Thursday, December 31, 2009

Taking a Moment to Reflect

As the old year slips away and the new one slides into place, let's consider this painting by Goya and this line attributed to Rebecca Adamson:

"If we don't change direction, we're going to end up where we're headed."
Nuff said?

Please??

Monday, December 21, 2009

Masks

"Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within."

-James Baldwin

I got an email this week that moved me greatly, encouraging me to keep doing what I'm doing on this blog. At the bottom of the email was the quote above. No matter what skin we're in, our culture has socialized us to don masks. They are necessary, we are told. They will protect us from each other, we are counseled. But these are lies, just as the masks are lies, as well.

I wonder what would happen if we could remove our masks at once, if we were stripped naked of all we hide behind. It would be, yes, beyond scary for a minute. But we would see each other and ourselves as we are. And then, finally, we would know peace.
_________________________________________________
The graphic above is by Laurie Cooper and is available here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ronald Darensburg, R.I.P.

I've pretty much accepted that some White people call me a "race traitor." I don't hear it as often as I hear "she hates White people" or "hates her race" or even "hates herself." But I know the term is out there. And if anybody fits the profile, I guess it's me. It's not hard to cross racist versions of that line once you really get it.

I'm not proud of this. I mean, I'm not a smart aleck. I tell auditorium classrooms full of students that I don't hate myself or my skin or anybody else or their skin either, but White superiority is a lie and White supremacy is fascist bullshit. With or without anything I say or write.

Every once in a while, though, I know I'm about to take most White folks and even some African-Americans to the next level, if I can. And that's what I'm doing today.

Last Wednesday night about 7:30 p.m., two young Black men alledgedly robbed a McDonald's fast food store about thirty miles south of where I live. Not a remarkable occurrance given the fact that young African-American males have been summarily shut out of the job market and not just recently, either. The young Black man who tipped me to the story I'm writing about here the morning after it unfolded, while initially coming across as out of place at the university, adeptly quoted statistics about the odds for him and his brothers as soon as he decided it wouldn't piss me off. They know how it works. And growing up with this knowledge must really take a toll over time.

When I stand up in front of a classroom where a third of the students are young people of color and I say, "According to the U.S. Department of Justice, African-American males born in 2001 have a 1 in 3 likelihood of going to prison," I wince inside. I say it like I'm just rolling off some piece of theoretical information, but I can feel the recoil inside me as I say it, like a pistol shooting into the soft flesh of ethereal bodies arrayed before me. And I hate my job at that moment because I choose to tell the truth no matter what the consequences.

How must it feel to be a young Black man and know that all the odds are stacked against you? You might survive. You might get lucky. You might be one of the two-thirds that doesn't go to prison. You might get a college degree and a good job and a hot car and a beautiful wife. And then you might have sons who make it, too. But...

It's always out there. The Boogey Man of White Supremacy. He rocks Black male babies to sleep at night and slips them the milk of internalized oppression, undermining their faith in life and their belief in themselves and their hope for any future -- no matter how hard their guardians try to protect them. And they grow weaker and more depressed and sometimes more belligerent on that milk. And if Henry Louis Gates can get busted, then what protection is there for a poverty-stricken young Black man in the inner city (or for any young Black man anywhere in the U.S., for that matter)?

When I think about the long, dark road that life in this country has been for people of color and most particularly African-Americans, I stand before the Universe ashamed that I haven't done more than I have. And when I hear that Ronald Darensburg, a young man just barely turned twenty, who was a student at my school until last Wednesday night stuck up a fast food joint at gunpoint and then died in a car wreck trying to flee the police, my heart breaks.

Yes, he could have made different choices. After all, lots of people suffer all over the world without ever robbing anyone. But why is it that we demand as a society that no matter how attacked their psyches are on a daily basis from birth, young Black men must never demonstrate any response to it? While we're busy wanting to hold them responsible for their decisions, when are we going to consider -- at the very least -- the responsibility, as well, of people in a society that hangs these young men out to dry, no matter how hard their families try to come between them and the pain they drown in?

I've been thinking this week that maybe I should have some small cards printed to hand out when I run into White people who ignore what they secretly know and sanctimoniously judge African-Americans, while preening in what they perceive as their White superiority. You know the type. Like the ones commenting on the article about the robbery and the subsequent deaths of two young men and the nightmare of mothers and families who will grieve every Christmas for the rest of their lives. The cards will read simply: "May you be born Black next time."

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Change, huh? Say Goodnight, Gracie.

Since hearing that Obama has decided to send an additional 30,000 troops into Afghanistan, I've been thinking about what I could do to express my disappointment. Then, a few minutes ago, I visited a blog I'm partial to and found that Professor Zero had put up a letter to the President this afternoon. Her letter inspired me to come back to Why Am I Not Surprised? and delete fifteen posts published between January, 2008, and January, 2009, focusing on Barack Obama's campaign and election.

I work hard at my posts. They take me hours to write and I often re-write them for days. For me to throw them in a trash heap is the strongest statement I can make. Shame on you, sir. This is not a change. And why am I not surprised?

Friday, December 04, 2009

Remembering a Prince and the Ones Who Took Him From Us

When Lawrence Hill Books sent me a copy of The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther by Jeffrey Haas, I was excited to receive it, but wondered how in the world I was going to find the time to read it in a timely manner at the end of a semester. The book came out, after all, the first of November and technically, this review should have appeared weeks ago. But I didn't finish reading it until last Sunday night and, though it's perfectly kosher to write the review before you finish the book, I couldn't bring myself to do it. The memory of Fred Hampton, a revolutionary Black Panther leader who was brutally cut down even as his star ascended, deserves better. Jeffrey Haas, a European-American civil rights lawyer who cut his legal teeth representing Black Panthers and ultimately helped to win $1.85 million for the survivors of the infamous police raid in Chicago that killed two young Black leaders, deserves better, as well. And anyway, I didn't want to jump ahead to find out how it ended. I wanted to savor every word. It's that kind of book.

I dropped out of mainstream society myself in the spring of 1970, just a few months after a Chicago police officer put two 38-caliber slugs in the top of Fred Hampton's head, while he lay helpless to move because he'd been drugged by an FBI Cointelpro informant who had infiltrated the Party and gotten close enough to Fred to set the whole thing up. I didn't hear about the murder, even though I first hit the road, as it were, in northern Illinois, just a few hours from the apartment where Hampton took his last breath. And the next few years of my life were dedicated to the prison abolition movement, so one would think that I would have tuned in to the Panthers at some point. I certainly had opportunities. But I didn't.

Still, as I read, mesmerized, through Haas' account of just how ruthless Those-Who-Have-The-Power-To-Define can be in resisting any possibility of having that power compromised, I couldn't help putting myself in the context of the story. A good author will make you go there and Haas can be very proud of the volume he has produced. Because I've been so long invested in prisoner struggles, I understood many nuances I am seldom caused to recall. So I'll admit that I may not be a good judge of this work. I may, quite frankly, rave too much about it for my judgment to be taken seriously.

The fact is that it reads like a John Grisham best seller, only better, because the reader knows that every word is true and therefore riveting. It was, for me, a stroll down memory lane in many respects, giving me informational details about things I should have been more aware of when they were happening had I not been so involved in the struggle elsewhere. But it's such a good read that even if you never dropped out or you're much too young to remember the sixties first hand, you may enter this book only curious, but you'll leave at the end transformed.

I've written about Fred Hampton before here and here, if you'd like some background. And Hans Bennett's state-of-the-art review of this book is already all over the internet, including at Toward Freedom, where it appeared first. So I'm free to just write the things I most want to tell you about Haas, the assassination of Fred Hampton, and this meticulously researched and, I think, crucially important book. Why do I think it's crucially important? Because of the story it tells, for one thing, which absolutely must be remembered to mark Hampton's place in history. But also because we are entering a time in this society, I fear, wherein what happened to him and the way it was carried out and covered up -- as horrible as it was -- will become a more common occurance. And we better recanize.

"In the thirty-five years I practiced civil rights law in Chicago," writes Haas, "I don't recall the police ever finding any on-duty police killing anything but justifiable."

This reality is hardly restricted to Chicago or to any particular time period in U.S. history. And what with the use of Tasers (which we must assume are highly unstable, since they seem to kill with such regularity), we're becoming increasingly numbed to such news. But Haas reminds us that the Panthers were the first to name the police "garrison forces," "licensed thugs who served as an occupying army in [the Black] community." Even though the Afro-American Patrolman's League (the Black police union in the Windy City) declared unequivocally that Hampton had been murdered, the police officers who raided the apartment where nine Panther Party members lay sleeping at 4:30 a.m. on December 4th, 1969, prepared sworn complaints that every one of the sleepers had fired at them, though it was rapidly ascertained that while there were more than 90 bullet holes going into the apartment, there was exactly one going outward. (Lawyers, I learned in Haas' book, say "res ipse loquitur," which means "things speak for themselves.")

The NAACP Commission of Inquiry's book-length report on the incident, entitled Search and Destroy (after the military missions in Vietnam to locate and kill Vietcong) reached four conclusions about the raid:

1) that the police fired all but one shot;

2) that the first two shots belonged to Officer George Jones and Sergeant Daniel Groth, with the third shot coming from a shotgun held by Black Panther Mark Clark, as he fell to the floor mortally wounded;

3) that Fred Hampton was killed in cold blood by an officer or officers who could see him lying prostrate on the bed when they committed the murder at close range; and

4) that Hampton -- who did not himself use drugs recreationally -- was more than likely drugged at the time, since an independent autopsy found the drug in his system and since his pregnant fiance and others were unable to waken him during the melee, if the melee itself would not have been enough to do so.

Nevertheless, no grand jury indictments resulted whatsoever for any crime at all by the law "enforcement" personnel, though what they conducted was a "summary execution," on the spot without trial or due process. And for thirteen long, grueling (and poverty-stricken for the Panther lawyers) years, the civil suit resulted in a panorama of highly successful courtroom and legal antics calculated to frustrate the efforts of Haas and the others who were trying to establish some modicum of justice related to the nightmare.

The cast of characters in this monumental drama reads like an over-populated conspiracy theory movie or an Elmore Leonard novel: there's a Black cop nicknamed for the leather gloves he wore when he brutally beat Black youth; a U.S. district court judge who served as a mouthpiece for the FBI; a Black street punk and agent provocateur who gave the FBI a detailed floor plan of the apartment to be raided, slipped Hampton Seconal in a drink so he'd be easier to kill, and then begged, sobbing, to help carry the casket; a lawyer who headed the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division while also leading the grand jury investigation of the raid and a secret intelligence unit charged with gathering information on Black militants and passing it on to law enforcement bodies; probably the hands-down dirtiest District Attorney that ever graced a corrupted court of law; and a presiding judge over all this madness only a couple of notches more rational than the Queen of Hearts in Alice's Wonderland.

One has only to look at the photo taken of the killers as they hauled Fred's bloody body out of the building to understand why the Panthers called these men "pigs." "Pigs," you see, was the Panther terminology for, as Hampton put it, "police officers who have no regard for the constitutional rights of individuals." And the Panthers, by their own rules, according to Haas, only had the right to kill "pigs" when the "pigs" attacked first. But by the looks of this photo, the "officers" had no such rules.

The bottom line turned out to be that J. Edgar Hoover's Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), subsequently ruled unconstitutional itself, had issued orders to the heads of all FBI field offices, to come up with "hard hitting programs" to "disrupt, expose, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize" the Panthers and "prevent the rise of a messiah who could unify and electrify the militant black nationalist movement." The charismatic and highly principled young Fred Hampton, who started his career as an activist by refusing to register for the draft at 18 and demonstrating for more qualified police officers in the suburb of Chicago where he grew up before going on to recruit more than 500 young people to the NAACP youth chapter there almost over night, was just the type of organizer and motivator Hoover was pressing his forces to "neutralize."

Still, Haas quotes film-maker Mike Gray who wrote:

"Fred Hampton was fearless. Literally, without fear. And as we listened to the speeches again and again, it became apparent he had accommodated death. He knew he was going to die. It was OK. And so he had set aside the ultimate fear, the one that stopped all of us in our tracks, no matter how courageous, the net fear upon which we base all our other fears, the one that keeps us all in line. Hampton had simply set that fear to rest. He was free. Thus he was able to speak clean simple truths that hit you like a thunderbolt."

After the raid, with Fred Hampton (at 21) and Mark Clark (even younger than Fred) buried, Haas writes:

"Part of me wanted to gather evidence to help the survivors win their criminal trials [for supposedly attempting to kill the police who were actually doing all the shooting] and, if possible, prove through the courts that Fred was intentionally killed. The other side of me believed Fred's murder proved the legal system didn't work. What good did it do to have lawyers and courts and a constitution and legal precedent if the police under the direction and control of the prosecutor could murder you in your bed?"

Of his own evolution through his connection to the Panthers, Haas shares:

"Like much of the rest of the world, we had come to believe radical, indeed revolutionary change was necessary...We felt empowered; we could make history. Only a lack of will or courage could stop us...Today I realize our revolutionary vision did not take into full account the strength of the forces against us. No strategy would have succeeded."

Still, he maintains, "Like others who heard Malcolm X, Dr. King, and Fred Hampton speak in the 1960's, I learned that fighting injustice and inequality is the struggle of our lives, and perserverance in this struggle is what makes our lives valuable...[The People's Law Office] has stood up to confront and expose government illegality and atrocities for forty years. The inspiration for us, like for many others, came from...anticolonial struggles, from the black struggles for equality and power of the sixties, and from women's challenge to patriarchy...It is the light, energy and fervor of those times, so well articulated and symbolized by the short but inspiring life of Fred Hampton, that has driven our lives and commanded us to pursue justice."

I think Fred Hampton would be pleased.

To view a report on today, the fortieth anniversary of the assassination of Fred Hampton and an interview with author Jeffrey Haas, visit Democracy Now.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

One Love

Sometimes we think love only has to do with big red lips on a movie screen or particular body parts. Most of us have been socialized -- at least in this culture -- to imagine that love only appears in certain forms, is unpredictable and unavoidable (like a car wreck), instinctual and manifested only as lust or motherly hormones.

I believe love is the breath in our bones, deeper than space, as multifaceted as life itself, and more amazing than rainbows. No matter how dense the darkness, the smallest candle can light the way. And nothing, nothing can erase its truth or its effect.

I choose to love. In the face of all greed, ignorance and cruelty. In the face of all the sorrows of the past -- personal and historical. In the face of all Power. I see love in the eyes of humans and animals, in the branches of trees, and in the ring around the moon. I dance to love in music, drink it in the form of colors, celebrate it in stillness and will it to surround and sustain all who suffer.

Our campus has been blessed this semester by a healthy contingent of Nepalese students and I have seven or eight of them in classes. One day at an exam review session, I asked them to teach me a Nepalese greeting and they replied "Namaste," putting their slightly cupped hands together under their chins.

"Oh, yes!" I responded. "I read somewhere that 'namaste' means 'God in me recognizes God in you'. Is that correct?"

They considered this for a moment and then suggested instead that their translation might be more like: "You are so beautiful, I want to make my hands into a flower and give it to you."

Namaste.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

For the Men at J.B. Evans Correctional Center

I know I'm supposed to be thinking warm, fuzzy thoughts tonight as I look forward to sitting around a table full of food tomorrow with people I love. And I am, I assure you, well thankful for many things. I'm quite fortunate, indeed, even to be alive, given the life I've lived and the choices I've made while I lived it. So maybe I'll post again tomorrow in a fit of revolutionary love, but tonight I'm talking about prison. Again.

My heart and mind are focused on the men at the J.B. Evans Correctional Center in Newellton, Louisiana, who finally took enough abuse at the private prison that they just refused to leave the yard last Thursday to return to their cells as ordered. Needless to say, all hell -- quite literally -- broke loose. We can only imagine what the SWAT forces dished out by way of "attitude adjustments" because stuff like that isn't exactly covered by the mainstream media. In fact, this is the only mention I could find anywhere in the news about the incident. I wouldn't even know about it if one of my students hadn't written me an email asking if I had any advice for a friend of hers who's worried about one of the prisoners. And now I can't get it off my mind.

Private prisons are a trip, you know. They're profit-making concerns built on the suffering backs of the poor, of addicts, of men, women and even children of color. If you're not yet up on what I'm talking about, check this out:



Sometimes private prison companies will go out in the country somewhere where people are desperate for jobs, build a big prison on spec and then go to the government and say, "We got a whole empty prison out here. You need some cells?" The government, of course, takes them up on the offer and in no time at all, the place is not just full, but overcrowded, with four men in a two-man cell, prisoners living in tents, and three tier bunks in the gym. The result is nightmarish, but these guys -- or women -- should've thought of that before they stuck up the 7-11, right? That is to say, if they actually did something to be there. Because they may not have. Or they may have committed the heinous crime of having a crack stem in their pocket or drinking a beer on parole or showing up at their probation appointment on the wrong day because they moved and didn't get the letter or not having enough money to hire a real lawyer.

Those in the business of wanting to make money by incarcerating millions of U.S. citizens are helped greatly by the fact that 34.5% of 16-to-24-year-old African-American men are currently unemployed because millions of jobs have left the country or just disappeared and because young Black men are statistically less likely to be hired even if qualified for positions. Then, in the effort to make sure that the prisoners will return over and over again (cha ching! cha ching!) -- doing predictable damage on every foray back into the community, I might add -- they make it almost impossible for convicted felons to get jobs after they've "paid their debt to society" (whatever that means). They further ensure a high recidivism rate by making the experience of incarceration as psychologically brutal as possible, as outlined in the following interview with Robert King (who spent 29 years in solitary confinement) and Dr. Terry Kupers:



You don't have to be an old prison movement warhorse like me to get the picture. Over at in sight, in mind, HetGezicht has this to say about her maiden voyage on the good ship Prison Tour.

So my mind is with the men at J.B. Evans tonight. I'll bet they're hungry and cold and physically wounded and scared right now and wishing they were going to be sitting down at table with loved ones tomorrow, too. But they won't be. Still, maybe someone will see this and tell them it's out here in the blogosphere. They may be in hell, but they're not forgotten.





Sunday, November 22, 2009

Readin', Writin', 'Rithmetic and Racism

As some of My Faithful Readers know, one of the things I think a lot about and have focused on fairly continually since I arrived in Louisiana is what's happening in this parish’s public schools where children of color are concerned. I realize – and mention often – that White Supremacy is the default position in this country from coast to coast, but I live here and currently, the only open public school de-segregation case in the country is alive and well right here in River City.

It’s not the case alone, however, that keeps me so focused. Rather, it’s what I see happening to our children when they get to me at the college level that holds my gaze and makes me willing to get more and more and more involved in the process of trying to raise consciousness about this here. Or anywhere else it’s applicable, for that matter.

I say “our” children despite the way I look because, for starters, I have a bi-racial daughter who just turned twenty-nine a couple of days ago and that’s been a real adventure from time to time (no matter where we were living). But she’s made the journey from being on welfare as a child to having an apartment in Manhattan and I almost never worry any more that the socially-constructed political notion of “race” could yet rear its ugly head in her life, even though her significant other is a European-American man and some folks still have a real problem with that.

I say “our” children, however, because I see them daily, standing in the doorway of my office at the university. African-American parents and leaders in this community count on people like me to catch them as they’re crashing through the gates of Hell, so many of them so ill-prepared educationally, psychologically and emotionally for the task before them.

They grin and shrug because they don’t know what to do. The schools many of them attended are calculated to produce exactly that result. They make sure children of color cannot compete with children educated in other, better schools. Equipment, activities, enrichment programs, even the physical structures are invariably given short shrift as compared to those schools that are visibly committed to providing a different experience. One hardly has to be an expert to recognize it. A quick drive-by screams the collusion. And watching the young people entering or leaving the buildings at the start or the end of the day will demonstrate in no uncertain terms to which group the differences have been applied.

Some of the teachers and administrators at the less well funded institutions are highly trained and skilled. They are often talented, adept and committed to their task. But it’s hard to hang in there when the setting is depressed and depressing, when the basics are not provided, when the children are likely to be struggling with issues of poverty and a process of socialization that teaches them to see themselves as incapable, inappropriate and unworthy of success. And, whether we like to admit it or not, many of the teachers and administrators over these kids are absolutely convinced that they really are incapable and they communicate it both subtly and overtly all day long and for as long as it takes to make the child buckle.

By the time the students get to me, they cry.

My colleagues ask, “How many of those kids are you failing? You’ve got them in your office crying all day long.” But I’m not failing them. I’m telling them the truth. They’ve been robbed. They’ve been the butt of a bad, mean-spirited joke. It’s a set-up, an okey-doke. They’ve been infected with the virus of internalized oppression and it’s so wide-spread and effective and ignored, nobody’s told them.

The result? Only one African-American student in six, by current numbers, will graduate from the university where I teach.

“My baby’s in college,” a local parent will boast proudly.

“My grandbaby’s a college man,” I hear reported at community meetings.

But the bulk of the students of color on our campus are freshmen. They appear every fall, dressed to the nines by and large, hanging with each other, eating Popeye’s chicken at lunch and swilling frappacinos just like the others. But the gay abandon is a little desperate, a little studied; the laughter is a little forced. Because they’re scared they’re not going to make it. They’re scared to tell their folks or anybody else what they secretly fear. They’re even afraid to face their fears themselves. Because they’ve been taught to believe they’re inferior and their greatest fear is that this is the truth. That college is not “for them,” that they do not deserve and should not expect to make it. And I’m confident that this is not unusual among most majority White college campuses in the U.S.

I look out into the classroom and I see them taking notes. Or not. Sometimes I see them staring into space or at the desk, hundreds of years of sorrow in their eyes. Sometimes I see them nod off with the strain of staying awake after working to all hours at night to pay for tomorrow’s gas for their forty-minute commute. Sometimes I see them texting each other, maintaining the relationships that keep the fears at bay, that create the illusion that all is well because there’s a plan in place for the evening that will help them forget for a few hours the glaring grin on the face of a society in which they are only marginalized characters at best.

A young Black man taking one of my classes his first semester on the campus finally allowed the tears to stream down his cheeks mid-conversation in my office. I had just finished explaining to him that he could do it or he wouldn’t be there. I said, “It isn’t a personal problem. You’ve been taught to believe you can’t do it, so you'll stumble, so you won’t try, so all the goodies will go to folks who look like me. And then they can blame you for what you don’t achieve.”

I explained the in’s and out’s of campus life. How to take notes, how to study for a test, how important it is to communicate to teachers (though many may be racist to one extent or another), how to juggle time and set priorities, and above all, how to find and identify allies among the student and faculty populations. And then he started to weep.

When I asked him why, he replied, “I never believed there was hope.”

This particular young man is half-way through his junior year now. The last time I saw him, striding across campus, head high, I said by way of greeting, “Hey! How ya doin’?”

“Excellently!” he shot back, grinning, as he charged off to his next class.

But I can’t catch them all.

The result of this process to socialize children to see themselves as inferior manifests itself tidily in the U.S. Census figures. African-Americans in this parish average half the income of people that look like me.

So, somewhere in this parish tonight, a young woman will put her children to bed hungry because she was under-prepared to provide for them. Somewhere in this parish tonight, a young man will risk his life to sell drugs on a corner because he thinks there’s no other path for him, even if the one he’s on is guaranteed to send him to Angola – maybe for life without parole. Somewhere in this parish tonight, a woman will put on make-up and go to a club because being baptized in lights and music is the only way she knows to forget the bleak existence that constitutes her life (and besides she needs help with her light bill). Somewhere in this parish tonight, a child will sit on his bed trying to figure out how to get the supplies he needs to produce the project due at school on Monday, but which his family can’t afford to buy.

The week rarely goes by that I don’t hear at least one African-American student say, “Well, it’s always been this way and it’s always going to be this way.” I counter that it’s only been this way for about five hundred years and nothing is ever going to be any particular way forever. Social change is constant and inevitable. It may make things worse, instead of better. It may move us in directions we don’t want to go. But change will come. And if we want to see a future we can be happy about, we need to plant the seeds that will produce it.

Those with the power to define and make the rules in this parish have made it clear that this is no accident and they intend to continue these practices. On a grander scale, the tack we take in the U.S. that denies the existence of this problem has the same exact effect as if we cold-bloodedly intended for it to continue. So what are we going to do about it?

We have the ability to demand that life in this parish and in the United States changes whether those with the power to define want it to or not. These are precarious times economically and many of us are doing our own struggling. I drive a car I’m embarrassed to get into. But I’d be even more embarrassed to face our children on my campus not having done everything I can to keep them from falling off the cliff from which they have been pushed.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Youth Doing Life Without Parole

When I was serving as a substance abuse counselor in a maximum security women's penitentiary in Florida, I met two young women who had been sentenced to life in prison as adolescents, one of them at fifteen. One had been part of a car-jacking that went crazy when another girl shot the driver. The other had been on the scene when a much older woman suddenly killed a man in a motel. It was hard to know what to say to them. They felt so abandoned. By society. By life. By God.

Yesterday, I came across the following videos. Pour yourself a cup of coffee. Watch these one after another. And ask yourself: what would I want someone to do if it was me or somebody I loved in this situation?



Statement by the religious community (5-1/2 min.)



Sarah Kruzan, who killed her pimp at 16, 3 years after he turned her out
(6 min.)

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

I Got the Blues



I've been ranting about the socially-constructed, political notion of race in four of my classes over the past week and talking about rape in the other one. I only got two sentences into my lecture last Thursday before a White male student leapt up, grabbed his books and stomped out.

During this same week, my dog developed a fixation on my presence so strong that he couldn't bear to be without me for even a short time, resulting in his chewing up a whole bunch of stuff and ultimately necessitating my breaking my own heart by giving him away to avoid caging him whenever I'm gone -- something I won't do.

So now, of course, I'm alone with a brain full of darkness, convinced that I'm going to die old and alone in a world of chaos and pain. I got the blues. Maybe this 1970's film clip of Buddy Guy will help me feel better.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Bride and Groom Jump the Broom...Anyway

I tend not to rat myself out too often on this blog. My identity, what I look like, my specific location, my place of employment, whatever -- it's become something of a principle with me to keep that stuff anonymous -- at least in theory. But since I've probably stood behind this fool in the line at the grocery store cash register, I'm breaking my stride this once to admit that Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell of "I'm-not-racist-I'm-just-racist" fame lives in my neck of the woods.

That's right.

The guy everybody's talking about with such outrage all over the world is a bonafide Louisiana redneck and a registered voter in my Congressional district. I hardly know what to say except maybe, "See what I'm talkin' about?"

Keep in mind that I was writing this blog in a good-sized city in another state for two years before I moved here two years ago. So I didn't discover the socially-constructed, political notion of "race" when I came to the land of David Duke. But I was nervous about moving here, needless to say. I mean, nervous as in taking-the-Eracism-bumper-sticker-off-my-car nervous or don't-look-a-good-ole-boy-in-the-eyes-when-he's-drivin'-his-big-ole-truck nervous and good grief, yes! break-into-a-cold-sweat-when-driving-after-dark-down-a-country-road nervous. I hit town talking about the default position in this country being White supremacy and I was convinced I was going to wind up out in the woods somewhere nailed to a tree one night. But so far, so good.

Still, I wasn't surprised to learn that we made the morning news in all the time zones over the past couple of weeks thanks to Bardwell's refusing for the umpteenth time (that's the way we talk here in more or less rural Louisiana) to marry an interracial couple. He's been consistent with this practice as an elected official for 34 years now and it never caused a ripple before. Up until now, he'd just say no and the couples would go to a different Justice of the Peace. No problem, right?

But this particular time, for whatever reason, the couple in question (one Beth Humphrey and her fiance, Terence McKay, two local folks in love and old enough to know what they were doing) called Bardwell in need of a license and a ceremony. Bardwell's wife, doing her wifely duty of screening his calls, informed the blushing bride-to-be that Bardwell won't bind a Black person to a White person until death do them part (or they fall out of love, whichever comes first), so they'd need to go to a different judge. Humphrey hung up and the couple did eventually tie the knot in somebody else's living room.

After thinking it over, however, and receiving -- probably -- some flabbergasted input from friends and family, Humphrey and McKay started talking to lawyers and the media and the rest will now most certainly be a part of history. Bardwell has been shrugging for days.


He says he was told when he started the practice (34 years ago!?!) that it was going to get him into trouble. See, it's been illegal to discriminate against couples who want to marry across the color line since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Richard and Mildred Loving (I swear) back in 1967, six years before Bardwell was first elected. His response at the time, the way he remembers it, was, "If I do get in trouble, I'll just resign." He's not racist, you understand. He just believes the couple won't stay together and the children will have a hard way to go. I guess the fact that the average marriage in the whole world -- in general --breaks up in four years would be startling to Mr. Bardwell since he worries about those things.

The way folks were going to treat my bi-racial daughter was one of the things my mother threw into the conversation mix when she discovered I was pregnant twenty-nine years ago and the father was (gasp!) African-American. She had already put her house up for sale, she said, because she couldn't face her friends anymore. When that failed to move me to remorse, her last ditch effort was to try to get me to give the baby -- like a puppy -- to a young Black couple at her church. I made it very clear to her that this was not going to happen. And it was then that she assured me (far too belatedly, I'm afraid) that she didn't personally have any problems with the situation; it was just that other people were not going to accept the child.

Eventually, she did accept my daughter and even her father, who deserved far better than my mother put him through. And today, of course, that child my mother found so problematic has her own apartment in Manhattan and is on her third junket out of the country on vacation this year at this very minute. Did some people torment her? Yes. Was she sometimes lonely? Yes. But she wound up doing better than most of us anyway. Which is one of the things some folks pointed out about Bardwell's concerns. When this mess hit the press, President Barack Obama was in New Orleans, serving as a pretty blatantly embarassing contradiction to Bardwell's contention that bi-racial children from broken homes do poorly.

In any case, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal called Bardwell's practice "outrageous". And in the same article, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu called the situation "deeply disturbing." And the ACLU of Louisiana hopped on the bandwagon in a minute, too, along with a barrage of civil rights lawyers who have offered the local NAACP branch pro bono services to ride Bardwell out of office on a rail after a tar and feather bath (I'm an officer and I know). But Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell*, in his usual inimitable fashion, before he decided yesterday to say "no comment" a little too late, went on record as saying that Bardwell doesn't have to marry anyone he doesn't want to and therefore there will be no reprimand, no investigation, and no sanctions or demand for resignation (this was in a local paper yesterday and the article has not been archived on-line, as yet).

The result, of course, is that Bardwell is just quietly waiting it all out. He's seen uproars over race before, I'm sure, and in the end, in his experience, in Louisiana, any change is superficial at best. This time, though, local leaders known for their unapologetic racism are running for cover. So Keith Bardwell may be retiring early (after 34 years of being as racist as he wanted to be), but it's really no biggie for him. He still won't have done what he didn't want to do. And like they used to sing in the jukes, "One monkey (or one good ole boy) don't stop no show."

Still, it's always fun to see the light come on and the cockroaches scuttle. So by way of sending my regards to soon-to-be-no-longer Judge Bardwell, here's a few photos. Enjoy!

Singer David Bowie & wife model Iman

Actor Cuba Gooding & his high school sweetheart Sara Kapfer,
now his wife & the mother of their three children

Heart transplant surgeon Dr. Robert Montgomery
& opera diva Denyce Graves

Golf phenom Tiger Woods & family

US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice & husband Ian Cameron

Singer Seal & wife model Heidi Klum, pregnant with their second child

NYC Mayoral Candidate Bill de Blassio & family

Sammy Davis, Jr. & wife May Britt with baby in tow

Heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson & his wife Lucille

Richard & Mildred Loving, after the Supreme Court ruling in their favor
_________________________________________________________
*"Bobby" Jindal? "Buddy" Caldwell? What is it with these people? Didn't they ever grow up? Is keeping a childish-sounding nickname part of the good ole boy code of conduct? Oh, well. At least it makes 'em easy to recognize.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Leonard Peltier is Obama's Political Prisoner Now

For my third post this week, I'm reproducing Native American activist Leonard Peltier's letter of response after his "parole" was denied. I still don't understand why he needs to be "paroled" when the federal government admits they have never been able to prove he actually committed the crime for which he has served more than half his life in prison.

Now that Barack Obama is the President, I somehow imagined (silly me!) that some of these cases Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have drawn so much attention to would finally be reasonably addressed. Unfortunately not.

I first saw this letter as an email, but you can also find it on Counterpunch, if you like.

I Am Barack Obama's Political Prisoner Now
by Leonard Peltier

The United States Department of Justice has once again made a mockery of its lofty and pretentious title.

After releasing an original and continuing disciple of death cult leader Charles Manson who attempted to shoot President Gerald Ford, an admitted Croatian terrorist, and another attempted assassin of President Ford under the mandatory 30-year parole law, the U.S. Parole Commission deemed that my release would “promote disrespect for the law.”

If only the federal government would have respected its own laws, not to mention the treaties that are, under the U.S. Constitution, the supreme law of the land, I would never have been convicted nor forced to spend more than half my life in captivity. Not to mention the fact that every law in this country was created without the consent of Native peoples and is applied unequally at our expense. If nothing else, my experience should raise serious questions about the FBI's supposed jurisdiction in Indian Country.

The parole commission's phrase was lifted from soon-to-be former U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley, who apparently hopes to ride with the FBI cavalry into the office of North Dakota governor. In this Wrigley is following in the footsteps of William Janklow, who built his political career on his reputation as an Indian fighter, moving on up from tribal attorney (and alleged rapist of a Native minor) to state attorney general, South Dakota governor, and U.S. Congressman. Some might recall that Janklow claimed responsibility for dissuading President Clinton from pardoning me before he was convicted of manslaughter. Janklow's historical predecessor, George Armstrong Custer, similarly hoped that a glorious massacre of the Sioux would propel him to the White House, and we all know what happened to him.

Unlike the barbarians that bay for my blood in the corridors of power, however, Native people are true humanitarians who pray for our enemies. Yet we must be realistic enough to organize for our own freedom and equality as nations. We constitute 5% of the population of North Dakota and 10% of South Dakota and we could utilize that influence to promote our own power on the reservations, where our focus should be. If we organized as a voting bloc, we could defeat the entire premise of the competition between the Dakotas as to which is the most racist. In the 1970s we were forced to take up arms to affirm our right to survival and self-defense, but today the war is one of ideas. We must now stand up to armed oppression and colonization with our bodies and our minds. International law is on our side.

Given the complexion of the three recent federal parolees, it might seem that my greatest crime was being Indian. But the truth is that my gravest offense is my innocence. In Iran, political prisoners are occasionally released if they confess to the ridiculous charges on which they are dragged into court, in order to discredit and intimidate them and other like-minded citizens. The FBI and its mouthpieces have suggested the same, as did the parole commission in 1993, when it ruled that my refusal to confess was grounds for denial of parole.

To claim innocence is to suggest that the government is wrong, if not guilty itself. The American judicial system is set up so that the defendant is not punished for the crime itself, but for refusing to accept whatever plea arrangement is offered and for daring to compel the judicial system to grant the accused the right to right to rebut the charges leveled by the state in an actual trial. Such insolence is punished invariably with prosecution requests for the steepest possible sentence, if not an upward departure from sentencing guidelines that are being gradually discarded, along with the possibility of parole.

As much as non-Natives might hate Indians, we are all in the same boat. To attempt to emulate this system in tribal government is pitiful, to say the least.

It was only this year, in the Troy Davis, case, that the U.S. Supreme Court recognized innocence as a legitimate legal defense. Like the witnesses that were coerced into testifying against me, those that testified against Davis renounced their statements, yet Davis was very nearly put to death. I might have been executed myself by now, had not the government of Canada required a waiver of the death penalty as a condition of extradition.

The old order is aptly represented by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who stated in his dissenting opinion in the Davis case, “This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is 'actually' innocent. Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged 'actual innocence' is constitutionally cognizable.”

The esteemed Senator from North Dakota, Byron Dorgan, who is now the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, used much the same reasoning in writing that “our legal system has found Leonard Peltier guilty of the crime for which he was charged. I have reviewed the material from the trial, and I believe the verdict was fair and just.”

It is a bizarre and incomprehensible statement to Natives, as well it should be, that innocence and guilt is a mere legal status, not necessarily rooted in material fact. It is a truism that all political prisoners were convicted of the crimes for which they were charged.

The truth is the government wants me to falsely confess in order to validate a rather sloppy frame-up operation, one whose exposure would open the door to an investigation of the United States' role in training and equipping goon squads to suppress a grassroots movement on Pine Ridge against a puppet dictatorship.

In America, there can by definition be no political prisoners, only those duly judged guilty in a court of law. It is deemed too controversial to even publicly contemplate that the federal government might fabricate and suppress evidence to defeat those deemed political enemies. But it is a demonstrable fact at every stage of my case.

I am Barack Obama's political prisoner now, and I hope and pray that he will adhere to the ideals that impelled him to run for president. But as Obama himself would acknowledge, if we are expecting him to solve our problems, we missed the point of his campaign. Only by organizing in our own communities and pressuring our supposed leaders can we bring about the changes that we all so desperately need. Please support the Leonard Peltier Defense Offense Committee in our effort to hold the United States government to its own words.

I thank you all who have stood by me all these years, but to name anyone would be to exclude many more. We must never lose hope in our struggle for freedom.

In the Spirit of Crazy Horse,

Leonard Peltier
#89637-132
USP-Lewisburg
US Penitentiary
PO Box 1000
Lewisburg, PA 17837_________________________________________________________
For more information on Leonard Peltier, visit the Leonard Peltier Defense-Offense Committee website.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Time to learn sign language?

A couple of days ago, I posted a piece by Jim Ridgeway on private soldiers killing U.S. citizens in New Orleans without consequence. Today, I'm offering the full text of a piece by Tom Burghardt that first appeared on Dissident Voice October 12th. Burghardt outlines a scenario that makes Freddy Kreuger look like Shirley Temple. It is yet another example of fascism afoot in the U.S., as electronic handheld devices can now put you in jail.

Battening Down the Hatches: Secret State Monitors Protest, Represses Dissent
by Tom Burghardt

As social networking becomes a dominant feature of daily life, the secret state is increasingly surveilling electronic media for what it euphemistically calls “actionable intelligence.”

Take the case of Elliot Madison. The 41-year-old anarchist was arrested in Pittsburgh September 24 at the height of G20 protests.

Madison, a social worker and volunteer with The People’s Law Collective in New York City, was busted by a combined task force led by the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) and Pittsburgh’s “finest.” The activist was charged with “hindering apprehension or prosecution, criminal use of a communication facility and possession of instruments of crime,” according to The New York Times.

Did the cops uncover a secret anarchist weapons’ cache? Were Madison and codefendant, Michael Wallschlaeger, a producer with the radio talk show “This Week in Radical History” for the A-Infos Radio Project, about to detonate a “weapon of mass destruction” during last month’s capitalist conclave that witnessed the obscene spectacle of our masters avidly conspiring to impoverish billions of the planet’s inhabitants?

Hardly! In fact, Madison and Wallschlaeger’s “crime” was to set up a communications center in a hotel room that alerted demonstrators to movements by the police, who after all, had viciously attacked protesters–and anyone else nearby–with heavy batons, tear gas and a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), a so-called “non-lethal” weapon.

Kitted-out with police scanners, computers and cell phones, the intrepid activists used a Twitter account to assist protesters eager to elude a thrashing by some 5,000 heavily armed camo-clad cops who had sealed-off downtown Pittsburgh to keep the area safe–from the First Amendment.

National Lawyers Guild on-scene legal observers reported an “unwarranted display and use of force by police in residential neighborhoods, often far from any protest activity.” According to the civil liberties’ watchdog group:

Police deployed chemical irritants, including CS gas, and long-range acoustic devices (LRAD) in residential neighborhoods on narrow streets where families and small children were exposed. Scores of riot police formed barricades at many intersections throughout neighborhoods miles away from the downtown area and the David Lawrence Convention Center. Outside the Courtyard Marriott in Shadyside, police deployed smoke bombs in the absence of protest activity, forcing bystanders and hotel residents to flee the area.

Later, while some protests were ending, riot-clad officers surrounded an area at the University of Pittsburgh, creating an ominous spectacle that some described as akin to Kent State. Guild legal observers witnessed police chasing and arresting many uninvolved students.

Among other questionable tactics, officers from dozens of law enforcement agencies lacked easily-identifiable badges, impeding citizens’ ability to register complaints. (National Lawyers Guild, “National Lawyers Guild Observes Improper Use of Force by Law Enforcement at the G-20,” Press Release, September 25, 2009)

The Times reported that after his arrest the FBI raided the home that Madison shared with his wife, Elena, and conducted an exhaustive 16-hour search of the premises seizing computers, books and a poster (horror of horrors!) of the old mole himself, Karl Marx.

Criminalizing the First Amendment

“Anyone can tweet, but the truth is, sometimes speech can be criminal,” John Burkoff, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

By that standard, anyone who has the temerity to question the legitimacy of a system that drives millions into poverty, wages preemptive war to secure (steal) other people’s resources, destroys the environment or uses “speech” to oppose said crimes against humanity–and cheekily urges others to do the same–is, by definition, guilty, in “new normal” America.

Witold Walczak however, the legal director of the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union told the Post-Gazette, “investigating the government and broadcasting information about it would seem to be a constitutionally protected communication.”

The ACLU director elaborated, “If the police want to communicate privately, there are certainly ways to do that, and police radios are not one of those. How can it be a crime? It’s not a secure communication.”

The good professor had another take on the matter and told the Post-Gazette, “Were they sending it to people simply to protest, or to commit further crimes?”

“Further crimes”? What crime? Oh yes, legally protesting the depredations of the capitalist system, that crime!

That such a statement can be uttered by a purported legal expert is rather rich with unintended irony. Burkhoff’s maneuver to cast the best possible light on repressive police operations is all the more absurd given the fact that none other than the Obama administration’s State Department had stepped-in and pressured Twitter to forego a service upgrade, and downtime, just scant months earlier.

But context as they say, is everything. Champions of other people’s freedom (particularly when they are geopolitical rivals), the State Department intervened and told the instant messaging service in no uncertain terms that Iranian protesters relied on Twitter to monitor police movements in Tehran and other cities as protests over disputed elections took center stage in the Islamic Republic.

The New York Times reported back in June that the U.S. State Department “e-mailed the social-networking site Twitter with an unusual request: delay scheduled maintenance of its global network, which would have cut off service while Iranians were using Twitter to swap information and inform the outside world about the mushrooming protests around Tehran.”

According to Reuters, “Confirmation that the U.S. government had contacted Twitter came as the Obama administration sought to avoid suggestions it was meddling in Iran’s internal affairs as the Islamic Republic battled to control deadly street protests over the election result.”

Twitter said in a blog post it had delayed the firm’s planned upgrade because of its role as an “important communication tool in Iran.”

A day earlier, President Obama had said he believed “people’s voices should be heard and not suppressed”–in Iran.

Message to the American people: Official enemy: Twitter good! Official friend (grifting multinational corporations and the criminals who do their bidding in Washington): Twitter bad! How’s that for an imaginative interpretation of the “new media paradigm”!

“Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not."

Echoing the execrable logic of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, America’s premier political police force, the FBI, executed a search warrant on Madison that authorized agents to look “for violations of federal rioting laws,” according to the Times.

Madison’s attorney, Martin Stolar, told the Times that “he and a friend were part of a communications network among people protesting the G-20.” Denouncing the raid, Stolar averred that “there’s absolutely nothing that he’s done that should subject him to any criminal liability.”

On October 2, Stolar argued in Federal District Court in Brooklyn “that the warrant was vague and overly broad. Judge Dora L. Irizarry ordered the authorities to stop examining the seized materials until Oct. 16, pending further orders,” the Times reported.

This is not the first time however, that the secret state has sought to curtail text messaging by activists during large-scale demonstrations.

In 2008, as a result of the heavy repression of legal protests–and subsequent lawsuits by victims–during the far-right Republican National Convention in New York City in 2004, lawyers representing N.Y.’s “finest” demanded that M.I.T. graduate student Tad Hirsch and the Institute of Applied Autonomy, the inventors of TXTmob, turn over all “text messages sent via TXTmob during the convention, the date and time of the messages, information about people who sent and received messages, and lists of people who used the service,” The New York Times reported last year.

The FBI however, already possess the technological ability to hack into Wi-fi and computer networks as Wired revealed in April, citing internal Bureau documents released to the magazine under a Freedom of Information Act request.

According to a follow-up story by the publication, the Bureau’s Cryptographic and Electronic Analysis Unit, CEAU, has deployed software called a computer and internet protocol address verifier, or CIPAV, that is “designed to infiltrate a target’s computer and gather a wide range of information, which it secretly sends to an FBI server in eastern Virginia.”

Antifascist Calling reported in 2008, that when a whistleblower, security consultant Babak Pasdar, stepped forward and blew the lid off the Bureau’s massive telecommunications’ surveillance network, the agency’s so-called “Quantico circuit” in Virginia, he revealed that major wireless providers, including AT&T, Sprint and Verizon, had handed the state “unfettered” access to the carrier’s wireless networks, including billing records and customer data “transmitted wirelessly.”

According to Pasdar’s sworn affidavit, Verizon provided the FBI with with real-time access to who is speaking to whom, the time and duration of each call as well as the locations of those so targeted.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the San Francisco-based civil liberties’ watchdog group, has posted Madison’s motion and his attorney’s supporting declaration on their web site. It makes for very interesting reading indeed! According to the search warrant obtained by FBI Special Agent Edward J. Heslin from the U.S. District Court, the FBI were allowed to seize:

Computers, hard-drives, floppy discs and other media used to store computer-accessible information, cellular phones, personal digital assistants, electronic storage devices and related peripherals, black masks and clothing, maps, correspondence and other documents, financial records, notes, ledgers, receipts, papers, photographs, telephone and address books, identification documents, indicia of residency and other documents and records that constitute evidence of the commission of rioting crimes or that are designed or intended as a means of violating the federal rioting laws, including any of the above items that are maintained within other closed or locked containers, including safes and other containers that may be further secured by key locks (or combination locks) of various kinds. (Honorable Viktor V. Pohorelsky, Magistrate Judge to FBI Special Agent Edward J. Heslin, United States District Court, Eastern District of New York, Search Warrant, Case Number M-09-962, September 26, 2009)

Madison’s attorney, Martin Stolar averred that “a number of documents and other properties” seized by the FBI have “nothing to do with the governments investigation into what the search warrant characterizes as violations of ‘federal rioting laws’.”

According to Stolar “the seized items include political writings, notes, political associates and ideas, materials protected by the attorney-client and social work privileges, as well as property belonging to other persons residing in the premises which have no connection to any pending or contemplated criminal investigation.” Stolar declared that “the illegality of the search is in the overbreadth of the seizures and the vagueness of the term ‘federal rioting laws’.”

In other words, driftnet surveillance of American citizens is the norm for our secret state minders; an unambiguous sign of America’s slide into an extra-constitutional police state.

Fusion Centers: Leading the Charge

While Madison and Wallschlaeger’s arrest came as a result of actions undertaken by the Pennsylvania State Police, one cannot rule out that (a) informants had tipped off the cops to the pair’s activities, (b) CEAU had penetrated protest organizer’s computer net and therefore, were well aware of what the duo were up to, or (c) through some combination of the above, the FBI and presumably, their local fusion center allies, alerted PSP who then conducted the raid and shut the anarchist’s communications center down.

Federal Computer Week noted September 30, that the Department of Homeland Security “is establishing a new office to coordinate its intelligence-sharing efforts in state and local intelligence fusion centers,” and that the secret state’s new “Joint Fusion Center Program Management Office will be part of DHS’ Office of Intelligence and Analysis.”

Among other things, the publication revealed that DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said the new office will:

• Develop ways to assess threats and trends by gathering, analyzing and sharing local and national information and intelligence through fusion centers.

• Coordinate with state, local and tribal law enforcement leaders to ensure that DHS is providing the correct resources to fusion centers.

• Promote a sense of common mission and purpose at fusion centers through training and other support. (Ben Bain, “DHS established new office for intelligence-sharing centers,” Federal Computer Week, September 30, 2009)

Since Bushist–and now, Obama–securocrats designated fusion centers “a central node for the federal government’s efforts for sharing terrorism-related information with state and local officials,” the federal government has pumped some $327 million in taxpayer-funded largesse into these spooky “public-private partnerships.”

In Pennsylvania for example, the Criminal Intelligence Center (PaCIC), is described by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) as a “component of the Pennsylvania State Police.”

Washington Post investigative journalist Robert O’Harrow Jr., the author of No Place to Hide, revealed that “Pennsylvania buys credit reports and uses face-recognition software to examine driver’s license photos” and have “subscriptions to private information-broker services that keep records about Americans’ locations, financial holdings, associates, relatives, firearms licenses and the like.”

One can only wonder whether these or other intrusive surveillance tools, including the CEAU’s CIPAV software were deployed against Madison and Wallschlaeger prior to their Pittsburgh arrest.

But gathering information on fusion centers is often an exercise in Kafkaesque futility. Investigative journalist G.W. Schulz reported that when the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) attempted to obtain information from the Colorado Information Analysis Center on that state’s fusion center, they ran into a brick wall.

CIAC spokesperson Lance Clem refused to release what should be public documents to CIR claiming that releasing the records would be “contrary to the public interest” and “not only would compromise [the] security and investigative practices of numerous law enforcement agencies but would also violate confidentiality agreements that have been made with private partner organizations and federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.”

As of this writing, it cannot be determined with any certainty what role the Pennsylvania Criminal Intelligence Center played in repressing G20 protests. However, if past fusion center practices in Denver and St. Paul during last year’s Democratic and Republican National Conventions are any guide, their management of pre-G20 intelligence along with their federal partners, was in all probability considerable.

One lesson that can be gleaned however, from the federal witch hunt targeting activists Elliot Madison and Michael Wallschlaeger, is that dissent in post-9/11 America, as during the COINTELPRO-era of the 1960s and ’70s, has been criminalized.
___________________________________________________
To learn more about Tom Burghardt and read more of his work, visit his website at Antifascist Calling.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Hidden History of Katrina

In the interest of priming the pump, as it were, after a few months of spending virtually all of my time elsewhere, I'm going to post some excellent and important things that other people have written. Hopefully, this will begin the process of getting me over whatever block I've been up against and bring my readers back so that I can re-establish that connection. I've missed you more than I can say.

The first piece I've chosen is by author and activist Jim Ridgeway, who is currently the Senior Washington Correspondent for Mother Jones magazine and has been around even longer than I have, which is saying something. I began communicating with Jim about a solitary confinement watch project and wound up reading the following on his blog, Unsilent Generation. He was kind enough to allow it's re-posting here. Prepare to be aghast. Once more.

The Hidden History of Katrina*
by James Ridgeway

Confronted with images of corpses floating in the blackened floodwaters or baking in the sun on abandoned highways, there aren’t too many people left who see what happened following Hurricane Katrina as a purely “natural” disaster. The dominant narratives that have emerged, in the four years since the storm, are of a gross human tragedy, compounded by social inequities and government ineptitude—a crisis subsequently exploited in every way possible for political and financial gain.

But there’s an even harsher truth, one some New Orleans residents learned in the very first days but which is only beginning to become clear to the rest of us: What took place in this devastated American city was no less than a war, in which victims whose only crimes were poverty and blackness were treated as enemies of the state.

It started immediately after the storm and flood hit, when civilian aid was scarce—but private security forces already had boots on the ground. Some, like Blackwater (which has since redubbed itself Xe), were under federal contract, while a host of others answered to wealthy residents and businessmen who had departed well before Katrina and needed help protecting their property from the suffering masses left behind. According Jeremy Scahill’s reporting in The Nation, Blackwater set up an HQ in downtown New Orleans. Armed as they would be in Iraq, with automatic rifles, guns strapped to legs, and pockets overflowing with ammo, Blackwater contractors drove around in SUVs and unmarked cars with no license plates.

“When asked what authority they were operating under,” Scahill reported, “one guy said, ‘We’re on contract with the Department of Homeland Security.’ Then, pointing to one of his comrades, he said, ‘He was even deputized by the governor of the state of Louisiana. We can make arrests and use lethal force if we deem it necessary.’ The man then held up the gold Louisiana law enforcement badge he wore around his neck.”

The Blackwater operators described their mission in New Orleans as “securing neighborhoods,” as if they were talking about Sadr City. When National Guard troops descended on the city, the Army Times described their role as fighting “the insurgency in the city.” Brigadier Gen. Gary Jones, who commanded the Louisiana National Guard’s Joint Task Force, told the paper, “This place is going to look like Little Somalia. We’re going to go out and take this city back. This will be a combat operation to get this city under control.”

Ten days after the storm, the New York Times reported that although the city was calm with no signs of looting (though it acknowledged this had taken place previously), “New Orleans has turned into an armed camp, patrolled by thousands of local, state, and federal law enforcement officers, as well as National Guard troops and active-duty soldiers.” The local police superintendent ordered all weapons, including legally registered firearms, confiscated from civilians. But as the Times noted, that order didn’t “apply to hundreds of security guards hired by businesses and some wealthy individuals to protect property…[who] openly carry M-16’s and other assault rifles.” Scahill spoke to Michael Montgomery, the chief of security for one wealthy businessman who said his men came under fire from “black gangbangers” near the Ninth Ward. Armed with AR-15s and Glocks, Montgomery and his men “unleashed a barrage of bullets in the general direction of the alleged shooters on the overpass. ‘After that, all I heard was moaning and screaming, and the shooting stopped. That was it. Enough said.’”

Malik Rahim, a Vietnam veteran and longtime community activist, was one of the organizers of the Common Ground Collective, which quickly began dispensing basic aid and medical care in the first days after the hurricane. But far from aiding the relief workers, Rahim told me this week, the police and troops who began patrolling the streets treated them as criminals or “insurgents.” African American men caught outside also ran the risk of crossing paths with roving vigilante patrols who shot at will, he says. In this dangerous environment, Common Ground began to rely on white volunteers to move through a city that had simply become too perilous for blacks.

In July, the local television station WDSU released a home video, taken shortly after the storm hit, of a local man, Paul Gleason, who bragged to two police officers about shooting looters in the Algiers section of New Orleans.

“Did you have any problems with looters,” asked an officer.

“Not anymore,” said Gleason.

“Not anymore?”

“They’re all dead,” said Gleason.

The officer asked, “What happened?”

“We shot them,” said Gleason.

“How many did you shoot?

“Thirty-eight.”

“Thirty-eight people? What did you do with the bodies?”

“We gave them to the Coast Guard,” said Gleason.

Gleason told his story with a cup of red wine in one hand and riding a tractor from Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World.

Although the government’s aid efforts were in chaos, those involved in the self-generated community rescue and relief efforts were often seen as a threat. Even so, Common Ground, founded in the days after Katrina hit, eventually managed to serve more than half a million people, operating feeding stations, opening free health and legal clinics, and later rebuilding homes and planting trees. But they “never got a dime” from the federal government, says Rahim. The FBI did, however, recruit one of Common Ground’s founders, Brandon Darby, as an informant, later using him to infiltrate groups planning actions at the 2008 Republican National Convention.

And while the government couldn’t seem to keep people from dying on rooftops or abandoned highways, it wasted no time building a temporary jail in New Orleans.

Burl Cain, the warden of the notorious Angola Prison, a former slave plantation that’s now home to 5,000 inmates, was rushed down to the city to oversee “Camp Greyhound” in the city’s bus terminal. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the jail “was constructed by inmates from Angola and Dixon state prisons and was outfitted with everything a stranded law enforcer could want, including top-of-the-line recreational vehicles to live in and electrical power, courtesy of a yellow Amtrak locomotive. There are computers to check suspects’ backgrounds and a mug shot station—complete with heights marked in black on the wall that serves as the backdrop.”

In the virtual martial law imposed in New Orleans after Katrina, the war on the poor sometimes even spilled over into the war on terror. In his latest book Zeitoun, published in July, Dave Eggers tells the story of a local Syrian immigrant who stayed in New Orleans to protect his properties and ended up organizing makeshift relief efforts and rescuing people in a canoe. He continued right up until he was arrested by a group of unidentified, heavily armed men in uniform, thrown into Camp Greyhound, and questioned as a suspected terrorist. In an interview with Salon, Eggers said:

Zeitoun was among thousands of people who were doing “Katrina time” after the storm. There was a complete suspension of all legal processes and there were no hearings, no courts for months and months and not enough folks in the judicial system really seemed all that concerned about it. Some human-rights activists and some attorneys, but otherwise it seemed to be the cost of doing business. It really could have only happened at that time; 2005 was just the exact meeting place of the Bush-era philosophy towards law enforcement and incarceration, their philosophy toward habeas corpus and their neglect and indifference to the plight of New Orleanians.

Through all the time that the federal and local governments, in concert with wealthy New Orleanians, were pitching their battle, there was virtually no one fighting on the other side. Reviewing the “available evidence” a month after Katrina, the New York Times concluded that “the most alarming stories that coursed through the city appear to be little more than figments of frightened imaginations.” The reports of residents firing at National Guard helicopters, of tourists being robbed and raped on Bourbon Street, and of murderous rampages in the Superdome—all turned out to be false.

But the truth of what happened in New Orleans—vigilantism and racially tinged violence, a military response that supplanted a humanitarian one—is equally sinister.

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*For links, see the original posting at Unsilent Generation.