Women’s Liberation / Feminism

“Black Lives Matter” to “I Can’t Breathe”: Some Black Voices from the Protests

Compiled by the Editors

We present some excerpts below from a few of the many excellent articles that have appeared on the internet that make important points in response to the explosion of the amazing protest movement going on all round the country. The first is from an interview with some occupiers of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) in San Francisco protesting the grand jury decision not to prosecute the white police officer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. A group of 14 people locked themselves to a BART car and prevented the train from leaving the station. They included National Domestic Workers Alliance organizer Alicia Garza, who devised the slogan “Black Lives Matter” several years ago with two other organizers, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, after George Zimmerman’s acquittal of the murder of Trayvon Martin. – The Editors

ON THE SLOGAN, “BLACK LIVES MATTER”:

Q. This phrase that you came up with, Black Lives Matter – it’s now being used by everyone. What has that been like, seeing this phrase that you came up with turn into the catchphrase of the movement?

A. Garza: We’ve been humbled at how so many folks across the country have come together under this banner. It’s been used in a whole bunch of different ways, some of which are not appropriate. All Lives Matter. Animals Lives Matter. All kinds of stuff. So when people approach us and want to change it, we ask the question — why do you want to change it? When we start to say “All lives matter” we start to represent this post-racial narrative that quite frankly isn’t true. Of course all lives matter. 

ON ORGANIZATION:

Q. One thing that I’ve noticed about the protests this week is that they feel very organized. Were they planned? It seems unlikely that they would be totally spontaneous.

A. Cullors: That’s because they weren’t. The uprising after Mike Brown’s murder was spontaneous. But what you’ve seen in the last month—there’s been a significant amount of organization. Alicia and I have been on the ground in Ferguson a handful of times now.

There’s a certain naiveté about how protests happen. What people don’t understand is that we’re organizers. That means we’re organized. A lot of people have put a significant amount of work into doing this across the country. Around putting together a set of demands. Around the call Black Lives Matter. Direct Action is one tactic. There is a strategy. And whether or not we’re blasting it on social media, that is happening.

“Meet the BART-stopping woman behind ‘Black Lives Matter’” by Heather Smith  

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ON WAITING FOR JUSTICE–OR NOT  

Wait. Patience. Stay Calm. “This is a country that allows everybody to express their views,” said the first Black president, “allows them to peacefully assemble, to protest actions that they think are unjust.” Don’t disrupt, express. Justice will be served. We respect the rule of law. This is America. …

And as we waited and waited and waited, Darren Wilson got married, continued to earn a paycheck while on leave, and received over $400,000 worth of donations for his “defense.”

You see, we’ve been waiting for dozens, hundreds, thousands of indictments and convictions. Every death hurts. Every exonerated cop, security guard, or vigilante enrages. The grand jury’s decision doesn’t surprise most Black people because we are not waiting for an indictment. We are waiting for justice—or more precisely, struggling for justice. …

When the suburb of Ferguson blew up following Mike Brown’s killing on August 9, the media and mainstream leadership were more concerned with looting and keeping the “peace” than the fact that Darren Wilson was free on paid leave. Or that leaving Brown’s bullet-riddled, lifeless body, on the street for four and a half hours, bleeding, cold, stiff from rigor mortis, constituted a war crime in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It was, after all, an act of collective punishment – the public display of the tortured corpse was intended to terrorize the entire community, to punish everyone into submission, to remind others of their fate if they step out of line. We used to call this “lynching.” …

The young organizers in Ferguson from Hands Up United, Lost Voices, Organization for Black Struggle, Don’t Shoot Coalition, Millennial Activists United, and the like, understand they are at war. Tef Poe, Tory Russell, Montague Simmons, Cheyenne Green, Ashley Yates, and many other young Black activists in the St. Louis area have not been waiting around for an indictment. Nor are they waiting for the much vaunted Federal probe, for they have no illusions about a federal government that provides military hardware to local police, builds prisons, kills tens of thousands by manned and unmanned planes without due process, and arms Israel in its illegal wars and occupation. They have been organizing. So have the young Chicago activists who founded We Charge Genocide and the Black Youth Project, and the Los Angeles-based youth who make up the Community Rights Campaign, and the hundreds of organizations across the country challenging everyday state violence and occupation.

They remind us, not only that Black lives matter—that should be self-evident—but that resistance matters. It matters because we are still grappling with the consequences of settler colonialism, racial capitalism and patriarchy. It mattered in post-Katrina New Orleans, a key battleground in neoliberalism’s unrelenting war on working people, where Black organizers lead multiracial coalitions to resist the privatization of schools, hospitals, public transit, public housing, and dismantling public sector unions. The young people of Ferguson continue to struggle with ferocity, not just to get justice for Mike Brown or to end police misconduct but to dismantle racism once and for all, to bring down the Empire, to ultimately end war.

“Why We Won’t Wait” by Robin D.G. Kelley

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ON WHY APOLOGIES WON’T DO

Esaw Garner, wife of murdered Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, when asked if she accepted the condolences offered by Staten Island NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo:

Hell no! The time for remorse would have been when my husband was yelling to breathe. That would have been the time for him to show some type of remorse or some type of care for another human being’s life when he was screaming 11 times that he can’t breathe.

So there’s nothing that him or his prayers or anything else would make me feel any different. No, I dont accept his apology. No, I could care less about his condolences. No, I could care less. He’s still working. He’s still getting a paycheck. He’s still feeding his kids, and my husband is six feet under. And I’m looking for a way to feed my kids now.

Who’s gonna play Santa Claus for my grandkids this year? Cause he played Santa Claus for my grandkids. Who’s gonna do that now?

Video Link

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ON RACISM IN ACADEMIA

The fourth time a Poughkeepsie police officer told me that my Vassar College Faculty ID could make everything OK was three years ago. I was driving down Wilbur Avenue. 

When the white police officer…asked if my truck was stolen, I laughed, said no, and shamefully showed him my license and my ID…The ID, which ensures that I can spend the rest of my life in a lush state park with fat fearless squirrels, surrounded by enlightened white folks who love talking about Jon Stewart, Obama, and civility….

After taking my license and ID back to his car, the police officer came to me with a ticket and two lessons. “Looks like you got a good thing going on over there at Vassar College,” he said. “You don’t wanna it ruin it by rolling through stop signs, do you?”…

One more ticket.

Two more condescending lessons from a lame armed with white racial supremacy, anti-blackness, a gun, and a badge. But at least I didn’t get arrested.

Or shot eight times.

My Vassar College Faculty ID made everything okay. A little over two hours later, I sat in a closed room on Vassar’s campus in a place called Main Building…which Black women students took…over in 1969 to demand, among other things, that the administration affirmatively reckon with its investment in anti-blackness and white racial supremacy. A multiracial group of students led by Cleon Edwards occupied Main again in 1990, after Daniel Patrick Moynihan reportedly told a Jamaican Dutchess County official, “If you don’t like it in this country, why don’t you pack your bags and go back where you came from?”

I sat in a room in Main that day with a senior professor and two high-ranking administrators. We were having one of those meetings you’re not supposed to talk about. Near the end of the meeting, this senior professor affirmed his/her commitment to “African Americans” and said I was a “fraud.”

I tucked both hands underneath my buttocks, rested my left knuckle beneath my ID as tears pooled in the gutters of both eyes. I’d been hungry before. I’d been beaten. I’d had guns pulled on me. I never felt as pathetic, angry, and terrified as I felt in that room.

I came into that meeting knowing that the illest part of racial terror in this nation is that it’s sanctioned by sorry overpaid white bodies that will never be racially terrorized and maintained by a few desperate underpaid black and brown bodies that will. I left that meeting knowing that there are few things more shameful than being treated like a nigger by—and under the gaze of—intellectually and imaginatively average white Americans who are not, and will never have to be, half as good at their jobs as you are at yours.

“My Vassar College Faculty ID Makes Everything OK” by Kiese Laymon

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ON THE INVISIBILITY OF BLACK WOMEN KILLED BY POLICE

To paraphrase Malcolm X, we are not Americans, we are victims of America. But as conversations about Michael Brown and Ferguson segue into broader discussions about the scourge of police brutality at large, it becomes clear that, despite being on the frontlines, the we in question often does not include Black women. …

It is understandable, though not acceptable, that Black women often find ourselves on the fringes of these conversations. Even when we are front and center it is usually to prove our fidelity to Black men and their unique struggles. Very seldom is the violence inflicted upon Black, female bodies by law enforcement positioned as pivotal to justice movements; rather our lived experiences as victims of the state tend to be peripheral and anecdotal.

This invisibilizing of Black women is systemic. That uncomfortable truth is evident in President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative that leaves sisters out in the cold and equally clear in the vitriol hurled at those of us who insist that the institutionalized needs of Black women must be addressed in tandem with the needs of Black men.

It becomes even more clear when Black people becomes Black men by default.

In at least one article, which blatantly cherry-picked names from Operation Ghetto Storm,” a comprehensive report created by researcher Arlene Eisen and published by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, a list was compiled of 20 victims of police murder and not one woman was listed. 

“Black Women Are Killed by Police, Too” by Kirsten West Savali

Black Women Murdered by Police

I believe the Black community’s and everyone else’s continued silence about the injustices committed against Black women and girls are purposeful acts of complicity and erasure. You ignore us on purpose. And when you do pay attention, the Black media only cares if we are THOTS, getting relaxers, wearing a weave, going natural, perpetually single or one of many baby mammas. The activists only care if we are the “help” who is marching and organizing for someone else. The Black community only cares when it needs someone to blame.

I know that if I were shot dead today by the police, no one would march for me. No one would speak for me. You probably wouldn’t even know my story but it happened to my brother, who is Black, you would. I sit here knowing that my Black femaleness means that you believe I am not worthy of your collective outrage, protection and love. I know that my Black womanhood means that I am a third class citizen, in a second class community within a “first world” country. I sit here knowing that Black women and girls stories die in silence while Black men and boys stories live in your outrage. I sit here knowing that regardless of how many lists I create and how many times I post this list you want to ignore us. You need to ignore us. You do not see our humanity. I sit here knowing that I won’t stop until you pay attention to us.

#BLACKLIVESMATTER only if you are male, heterosexual and able-bodied” by Bougie Black Girl

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ON SOME COMMON THREADS

There is a pattern emerging in my Facebook feed this week. One group of friends has been posting stories of police brutality and protests accompanied by personal statements of outrage. Another group has been remarking on the disgusting revelations from the Senate Intelligence Committee’s CIA torture report and the need for accountability. There is little overlap between the two groups, and yet the common threads between the U.S.’ foreign and domestic policies are disturbingly uncanny.

Whether on the streets of Baghdad or Ferguson, soldiers and militarized police forces have historically enforced control, not law. Behind the prison walls of Guantanamo and Texas, some authorities have tortured and brutalized rather than interrogated. They have not protected nor served; they have attacked and killed. They have not gathered intelligence; they have violated people’s humanity. 

Among the revelations in the report on CIA tactics is the story of an Afghan man named Gul Rahman who literally froze to death while in U.S. custody. Rahman was chained with only a single piece of clothing covering the top half of his body and “died of hypothermia.” In 2012, at least 10 inmates in the Texas prison system died of heat stroke. An unnamed corrections officer told The New York Times that he worried about “boiling [inmates] in their cells.” 

Just as police officers such as Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo are almost never convicted for killing people, it is similarly rare for U.S. soldiers to face justice despite overwhelming evidence of their wrongdoing. For example, Amnesty International maintains that of the 1,800 Afghans killed by U.S. troops in the five year period 2009-2013, only six cases actually went to trial. 

 Whether it is our federal or state officials that are responsible for killings and torture at home or abroad, ultimately we fund it all through our tax dollars and sanction it all through our silence. Too many liberal activists fixate on the effects of U.S. foreign policy while ignoring what is happening on our doorstep. And too many of us who work for justice domestically overlook what is done to our brothers and sisters abroad. If we are to transform the U.S.’ approach to violence we need to draw links between right here and far away. Ferguson is Baghdad is New York is Kabul.

“Ferguson Is Baghdad Is New York Is Kabul” by Sonali Kolhatkar

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ON NEW FREEDOM SONGS

The killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown have inspired a musical outpouring perhaps unseen in the U.S. since “We Shall Overcome” became a civil-rights standard in the 1960s. Older songs are being redeployed for a new generation. New compositions are being widely shared, including some from major-label artists. And holiday classics are being rewritten, such as a barbed spin on “White Christmas.” …

One of the tunes gaining a following on the streets and social media was penned six weeks ago by Luke Nephew of The Peace Poets, a Bronx collective that has also has composed event-specific cantos for protests at immigration detention centers, foreclosure auctions and other demonstration sites. It has four lines, starting with “I still hear my brother crying, ‘I can’t breathe.’ Now I’m in the struggle singing. I can’t leave.” …

Other protests adopt a seasonal theme with “justice carols” that reimagine holiday classics — “All I Want for Christmas Is An Indictment” and “O Little Town of Ferguson. … 

“Police Demonstrations Inspire New Protest Songs” by LISA LEFF, Associated Press

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I Can’t Breathe

By Luke Nephew of The Peace Poets

I can hear my neighbor cryin’ “I can’t breathe”

Now I’m in the struggle and I can’t leave

Calling out the violence of the racist police

We ain’t gonna stop ’til people are free

We ain’t gonna stop ’til people are free.

 VIDEO LINK

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POSTSCRIPT:

Since we posted this, the discussion continues, especially around the attempt to shift the controversy and blame the protesters for the shooting of the two policemen in New York. The first quoted here is from a Dani McClain’s blog in THE NATION, in which she points out that New York shooter Ismaaliyl Brinsley, Australian cafe shooter Man Haron Monis and Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman all had a history of shooting or otherwise abusing women.

What’s equally predictable and disappointing is the near-erasure of Shaneka Thompson from the story of Ismaaiyl Brinsley’s shooting spree. Thompson is the 29-year-old ex-girlfriend whose Maryland apartment Brinsley entered before shooting her in the stomach and leaving her to scream for help. S She is also the latest in a series of women who have been brutalized by men whose violence only became notable when they took on targets deemed more important, more relevant to a national or international debate already in play. 

But in both this [New York] case and the Sydney incident, there seem to have been assumptions that public safety was not at risk despite the allegations and evidence of violence against women. Why does the threat level and stoking of public fear skyrocket when a madman is thought to be tied to an ideology that’s generally hated in the mainstream-anti-police sentiment or Islamic fundamentalism-but not when that madness has threatened a woman’s life or safety?

Why Is No One Talking about the NYPD Shooter’s Other Target? by Dani McClain, The Nation

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And in a recent TIME piece, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar points out the absurdity of blaming recent protestors for the police killings:

Ismaaiyl Brinsley, the suicidal killer, wasn’t an impassioned activist expressing political frustration, he was a troubled man who had shot his girlfriend earlier that same day. He even Instagrammed warnings of his violent intentions. None of this is the behavior of a sane man or rational activist. The protests are no more to blame for his actions than The Catcher in the Rye was for the murder of John Lennon or the movie Taxi Driver for the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan. 

Those who are trying to connect the murders of the officers with the thousands of articulate and peaceful protestors across America are being deliberately misleading in a cynical and selfish effort to turn public sentiment against the protestors. S They hope to misdirect public attention and emotion in order to stop the protests and the progressive changes that have already resulted. Shaming and blaming is a lot easier than addressing legitimate claims.

Following the murders of Ramos and Liu, an account appearing to represent the Sergeants Benevolent Association tweeted: “The blood of 2 executed police officers is on the hands of Mayor de Blasio.” Former New York governor George Pataki tweeted: “Sickened by these barbaric acts, which sadly are a predictable outcome of divisive anti-cop rhetoric of #ericholder and #mayordeblasio. #NYPD.”

 This phony and logically baffling indignation is similar to that expressed by the St. Louis County Police Association when it demanded an apology from the NFL when several Rams players entered the field with their hands held high in the iconic Michael Brown gesture of surrender. Or when LeBron James and W.R. Allen wore his “I Can’t Breathe” shirts echoing Eric Garner’s final plea before dying. Such outrage by police unions and politicians implies that there is no problem, which is the erroneous perception that the protestors are trying to change.

 “The Police Aren’t Under Attack. Institutionalized Racism Is.” by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

“Weave” on the Daily Kos points out the double standard between the response of police, politicians and media to the NYC police killings and very similar police killings in Nevada perpetrated by whites associated with Cliven Bundy.  Bundy is the the Nevada rancher who allowed right wing militia members to point their guns at police trying to remove Bundy cattle from federal land. In spite of Bundy’s provocative aggression, the government chose to de-escalate that situation by backing down.  Jerad and Amanda Miller left the Bundy “battlefield” and killed two Las Vegas policemen.

I don’t remember the same outrage and blaming of politicians and protesters back in June when two “Patriots” left the Bundy Battlefield and ambushed and killed two Las Vegas police officers.  …

The killers left a Gadsden flag [Don’t Tread on Me] draped over the cops bodies with a note that read “The revolution is beginning”.  But the link to the Tea Party movement was also downplayed as the act of two deranged individuals who do not represent the entire Tea Party movement. … Quite the contrary, as soon as it was found that the killers were on the Bundy Battlefield, the media put distance between them, the Bundy protests and the Tea Party as well as right wing militias.

Las Vegas PD did not turn their backs on Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Sen. Dean Heller and other conservative politicians who publicly supported Bundy and his heavily-armed, government-hating militia.

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/12/22/1353610/-Media-Duplicity-in-NYC-and-Las-Vegas-Police-Ambushes?

 

Activists in Ferguson are calling out Black celebrities who have opted not to comment on the recent incidents of police brutality throughout to country.  http://www.blackyouthproject.com/2014/12/activists-call-out-black-celebrities-for-being-silent-about-ferguson-police-brutality/

From Rolling Stone:

 [During an interview with Rolling Stone, activist] T-Dubb-O launches into an impassioned rant on the subject of black celebrities who, he believes, are standing by silent. “We got all these black athletes, black rappers, all these one-percents, record label owners, CEOs that’s not saying nothing, that’s not bringing nothing to the community. You’re bleeding the community dry,” he says. “The shoes we buy, the clothes we buy, the music we play, the videos we watch. You glorify being from the hood but do nothing for it. You glorify being from the trenches but do nothing for it. When they killing us, you stand by silent. When you have this platform…we don’t have a Rolling Stone in St. Louis we can go to. You get invited to these interviews daily, and you quiet. You quiet. You still on your tours, you still dropping your bullshit records that nobody believe. The streets don’t believe you.”

“Yeah, we’re calling America to the table,” [Millennial Activist United co-founder Ashley] Yates adds. “We’re calling America to stand up and be the country that it says it is.”

Transgender Solidarity?

“This absolutization of identity, this quick abrogation of universality, strikes me as politically very dangerous. For a start: if in the constitution of your identity, I have no rights of cognition, participation, criticism, then on what basis may you ask…