Obama administration.

Like Lanius, Chicago NSM staffer Lissette Castillo is working directly with people facing deportation proceedings. As a project of the 30-year-old Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America, the Windy City's NSM chapter also addresses the root causes of migration: trade policies, like NAFTA, that exacerbate wage gaps and increase the cost of basic goods; environmental degradation; violence; and war.

In her capacity as a community organizer, Castillo assisted 32-year-old Beatriz Santiago Ramirez, an indigenous Mexican woman and mother of two US-born children after she took sanctuary in Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission in early September. Although the case had a relatively happy ending - Ramirez was given a work permit after eight weeks in sanctuary - Castillo says that Ramirez's situation highlights much of what is wrong with immigration policy.

Like Loreto, Castillo first tangled with immigration officials following a traffic violation. Neither case was anomalous: In fiscal 2013, nearly 58,000 people entered deportation due to vehicular infractions such as a broken tail light or making an unauthorized turn. But Castillo notes that Ramirez should never have entered deportation proceedings since she was eligible for a U visa. "A U visa protects immigrants who are victims of a crime but who cooperate with the authorities to nab the perpetrator," Castillo said. "Beatriz fell into this category after she was assaulted. Unfortunately, the process of getting a U visa is confusing and complicated. A lot of immigrants don't even know that these visas exist and in some places there isn't even a point person to sign the application for one."

Not surprisingly, by the time Ramirez learned of her eligibility, she had missed the filing deadline and was in the process of being deported.

Nonetheless, Castillo credits the support that Ramirez received from diverse religious communities for the positive outcome of her case. "ICE did not expect all these non-Latino parishes to come into a space that is typically isolated, to say, 'We're keeping tabs on this. We care about Beatriz.' The different congregations made clear to ICE that this is not just an issue for Latinos. It's an issue of morality and of faith."

Castillo also notes that the NSM has been working to open up dialogue on a broad array of immigration issues throughout Chicago. "Stories are incredibly important," she added. This summer, for example, she worked with many unaccompanied minors entering the United States. "When we spoke in different communities, folks had a lot of questions: What kind of a parent would send a kid on such a dangerous journey? We turned the question around, asking people to imagine the circumstances in which they might send a child off. Clearly, the only way a parent would do that was if the journey was a better option, that what awaited them at home was far worse than the possible perils of travel."

Most of her work, she says, involves "nonsense that impacts people with no criminal record who are simply trying to get by and live their lives." This is why sharing the experiences of people like Loreto and Ramirez matter, she says, since telling their stories helps to "debunk the narrative that classifies undocumented immigrants as criminals."

Toward that end, in April, Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter signed an executive order ending collaboration between federal immigration officials and the city police department. "We worked for six years to end Philadelphia's local deportation policy," said Nicole Kligerman, a community organizer with the Philadelphia NSM. "Getting the police department not to automatically cooperate with ICE is one of the most important policy changes in the country." Under the executive order, those serving less than two years in Philadelphia jails will not be questioned about their immigration status or referred to ICE.

In addition, as of mid-November, a Honduran mother and her two US-born children have taken sanctuary in the city's West Kensington Ministry.

"Some local congregations have questioned the legality of this," Kligerman said. "We make clear that it is civil disobedience. We are seeking to break an unjust law."

Rabbi Linda Holtzman of Philadelphia's Tikkun Olam Chavura is actively supporting the NSM. "If you look at the prophets - Jeremiah, Jesus, Isaiah - they saw the truth and said to people, 'Wake up and act on these truths.' The New Sanctuary Movement comes out of that tradition. The US can't make it impossible for people to live safely in their own countries and then make it impossible for them to live safely in the US."

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News Wed, 26 Nov 2014 10:41:27 -0500
Free Marissa and All Black People http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27671-free-marissa-and-all-black-people http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27671-free-marissa-and-all-black-people

(Photo: Ultraviolet)(Photo: Ultraviolet)

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“What if she goes to jail again? How will you feel?”

The questions bring me up short. My goddaughter hasn’t previously expressed an interest in Marissa Alexander. She knows that I’ve been involved in a local defense committee to support Marissa in her struggle for freedom. But up to this point, she hasn’t asked any questions. Her mother, however, tells me that Nina (not her real name) has been following my updates on social media.

I’m still considering how to respond and I must have been silent for too long because Nina apologizes. “Forget about it, Auntie,” she says. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

It’s interesting that she thinks I am upset. She knows that I have no faith in the U.S. criminal legal system and perhaps assumes that I am pessimistic about Marissa’s prospects in court. I tell her that while I have no faith in the criminal punishment system, I am hopeful for a legal victory in Marissa’s case. I say that while the system as a whole is unjust, in some individual cases legal victories can be achieved. I tell her that this is particularly true for defendants who have good legal representation and resources. Money makes a difference in securing legal victories. I explain that this is why I have worked so hard to fundraise for Marissa’s legal defense.

“But how will you feel if she’s convicted again though?” Nina persists.

“I’ll definitely be sad for her and her family,” I respond.

“I think that you’ll be a lot more than sad,” she says.

Does sadness have levels? I guess so. I’m not sure what “more than sad” feels like so I keep quiet.

A friend, who has spent years supporting Marissa Alexander through the Free Marissa NOW National Mobilization Campaign, recently confided that she was unable to contemplate another conviction for Marissa at her retrial in December. Many of us who’ve been supporting Marissa have been bracing ourselves. Each of us trying to cope as best we can. Over the past few weeks, I’d taken to asking comrades if they believed that Marissa would be free. Some answered affirmatively without hesitation but they were in the minority. Most eyed me warily and slowly said that they were hopeful of an acquittal. I don’t think that they believed what they were saying.

The U.S. criminal punishment system cannot deliver any “justice.” Marissa has already served over 1000 days in jail and prison. She spent another year under strict house arrest wearing an ankle monitor costing her family $105 every two weeks. Marissa fired a warning shot to ward off her abusive husband and no one was injured. For this, she was facing a 60 year sentence if convicted in her re-trial. True justice is not being arrested and taken away from her children, family and friends. Justice is living a life free of domestic abuse. Justice is benefiting from state protection rather than suffering from state violence. Justice is having a self to defend in the first place.

Yesterday morning, I got news that Marissa had agreed to a plea deal. A couple of hours later, the news broke on social media. I saw a mix of people celebrating this outcome and others expressing their anger that Marissa was forced into a Faustian ‘choice’. I got calls, texts and emails from friends and family checking in on me. I appreciated everyone’s concern but I was unfortunately thrust into action when I heard that the grand jury in St. Louis would be announcing their indictment decision in the killing of Mike Brown later in the day. It was a mad rush to make arrangements to combine solidarity events since we already had one planned for Marissa yesterday evening.

The parallels between Marissa’s unjust prosecution/imprisonment & Mike Brown’s killing by law enforcement are evident to me. Yet, I am well aware that for too many these are treated as distinct and separate occurrences. They are not. In fact, the logic of anti-blackness and punishment connects both.

In the late 19th century, a remark was attributed to a Southern police chief who suggested that there were three types of homicides: “If a nigger kills a white man, that’s murder. If a white man kills a nigger, that’s justifiable homicide. If a nigger kills a nigger, that’s one less nigger (Berg, 2011, p.116).” The devaluing of black life in this country has its roots in colonial America. In the book “Popular Justice: A History of Lynching in America,” Manfred Berg makes a convincing case that: “The slave codes singled out blacks for extremely cruel punishment, thus marking black bodies as innately inferior (p.11).” Berg argues that: “Colonial slavery set clear patterns for future racial violence in America (p.11).”

“Innately inferior” bodies can be debased, punished and killed without consequence. The twist is that black people have always been considered dangerous along with our disposability. Mike Brown’s (disposable) body is a lethal weapon and so he is justifiably threatening. Marissa’s (disposable) body is deserving of abuse and is incapable of claiming a self worth defending. Mike Brown was described by his killer, Darren Wilson, as a “demon” and called an “It.”

The doctrine of pre-emptive killing and preventative captivity finds expression in the daily lives of all black people in the U.S. Black people are never ‘innocent.’ That language or concept doesn’t apply. We are always guilty until proven something less than suspect or dangerous.

Marissa and Mike are inextricably linked. They can only be seen as the aggressors and are never the victims. Mike is painted as a super-subhuman and Marissa is described as not seeming fearful. Black skin is a repellent to empathy which makes it difficult to seek redress in courts of law and public opinion. If we can’t generate empathy in others, then the humanity that is denied to us is always out of reach.

So we combined our solidarity actions for Marissa and for Mike yesterday because we take it as a fact that all #BlackLivesMatter. Charlene Carruthers of BYP 100 made this clear as she lifted up the name of Islan Nettles alongside those of Marissa & Mike.

I’m not naive though. I know that our response to the grand jury non-indictment of Darren Wilson unfortunately stands apart from some of the others. I thought about some lines from one of my favorite poems “Sister Outsider” by Opal Palmer Adisa yesterday:

we
women black
are always
outside
even when
we believe
we’re in

Marissa, Cece, Islan, Monica, Tanesha and many others are too often out side of our discourse about interpersonal & state violence and so they are out side of our protests too. It’s imperative that they be brought inside and centered.

Marissa decided that she had had enough of living in the in-between. Not behind the walls of the prison and yet not quite out side. She made a decision for herself and her family to accelerate the possibility that she can experience again the (un-free) freedom that all of us who live black in the United States have when we aren’t formally caged. She should have been able to demand total freedom but this must feel like Everest. So she took a plea that will ensure that she won’t spend the rest of her natural life in a cage. As Alisa Bierria of Free Marissa NOW said yesterday:

“The deal will help Marissa and her family avoid yet another very expensive and emotionally exhausting trial that could have led to the devastating ruling of spending the rest of her life in prison. Marissa’s children, family, and community need her to be free as soon as possible. However, the absurdity in Marissa’s case was always the fact that the courts punished and criminalized her for surviving domestic violence, for saving her own life. The mandatory minimum sentences of 20 years, and then 60 years, just made the state’s prosecution increasingly shocking. But we have always believed that forcing Marissa to serve even one day in prison represents a profound and systemic attack on black women’s right to exist and all women’s right to self-defense.”

2014.11.25.MarissaAlexander.1Chicago emergency call to action in solidarity with Ferguson and Marissa Alexander. (Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)

When I’ve been tabling or facilitating teach-ins about Marissa, people sometimes ask if I know her personally. I don’t. I can read the questions on their faces. ‘Why then are you talking about her case? Why are you committed to her freedom?’ I devoted so many hours to raising awareness and funds for Marissa’s legal defense because she is a human being who has been unjustly targeted and is STILL fighting to get free. I’m always on the freedom side. Marissa’s un-freedom cages me. Who will keep our sisters if not us?

“If I hadn’t helped my sister
They’d have put those chains on me!
They tied her body to a tree
And left her bleeding until we
Cut her down and took her home
As a daughter.” – Song of A Sister’s Freedom by Niobeh Tsaba

Yesterday, I stood in the freezing Chicago night with hundreds of other people to show our solidarity with Marissa. In our own way, we were cutting her down from the tree to take her home as a sister.

2014.11.25.MarissaAlexander.2Chicago emergency call to action in solidarity with Ferguson and Marissa Alexander. (Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)

Until Marissa is free…

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Opinion Wed, 26 Nov 2014 12:07:20 -0500