Category Archives: Race

Is the Anti-Police Violence Movement a New Chapter in the Black Freedom Struggle?

#BlackLivesMatter

Child at Portland, OR, protest against police brutality. (Photo credit: Michelle Fawcett)

by Arun Gupta Telesur December 30, 2014

It was inevitable there would a push back against the dynamic movement against police violence. It is unfortunate opponents are using the murder of two cops in Brooklyn on December 20 to try to suppress peaceful protests. Nonetheless, the reaction is also a necessary obstacle this new social movement has to navigate.

After Officer Darren Wilson killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in August, anti-police violence protests became a regular occurrence there. The militarized police response made Ferguson an international story as well as a magnet for more protests. The movement spread across the United States a few months later following the decision by grand juries not to indict Wilson or NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was filmed choking to death an unarmed Eric Garner on Staten Island in July.

It’s a remarkable movement for the scope of protests, range of participants, and militancy, with activists staging die-ins and blockading streets, bridges, schools, police departments, and shopping malls. The organizing is influenced by the low-wage workers movements that have mobilized many working-class African-Americans and Hispanics, particularly those in the fast-food, retail, and domestic work sectors. There are similarities to Occupy Wall Street movement, with savvy use of social media, such as the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, and relentless in-the-streets activism. Most important, it’s the latest chapter in the centuries-long Black freedom struggle in the United States and beyond.

A Movement Propelled by Frustration with Racism

It is no accident that the movement arose at this moment. It is propelled by frustration with institutional racism that remains pervasive and deadly, but which is evidenced more by cold statistics than burning crosses. It’s also a consequence of hopes raised by Barack Obama’s election in 2008 as the first African-American president.

That was a profound achievement, but Obama has offered little shelter from the economic storm that’s pummeled Black America during his tenure, whether from unemploymenthome foreclosures, or the destruction of Black wealth. The crisis has compounded the decimation of social welfare, the decline of organized labor, and the rise of the prison-industrial complex from Reagan to Clinton, as well as the recent attack on public-sector unions, often at the hands of Democrats.

The Obama years end the latest chapter of the Black freedom struggle that culminated in the dismantling of legal segregation during the sixties. The prominence of figures like Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Joycelyn Elders, and Colin Powell was hard to imagine fifty years ago, but the U.S. political system has proven incapable of creating the conditions where all African-Americans can act as full political and social agents.

This is why the bullets that killed Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner bite so deep. The state-sanctioned killing of unarmed blacks by police and vigilantes underscores the reality that Black lives do matter less in America. Black life expectancy lags nearly four years behind that of whites, a result of a society where housing and schools, remain segregated, access to healthcare and medical care is unequalchildhood poverty is at epidemic levels, Blacks are more than five times as likely to be incarcerated, and white household median income is 68 percent greater than that of Blacks.

What these numbers can’t capture is how the social practices of racism have fused with market relations, making racism rational, effortless, and invisible. It’s the decision to buy a house in a good neighborhood, send the children to the right school, work with people who are deemed trustworthy, patronize a business that’s a known quantity. Market imperatives favor the most conservative course. Anything that is truly different is risky, suspicious, a danger, or a threat to the self or to property.

The notion Blacks are a threat is embedded so deep in the American psyche that a jury found it was not criminal for George Zimmerman to stalk and kill Trayvon Martin, a child, in his own neighborhood. Michael Brown died after Wilson challenged him for walking in a residential street, an utterly banal practice. Eric Garner was a threat to private enterprise and state revenue because sometimes he sold loose cigarettes, a policy allegedly decided at the highest level of the NYPD. Their deaths point to the basic unresolved contradiction in U.S. society: are Blacks citizens or are they a threat?

Garner’s death is one of many that have resulted from the NYPD’s obsession with “quality-of-life” violations, but it’s also a result of de Blasio’s confused politics. He won the mayoralty by harnessing the widespread anger against a stop-and-frisk policy akin to “loitering laws” used to control Blacks, Natives, and Mexicans during the Jim Crow era. In 2011, the NYPD recorded more than 685,000 stops and made more stops of young Black men than the entire population of young Black men in New York City. But de Blasio replaced stop and frisk with “broken-windows” policing by selecting Bill Bratton as police commissioner. In the nineties Bratton introduced broken windows in New York, claiming that policing minor quality-of-life infractions committed by graffiti artists, pot smokers, street vendors, “squeegee men,” and panhandlers would prevent more serious crimes. The evidence that stop and frisk or broken windows reduce crime is nonexistent.

Both policies work to regulate where and how black and brown people can exist in the public sphere. There is no lack of stories of Blacks being accosted by cops for making a purchase in a high-end store or walking in a white neighborhood. These stories can’t capture statistics like the 43,000 Blacks and Hispanics in New York City who were stopped, frisked and arrested in 2010 for low-level marijuana offenses. Untold numbers wound up with prison time and records, which devastate housing, employment and educational opportunities.

New York Mayor Tangles with a Vicious Police Union

De Blasio vowed to end this system when he ran for mayor, but he is in a bind. He’s tangling with a police union that was vicious even before Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were gunned down and he’s trying to placate a rank and file that in staging public disavowals of his authority are signaling they are the real power in the city not someone who won 73 percent of the vote, including 96 percent of African Americans and 87 percent of Hispanics.

The cop revolt has exposed the deep state that exists at the municipal level around the country. Police union head Patrick Lynch overplayed his hand by blasting de Blasio for having “blood on [his] hands.” But the mainstream media and politicians have rallied to the police, with thuggish comments coming not just from Republicans but Democrats like New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo who declared, “75,000 police officers and National Guardsmen statewide have [the police’s] back every step of the way.” But politicians like Cuomo know the pro-cop rhetoric plays well at home. The majority of whites, many Asians and Hispanics and more than a few Blacks fully support the unequal social order cops protect because they benefit from it. The danger for militants is they became angrier and isolate themselves rather than rethink how to build a more inclusive movement.

De Blasio knows his power comes not from the oppressed communities whose hopes he raised, but from the moneyed elite who filled his campaign coffers. They run New York, and they are whom the NYPD serve and protect above all. The police and their defenders want to protect their unaccountability and lack of meaningful oversight. The anti-protester reaction also reinforces the image of police under siege, stoking what philosopher Samir Chopra’s terms cops’ “deadly self-pity.” The push-back began before the killings with de Blasio calling for people protesting police violence to denounce violence. After the killings he showed contempt for popular democracy by attacking demonstrators for continuing to protest. Others, including Bratton, tried to link the cops’ deaths to the protests. The aim is to create a false equivalence, as exemplified by the #BlueLivesMatter hashtag.

Yet, there is no comparing the agents of state violence, who enjoy perks and prestige unavailable for nearly any other working-class vocation, to the subjects of that violence. Black trumps blue in terms of danger to one’s life. Reuters interviewed twenty-five current or former NYPD officers who are African-American males. All but one said that out of uniform they were subject to racial profiling or violence at the hands of their fellow officers.

While this new movement is perhaps the most widespread, diverse and radical in decades, it’s at a crossroads. The counterattack is not aimed at getting militants off the street but getting liberals and progressives who provide broader social support to stay at home. Like Occupy Wall Street, this movement has brought in legions of new activists and politicized areas of life that are usually not explicitly political, like shopping malls, sports games and holiday celebrations. Organizers have to consciously develop strategies that retain militancy while enabling widespread participation.

The NYPD Has Been on a Vendetta

The state hopes to divide “legitimate” and “illegitimate” protesters. The NYPD has been on a vendetta after protesters scuffled with two NYPD detectives on the Brooklyn Bridge, slapping organizers with felony charges. Chicago police are apparently spying on the phone conversations of protesters. In Portland, the police appear to be singling out known activists for arrests. The city of Bloomington, Minnesota, is looking to bankrupt and imprison organizers of a large die-in at the Mall of America, with the city attorney stating, “You want to get at the ringleaders” after detailing numerous charges against protesters as well as demands for “staggering” fines to cover policing costs.

Hopefully, this will mark a new stage in the Black freedom struggle, one that goes beyond Black and white and sloganeering. Native people within the reservation system live under the harshest conditions, but the violence is more a product of federal than local police forces. For Hispanics, the social geography of policing includes the immigration detention system. While there is crossover organizing between Hispanics and Blacks in low-wage worker movements, the unions involved are reluctant to prioritize contentious issues outside the workplace like police violence. Additionally, many Blacks are cool to immigration reform because of perceived competition for jobs, and 62 percent of African-Americans say there is “strong conflict” between immigrants and the native born. Plus, fetishizing a group as inherently revolutionary ignores the reality that Black anger stems more from not having access to the social advantages whites enjoy rather than a desire to overthrow the system. One poll from 2010 found 81 percent of Blacks described themselves as “extremely proud” or “very proud” to be an American, only five points lower than whites.

New York Police Would Remain a Racist Institution

The movement also needs to progress beyond racial reductionism. While it is rooted in history of state violence against Blacks, Native people and Hispanics, racial identity doesn’t confer an advantage in organizing. Succumbing to slogans that “Black or Brown people must lead the struggle” opens the door for opportunists. Organizers need to be immersed in existing struggles, but identity matters less than knowing how to organize and build unity without abandoning key principles or goals. Already a few groups with little connection to the anti-police violence struggle are positioning themselves as mediators between City Hall and the streets. Some other organizations now in the spotlight are more about personal power than collective transformation. Racial reductionism is also used against the left. Defenders of the NYPD point out it is only 51 percent white, but in its present form it would remain a racist institution if it were 100 percent people of color.

The anti-police brutality movement looks to have staying power if for no other reason than inequality and segregation will continue to intensify in the United States and the police will enforce that order. But to be successful it will have to shift from a focus on the police to the social system that demands the violence the police mete out.

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Two Arrested On Gun Charges In FBI “Sting”

by Arun Gupta Dissent NewsWire November 24, 2014

As people across the United States anxiously await the announcement of whether a grand jury will indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on criminal charges for the August 9 killing of an unarmed Michael Brown, the FBI appears to be stoking fears of violence. It arrested two men alleged to be members of the St. Louis chapter of the New Black Panther Party on gun charges, amid anonymous insinuations that they were also involved in bomb plots.

Reuters reported Nov. 19 that an “unsealed federal indictment [charged] Brandon Orlando Baldwin and Olajuwon Davis with purchasing two pistols from a firearms dealer under false pretenses. The news service said an unnamed “law enforcement source” claimed the two were “reputed members of a militant group called the New Black Panther Party,” and they “were arrested in the St. Louis area in an FBI sting operation.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch added that the “arrests were part of an ongoing investigation that has spanned several months,” while ABC News reported that the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had played a part in the arrest.

The Post-Dispatch also quoted unnamed “police sources” alleging that Baldwin and Davis were members of the New Black Panther Party.

The two were arraigned in a federal court Nov. 21. Baldwin was charged with intentionally misleading a licensed gun dealer at Cabela’s Retail, a sporting-goods store in the St. Louis suburb Hazelwood, about who was the intended recipient of two 45-caliber handguns he purchased. The brief indictment noted Baldwin and Davis had conspired to purchase the handguns earlier in the month and that “Baldwin a/k/a Brandon Muhammed was acquiring said firearms on behalf of another person.”

Other charges are allegedly pending, according to NBC News, based on allegations from two “federal law enforcement officials” that the pair was “trying to acquire pipe bombs with the intent of using them during protests in Ferguson, Missouri.”

Here’s where the picture starts to get murky. NBC reported investigators “heard” the two men were “trying to acquire guns and explosives” and placed them under surveillance. “We wanted to see where this might go,” one official told NBC.

This seemingly does not match up with the reports the arrests were part an FBI sting. If the FBI operation has really spanned “several months,” that would mean it likely began before the 18-year-old Brown was shot and killed by Wilson—or at the latest a week or so afterwards.

If that timeline is accurate, it’s curious the FBI choose to investigate protesters even as the Ferguson police were so heavy-handed that they appeared to be violating numerous constitutional principles such as freedom of assembly and the right not to be the victim of excessive force or unreasonable search and seizure.

Raising further suspicions, on August 13, according to KTVI-TV, the FBI’s St. Louis office issued a warning that “members of the New Black Panther Party are in Ferguson, Missouri and advocating violence against police.”

Additionally, federal prosecution of gun buyers submitting false applications is almost unheard of.  According to politifact.com, gun-buyer applications that the FBI rejects “are typically denied because the applicant failed to acknowledge” a prior criminal conviction, a restraining order, or something else that would have disqualified them. “In almost every case, these people can be prosecuted,” Politifact states. But of 72,659 applications the FBI turned down in 2010, only 44 were actively prosecuted. That’s about one out of every 1,600 people.

It appears the FBI had its eye on political activists the moment Ferguson erupted in protest, and after months came up with evidence, however thin thus far, that some were itching for violence.

Given the FBI’s history of political repression from its origins during the World War I Red Scare to the systematic targeting of Muslim-Americans after the September 11 attacks, its motives in Ferguson should be seen as questionable at best. The many reports linking Baldwin and Davis to the New Black Panther Party dangle a convenient bogeyman in front of the public.

Further, the indictment came two days after Gov. Jay Nixon issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency for 30 days throughout Missouri. Nixon also called up the National Guard and created a unified police command with “operational authority” in Ferguson and “in such other jurisdictions it deems necessary to protect civil rights and ensure public safety.”

In effect, Nixon has lifted any meaningful checks on militarized repression against protests.

Even more troubling, ABC News reported on Nov. 17, the day Nixon signed his order, that the FBI issued a bulletin “warning law enforcement agencies across the country that the [grand jury] decision ‘will likely’ lead some extremist protesters to threaten and even attack police officers or federal agents.” The FBI warning allegedly stated that “critical infrastructure” like electrical facilities or water treatment plants were potential targets.

The threat was supposedly extended “to those civilians engaged in lawful or otherwise constitutionally protected activities.”

The notion that some demonstrators are planning to use a high-profile profile event to launch what amounts to warfare is ludicrous. A premeditated, organized attack on police or public infrastructure during a demonstration is virtually unprecedented in modern U.S. history.

But the FBI warnings and the arrests do fit a different pattern: that of fueling fears of violence in advance of a heated but peaceful national protest. Before the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, FBI informant Brandon Darby, described by some as an “agent provocateur,” reportedly egged on two young Texas activists to plot to commit violence at the convention. The two pleaded guilty to felonies and were imprisoned

The FBI’s bulletin and sting operation also fit a pattern of disrupting peaceful protest activity. Arresting black radicals for planning to bomb protests may cause many demonstrators to think twice about openly opposing state repression. Then, by invoking defense of civil liberties, the FBI tries to present itself as a neutral watchdog of the public interest when it has actively disrupted the work of environmental, antiwar, and animal-rights activists in recent years.

On May 1, 2012, the day Occupy Wall Street organized nationwide protests and strikes that it hoped would reignite the movement, the FBI announced the arrest of five Occupy activists in Cleveland for allegedly plotting to blow up a bridge. As I later reported, the five men, most barely out of their teens, were jobless and from broken homes. The FBI informant in the case played “father figure to the lost men, providing them with jobs, housing, beer, and drugs. Every time the scheme threatened to collapse into gutterpunk chaos, he kept it on track.”

A couple of weeks after that the Chicago Police Department with support from the FBI ensnared three hapless youths in an alleged terrorist plot on the eve of a demonstration that drew tens of thousands protesting against a NATO summit in Chicago.

Over the coming days, more information should filter out about the arrests of Baldwin and Davis, any further charges, and how extensively the government was involved in the alleged plot. While they of course should be presumed innocent, the damage has been done. Not just to two more men who are probably more clueless bumblers than nefarious bomb-throwers, but to the broader movement against police violence in Ferguson and nationwide. That may very well be the FBI’s intention.

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The Danger of America’s Police is the Mindset, Not Military Weapons

Police impunity in the U.S. is the norm. A study found that 99.8% of 1,500 officers involved in killing civilians were never convicted. 

by Arun Gupta Telesur August 24, 2014

The Aug. 9 killing of a defenseless 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson was depressingly familiar. Nearly a hundred unarmed black people are killed by cops every year in the United States. Few stir the national conscience despite the often shady circumstances of their deaths. Police impunity is the norm, with one study finding 99.8 percent of 1,500 officers involved in killing civilians were never convicted of criminal charges.

Dorian Johnson, the primary witness to the shooting, claims Officer Wilson gunned down a wounded Brown who had his hands raised in surrender. Brown’s corpse was left on the street for four hours. Blacks in Ferguson, Missouri, have long decried systematic violence at the hands of a virtually all-white police force. Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, has shifted from 74 percent white to 63 percent African-American since 1990, and has been pummeled by the housing and economic downturn for nearly a decade.

Brown’s killing catalyzed these long-simmering grievances into protests. But few were prepared for what came next. Ferguson police outfitted with armored vehicles, sonic weapons, sniper rifles, body armor, and grenade launchers swarmed the streets, firing tear gas, flash-bang grenades, pepper spray balls, and rubber and wooden bullets at civilians. “The police response has shocked America,” wrote the New York Times. Police in full battle rattle leveling automatic rifles at protesters with their hands held up were likened to the streets of Baghdad. After reporters were attacked and arrested, the Washington Post equipped its staff with blue bulletproof vests emblazoned with “PRESS,” the same gear used on Middle East battlefields. One British paper dispatched its Afghanistan war correspondent to Ferguson to cover the violence.

One welcome surprise was that outrage among Ferguson residents continued for two weeks. It’s rare to see sustained defiant protest in the United States. They were fed up with a level of police brutality that is so casual it’s shocking. One cop, in full view of video cameras, pointed a rifle at unarmed protesters and yelled, “I will fucking kill you.”

Images like that led to an outcry to demilitarize the police. Washington has created a grab bag of military aid through the “1033 program,” the Law Enforcement Support Office, and Department of Homeland Security grants, enabling local enforcement agencies to snatch up drones, mine-resistant vehicles, battle gear, and chemical weapons. Much of this came into effect after the September 11 attacks, but some of it pre-dates the attacks, and ending it is not so simple.

Junking surplus military equipment won’t alter the social attitudes that give police so much latitude they are effectively the law. The war on drugs and war on crime attitudes have created a disdain for civil liberties in America, especially the rights of the accused and by extension entire communities. Civil liberties deteriorated even further after September 11. In an atmosphere where the public has been stampeded into trading freedom for security, police violence and lack of accountability flourishes with or without military equipment.

After Brown’s death it was apparent police were violating constitutional rights: freedom of the press, the use of unreasonable force, the right to assemble, and equal protection. Cops from Ferguson and surrounding communities told protesters when, where, and how they could demonstrate, arresting many engaged in peaceful activity. At least 11 journalists were arrested. Police threatened and attacked journalists and protesters who were filming interactions. And there is a documented pattern of Ferguson police using profiling, stopping, and arresting African-Americans.

Given the systematic crimes by Ferguson police, Missouri State Gov. Jay Nixon was complicit in their lawlessness by not replacing them immediately. Nixon dragged his heels and employed half measures, such as bringing in a state police commander with limited powers and deploying National Guard troops to protect the police 10 days after the police violence began. But at no point were local police ordered off the streets. President Obama whose oath of office is to uphold the Constitution laid low before finally dispatching Attorney General Eric Holder to Ferguson.

Elected officials vacillate because they are afraid to challenge the social power of police. It is a truism that for the police to function the public has to allow itself to be policed. But this truth is startling to many, and what is happening in Ferguson is a rebellion against this order. Most Americans support the police in their explicit function to protect property and implicit function to protect a social order based on racial and class hierarchies. This is not an abstraction. A crowd-funding webpage for Darren Wilson raked in nearly a quarter-million dollars in donations in under a week and was rife with incendiary comments. (A new fundraising site for Wilson was set up with the support of the Ferguson Police Department and netted another ninety thousand dollars in two days.)

One individual who donated a hundred dollars wrote, “I thank all Police, you are the ‘Thin Blue Line’ protecting normal Americans from aggressive and entitled primitive savages.” That sentence succinctly if inadvertently sums up the reactionary view of American history. Only state violence keeps civilization safe. “Entitled primitive savages” crams together three racial stereotypes: the welfare queen, backwards Africans, and uncivilized natives. “Normal” Americans are undoubtedly white as other comments made clear. Brown was a “thing,” a “thug,” and “a waste of good ammo.” “Blacks [use] every excuse in the book to loot and riot.” One person exhorted, “Wake up White America.” Another said, “All self-respecting whites have a moral responsibility to support our growing number of martyrs to the failed experiment called diversity.”

The racially charged aggression reveals the hollowness of the age of Obama. In 2008 Obama presented himself as an avatar of a post-racial America. The more he succeeded, the more it proved America had triumphed over its racist legacy. Liberals embraced this fantasy because through Obama they could see themselves as good, just, and free of bias. But the post-racial ideology made Obama impotent to confront the structural racism that still exists in America. White liberals are no less complicit than white conservatives in supporting and benefiting from the economic and social power they gain from segregated housing, educational and employment. If anything, conservatives more readily acknowledge the role of police is to enforce this order. The two times Obama did speak out about state-sanctioned violence against Blacks, the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., for breaking into his own home and the stalking and killing of an unarmed Trayvon Martin by a vigilante, Obama was met with derision by the right and silence by most liberals.

Obama learned his lesson. He had nothing to gain from confronting racism because his power was based on denying, and not confronting, how America is fractured by race and class. If he had successfully challenged it in his first presidential run, which is no mean feat, that would have brought together an organized social base to counter the white reactionary response to Ferguson. Instead, Obama vacationed in silence on Martha’s Vineyard, the summer redoubt for America’s elite, and took five days to issue a statement that was “tone deaf and disappointing.

For Obama to state the obvious—that the police are the architects of the violence in Ferguson, that they act like an occupying army towards the Blacks there, and that unreconstructed racism is alive and well—would provoke a huge backlash among many whites, and a fair number of Asians and Latinos as well.

To reduce the issue of police violence in America to the equipment they use can easily backfire. While it will be a real struggle to shelve the armored vehicles, body armor, machine guns, and chemical weapons that’s a small part of the battle. Removing all the military gear is not going to magically transform the police into officer friendly in a fifties patrol car. The racist policing and profiling won’t end, nor will the wide license society, the courts, and the media give them.

I’ve watched the NYPD in action for 25 years. They rarely rely on military weapons, though they probably have every one imaginable. The New York police brass is savvy. Using tanks, which they once did in 1995 as a show of force against squatters, looks bad for tourism. Using tear gas, rubber bullets, or other “less-lethal” weapons is a no-no given how many bankers and executives might get hit. As observers of Occupy Wall Street witnessed the police used good old-fashioned fists and clubs to bash demonstrators. I talked to one reporter who caught sight of cops bloodying handcuffed activists in the back of a police van during an Occupy protest.

But the most devastating weapon the NYPD has is a policy: stop and frisk. Since 2002 the NYPD has been under court order to collect, compile, and make public data regarding stop-and-frisks. By its own data, the NYPD has violated the constitutional rights of hundreds of thousands of Black and Latino males. They are stopped disproportionately compared to whites by every measure: if there is a warrant against them, they have a weapon or contraband, have committed a crime, or are in a high-crime area. The only way to explain the vast disparity is the policy is racist. Stop and frisk assumed Black and Latino males were criminal suspects based solely on their race. In 2010, former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly allegedly told New York State elected officials outright that the police deliberately targeted young Black and Latino men because “he wanted to instill fear in them, every time they leave their home they could be stopped by the police.”

During the last decade a movement came together in New York to stop the racist policing that has destroyed tens of thousands of lives by sending innocent men to prison or for nothing more than possessing a little marijuana. More court orders were handed down. Many media outlets called for an end to stop and frisk, and Bill de Blasio won the mayoralty in 2013 by making the policy a campaign issue. Once victorious, however, de Blasio angered many supporters by rehiring Bill Bratton as NYPD Commissioner, who instituted the dubious “broken windows” policing in the 1990s. Stop and frisk appears to have dropped by 90 percent from its peak of 685,000 stops in 2011. But Black and Latino males are still being disproportionately targeted. Moreover, Bratton’s focus on infractions like pan handling, pot smoking, graffiti, and subway fare jumpers deliberately targets minorities as well. In three overwhelmingly Black and Latino neighborhoods in Brooklyn, more than 50,000 summons were issued for biking on sidewalks between 2001 and 2013. I never have to worry about that in Manhattan, where I live. Bikers on sidewalks—of which there are many—in the tony white neighborhoods of Tribeca and the Finance District received only 325 tickets during the same period. Making this “crime” central to policing will mean many more young men of color will go directly to jail.

Once snared in the criminal justice system, Black and Latino men have fewer resources to prove their innocence and are less likely to receive leniency. Tickets often snowball into arrest warrants, jail time and permanent criminal records that diminish employment, education, and housing opportunities. Even if stop and frisk has ended, one racist policing practice has been replaced with another. Bratton’s policy of sending police to look for minor nuisance and imposing quotas on them for arrests, as the NYPD reportedly does, guarantees needless and hostile encounters. On Staten Island, police targeted Eric Garner on July 17 because he was involved in breaking up a fight. At every point the cops escalated the confrontation and eventually piled on him, choking the 43-year-old father of six to death.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, says, “We need an end to the kind of philosophy of policing that says it’s OK to engage in preventive, detention-like tactics.”

That’s what really at stake in demilitarizing the police. Undoubtedly military weapons enables greater violence against the public, just as a huge standing army enables U.S. wars abroad. But it was the post-9/11 mindset of preventive war that set all the tanks, planes, and missiles in motion.

The mindset needs to change, one that says police should have latitude and no oversight because whenever “excesses” happen like the killing of Michael Brown occur (or Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, and thousands of others), the preventive policing still serves the greater cause of keeping the peace of the existing social order.

Take away the military weapons from Ferguson police and they will still be an occupying army to the Black community there. Many Americans want to keep it that way. They have the mindset Blacks and Latinos are a threat and need to be contained. That’s what enables the police to take to the streets with military weapons and gear. Ending this mentality is what will stop out-of-control police forces, not taking away their toys.

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Bitcoin Activism: How Michelle Malkin And Suey Park Found Common Cause In Hashtag Movements

by Arun K. Gupta Huffington Post April 17, 2014

Suey Park is the Bitcoin of activism. Her hashtag movements are a digital phenomenon. Her value is determined by how much others buy into her. The lack of institutional backing allows her to disrupt the status quo. And just like digital currencies, hashtag activism is vulnerable to shadowy intrigues and corrupting influences.

When Park sent out a 115-character tweet at 7:55 p.m. on March 27, “The Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals has decided to call for #CancelColbert. Trend it,” she ignited a media firestorm. She was playing on a skit by The Colbert Report mocking the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, accusing the faux news show of racism.

The #CancelColbert was all spectacle with colorful characters, outrageous conduct, and lessons in the power and peril of new media. Pundits needed only to generate a new round of controversy to propel the outrage machine, thereby allowing them to ruminate on three of their favorite topics at once: the news, television and Twitter. Park was engulfed by controversy and vitriol, and many people flocked to defend her, supporting her position that the media mocks Asians because they are an easy target and opposing the loathsome death and rape threats aimed at Park.

Park, a 23-year-old “activist and writer,” became a Twitter star in December 2013 with #NotYourAsianSidekick, which encouraged Asian-American youth to use social media to tell empowering stories and challenge stifling stereotypes. Park rapidly built a powerful following, but the site also facilitated the aggression against her. The ability to mask oneself on Twitter has spawned a bestiary of trolls, hackers,doppelgangers, bots, pranksters, and real-life sociopaths who punch down outspoken women of color because that’s how America works.

The openness of platforms like Bitcoin and Twitter is also their weakness, allowing dark recesses to be carved out for malevolent ends. Digital money entices crooks who pilfer strings of code that comprise the currency as a path to fabulous riches, while social media attracts those looking for a shortcut to power and prestige. It’s what led Park into the orbit of Michelle Malkin, the radical right’s Asian sidekick.

Hashtag activism is ancient history for the web, but Malkin, a new-media controversialist, has adopted Park’s language, tactics, and social media skills, and it appears she is influencing Park to target “liberal racists.” Malkin hybridized hashtag activism with reactionary politics by creating #MyRightWingBiracialFamily in January 2014. Accusing MSNBC of racism, her campaign swiftly went viral and elicited an apology from the news network. Evidence shows Malkin came into contact with Park at this point. So when Park started #CancelColbert, Malkin charged in with her huge network and ample resources primed to skewer liberal racism.

Park did not respond to requests for an interview, but sources in contact with Park say she opposes Malkin’s extremism. Malkin’s writings are published on a white supremacist website, and she minimizes torture at Guantanamo, is anti-gay, deals in Orientalist stereotypes of Muslims, and cuts down women based on their appearance. Her book on internment was so flawed the Historians’ Committee for Fairness denounced it as “a blatant violation of professional standards of objectivity and fairness.”

Less than two hours after Park initiated #CancelColbert, Malkin enthusiastically backed it. Park was immediately bombarded with tweets warning of the dangers of allying with Malkin, but she said very little despite Malkin writing an Islamophobic defense of Park that used #CancelColbert to argue liberals were the real racists, not conservatives. Park has also been silent about the fact Malkin wrote a book justifying the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, called Asian campaign donors to Hillary Clinton “limited-English-proficient and smellier than stinky tofu,” and once dismissed campaigns against anti-Asian racism as “self-pitying and grievance-mongering.”

Park has become a sensation with just 23,000 Twitter followers, a scattering compared with Malkin’s 693,000 fans. What sets Park apart is her savvy use of Twitter, flowing from her metaphysical vision that “Digital lives will shape history.” Park and her followers float in digital ether where avatars, buzzwords and representations are terra firma. It’s similar to Bitcoin enthusiasts who proselytize that monetary algorithms, online wallets and virtual keys will reshape the global economy, but fall prey to classic con-man scams. It’s a shame because Park is right that liberal racism is real. Democrats are as complicit as the right in locking up brown people at home and blowing up brown people abroad. But when a young anti-racist activist who writes about “imperial timelines,” anti-capitalism and decolonization finds herself in cahoots with an extremist like Malkin, it reveals Twitter is more useful for political manipulation than collective revolution.

EARLY WARNINGS

The #NotYourAsianSidekick landed Park on The Guardian’s list of “Top 30 young people in digital media.” One detail left out of the story is that the movement was shepherded collectively by Park and by co-creator and feminist Juliet Shen, facilitators for specific topics, and organizations like 18 Million Rising. In January, Park took sole credit in a bit of humblebragging, writing, “The viral success of #NotYourAsianSidekick after I first tweeted the tag on December 15, 2013, wasn’t about me, but all of us.” By February, Shen and 18 Million Rising had fallen out with Park.

Park’s next triumph came on Jan. 14 when she scorched the CBS sitcom, “How I Met Your Mother,” accusing it of yellowface in an episode satirizing Kung Fu movies.Tweeting “My race is not a costume,”with the hashtag #HowIMetYourRacism, Park elicited an apology from the show’s co-creator after the controversy was covered by CNN, Time magazine, and Cosmopolitan.

It seems Malkin was watching. Sounding like an activist immersed in cultural theory, Malkin tweeted on Jan. 20, “Great thing about Twitter is that it allows those excluded from official MSM narratives to break down the barriers.”

Then, on Jan. 29, Malkin came into her own as a hashtag activist. MSNBC tweaked the right by tweeting, “Maybe the rightwing will hate it, but everyone else will go awww: the adorable new #Cheerios ad w/ biracial family. http://on.msnbc.com/1dPgQEU.”

A first responder in fabricating outrage, Malkin linked the Cheerios tweet to an incident a month earlier when an MSNBC panel belittled Mitt Romney’s extended family, which includes an adopted black grandchild. Then Malkin tweeted, “Hey @msnbc jerks: This is #MyRightwingBiracialFamily. We love #cheerios. Enough with your race card crap==> pic.twitter.com/DZikmrD0PK.” The crowds went wild, retweeting the hashtag and accompanying photo of Malkin’s two biracial children more than 500 times.

Two minutes later Malkin exhorted her followers to make it a movement, tweeting “Counter the Left’s evil narrative. Use social media to expose & crush it. Flood @msnbc w/YOUR pics ==> #MyRightWingBiracialFamily.”

As more than 100 photos of right-wing biracial families poured in, Malkin gushed, “Gorgeous!”, “BEAUTIFUL!”, “LOVE!!!” She played empowerment coach and bare-knuckled brawler, tweeting, “‘Rightwing’ families responded to @msnbc w/love, pride & joy. This, ultimately, is how we will end poisonous, libelous race-card smears.” Her fans played victims of a bigoted liberal media and basked in the Instagram glow of diversity, family and tolerance.

Twitchy, a Twitter aggregation and curation website founded by Malkin in March 2012 (and sold to a Christian media company last December), churned out posts to keep the outrage fresh. The next day, Jan. 30, Twitchy crowed, “Michelle Malkin leads crushing social media win against MSNBC smear,” after the news network apologized and reportedly fired the tweeter responsible.

What’s this have to do with Suey Park? Well, on Jan. 30, Park weighed in on a Twitter discussion that included Malkin. After Park derided another woman as “hysterical,” “unreasonable,” and “immature,” she declared Malkin was “reasonable.”

Why would Park call Malkin reasonable given her noxious politics?

Perhaps Park was enthused by Malkin’s victorious hashtag campaign that mimicked her own, celebrating diversity against racist media depictions. Given the fact they were familiar with each other, it’s distinctly possible they were talking in the internet’s dark alleys, and Malkin was trying to convince Park they had the same enemy. Park’s fixation on the digital world over the material may have led her to conclude that Twitter Malkin was reasonable.

On March 17, Park published a hashtag manifesto with her frequent collaborator, Eunsong Kim, a PhD candidate in literature. The two imagine Twitter as the new vanguard party uniting revolutionaries. Twitter is subversive, a tool to “defy the limitations of time and space,” a means to build intentional communities, and “part of a collective struggle … to end capitalism and abandon the replication of oppressive exclusionary tactics within ethnic confines.” This reveals a disconnect with reality. That the revolution is riding in on a $25 billion company gentrifying a patch of earth called the Bay Area and displacing people of color in the process goes unmentioned in the manifesto. If you can think Twitter is making a revolution possible, then you can believe Malkin is on your side.

A few days later, on Feb. 2, Park smacked “Saturday Night Live” with charges of yellowface. Her complaints were retweeted only by a few dozen people, but Jeff Yang, whom one source said was a mentor of Park, criticized SNL as well in his Wall Street Journal column and linked it to the “How I Met Your Mother” episode.

In neither episode did Park raise the issue of liberal racism. Certainly Colbert, with his bloviating right-wing alter ego, delights liberals and displeases conservatives. But one can easily make the argument that Park’s initial campaigns exposed the racism of liberal Hollywood as well. It was with #CancelColbert that liberal racism suddenly became Park’s target.

THE STORM

The supercells of Park and Malkin collided the night of Thursday, March 27, 2014, generating a perfect media storm. Park fired off at least three tweets in four minutes. The first was a “Fuck you” Colbert. The second was the infamous “The Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation,” which was retweeted a respectable 144 times, a mild breeze compared to a Twittersphere hurricane like Justin Bieber, whose feckless grunts are retweeted 100,000 times or more. In the third tweet, Park accused white liberals of being “just as complicit in making Asian Americans into punchlines.” Presumably she meant as complicit as conservatives.

In the next two hours, Park rained directives, exhortations, jargon, and rebukes on her followers while skirmishing with others on the side. Park was Asian-America: “there are 19 million of us,” “We are waiting for an apology and explanation,” and “we aren’t amused.”

Park commanded, “White people–please keep #CancelColbert trending until there’s an apology. This is NOT the burden of people of color. Fix it. Do something,” ordered those who aren’t “structurally subordinated [to] please shut up and help #CancelColbert,” and sneered, “Still waiting for white allies to make themselves useful, but they probably enjoy the show too much.” (She changed her opinion about the utility of white people the following week, telling Salon, “I don’t want them on our side.”)

Park later claimed #CancelColbert was a provocative way to expose liberal racism, but that night she chided, “White people … I know y’all are used to having structural power, but losing one show isn’t oppression #CancelColbert.” Additionally, the headline for her and Eunsong Kim’s article for Time magazine read, “We Want to #CancelColbert.”

An hour into the campaign, at 8:52 p.m., Twitchy swung into action. In February, I felt the heat from a Twitchy-led mob, including a thinly veiled death threat, after sarcastically tweeting that Republicans were guilty of economic terrorism by threatening to cut aid to a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee if workers there unionized. But for #CancelColbert, Twitchy became as earnest as an Occupy Wall Street general assembly, curating Tweets about racist “othering,” transphobia, fat shaming, cis privilege, bullying, and triggering. Garnering more than 1,200 mentions on Facebook and Twitter, the Twitchy post praised Park’s persistence, framed the issue as one of liberal racism, and noted the campaign was going viral fast.

MALKIN IT FOR ALL IT’S WORTH

At 9:34 p.m. Park announced the first victory. The Colbert Report deleted the original offending tweet that had gone out at 6:02 p.m.: “I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”

Malkin piled on seven minutes later by tweeting, “Coward just deleted the tweet!” She also referred to the tweet from Twitchy the previous hour.

By 9:44 p.m. the tweets were flying furiously. Park tweeted, “I’m sick of liberals hiding behind assumed ‘progressiveness’ #CancelColbert.” Malkin retweeted it instantly, “Co-sign! RT @suey_park I’m sick of liberals hiding behind assumed ‘progressiveness’ #CancelColbert.” Malkin was retweeted 152 times, nosing past the first Cancel Colbert tweet.

Also at 9:44 p.m. Malkin tweeted at Park, “@suey_park I know we don’t agree on much, but you are TENACIOUS & I respect that greatly. Hats off to you. #cancelcolbert.” Given their contact in January, the tweets suggest the two had been in communication. At minimum the two were now joined in battle against the specter of liberal racism. Park does not comment on Malkin, but she retweeted or favorited all three of her tweets.

Others alerted Park she was making common cause with someone who commits every political sin Park preaches against. At 9:48 p.m. on March 27, only four minutes after Malkin backed Park, noted anti-racist and feminist blogger Mia McKenzie, aka Black Girl Dangerous, expressed her displeasure, tweeting “@suey_park ew michelle malkin, though? ew.” Park didn’t respond, but she favorited this tweet soon after.

At 9:54 p.m., two hours after #CancelColbert was born, Malkin explained the goal was not to cancel Colbert, it was to “#ExposeColbert & it’s working very effectively. Luv the smell of hypocrisy toast.” Park favorited the tweet.

Cancel Colbert rapidly went stratospheric. At 10:33 p.m. Park tweeted, “Fun! We are the #1 trending hashtag in the US right now … Keep it up! Park’s mood understandably soured a few hours later as Twitter interactions hit 200 per minute, many of them oozing racist and sexist vitriol, including rape and death threats.

The next morning Twitchy published another post defending Park that made it seem as if she and Malkin were united on the issue. At no point did Park publicly distance herself from Malkin, reject her politics, or at least express concern that Malkin’s vicious real-world racism might harm the campaign to address racism in the fictional world. Park’s only comment the night of March 27 to Malkin was to declare, “I’m Christian, too,” at 8:56 p.m.

While Malkin and Twitchy supported Park, Park concluded that Colbert fans were behind the torrent of abuse directed at her. Park tweeted that night to Colbert’s personal account, “Dear @StephenAtHome–your years of satire have failed when your fans send rape/death threats to an asian woman for critiquing your work.” From the Twitter feeds of abusers calling her “chink” and “rice nigger,” nearly all look to be rightwing trolls.

LEFT-RIGHT INTERSECTIONALITY

By March 28, #CancelColbert burned through the media. Park’s article in Time indicated that Cancel Colbert was the goal. But in an interview with The New Yorker the same day, Park sounded like Malkin, saying she didn’t really want to cancel Colbert, despite the hashtag. Park said of Colbert’s sketch, “That sort of racial humor just makes people who hide under the title of progressivism more comfortable.” Malkin completed the Freaky Friday switch, sounding like Park when she tweeted that afternoon, “For all you CLWM’s [clueless white males] lecturing brown & yellow women about how we don’t get the ‘satire’ …”

Park obviously is not responsible for Malkin trying to co-opt her message. But given the number of times she retweets or favorites Malkin, and acknowledges criticism but is silent about it, this suggests she is keeping quiet about Malkin’s politics so as to benefit from her support.

Three anti-racist feminists who have been in touch with Park say “she might be in over her head” in tangoing with Malkin. Juliet Shen, who calls Park a “former friend,” says she was “shocked” to see Malkin and Park “were talking to each other, and in a way supporting each other.” Another source says Malkin “doesn’t support Park, she is just eager to use her to slam liberals.”

Shen thinks Malkin is using Park to “change people’s opinions about her, and in that way help loop Asian-Americans into right-wing politics.” She suggests both Park and Malkin may be “using each other for an opportunity to get more visibility in communities neither of them had a lot of presence in.”

Shen says, “It is confusing to see why Park wouldn’t denounce Malkin of all people,” especially when Park is quick to fling around insults such as “anti-blackness, racism, sexism, homophobia [against]other organizers in the Asian-American community.” She says Park might be afraid “if she did publicly criticize Malkin, she has this huge following that could easily turn on Suey.”

One source who asked Park about Malkin’s support for Cancel Colbert claimed Park expressed her distaste for Malkin but then did not respond when asked if she would repudiate Malkin publicly.

Park’s first comment about Malkin came on March 30. The previous day Jeff Yang slammed #CancelColbert and the limits of Twitter as a social justice tool in the Wall Street Journal. Park broke with Yang that evening, calling him “a gaslighting self-promoting patriarch.” Shen wrote in a blog post that it’s common practice among Park’s followers to accuse others of gaslighting, that is, trying to deliberately twist someone’s memory. At 3:42 a.m. Park tweeted at Yang, “@michellemalkin has been a better friend than you.”

On April 1, Malkin threw down in support of Park, making no bones of her intention to use Park to sanitize right-wing racism.
“Question: Who are the most prominent, public purveyors of Asian stereotypes and ethnic language-mocking in America?
“The right answer is liberal Hollywood and Democrats.
“The wrong and slanderous answer is conservatives…”

After denigrating Colbert as an “illegal alien amnesty lobbyist,” Malkin applauded Park for leading a group of “diehard liberals” to “tenaciously” question Colbert and his defenders as “race-baiting liberals who hid behind their self-professed progressivism.” Malkin also took the opportunity to bash Muslims and defend her internment book.

Finally on April 1 Park offered some ambiguous criticism, tweeting, “Michelle Malkin cosigning my work means my message sucks, but white supremacists threatening rape cosigning Angry Asian Man means…what?”

DIGITAL DESTRUCTION

Just as Park has shied away from criticizing a demagogue who boosted her, Park’s defenders have ignored how she and her supporters engage in abusive behavior, outrageous claims, and odious alliances. This is not equivalent to the threats of violence directed at Park, who has shown real courage to face down internet predators.

But Park and her followers use the digital medium as a cudgel to silence opposition and to erase histories, which serves to promote her brand. Park says the revolution involves building bridges “across difference in our Twitter neighborhoods” to understand “how slavery, genocide, and orientalism are the three pillars of white supremacy.” Twitter’s 140-character limit, however, also selects for cliques that build gated ideologies out of code words. The medium is hostile to analyzing the quality of an idea, the logic of an argument, or the nuance of history.

If you are an ally, your social genotype takes precedence as long as you can correctly assemble the jargon: decolonial, intersectional, queer, anti-racist, imperial timelines, trans, white supremacy, heteropatriarchical. If you are a critic, which is a polite term for enemy, then your phenotype is all that matters.

Thus, if you are an Asian-American man Park disagrees with, that’s because “Asian men [throw] women of color under the bus.” If you are an Asian woman critic, you sound like “a white feminist.” If you are a white feminist, that really means “White (Supremacy) Feminism.” And if you are a hetero cis white male, nothing more needs be said.

There is no institutional memory on Twitter, just a stream of directives and pronouncements that wash away the past. If Twitter is the revolution, then Park can actually believe “my tweet” of #NotYourAsianSidekick was “the point of origin for Asian American feminism.” That’s right. Suey Park invented Asian-American feminism. Additionally, Park can simultaneously speak for 19 million Asian Americans, tell them to “decenter” their identity, and berate them for “gaslighting,” “sidekicking” whites, and ignoring their internalized racism.

Her enablers include the swarm of leftists on Twitter so intoxicated by identity politic buzzwords they couldn’t walk the line between defending someone against vile threats, and challenging the conduct and ideas of Park and her supporters. The media is even more complicit as it made her into a national figure, but is so incurious about Asian-America that Park can act as its voice and the founder of Asian-American feminism without raising an eyebrow.

Then there’s the matter of how #CancelColbert “Drowned out the Native Voice,” as Indian Country Today Media Network bluntly stated. Native American journalist Jacqueline Keeler criticized Park for shifting discussion away from the Redskins name, and for not promoting hashtags to protest racist sports team names. Keeler claims, “We kept Suey Park in the loop regarding our hashtag #Not4Sale, she was just not moved to act on it.” Native activist Jennie Stockle, who works with Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry, wrote: “… like a tornado, Suey Park’s tweet calling to cancel Colbert Report came through and pushed all of our efforts into a storm shelter.”

Park admitted the adverse effect of #CancelColbert the next day, “The almighty@andrea366 has reminded me of an important point–can’t ignore anti-Native racism–let’s address issues simultaneously.”

Ironically, Park is right that digital lives do bleed into reality, just as drug traffickers and the IRS alike realize Bitcoin is more than fictitious capital. Park and her allies sparked a national controversy and sent the media all atwitter. They proved a point that Asians are an easy punchline for television comedy, even as their claim Asian-Americans is one monolithic marginalized community is as fictional as the shows they critique.

But in the offline world, says Shen, they’ve “burned bridges, hurt many people in our community, and by throwing buzzwords around they’ve diminished real organizing against sexism, racism and other forms of bigotry.”

Shen adds Park’s appropriation of grand roles and achievements shows a lack of “recognition for those who’ve done so much before us. … This is not the origin for Asian-American feminism. This is one blip in the long timeline of fighting for racial, sexual and gender justice.”

The only one who gained from the dust-up is Colbert with more attention and a show’s worth of material. Park built a national platform out of hashtags, but her standing has likely peaked. After Colbert was tapped for the coveted spot of host on “The Late Show,” Park and Kim took to Time magazine once more to vow they’re not going to stop “until it ends.” It, presumably, is how the “entertainment industry has perfected the development of white, cis, straight, male characters,” and marginalized “other voices.” It’s a worthy goal, but they are trying to empty an ocean with a thimble by using Twitter to change historical consciousness.

Bitcoin paved the way for a slew of digital currencies, and #CancelColbert will inspire others to replicate Park. There will be more hashtag activists inventing history 140 characters at time, erasing allies and achievements, positioning themselves at the head of movements and communities, and influencing national conversations. Lurking in Twitter’s shadows will be other opportunists like Malkin ready to divert that energy for twisted ends. But 140-character harangues in the dark won’t change anything. Real change happens in the real world.

Correction: This post has been updated to accurately reflect the order in which Suey Park and Michelle Malkin were tweeting or retweeting each other in one exchange.

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How Education Reform Drives Gentrification

A Portland teachers’ contract negotiation debunks the myth of school choice, which leaves a swath of the city behind

Emma Christ, center, a Cleveland High School senior, at a rally organized by the Portland Student Union and the Portland Teachers Solidarity Campaign. The rally attracted students, parents and other unions in support of teachers during contract negotiations. Stephanie Yao Long/The Oregonian/Landov

Emma Christ, center, a Cleveland High School senior, at a rally organized by the Portland Student Union and the Portland Teachers Solidarity Campaign. The rally attracted students, parents and other unions in support of teachers during contract negotiations.
Stephanie Yao Long/The Oregonian/Landov

by Arun Gupta Al Jazeera America March 7, 2014

Public school teachers in Portland, Ore., and their students are doing a victory lap. Nearly a year after unveiling a contract proposal that would have put the squeeze on the 2,900-member Portland Association of Teachers (PAT), the Portland School Board on March 3 approved a contract that acceded to virtually every demand from the teachers’ union.

The board was acting as a stalking horse for corporate attacks on unions and public education nationwide. It initially wanted to saddle teachers with higher health care costs, fewer retirement benefits, more students and a greater workload in a city where 40 percent of teachers already work more than 50 hours a week (PDF). The board also demanded expansive management rights (PDF) and allegedly wished to link teacher evaluation more closely to standardized testing. The PAT opposed the board, arguing that low-income and minority students would pay the heaviest price as their classes grew larger, more time was devoted to testing and resources for curriculum preparation and teacher development got slashed.

Only after 98 percent of the PAT voted to strike starting Feb. 20 — and students vowed to join the picket line — did the board blink. Alexia Garcia, an organizer with the Portland Student Union who graduated last year, says students held walkouts and rallies at many of the city’s high schools in support of teachers’ demands because “teachers’ working conditions are our learning conditions.”

The deal is a big victory for the teachers’ union in a state where business interests, led by the Portland Business Alliance, call the shots on education policy. The school board had brought out the big guns, authorizing payments of up to $360,000 to a consultant for contract negotiations and $800,000 to a law firm, despite already having a full-time lawyer on its payroll. But, emulating Chicago teachers who prevailed in an eight-day strike in 2012, the PAT went beyond contract numbers, winning community support by focusing on student needs and rallying to stop school closures in underserved communities.

Most significant, the teachers helped expose the role of education reform in gentrifying the city, making it nearly impossible for every neighborhood to have a strong school. This is a process playing out nationwide, from Los Angeles to Atlanta, Milwaukee to Washington, D.C. But it is particularly striking in Portland, so noted for quirkiness and tolerance it has spawned a hit television show, “Portlandia,” During a public forum on the contract negotiations, one teacher observed that the show was a reflection of how “we march to our own beat in Portland.” This has held true for the teachers’ approach to education.

Test scores by ZIP code

The current fight over public schools began in January 2013 when teachers, parents and students successfully blocked the board from closing or merging half a dozen schools, mainly in the historically African-American neighborhood of Northeast Portland, which had already seen two schools shut down the previous year. This helped to mobilize community support behind a vision of public education that contrasted starkly with the Portland School Board’s ideas.

The tussle over teacher contracts has underscored how cozy the board is with corporate interests that promote school ratings, standardized testing and school choice, which allows students to freely transfer to other public schools. Touted as a way to use market forces to improve schools, school choice instead creates a two-tier system.

The racial effect of school choice is stark in Northeast Portland, where more than 40 percent of the black population has been pushed out since 2000, and which is 70 percent white today. City documents reveal that more white children in the area opt for charter, magnet and public schools in other parts of the city than attend their assigned neighborhood school. For African-American children, barely one-fourth access those choices.

Sekai Edwards is a sophomore at Jefferson High School in Northeast Portland, the only African-American-majority school in the city. It’s ranked in the bottom 15 percent of the state’s schools. Edwards says Jefferson is “portrayed as failing, as having a lot of violence and gang activity, so fewer kids want to come here.” Jefferson has about 500 students, a third of the size of some other high schools in the city. Since funding is tied to enrollment, Edwards says the only foreign language offered is Spanish, and her anatomy and physiology class has 43 students in it. She says, “I just want to focus on schooling,” but with constant fears of her school being shut down, she adds, “I don’t think I’ll get that at Jefferson.”

History of displacement

What’s happening in Portland is white flight in reverse. Middle-class families eye Northeast Portland for its undervalued homes but choose different schools because neighborhood ones are pegged as bad. Declining enrollment bleeds money from already underfunded schools, making them less attractive and creating a downward spiral in which the schools are rated as failing, subsequently closed and eventually replaced by charter schools that can cherry-pick students.

School choice is layered atop a racialized terrain, allowing middle-class families to profit from lower home prices while avoiding the cost of bad schools.

As public schools in Northeast Portland shutter, black households are displaced as redevelopment pushes rents upward. Karen Gibson, a professor of urban studies at Portland State University, analyzes how government policies, banks and developers ghettoized Portland’s blacks. The history of black Portland is one of high unemployment and incarceration rates, toxic land and shoddy housing, institutionalized segregation and redlining practices, poor schools, minimal social services and overpolicing. Gibson wrote that for 40 years blacks were subjected to “predatory and exploitative lending practices by speculators, slumlords, bankers and real estate agents,” being denied routine mortgage and rehab loans or the ability to move to other neighborhoods. When Northeast Portland was slated for rehabilitation in the ’90s, government assistance, bank mortgages and business opportunities flowed to whites, while black homeowners, often not realizing how much their homes had appreciated, took below-market cash offers from speculators. For the two-thirds of black households who don’t own homes (as opposed to the 57 percent of white households who do), rising rents hit harder, as their per capita income is barely $16,000, half that of whites.

Despite decades of promises to address such displacement, the city has pushed ahead with policies that intensify racial disparities. Most recently it offered a $2.6 million parcel of land for a mere $500,000 to the billionaire-owned Majestic Realty to develop a Trader Joe’s outlet. The deal would have increased displacement without any guarantees for community hiring or affordable housing. After an outcry from the African-American community, Trader Joe’s withdrew from the deal.

Ironically, the same cultural wave that has brought “Portlandia” to young audiences has also encouraged more gentrification. The show trades on residents’ obsessive tendencies about food, facial hair, bicycling, dumpster diving — any activity untainted by mass consumer culture. But the quirky authenticity attracts new residents to the city, driving up rents and spreading the hipster culture that has colonized much of New York City, Seattle, the San Francisco Bay Area and other places. In its wake it leaves its own form of homogenization: new residents who are largely white and wealthy.

Beyond cold numbers

School choice is layered atop this racialized terrain, allowing middle-class families to profit from lower home prices while avoiding the cost of bad schools. It’s the existing residents who foot the bill. Elizabeth Thiel, an educator who has taught in five Portland public schools over the past 11 years, lives in Northeast Portland. She says the white middle-class families moving into black neighborhoods are genuinely concerned about “trying to find the best education for their kid.” But according to Thiel, the education-reform movement, with its focus on standardized testing, has legitimized the naming of schools as failures. Families thus feel justified in saying, “Well, I live in that neighborhood, but I would never send my kid to that school.” Thiel says, “People stop thinking about what a school really is. It’s a community, and community is defined by the people who participate in it.”

In fact, standardized test scores mainly measure income and race. Students from wealthier and whiter neighborhoods score higher on the tests than students in low-income black areas. Portland schools use parent-led foundations to fundraise. In wealthier neighborhoods those efforts can translate to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to pay for support staff, technology, arts classes and electives lacking at schools like Jefferson.

Looking ahead

By the time the two sides struck a deal on Feb. 18, the school board had conceded (PDF) nearly every demand of the PAT, agreeing to hire more than 150 teachers to reduce class size, minimize changes to health care and bump pay by a modest 2.3 percent per year. Many of the concessions directly affect the learning process: The board backtracked on demands to lift the cap on how many students a teacher can have at one time and decrease the amount of time for lesson planning in elementary schools, and it agreed to allow teachers more leeway in tailoring instruction methods to the needs of students.

The success of Portland teachers in fighting off misguided educational policies could help counter the swelling inequality that is pulverizing the city’s neighborhoods. More important, by advocating for high-quality public education for all children as the building block of stable communities, the teachers have shown how to fight corporate-driven gentrification and education reform at the same time, regardless of the city.

Arun Gupta is a regular contributor to The Progressive, In These Times and The Guardian. He is writing a book on the social construction of taste. Follow him on Twitter: @arunindy.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America’s editorial policy.

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Filed under Austerity, Education, Inequality, Labor, Race

Actually, Satya Nadella’s selection as Microsoft CEO isn’t great for Indians

When Indians glow like a proud parent at a new CEO or billionaire, they reject millions who suffer for that wealth.

Satya Nadella. Photograph: Microsoft/Reuters

Satya Nadella. Photograph: Microsoft/Reuters

by Arun Gupta The Guardian February 5, 2014

Growing up near Washington DC, in the 1970s, one of my few pop cultural references for an Indian was Johnny Quest’s Hadji: “a well-spoken … orphan who picked up his smarts on the streets of Calcutta.” It was embarassing, like the urine-drinking Indian prime minister, or the teacher who explained to my classmates that the reason I was tardy in returning from a trip to India was because I “may have gotten married” at the ripe age of 10.

Indians take pride when one of their own scales the pinnacles of western success – Pulitzer Prizes, Miss America, governorships and business titans – partly because they are prickly about being viewed as the monkey-brain-eating other. Individual success is proof of the nation’s collective intellect, work ethic and merit.

The selection of Satya Nadella as the new CEO of Microsoft is one such moment. Hyderabad-born, Indian-educated, cricket-lover, Nadella is pure Desi, bringing the essence of thousands of years of culture to cutting-edge technology. The reaction back home was ecstatic. The Hindustan Times crowed, “India raises toast as Satya Nadella named Microsoft top boss.” Infosys CEO Narayana Murthy declared, “This is how India’s brand will be enhanced.” One analyst touted Nadella as an example for all Indians to put aside their “caste, religion and regional” differences and “start helping one another”.

For Indians who do raise a glass of the national drink, Johnny Walker Black, to Nadella, they’re not affirming a shared achievement. They’re affirming their status in America’s winner-take-all system. Their definition of success is limited to business executives, Hollywood stars, US attorneys, television physicians, and White House officials.

This empty boosterism is often tinged by a chauvinism as crude as any Tea Party reactionary. Many Indian-Americans praise Bobby Jindal, the Republican governor of Louisiana solely for his heritage. If they paid attention to his policies he might have acquired the sobriquet of “Gunga Jindal” for seemingly changing his name and religion as part of his effort to pander to racists.

Ethnic pride also tends to be marked by childlike cravings for normalcy to mask shame. Each success is another sign India’s greatness will erase images of a land of female infanticide, ethnic cleansing, gang rapes and slave labor.

Now, what would be an accomplishment for these Indians is to mature beyond such dubious conceits. For one, what is there to celebrate in Microsoft? Many see it as a company with mediocre products wedded to Robber Baron monopoly practices headed by a billionaire whose pastimes include destroying public education from Kindergarten through college and bankrolling apocalyptic geoengineering schemes.

More significant, few of the 140 million Indians who lack clean water or the 400 million who live on less than $40 a month will toast Nadella. They are not indifferent to his success. They pay for it in homes bulldozed, waters stolen and land fouled by proliferating IT campuses and gated communities.

Exalting Nadella conflates the few with the nation. It’s similar to the nationalist orgy after India exploded a nuclear device in May 1998. Arundhati Roy wrote at the time, “The bomb is India. India is the bomb. Not just India, Hindu India. Therefore, be warned, any criticism of it is not just anti-national, but anti-Hindu.”

Her critique exposed the double-edged sword of ethnic pride. After writing The God of Small Things, “beaming” Indians would stop Roy and declare, “You have made India proud,” referring not to her novel that digs into India’s afflictions of caste, class and gender violence, but to her receipt of England’s Booker Prize. But that pride curdled. Her loyalty, background, and Indianness were questioned after she tallied that the embrace of nuclear weapons, “the most diabolical creation of western science,” cost India freedom and imagination for fear and insecurity.

Since then nuclear terror has been superseded by India’s embrace of the free market and the digital revolution. It’s created 65 billionaires, but the cost is being borne by the still majority agrarian population who are being pushed off ancestral land for factories, mines and dams. So when Indians glow like a proud parent at a new CEO or billionaire of their own, they are rejecting millions who suffer for that wealth. If Indians want their own to venerate, they should look to those like Roy who embody the best of their heritage, the thirst for universal ideals and justice.

In the United States, there’s Kshama Sawant, the new city councilmember in Seattle, around the corner from Microsoft’s home, who’s reviving socialism in a country floundering in capitalism. Or Bhairavi Desai, the unlikely organizer of tens of thousands of New York City cabdrivers. Or immigrant-rights organizer Harsha Walia in Canada.

In fact, there is an astonishing number of South Asians in North America whose activism is inspired by the vast tableau of social justice struggles in their home countries and communities. They are working across cultures, languages and communities for a better world, and are far more deserving of their compatriots’ attention than some head of a corporate behemoth.

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How I Called the Cops and Almost Got Shot: the Politics of Being a “Threat”

2013_0910gun_

On this national day of protest against police brutality, Reporter Arun Gupta recalls an incident years ago in New York City when he stared down the barrel of a police gun because he “looked like a suspect.” 

By Arun Gupta  September 10, 2013 truth-out.org
It was night. I was winding down, watching “Star Trek” in the living room when Irene yelled in panic from the back of our railroad flat in Brooklyn. A few seconds later, she emerged half-dressed and red-faced. “Some guy tried to climb into my bedroom from the fire escape. But I screamed, and he ran off,” she panted in her Irish brogue.

Grabbing the phone, I dialed 911 and said a guy had tried to break into our apartment but had fled. “They’re in your apartment?” the dispatcher asked. “No! It was an attempted break-in. They’re gone.” I emphasized, “Attempted, attempted. They are long gone.” I walked toward Irene’s bedroom and from her window adjoining the fire escape blue-and-red lights flashed in the dark as a police cruiser rounded the corner.

We shouted to the cops that someone tried to break in but hightailed out because of the commotion. They asked where the prowler was. “I don’t know. They’re probably nearby.” The cops remained in the car, seemingly uninterested in searching for the suspect.

As Irene gave the cops more details, there was pounding on the front door. “I’ll get it,” I said, striding down the hall. Fists hammered on the door. “Who is it,” I asked. “Police. Open up!” I peered through the eyehole, but the figures were obscured. “Step in front of the peephole,” I said. “Open the fucking door,” a male voice bellowed.

Well, I figured, I was the one who called the cops, so who else could it be? I swung the door open and to my side was a black female cop with her gun drawn, pointed upward, and in front of me was a white male cop standing on the stairs in a two-handed shooting stance with his gun resting on the banister pointing directly at my head. As I stared down the barrel of his nickel-plated revolver, the warning from my friend Greg, a born-and-bred Texan, flashed in my head. “Always be wary of a cop who has a nickel-plated revolver. It means they spent $500 on their own gun, and they’re eager to use it.”

“Put your guns away,” I blurted at the African-American cop. With a head shake, she shot back, “Don’t tell me what to do.” Meanwhile the male cop yelled, “Step out of the fucking apartment.”

It dawned on me that they thought I was the suspect.

But they didn’t consider that I was unarmed, barefoot and wearing only underwear and a T-shirt – or why an intruder would open the locked door when there were plenty of windows to escape from in the apartment. I hollered, “I was the one who called 911. I told them the guy fled.” The male cop kept baying, “Get out of the fucking apartment,” and I countered, “This is my fucking apartment.”

At that point Irene entered the three-way fray and exclaimed, “What in Christ’s name are you doing? He’s my roommate.” The cops lowered their guns, and as we continued yelling they looked at each other and then bolted.

“Jesus Christ, they thought you were the burglar,” Irene said as we closed the door. I rolled my eyes, “Fucking pigs.” This is the point in the story where I’m supposed to say I started shaking when I realized my brains were almost turned into modern art on the wall behind me. But I didn’t because I was unscathed. I did figure they flew the coop quickly because they were about to execute some street justice on me and didn’t want us to get their badge numbers.

I was pissed they assumed I was enough of a threat to warrant the possible use of deadly force. I was pissed that what saved my South Asian ass was my female Irish roommate. (And I was pissed I missed the end of “Star Trek.”)

If the cops had killed me, it would have been the word of New York’s finest against my corpse. The story would have been they were responding to a break-in. I was a suspect who was being uncooperative, belligerent, even threatening. In the unlikely event they were charged with a crime, the cops would have been acquitted because their perception was I was a threat. That perception was based mainly on the fact I’m a dark-skinned, broad-shouldered male. I would have been another Trayvon Martin or Amadou Diallo, who was plugged with 19 bullets in 1999 after four cops stopped him in his Bronx apartment building because he “looked like a suspect.”

Like Martin’s, Diallo’s killing spurred a movement against racial profiling, which led to a court order in 2003 forcing the NYPD to release data on stop-and-frisk practices every three months. But my death would have been a footnote, because it would have happened right before Rudy Giuliani became mayor in 1993 and aggressively expanded stop-and-frisks. Back then, few people were aware of the lax protocol for police stops. I was certainly clueless in 1990 when I felt the humiliation of a police stop in a subway station because they said I “looked like a suspect.”

The problem with stop-and-frisk is the wide discretion given to cops’ perception, cops whose views are shaped more by centuries of social prejudices than a few months in the police academy. Cops, soldiers, even armed vigilantes can get away with murder by claiming they felt threatened. The law takes stereotypes like black criminals, Mexican gangsters and Muslim terrorists and transforms them from subjective irrationality into objective criteria. George Zimmerman would never have been acquitted if he had gunned down a 17-year-old blonde cheerleader. That’s why I could have been on the roll call that includes Diallo, Martin, Sean Bell, Ramerley Graham, Oscar Grant and hundreds of others.

Stop-and-frisks are known as “Terry stops,” referring to the 1968 Supreme Court case Terry v. Ohio, which carved out an exception to the Fourth Amendment. It was the first time “the Court allowed a criminal search and seizure without probable cause,” and subsequent case law further loosened the standards for a stop. The court ruled police need only “reasonable suspicion” to stop someone, and the “sole justification” for a frisk is “to discover guns, knives, clubs, or other hidden instruments for the assault of the police officer.”

Terry was shaped in an era of “social upheaval, violence in ghettos and disorder on campuses,” and handed down right after the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. The liberal Warren Court was under attack from the right for “coddling criminals,” and Richard Nixon’s “law and order” presidential campaign fanned the flames to such a degree that ” ‘Impeach Earl Warren’ signs appeared along highways in most parts of the country.”

The justices capitulated to the law-and-order climate by asserting police conduct involved the “necessarily swift action predicated upon the on-the-spot observations of the officer” drawing on “his experience.” The high court made this explicit 12 years later in United States v. Cortez when it “directly instructed lower courts to defer to the judgment of police.” Given the historical antagonism between an overwhelmingly white police force and ghettoized communities, it made racial fears central to policing. In Cortez, the justices also implied police actions were beyond public scrutiny: “A trained officer draws inferences and makes deductions … that might well elude an untrained person.” So if the police decide inner-city blacks and Latinos are violent or prone to crime, then the courts should defer to the police as the most capable of making and acting on those judgments.

This is why it took 14 years to take a bite out of stop-and-frisk. Of the 4.8 million stops conducted by the NYPD in the past decade, five in six of those stopped were black or Latino. They were more likely to be frisked than whites but less likely to be found with a weapon. Digging into the 685,724 stops in 2011, the New York Civil Liberties Union uncovered two astonishing facts: the “number of stops of young black men exceeded the entire city population of young black men (168,126 as compared with 158,406), and in six precincts where blacks and Latinos make up 14 percent of the population or less, they accounted for 70 percent of stops. Independent studies have determined “race predicts stop-and-frisk patterns even after controlling for variables like crime rates, social conditions and the allocation of police resources.”

Since 2003, of the 570,000 people arrested or given a summons, nearly 90 percent are black and Latino, creating a circular logic. It’s reasonable for police to stop, frisk and arrest black men and Latinos because they are more likely to be involved in criminal activity because police are arresting so many of them.

That’s the logic of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who claims cops “disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little.” Because of Terry, Bloomberg and top cop Ray Kelly have to say they’re taking guns off the streets to justify ratcheting up stop-and-frisks sevenfold since 2002. But cops have had to stop an average of 833 people in recent years to find one illegal gun, and stop-and-frisks are so inefficient that they produce fewer arrests than what police typically achieve at random checkpoints.

Bloomberg’s attitude flows down the command chain and reinforces prejudices that blacks and Latinos are more prone to crime. It’s also codified in the law where reasonable suspicion exists for anyone in a “high-crime area” and who moves away from police. In the 1.62 million stops from 2010 through June 2012, the three most cited factors lack individual specificity: high-crime area at 61 percent, “furtive movements” at 54 percent and time of day at 43 percent. (Multiple factors are usually cited, and the nebulous categories of “evasive response,” “proximity to crime scene” and “changed direction” account for another 65 percent.) But expert analysis finds 86 percent of these stops can still be justified, an additional 10 percent could not be categorized and a mere 4 percent were “apparently unjustified.” So with a few tweaks, the NYPD can still profile entire communities.

This does not detract from the dogged grassroots effort against stop-and-frisk in conjunction with the legal strategy pursued by the Center for Constitutional Rights since 1999. It has won landmark victories like US District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin’s August 12 ruling that the NYPD is engaged in “indirect racial profiling,” which the “city’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to” in violation of the Fourth and 14th Amendments. Scheindlin appointed an independent monitor to “end the constitutional violations in the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices,” and the City Council passed a bill authorizing “an outside inspector general with subpoena power to study and make policy recommendations to the department.”

Bigger battles lie ahead beyond the hostility the NYPD likely will mount to many reforms. The next step is to wipe away the stained legacy of Terry, which is essential to the New Jim Crow that consigns many African-Americans to the bottom of the barrel. Since the 1963 March on Washington, the relative status of blacks compared with whites is virtually unchanged in terms of poverty, earnings, wealth and unemployment. When it comes to imprisonment, the rates are worse.

The drug war and an eightfold increase in the prison population since 1970 have forced millions of blacks and Latinos into a shadow workforce. I’ve encountered the results in Niles, Ohio, where striking steelworkers told me the factory owner was using ex-convicts as strike breakers, and in the Chicago warehouse industry, where workers say about half the workers have criminal records and are desperate for any employment, which allows management to force down wages and deny workers basic rights.

I know what it’s like to be a problem. The police have stopped and interrogated me; cops pulled guns on me in my own apartment, and I regularly win the Homeland Security interrogation lottery when entering the United States. But in general my social status affords me protection.

My daily life is not defined by a system that conflates race with danger. My school was not patrolled by scowling cops packing heat. My job options were not limited to flipping burgers or slinging rock. My friends didn’t cycle between prison and parole. My neighborhood isn’t swarming with so many cops that kids lift their shirts to indicate, “There’s no reason to stop and frisk me.”

Yet that night in my apartment, my background didn’t matter: The clichés about a clean record, a good background, an upstanding citizen. The cops didn’t know that, but they knew I willingly opened the door, I was unarmed and in my underwear, I explained I called 911, but I was guilty. I got a nickel-plated taste of how policing reflects social prejudices.

Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama aside, there’s a desperate need for a new Reconstruction today as much as there was 50 years ago, when the tide shifted against America-style Apartheid. The much-needed judicial and legislative victories against stop-and-frisk do not address how individual fears harden into iron bars of segregation. And while the race line has blurred into class, we are still two countries, separate and unequal.

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