Who Do You Protect? Who Do You Serve?
As dedicated peacemakers, we know that racism obstructs and poisons the justice and peace we hope to manifest in our world. Racism as expressed through the criminal justice system poses a clear and present danger to the well-being of black, Latin@, Muslim, indigenous, gender-nonconforming, and other targeted groups in the US. Continuing our conversation of last week, about the ways that police do and don’t offer protection to various kinds of people, in various situations, we are grateful to Oakland activist Ingrid Martin for offering this thoughtful reflection — at once personal and political — on organizing for justice in the face of racist policing.
A note up top, for anyone who’s able to attend a 3pm action in Oakland, this Tuesday, March 5th: people will be mobilizing around the Justice for Alan Blueford campaign. Ingrid explains more about Alan Blueford’s killing in her essay, and I can attest from personal observation that the organizing around Justice for Alan Blueford has included some brilliant spiritual activists. Very inspiring.
Enjoy this passionate and thought-provoking piece, everyone, and we’ll see you tomorrow.
When I first because conscious of the world around me, I was led to believe the civil rights movement (and women’s rights movement) had begun, succeeded and ended. I believed success was based on merit, and safety was based on good decisions like wearing a motorcycle helmet. Good things come to good people.
BORN BLOND AND LUCKY
My first direct police encounter was when I was 13 years old. My girlfriends and I were drinking beer down at the lake. The police forced us to dump out the beer then took us to the station where we called our parents to pick us up. My next encounters were based on noisy college parties (although underage drinking was happening, it was apparently of little interest). In my 20s while living in Boston, I was out clubbing, drank too much and subsequently hit a parked car. It was Halloween and I was dressed in a strapless teal ball gown, my long blond hair gracing my shoulders. The officer gave me a warning ticket, and followed me home (no DUI). Many more police encounters occurred in the South End of Boston around late-night parties happening in neglected brownstones and even an old church, hipster parties of young upwardly mobile indie youth. We (thought we) were alternative and we were primarily white and privileged, unknowingly setting the stage, along with the relatively long history of gay men in the neighborhood, for the gentrification of the historically immigrant (Syrian, since the early 20th century) and African-American working class neighborhood. “Considered a “no-man’s land” as late as the mid-1990s, today the area is known for its trendy art galleries and high-end condos. The neighborhood’s transformation happened virtually overnight”. My next police encounter happened after moving to SF: I was pulled over for erratic driving as I was returning from a club. I was taken to the station, held for about an hour, then released; my detention stemmed from confusion around the status of my Massachusetts’ driver’s license and a subsequent warrant, not the behavior [DUI] that I was displaying.
None of my confrontations resulted in an arrest or any record or retribution. I thought I was lucky. Indeed I am blessed, but luck was not the relevant factor in this experience. In the late 90s, I started my recovery from alcoholism; I heard myriad stories of substance addiction interwoven with police encounters and incarceration. My alcoholism exposed me to sexual violence, but not this. Why the different paths for people experiencing the same disease? I’m white and the folks having these experiences were mostly black or brown. Alcoholism is not easy, nor is recovery, but my experiences were significantly easier because they were mostly private, not institutional. I had plenty of baggage but none of it was entangled in a system of capitalist white supremacy designed to paralyze the momentum of my life. I have no record, probation or parole constraints; my education and employment were never interrupted by incarceration. My life has been relatively self-determined. This was not true in the lives of the black and brown people who were struggling with the same disease; they didn’t have this support web of privilege.
IS ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE?
I was arrested in 2011 with the Occupy Oakland Tactical Action Team (TAC) while supporting the occupation of a vacant, foreclosed house to create space for a community center and housing for a group of people in need. When Oakland Police Department arrived on the scene, there were no warnings given; approximately 15 officers surrounded the house with weapons drawn. We were all aggressively restrained; no Miranda rights were read. We were loaded into 2 vehicles. I was in a car with 2 other women: 1 white and 1 black, both young and attractive. A van carried my 9 comrades, most of whom were black including 4 young black men over 6’2”tall. We drove to Glenn Dyer Jail where we were held in a fenced parking lot across the street followed by another holding period in the internal parking lot. In both locations, the young male officers invited us to get out of the car for fresh air and to stretch our legs. When my hand-cuffed comrade, an attractive young black woman with a cold, had a runny nose, an officer gently wiped it for her. Meanwhile, my other comrades in the van were suffering. Closed for over 2 hours, the van was extremely overcrowded – an otherwise illegal practice for the common citizen; no fresh air, no bathroom. One comrade passed out from lack of circulation due to the restraints. We were all arrested for the same crime; why was our treatment so different? We were some of the first arrests as members of Occupy Oakland (OO) and therefore experienced relatively moderate force and fewer charges. We were cited and released just 7 hours later as opposed to those confrontations which occurred later (see J28, May Day, 10/6/12, to name but a few). I was never charged; my black male comrades were harassed and charged, including one man who was repeatedly incarcerated based on the combination of this arrest and other questionable prior charges. On January 28, I was with ~ 800 protestors kettled by OPD, unable to escape, and then tear gassed. Someone was able to bend down a few sections of 6’ high fence so we could escape: a frightening and precarious route over 100 yards of unstable fencing and rocky uneven hard clay.
OPD followed the group, again kettled and then arrested over 400 protestors in front of the YMCA. This was the night I first saw the Alameda County tank. Of the 409 arrested, held up to 72 hours at Santa Rita Jail, only 12 were charged. What does this say about the validity of those arrests? A lawsuit has been filed by those arrested for the excessive use of force by OPD.)
When I look back at those first 6 months with OO, it seems every week was an enormous learning experience about the nature of empire. EMPIRE. I’m not even sure I would use the word empire unless I was referring to Star Wars. This EMPIRE of imperialism and global capitalism has always been striking back, black, brown, red, yellow, female, queer, poor and everyone and everything that creates the classes on which it stands; not just self-preservation but by definition. Profit is the ultimate priority and everything else, including human life, is capital, i.e. raw materials to exploit for cash. It would be much more comfortable to deny this. Seems many (white people) do deny it, a luxury privilege availed to some, but that is no less than living a lie. Short and simple: LIE.
BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE
It’s been one year since an unarmed teenager was shot by a citizen (2/26) and that citizen is still free (is his freedom connected to his father being a judge?). Trayvon Martin. An unarmed young man would have celebrated his 27th birthday today (2/27), but he was shot & killed by a BART officer. Oscar Grant. That officer served only 11 months in prison and now wants to return to law enforcement; he is ONLY law enforcement officer in the state of California to have been charged for an on-duty killing.
Alan Blueford. Casper Banjo. Anthony Banta. Anton Barrett Sr. Raheim Brown Jr. Jose Luis Buenrostro-Gonzalez. Matthew Cicelski. Ernest Duenez Jr. Derrick Gaines. Anita Gay. Oscar Grant. Kenny Harding. Jared Huey. Derrick Jones. Gary King Jr. Rosalyne McHenry. Andew Moppin. James Rivera Jr. Mario Romero. Idriss Stelley. Killed by police in California (to name but a few). The state of California is not alone. Sean Bell. Dakota Bright. Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. Renaldo Cuevas. Shantel Davis. Amadou Diallo. Ramarley Graham. Milton Hall. Timothy Russell. Malissa Williams.
Excessive force (as many as 137 rounds for 2 unarmed people). Most victims unarmed. Victims are overwhelmingly black and brown males. Some were left by police to bleed to death. All wholly deserving of their constitutional rights, not to be gunned down in the streets.
In May of last year, 18 year old Alan Blueford was hanging out with 2 friends. They’d watched the Mayweather fight on TV at a friend’s house and were waiting outside for other friends to pick them up. This was Saturday night, May 5, Cinco de Mayo. A car approached them, headlights off. It’s unclear what transpired in these first moments, but Alan ran. One officer, Miguel Masso chased Alan Blueford for 4 blocks. Masso shot 3 bullets into Alan while Alan was lying on his back. Masso also shot himself in the foot then got on the radio, “Officer down.” OPD came to Masso’s aid, rushing him to Highland Hospital. Although Alan’s parents were told that Alan was taken to Highland, there is no record of this. Alan’s body arrived at the coroner’s office hours after the shooting
According to multiple witnesses, Alan said “I didn’t do anything!” There is no conclusive evidence of Alan having a gun (no gun residue on his hands). A gun was found long after Alan was killed, 20 feet away from Alan’s body up an inclined driveway. Despite multiple witnesses present, none reported seeing a gun move from where Alan lay to the location where the gun was found. Interestingly, this gun was reportedly stolen from the house of a police officer. We don’t know exactly why Masso shot Alan. We probably never will. What we do know is that Officer Masso helped torture a defenseless prisoner in a NY City jail cell, and then refused to call for medical attention (this is documented by the NY Police Department).What we do know is that Officer Masso served as an MP in Iraq. What we do know is that Officer Masso claimed in his report that he freaked out, perhaps a minute before he shot Alan, and was unable to hear or think clearly. What we do know is that Masso did not have his lapel camera on, in violation of OPD policy. What was he trying to hide? If we had that video, many of the questions surrounding the shooting would likely have been cleared up by now.
FTP! Film the police!
What we do know is that 11 of 12 witnesses said that Alan was on the ground before Masso fired, in sharp contrast to Masso’s statement. What we do know is that Alan was killed by Masso as the result of a racist stop and frisk practice built around a discourse labeling all black and brown young men as dangerous, particularly at night. Many police departments believe they have a license to kill these young men whether or not there is an objective reason to believe they are dangerous.
What we do know is that police are killing unarmed citizens who pose no immediate threat at an alarming and increasing rate. Over and over police reports state that an officer “thought he had a weapon” or the victim was “reaching for his waistband”, only to find out that the victim was shot, sometimes in the back, and unarmed.
LAND OF THE FREE
Malcom X Grassroots Movement produced a Report on the Extrajudicial Killings of Black People by Police, Security Guards or Self-Appointed Law Enforcers. These killings are definitely not accidental or random acts of violence or the work of rogue cops.
“The use of deadly force against Black people is standard practice in the United States, and woven into the very fabric of society.
Those few mainstream media outlets that mention the epidemic of killings have been or are unwilling to acknowledge that the killings are systemic – meaning they are embeddedin institutional racism and national oppression. On the contrary, nearly all of the mainstream media join in a chorus that sings the praises of the police and read from the same script that denounces the alleged “thuggery” of the deceased. Sadly, too many people believe the police version of events and the media’s “blame-the-victim” narratives that justify and support these extrajudicial killings.”
We know the history of slavery in the U.S.; we know the history of Jim Crow. Do we consider what became of that power structure, a structure that was over 300 years old at the time slavery “ended”, built upon and strengthened by the exploitation of human beings as chattel slaves? Do we even ask this question? Was slavery just convenient or was it necessary for this country to survive as it was defined? How has this power structure evolved to the present day? I was not taught to wonder about this yet it seems to be the primary driving force in this country. I learned a kumbaya story, a cover-up, just like the one I learned about what happened to the Indians. I wasn’t taught about the massacres of North American native peoples and the gifts we gave of small pox blankets and identity-killing boarding schools. My K-12 education was supposed to be high quality, and while there were some strengths as well as resources (only some of which do I actually value), it also provided a thoroughly contrived depiction of US history in which the relevant power structures were centered in white men fighting for democracy. There was little noted of people of color or women, or their key contributions, and basically nothing on the dominance and destruction, including genocide that this empire has inflicted locally and worldwide. Democracy is a façade for this domineering empire.
President Ronald Reagan officially declared the current drug war in 1982, when drug crime was declining, not rising. From the outset, the war had little to do with drug crime and nearly everything to do with racial politics. The drug war was part of a grand and highly successful Republican Party strategy of using racially coded political appeals on issues of crime and welfare to attract poor and working class white voters who were resentful of, and threatened by, desegregation, busing, and affirmative action. In the words of H.R. Haldeman, President Richard Nixon’s White House Chief of Staff: “[T]he whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”
This was a foundation of The New Jim Crow, though certainly not the first. The US now has the highest rate of imprisonment in the world, disproportionately effecting black and brown people. There are more black men under correctional supervision – in prison, on probation, or on parole – than there were slaves in 1850. Not only is life after incarceration challenged by a record and the impact of probation, but there are rarely decent support programs aimed at authentically preventing recidivism. Of course this is no surprise since it’s not the goal of the empire to free people. Poverty drives a huge proportion of crime, but poverty is not addressed deeply.
Consider the vast economy based on the prison industrial complex (PIC), creating abundant yet nearly hidden profits. Don’t forget the immigration detention centers; they’re generating similarly large profits. Consider the epidemic rates of extrajudicial killings (1 every 36 hours). Consider the material, psychological and emotional impact on individuals, families and communities subjected to this attack.
Gentrification, homelessness, unemployment, mass incarceration, and extrajudicial killings verging toward a social norm: these are the cogs in the wheel of capitalism: the engine of the empire. Who is free? Capitalist empires do not foster personal and social freedom.
Regarding the recent murder of Chris Dorner, ex-LAPD, and his manifesto exposing the corruption and racism of LAPD, Boots Riley, public speaker most known for being the front man and producer of The Coup, connects capitalism and cops, illustrating the myth of criminal which disguises the inherent nature of the system (Facebook, 2/16/13).
They take you to jail- they’re job is to lock folks up who are actually trying to hustle to survive. Under capitalism, there MUST be unemployment. If there was no unemployment, the system wouldn’t work because everyone would be able to demand higher wages. A certain amount of unemployed and employed folks have to be involved in illegal economies just to survive. Illegal economies require physical force- violence- to regulate them, as there is no other recourse. This means the police’s target for imprisonment is foretold by the system.
Many folks’- “progressive” and “conservative”- narrative of “crime” and violence in the Black community is one that favors individual blame of the folks involved. This is because the idea of changing the system requires building a radical, militant mass movement, so folks ignore the real answer and try to come up with psychological and cultural reasoning for it.
If cops actually wanted to fight “crime” as they see it- dope dealing, murders, etc., they would not be a cop and they would build a movement to take down capitalism and replace it with one where the people democratically control the wealth that they create with their labor.The choice of becoming a cop means that you have decided that there is no problem with capitalism, and the source of violence and “crime” is the individual on the street. – Boots Riley
We cannot live sustainably in a world when life is interpreted as capital, a resource to utilize and exploit. This Truth is concealed in value systems of consumerism and consumption. The lies are deeply embedded in the system, protected at all costs, and hiding the real problem: capitalism. We’ve witnessed that demonizing a man to justify burning him alive is within the arsenal of the empire; this is the desperate manner with which power is maintained. To the empire, Chris Dorner was only a threat, and only a black man. Law enforcement protects the state, not the people. The United States has been and continues to be a world ruler not because the Unites States is a great country, but because it demands this through whatever means necessary.
DIGNITY AND RESISTANCE
As members of the human community, citizens of the planet, we can learn the untold history of our government and live a life that reflects this Truth. We can take actions that weaken the Empire. When we build community across constructed lines of differences, we weaken its ability to divide and conquer us. Unity is power.
When we make things rather than shop, when we grow and share our own food, we reduce dependency on the global market, keeping wealth out of the Empire’s pockets and reducing the domination of workers worldwide.
When we care for Mother Earth and all life, we’re engaged in a loving way. The People’s History IS a history of continued struggle and resistance. For me, the only choice is to do whatever I can do.
And if you need proof that we can make a difference, look at the reactions and fear this creates in the empire vis-à-vis COINTELPRO and the Department of Homeland Security. COINTELPRO was created in response to the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. J. Edgar Hoover deemed the BPP to be “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country”. But a threat to whom?
Certainly the children enjoying free breakfast were not threatened.
Both organizations were actively engaged in state & federal coordinated repression of the OCCUPY movement.
FTP! (Film the Police!)
All Power To The People!
Ingrid Martin is a proud Oaklander (& Midwesterner), an activist, gardener and dancer. She’s currently a member of the Justice 4 Alan Blueford coalition, the Dignity & Resistance coalition, and Occupy Oakland.