America Sent the First Man to the Moon, but Can’t Track Police Killings

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I started writing this article at a time when hundreds of people were taking to the streets to protest the death of Freddie Gray. Of course, if I had written this article a few weeks before, I would have been writing at the time of the death of Walter Scott; two months previously, I would have been writing at the time of the shooting of the homeless man known as Africa or three months before that, the murder of 12 year old Tamir Rice. I could go on.

In the United States, black men, women, boys, and girls are dying at the hands of the police every week. Let us not underestimate what is happening here; this is, as Dr. Randy Short described it, ‘incremental genocide.’This month, Chicago has become the first U.S. city to have to pay reparations to over 110 mostly African American men, who were tortured into confessions, between 1972 and 1991, by Jon Burge, a police lieutenant, and his subordinates.

We can call these tortures and these deaths whatever we want but what we cannot disagree on is that they are unjust, disproportionately affect a certain race and are predominantly ignored. Despite this blatant oppression and systematic abuse of people’s Human Rights, there are those who are still determined to deflect attention from it or justify it.

They are the people who shout louder about the rioting in Baltimore than they do about the decades of high-level homelessness and unemployment. They are the people who look for any trace of a criminal record on Mike Brown, as if somehow, an unrelated conviction justifies a heavy-handed death sentence. For some it is cognitive dissonance; for others it’s ignorance. Whatever the reason, the outcome is further oppression.

I have been writing for Social Work Helper for over a year now and greatly admire the hard work of the Founder and Editor Deona Hooper in highlighting the rampant racism that still exists in America. It has come to my attention, however, that many of the articles she posts on this topic receive a lot of negative attention from Social Workers who argue that advocating on this issue is not relevant to Social Work.

So what is the role of Social Workers in preventing these deaths and the racism that underpins them?

We know firsthand that the rioting in Baltimore and in Ferguson, and in London after the shooting of Mark Duggan, was a result, not only of poor police-community relations, but of huge societal inequalities. American and British Social Workers know that we live in two of the most unequal nations in the world, not because we read research articles that prove this, it’s because we live and breathe it with our Service Users every day. We sit with the homeless outside the multi-million dollar business head office; we take the young Mother shopping to show her how to make her $30 a week feed her whole family, whilst our politicians spend thousands of dollars on one meal.

As Social Workers, we see what poverty does. We see the corrosive, ubiquitous impact it has on society. Poverty is like a poison that seeps in to every aspect of a person’s life. It leads to the deterioration of physical health, mental health, our environments and our resilience. It leads to drug abuse, alcohol abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse.

Yet, two of the richest nations in the world allow a huge proportion of their population to live in poverty. As Nelson Mandela said “overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity, it is an act of justice.” Children’s Social Workers, Mental Health Social Workers and Criminal Justice Social Workers, would have a much reduced strain on their resources if the underlying issue of poverty was addressed. Therefore, we must keep giving a voice to those living in poverty until the current structures are changed and equality is achieved.

We know that poverty is a man-made injustice in the USA and Britain. So, what does it say when statistics show that you are less likely to live in poverty if you were born with white skin? There is a complex, yet undeniable role that racism plays in poverty demographics.  In Britain, people from a Black or Minority Ethnic group are more likely to be unemployed, more likely to be paid below the living wage and more likely to be discriminated against at work.

This is only the very tip of the iceberg of a plethora of unequal treatment that runs through healthcare, mental healthcare, legal aid and education. Sometimes the inequality and discrimination is obvious, sometimes it is not; but the inequality is everywhere. Put simply, we cannot address poverty without acknowledging racism and we cannot call ourselves affective Social Workers without tackling poverty.

Being an effective Social Worker isn’t about filling in your paperwork better or faster than everybody else, it is about identifying the areas in which the people you work with are discriminated against, disadvantaged and oppressed while fighting to remove those obstacles.

Deona does not profit or get paid from this magazine, yet she continues to run an online international magazine which has over 80,000 followers on Facebook alone. When I asked her what motivates her to advocate nationally on issues of racism, she said: “I do it because I care… I feel that if I don’t stand on this issue important to my community in the Social Work world none of the other Social Work platforms located in the U.S. will.”

As a perfect example of the innate racism I have just described, Deona receives an enormous backlash for her selfless and important work. The Social Work Helper Facebook page was purposefully trolled by conservative Social Workers who all gave it one star ratings in an effort to drive the ratings down for the page. Eventually, Deona removed the Facebook ratings feature to prevent this type of nuisance. This is an effective tactic for companies and product pages to motivate change. However, Deona explained that Social Work Helper is free information and resources that people can choose to use or not use.

Apart from the actions of the conservative Social Workers being petty and hateful on a personal level, they are in fact part of the wider problem. If you silence oppression, you yourself are an oppressor. As a woman, I know what it is to have an invisible war waged against you. When people laugh at the fact your colleague makes sexist jokes at your expense, you’re told to take it as a joke; be quiet; stop complaining. As a result, those who did not even tell the joke – or pull the trigger on the innocent black man – provide the perfect environment for the oppression to continue unchallenged.

This is not an issue of black people versus white people. It’s an issue of those who recognize that racism affects us all versus those who don’t. Racism means we don’t get the best Teachers or Scientists because they were locked out of education from an early age due to their race. It means more crime and social problems for everyone. When I talk about race, as a white woman, it’s often deemed irrelevant. What does she know, she’s white? My family and loved ones are black. Racism affects me too.

What if the best Doctor in the world, who could save my Mum from a life-threatening illness, was shot dead at 15 by a Police Officer because he was black? Regardless of that person’s potential, treating another human being differently because of the way they were born is very simply wrong. Racism makes the world a poorer place, and we all feel that.

We all have to take responsibility for racism. The onus to solve this enormous problem cannot be on those who are victims of racism, much in the same way that we wouldn’t expect the victims of Domestic Violence to solve the issue of Domestic Violence. Dialogue is better than monologue and articles, such as the ones posted on Social Work Helper, are an ideal platform to start that dialogue.

If you are reading this, as one of the Social Workers who has stated that racism is not the cause to the rioting in Baltimore, or Ferguson, then you are, either through choice or ignorance, ignoring the facts. If you truly believe racism doesn’t exist, the very most that means, is that you haven’t opened your eyes to it. You are the reporters who insisted that the nooses hanging from the tree at Jena High School, after six young black boys sat under it, were a rodeo joke and nothing to do with the legacy of lynchings.

You may not want to talk about racism, but when you don’t, the result is the rioting we are seeing in Baltimore today. It is the rioting we saw in London in 2011 and it is the rioting we will see again next month.

The Ferguson police force were proved, beyond reasonable doubt, to have racist views. When a white man with racist views, kills an innocent black man through fears of the black stereotype, that is a racist killing. The rule appears to be, that if you are in Police uniform when you kill someone, it is not only justifiable to wrongfully kill someone, but to some degree, it was the victim’s fault and the black community’s fault.

I have three nephews, aged ten and below, who are of African descent. By Police standards, they would be considered to be black. I am thankful everyday that they are being raised in England and not the U.S.A. And whilst England too is plagued by racism throughout the criminal justice system, I can rest easy knowing that summary executions of young black men by the Police are the exception here, rather than the rule. I cannot even begin to imagine the anguish parents of black children feel every day across the U.S.A. knowing that regardless of that fact their son has never committed a crime, he one day may not come home because he refused to stop for a police officer.

Aside from the economic racism, there is a potent institutional racism within our Police forces that I have written about countless times before. In England, Sir David McNee, then Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, defending the actions of the Special Patrol Group (SPG), said to a black journalist “I understand the concern of your people. But if you keep off the streets of London and behave yourselves you won’t have the SPG to worry about.”

In 2003, Las Vegas Police Officer Brian Hartman shot and killed unarmed Orlando Barlow in the back, as he was on his knees and attempting to surrender. Hartman and the other officers in his unit celebrated the shooting by printing up t-shirts depicting Hartman’s rifle and the initials B.D.R.T. (Baby Daddy Removal Team), a racially charged term and reference to Barlow. The country that sent a man to the moon, decades ago, has admitted that it can’t keep track of the number of people killed by police officers. In a country such as America, this should be a very simple statistic to acquire.

You stay quiet about all this if you really want, but don’t call yourself a Social Worker. Don’t ever silence others who are courageous enough and determined enough to say what needs to be screamed from the top of all of our lungs.

When it comes to racism, sexism, or any other form of oppression, you can continue to tell us to sit down and shut up, if you really want, but we won’t ever be quiet. I can guarantee that it is you that will be on the wrong side of history.

Social Workers Against Criminalization Launch New Initiative in the Wake of Protests

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New York Many in the New York social work community honored the reclaiming of Dr. King’s legacy, also known as the Day of Resilience and the Pledge of Resistance, by announcing the launch of Social Workers Against Criminalization (SWAC).

The emergence of SWAC is an acknowledgement of the ways in which social workers have often participated in and perpetuated institutional racism and state violence while simultaneously recognizing the capacity and responsibility that social workers have to support the already existing resilience of oppressed communities, through trauma informed care, political education, policy, and organizing initiatives. SWAC promotes the professional obligations of social workers to dismantle the structures that perpetuate state violence and mass criminalization while increasing our accountability to those most directly impacted.

Ferguson Action, activists, and community groups nationwide have come together to declare 2015 as the Year of Resistance and Resilience, directly confronting state violence against communities of color. In reclaiming the true legacy of  Dr. King, Ferguson Action announced January 15th as the day to take the Pledge of Resistance; January 18th as a Day of Resilience; and January 19th as a Day of Action.

We join collectives and organizations led by directly impacted communities such as the people of St. Louis fighting for freedom, in lifting up the call for resilience, healing and sustained organizing efforts needed for the long road of resistance to state violence, mass incarceration, and mass criminalization.

“State violence against communities of color is directly linked to the oppressive system of mass incarceration in the United States, our systemic practices of over-policing and criminalizing people of color, and the inhumane use of the death penalty in this country. The nexus between these three things can no longer be denied or ignored as Black people lose their lives every 28 hours at the hands of vigilantes or law enforcement. Social Workers are bound by a Code of Ethics that compels us to respond to torture and mass trauma experienced by communities of color, both historically, and in our present day reality,” said Shreya Mandal, Founding Member of SWAC and longtime human rights advocate in New York.

“The dominant narrative in this country is that terrible things would not happen to people of color if they would simply not ..resist arrest.. or fill in the blank. We all have been socialized to internalize this message that places responsibility for these tragic consequences, whether it’s murders, child removal or school suspension, solely on the individual. For instance the message is that Michael Brown and Eric Garner died while resisting arrest, and were therefore responsible for their own demise. It is hard for many to accept that people of color are arrested for what goes mostly ignored when committed by whites. The work of SWAC is to create opportunities for our profession to reflect upon the messages that we receive and interrupt the idea that responsibility of these acts rests solely on the individual,” said Sandra Bernabei, President of NASW-NYC.

“Humanity must learn to respect the differences among each other and leave one another alone. If we can just accept our differences, I believe that life would be a whole lot better than it is today. We must learn to respect each other and to stop antagonizing and bullying each other. SWAC promotes this goal in its initiatives,” said Larry Coldwell, Founding SWAC member and NYC Social Worker.

The visibility of state violence has reached a boiling point. Americans have awoken to the long history of police violence and extrajudicial killings of Black people evidenced by the recent deaths of Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO; Tamir Rice in Cleveland, OH; Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY; and Akai Gurley of Brooklyn, NY. As social workers we have a responsibility to stand up to injustice and to support the texture of this conversation, including the elevation of the lesser known names of Aiyana Jones of Detroit, and Shantell Davis and Kyam Livingston of NYC.

These incidents and thousands of others are reflective of the systemic problem of institutional racism and the continued criminalization of Blackness and poverty by the very institutions that are sworn to serve and protect. SWAC is proud to stand in resistance against mass criminalization and supports the efforts of social workers to build upon the resilience of communities of color.

Media Contact

Twitter: @SWAC_NYC                                                                                   Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SocialWorkersAgainstCriminalization
Email: SWAC.NYS@gmail.com

Social Work Students Respond to the #BlackLivesMatter Movement and the Neutrality of Social Work Program Administrators

UC Berkeley Social Welfare graduate students stand in solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and we are speaking out against nationwide police brutality and systemic violence against the Black community. As students and as social workers, we feel a responsibility and an obligation to issue a statement in support of the community action and the demands issued by the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Our criminal justice system continues to fail the Black community. It is intolerable that the lives of Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, McKenzie Cochran, Kimani Gray, and countless other Black men and women were taken by individuals who took an oath to protect and serve them.

tumblr_mz6ujyfZXV1qm0yhvo1_500The criminalization of and violence against Black men and women speaks to larger systems of racism and oppression that we, as social workers, are ethically bound to interrupt. Students questioned the school’s response after the UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare administration had not formally issued a statement.

The silence has been deafening, and it has been particularly felt by the Black community throughout the institution. This lack of support on campus for students of color is disgraceful, and completely unacceptable, especially for an institution such as Berkeley that prides itself on diversity, inclusion, and a history of activism.

We join our social work colleagues from Columbia University, Portland State University, Washington University, Smith College, and numerous other schools and organizations that have made public statements to call for community members to demand social reform. As students at UC Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare, we too will use our voices to break the silence that pervades our academic community and act on the principles of social justice that we have been discussing in our classroom.

We are in solidarity and thankful to participate in the actions and healing spaces that Berkeley students and community members have organized: The Black Student Union action on December 4th, the walkout organized by the Black Student Union at Berkeley HS on December 10th, the organizing efforts that brought the Millions March Rally from Berkeley to Downtown Oakland on December 13th, and the December 15th  “Not On Our Watch” silent protest organized by the Black Staff and Faculty Organization (BSFO), a response to the effigies which were hung in Sproul plaza. Our goal is to uphold the #BlackLivesMatter movement’s focus on disrupting white supremacy, and we must acknowledge how Black people are mistreated in the United States, including on the UC Berkeley campus.

We invite the Berkeley Social Welfare administration as well as other Schools of Social Work to discuss how our programs can better model social work praxis and include the #SSWBlackLivesMatter organizing movement in their plans for Spring 2015. We will continue to mobilize, and we are prepared to take action on our campus and within our community – because at the end of the day, #BlackLivesMatter.

Media Contact

Ariana Allensworth | ariana.allensowrth@berkeley.edu

UC Berkeley MSW Graduate Student Body

Why I Can’t Breathe

In this age of personal responsibility and expressive individualism we are witnessing a rare expression of solidarity from athletes who generally avoid weighing in on social issues. I can’t breathe were the chilling last words of Eric Garner who died at the hands of New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo. These words have become the rallying cry for protestors across the country and around the globe who believe it is time for a change in the way African American communities are policed.

Columnist George Will writes in today’s Washington Post about “overcriminalization” in the American Society—that Eric Garner’s crime was not one that necessitated an armed response. Crime is rampant in many inner-city neighborhoods where education is shameful and jobs are scarce. Drugs have become the commodity of convenience for wealth creation and escape from the brutal circumstances of life. Treating young black people as mostly criminals does nothing to change these realities.

Like many other men of color, I have had my encounters with the police. But for the grace of God I could be dead or rotting away in a prison cell. My first traumatic encounter with police occurred after my employer was killed in a robbery in the pharmacy he owned. I was 18 years old and had worked in his store part-time for three years. I had grown to be very close to that 35-year-old Jewish man. He was my friend as well as employer.

The day my father died, it was he who consoled me. The day he was killed in the robbery I was attending classes studying mechanical engineering at City College of New York. The police were waiting for me when I got home. They took me to the police station and grilled me for hours. I was in shock from learning about the death of Gerald Ginnis yet I was being traumatized by the police who believed that I was somehow involved in the shooting. I can’t breathe.

My next encounter occurred as I walked the streets of my Bed-Stuy neighborhood in Brooklyn returning home from choir rehearsal. I was about 20 years old. I was the director of the choir and I was reviewing the music in my head when I turned the corner and looked directly into the barrel of a cop’s gun. His hands were shaking and I started praying in my mind. I dropped everything in my hands and put them behind my head as he instructed. I was put into a patrol car and driven to a hardware store where the proprietor was asked if I was one of the men who robbed his store. What if he had said yes! I can’t breathe.

Another encountered occurred in Atlanta where I lived while completing my M.S.W. at Clark Atlanta University School of Social Work. My wife and I had bought a house during our stay in Atlanta and after graduation I lived in Manhattan working on my doctorate at Columbia University. During one of my visits back home, two police officers knocked on my door as I was packing for my next morning’s flight to New York. My wife had already left for her job in Chicago.

They said they had traced me to my address and that I had an outstanding warrant for writing a bad check to the Dekalb County Motor Vehicle Department. It was written on a credit union account and I explained that I never had a checking account with a credit union. They insisted that I had to appear before a judge and I could do that in night court and be back in time to catch my flight. They held me over night. I pleaded with them to run my social security number to no avail. I was threatened with disappearing in the jail if I protested any more. At the time I was working on my dissertation about incarceration and it was my first experience being locked up. I can’t breathe.

Black athletes have decided this is an issue that is worth taking a stand for. They realize that for the grace of God they could be in a very different place as black men in America. And even as they achieve fame and notoriety, many in society still see them as less than human. They have watched as a black man elected twice as President of the United States has been vilified, castigated, called a liar and damn near a thug. They know that some of them are viewed as thugs. They have brothers and friends who have been profiled and unjustly accosted by the police.

LeBron James said he is wearing the shirt in solidarity with the Garner family. I am just glad that he and others are using their celebrity to bring attention to the injustice of the grand jury verdicts that exonerated Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo. Cheers to the St. Louis Rams’ players, to Darren Williams and others on the Brooklyn Nets, to Derrick Rose, Reggie Bush, Kyrie Irving, the Georgetown men’s basketball team and everyone who protested. When Kobe Bryant dons a protest shirt, you know that something major is happening.

Social workers know the importance of telling our stories, of processing our pain and humiliation and channeling those feelings into actions that are positive and meaningful. The struggle against injustice, bigotry, and marginalization continues. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Most black men do not know what it feels to be normal in the American society. I am not sure that day will come during my lifetime. Until it does, I will be waiting to exhale.

Why the Grand Jury Decision in Ferguson Will Continue to Lead to Violence

Everything I say below has been said before, but I want to make it clear that mine is yet another voice from outside of the United States added to the millions of others who are despairing about the events currently unfolding in America.

There is a recurring dream I have where someone I trust betrays me and the betrayal fills me with hurt and anger. The specifics of what that person has done changes from dream to dream but the feeling of intense pain is consistent.

when-you-areIn my dream, I pour my heart out to the person who has hurt me, explaining why their actions have caused so much damage. The offender responds by ignoring me and turning their back. The simple gesture of them turning their back on me almost hurts more than the original betrayal and the pain intensifies through sheer frustration as my suffering remains ignored.

Watching the protests, both in America and London, at the decision of the Grand Jury not to prosecute the Police Officer who shot Mike Brown, I was reminded of that dream. As I watched Mike Brown’s Mother receive the verdict, I saw a second wave of pain flow over her, almost as if she were receiving the news of her son’s death for the first time. Whilst most of us knew that the verdict would not have gone any other way, we all, deep-down held hope that for once- just for once- the outcome might be different.

But of course it wasn’t different, and now citizens across America, as well as those watching the events on television all around the world, are left with feelings of confusion, anger and frustration.

The verdict seems to have re-taught us a lesson which we hoped was out of date. The verdict taught us that some lives are not as valuable as others and that the law does not protect everyone equally. To know that your son, if he is a black male, can be shot and killed by a Police officer whilst he holds his hands up in surrender, and then know that the law will do nothing to prosecute his killer, is the ultimate sign that the law will not only hurt you, but it will ignore your pain.

When placed in the situation where your demands for justice are rejected through “legally accepted channels”, what options are you left with?

I, personally, would never advocate for violence. However in the face of such apparent powerlessness, as we see in Ferguson, I understand why people may resort to rioting.

The facts are this: Firstly, a young man was killed by the state. Secondly, history and personal experience tells us that the police, courts and politicians do lie, again and again. Thirdly, the statement given by Darren Wilson was flawed, and at the very least Mike Brown’s family should expect a thorough investigation and fair trial.

Without this, we cannot simply ask people to accept the verdict and move on. If we ask people to accept the verdict then we are asking them to accept that Mike Brown deserved to die. We would be asking them to accept the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner. All of these deaths were unjust and collectively we know and feel that injustice deep-down. We know, as Andrew Boyd says, that our “destiny is bound with the destinies of others.”

Serious work must start now to create a law enforcement system that people can trust; that people know not to be racist and that does not kill an unarmed man. If these problems are not addressed then peaceful protest will no longer be an option for many for whom the injustice hurts too much.

The Trayvon Martin Case Foreshadowed An Increase in Police Homicides of Minorities

With the recent decisions of no indictment involving the police officers responsible for the deaths of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and John Crawford to name a few, America could not be anymore divided in how we analyze these events through our own filters. Current poll data articulates that 65% of minorities believe there is a racial construct within our police and legal system which disproportionately affects minorities while reporting the opposite belief by White Americans at roughly the same percentage.

However, I would challenge future pollsters to parse out additional data on party affiliation when polling White Americans because it is my the over polling of conservative white Americans may create a skewed and unfair depiction of White America. Before we can develop solutions and move forward, we must first define the problem and acknowledge the symptoms in order to design and implement interventions to reduce risks. However, this process proves to be even more difficult due to our inability to discuss racial issues in a country whose prosperity and place in this world was made possible as a result of racial injustice.

252311-masked-french-special-unit-policemen-leave-after-the-assault-to-capturIt’s been almost three years since the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, and the relevance of his death could not be more apparent today. I remember one of my white friends asking me “Why Trayvon Martin…what so special about him”? I didn’t take offense to the question because I knew it was coming from a place of “I really don’t understand, and I want to know what you think”. Translation: What is the significance of his death, and why is it so important to you?

I reflect on Trayvon’s death because it foreshadowed a future that struck fear into many black families across the nation. George Zimmerman, a man with no police authority and no legal right to follow or detain anyone, established a legal precedent lowering the bar of jurisprudence in the killing of a minority. Despite illegally following Trayvon with a firearm, Travyon was denied the right to fear for and defend his life as any other reasonable person would do.

In past case law, the reasonable person test is the standard applied when looking at the actions of a suspect or victim in self defense cases which asks the question “what would a reasonable person do under the same set of circumstances”. However, this standard was was not applied to Trayvon Martin or George Zimmerman. In review of the facts, it would be reasonable to conclude that any person being followed by a stranger at night, first by vehicle then on foot, on their way home would fear for his/her life, and they should retain the right to defend his/her life as provided by law. I can only imagine the fear Trayvon felt wondering if he maybe leading a murder, rapists, or pedophile to his family’s home. Also, this case changed the trajectory of how police departments and prosecutors would respond to future cases demanding legal action as a result of public outcry. Without public protest, there would not have been a trial for a non-law enforcement/private citizen who killed another American citizen, and the bar is becoming even lower for seeking indictments in the rise of police involved homicides of unarmed minority American citizens.

The Trayvon Martin case came with a scary realization for many minority families. If a regular citizen with no police authority can gun down an unarmed person, what will this mean for minority interactions with the police? The Trayvon Martin case also set a new legal standard for the victim by establishing the good black person versus the criminal black person. Basically, if you are a criminal, have a criminal record, history of drug abuse or drugs in your systems essentially the police or anyone with presumed credibility can come to your home, neighborhood, work or retail store and shoot you dead with no questions asked.

The killer only has to articulate they feared for their life or that the dead victim threatened them. For some reason, the killers in these situations are not drug tested or histories released unlike the victim who can no longer speak or defend themselves. It appears one can murder without fear of having a trial and can be cleared by their local police department who may choose not to preserve any evidence on the slim chance there maybe a trial.

The media attention of the Trayvon Martin case and his treatment as a victim publicly exposed the persistent racial divisions between black and white America. If you can honestly substitute a white woman, a white man, or yourself as a place holder for “what appeared to be a big black man” describing Trayvon, proceed to add back in George Zimmerman following you in his car, then following you on foot with a gun, and still arrive at the same conclusion, then race is not a factor in how you analyze events.

Supporters of Officer Darren Wilson view Mike Brown as the antithesis of Trayvon Martin, and they argue Brown was a violent criminal seen on camera being threatening toward another minority then attacked a police officer inside of his patrol car. Let’s say for the sake of argument this version of events is true. The question we should be asking is whether Darren Wilson used deadly force on an unarmed fleeing suspect once his safety was no longer being threatened. After Brown fled from the police car, what actions could Darren Wilson have taken to apprehend the suspect and minimize the loss of life as well as the potential loss of life of bystanders from shooting a hail of bullets?

Police officers do not have the authority to shoot fleeing suspects who are not in the act of harming another person despite what prosecutors lead the grand jury to believe. There is a fleeing felon law provision which exist only for the Bureau of Prisons in apprehending escaped convicts. Police officers with proper training would have call for back-up, set-up a perimeter, called in the K-9  units to track the suspect, put out a city wide alert with description of the fleeing subject, and followed in his police vehicle to keep a visual of the suspect.

In this case, Officer Wilson was unaware of Mike Browns’ involvement at the convenient store, and his involvement resulted from Brown walking in the street. Police officers possess the ability to obtain warrants for a crime based on a suspects physical description and clothing without having a name. Officers are trained not to go on a lone pursuit after a suspect because it increases the risks of your safety being compromised. There were many tools and options at Darren Wilson’s disposal as police officer other than exiting his vehicle and immediately begin shooting at a fleeing suspect. What if one of the stray bullets killed an innocent bystander?

An officer who can not do a risk assessment under pressure and cycle through the options at their disposal should not be a police officer. Retreating, surveying the scene, and calling for additional back-up are all options available to officers who want to minimize risks to their own life and the loss of life for others. Officers jumping out of their vehicles without arriving at a safe distance to assess the scene with guns blazing fail to take measures to minimize risks to themselves and others. In my opinion, Darren Wilson was not operating in effort to apprehend a suspect because he had already chosen to use deadly force before exiting his vehicle. Officers are not trained to wound when they pull their service weapon because they are trained to kill, and this tells me that Officer Wilson had already decided he was going to kill Mike Brown when he fired the first shot.

This case has become about what Mike Brown did to cause his death instead of whether Darren Wilson followed police procedure, whether the evidence corroborated his account after exiting his vehicle, and whether his actions were consistent with the discharge of his duties under the law and departmental policy. Instead, the prosecutors’ office focused largely on Darren Wilson’s account and eye witness testimony while leaving out pesky items such as forensic evidence and police protocol.

Did Wilson call out his stop of Brown and his friend to dispatch? Did Wilson have any communication with dispatch prior to Brown’s death? Where is the radio traffic and 911 recordings for the time of the incident? Where is Darren Wilson’s text messages and call logs following Brown’s death? Where were the shell casings found? Did he reload his weapon?

In other cases such as with John Crawford and Eric Garner where there is video evidence disputing initial reports by the police, officers in these cases still escaped a grand jury indictment. George Zimmerman’s exoneration from murder has set the standard so low that it will be virtually impossible to prosecute a law enforcement officer with a history of abuse of authority and use of force who kills an unarmed citizen.

The prevailing arguments give the impression that the police should not be questioned because they are charged with protecting us or officer safety is an automatic defense that does not need to be corroborated by evidence and police protocol. Many Americans who do not see the institutional racism and constructs disproportionately affecting minorities either are unaware, want to ignore, or want to rewrite the American history documenting the utilization of police and the criminal justice system by the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) to harm black Americans.

According to documents on PBS,

The Klan grew quickly and became a terrorist organization. It attracted former Civil War generals such as Nathan Bedford Forrest, the famed cavalry commander whose soldiers murdered captured black troops at Fort Pillow. The Klan spread beyond Tennessee to every state in the South and included mayors, judges, and sheriffs as well as common criminals. The Klan systematically murdered black politicians and political leaders. It beat, whipped, and murdered thousands, and intimidated tens of thousands of others from voting. Read More

In the past, society was able to develop interventions because there was the acknowledgment of racial bias operating within our criminal justice system. What makes current times even more scary is the argument that we are in a post-racial society while dismissing the existence of racists and racial bias within police department and our legal systems across the country. Failure to implement measures, safeguards, and consequences within these systems will result in more loss of freedom and life that will disproportionately affect minorities. With the advent of for-profit prisons who are suing States for failure to maintain full capacity of their prisons, the current racially biased system is further incentivized to maintaining the status quo and resist change.

There is no doubt that progress has been made because black Americans no longer fear death for stating one’s opinion. However, progress is not an event rather than a continuum in which we must stay the course. We must always strive to be diligent in our assessment, reassessment, collection of data as well as establishment of benchmarks to prevent making the same mistakes of our tainted past. Even if you believe there is no racial construct within our police and criminal justice systems, you should still be advocating for the institution of measures to prevent it.

The poor collection of data on use of force, abuse of authority, citizen complaints, and mapping of high risk areas using GIS technology should be a priority in order to implement effective interventions that protect both citizens and officers. Body cameras are a great intervention tool to help protect both the officer and citizens in their interactions with the police, but it will also be ineffective if body cameras are not being used in the departments with the highest rates of incidents and complaints.

What Happens When You Actually Read the Grand Jury Testimony

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As a Social Worker who works in East Harlem with students who hail from all different ethnic backgrounds the current climate surrounding this case has been palpable. Walking through the streets of NYC, specifically Harlem, in the days following the release of the Grand Jury’s decision regarding Michael Brown is an experience that is almost beyond words. The upset, outrage, and fury are an undeniable presence in these streets.

As always is the case in 2014, my Facebook feed has been a constant stream of varying opinions regarding this case. My fellow Social Work friends post up a relentless stream of civil rights memes and human rights sentiments. My conservative acquaintances persist with as many random videos they can find of ‘Blacks’ committing heinous crimes, some from several years ago, anything they can find to hack down any identification people may be forming with this tragedy.

Caught as a bystander in the constant racial hail storm, I decided to default to what I used to do as a Sociology major in Hunter College. I did a case review. When I was a student in one of my Law classes, we were not allowed to speak about cases until we had read a majority of the actual case. So, I happened upon St. Louis Public Radio’s site that breaks down the ,Grand Jury Testimony on Michael Brown into bite size pieces and by bite size I mean around 100 pages.

Darren Wilson was not indicted by the grand jury, and it must be noted that a non-indictment by the grand jury is not a finding of innocence or guilt. Therefore, double jeopardy does not attach, and prosecutors have the ability to seek another indictment to charge a suspect if they deem appropriate. However, in this case, it is highly unlikely this will happen.

According to Think Progress,

Assistant District Attorney Kathi Alizadeh instructed grand jurors on how to decide the case based on a statute that was invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court two decades ago. As O’Donnell points out, that statute had not been valid for the entirety of Alizadeh’s legal career. That statute said that officers can use any force they deem necessary to achieve the arrest of a fleeing suspect. It does not preclude deadly force ,saying only that officers are “justified in the use of such physical force as he or she reasonably believes is immediately necessary to effect the arrest or to prevent the escape from custody.  Read Full Article

This is hard to grapple with as a Social Worker who is outraged by another young black youth losing his life at the hands of law enforcement. As a Social Worker we advocate for those that are oppressed, those that are disadvantaged and those who lack basic human rights. The way the law is written offers a vast amount of gray area that spans what feels like a galaxy of space between what is allowed and what really ‘should’ be done. But therein lies the crux of this case. What should have been done?

Rumor # 1: Darren Wilson was patrolling after learning of the convenience store burglary and engaged Michael brown under the assumption that he was involved and guilty of said crime.

Reality in Testimony: Officer Wilson engaged Michael Brown and another youth with absolutely no knowledge of the previous crime. Officer Wilson testifies that he engaged Michael Brown and the other youth because they were walking in the street and he asked them to move onto the sidewalk.

So… this all happened essentially because these two boys were jay-walking in a quiet area of Ferguson?

Rumor #2: Michael Brown was shot a few times when Officer Wilson was in fear for his life.

Reality in Testimony: Officer Wilson testifies that Michael reached into his patrol car and was pummeling him with the strength of ‘Hulk Hogan and testified that he feared for his own life. Wilson also testified Brown reached for his weapon and it ‘went off’ in the patrol car, startling Brown and causing him to flee. Wilson stated he then exited his vehicle to give chase. However, Brown, by Wilson’s report, turned around and started charging back towards Wilson in an effort to challenge and shoot him.

According to the Medical Examiner, Brown had nine wounds including one in the top his head suggesting Brown was in some type of submissive position.

Brown’s body was approximately 100 feet from Wilson’s patrol car, which is the equivalent to the length of a football field. Wilson added in his testimony that at the same time he started to ‘charge’ at him he reached for his waistband.

According to the Medical Examiner, the only items found in Brown’s pockets were few dollars and a small amount of marijuana. No stolen goods and no weapons.

My Question:

Why would a young black male reach into a cop car, beat a cop, reach for his gun causing a discharge, give up and run away from the car, but then turn around and go back towards that same officer  shooting a hail of bullets?

If Brown was armed from the beginning why wouldn’t he have pulled his weapon on Officer Wilson when he was in point blank range allegedly beating him in the patrol car?

None of the facts add up at all, not even close. Eye witness accounts said the body was uncovered for many hours in the blistering heat. Wilson’s supervising Officer reports that he covered up the body as soon as he reported on the scene. So which is it?

Kathi Alizadeh and Sheila Whirley were two prosecutors appointed by St. Louis County. One of the very first things Ms. Alizadeh says in the opening statements was : “Some housekeeping notes to start. I’m going to pass out to you all, you all are going to receive a copy of a statute. It is section 563.046, and it is, it says law enforcement officers use of force in making an arrest. And it is the law on what is permissible, what force is permissible and when in making an arrest by a police officer.”

At the onset, there is no question as to ‘what’ actually happened or what was going to happen, she sets up the entire jury to believe that the only issue that we should be looking at here is how much force is allowed by the law period. There is no thought of “Was he supposed to be making an arrest?” “Did Michael Brown actually break a law?” Just to name a couple of thoughts.

When you take the time to read all of the testimony, there are so many holes in the story that it would be like trying to plug up a sieve. All of the case has been organized perfectly into a little box that says ‘Self-Defense’ on it all of the players behind the scenes drinking the same Kool-Aid.

Conservatives and racists alike want to believe that this irate black kid attacked this officer and he’s just another one who “doesn’t respect authority”. People who live and walk in these streets every day know better.

People want to shout, “What about black-on-black crime??! They are shooting each other every day!”

To them, I say, one has absolutely nothing to do with the other. The truth is that the temperature of law enforcement interactions with minorities has turned hostile and has spiraled out of control. Only someone incapable of sight would say that it has nothing to do with race.

Take the tragedy of Eric Garner’s passing. The videos of his arrest and actual death are everywhere on the world wide web. Conservatives like to shout, “He was resisting arrest! They had to take him down, he should have just complied.”

Again, I’ll play devil’s advocate sure, you can push me to say, okay, he did resist arrest which is illegal, so they took him down. However, as he’s on the ground you can clearly see the moment when he passes. Does anyone lean down and take a pulse? Police Officers are all trained as first responders. No. Does anyone even look concerned that he might be dead? Not at all.

This is where the value of the actual lives of minorities is absolutely non-existent. Here-in lies the problem. How do you quantify that? How do you write a law that says you have to care about killing innocent people of a different race? You can’t. It doesn’t exist. It is up to the individual to care about the next person, to value their place on this Earth. The penal code will always be written to excuse the law enforcement and vilify the alleged ‘criminal’.

After all this reading I am sad down to my bones. I dedicate my life to lifting people up who are constantly trampled on doing a job that pays less than being a secretary for a mid-level executive in corporate America. I don’t know how to tackle this, I don’t know where to begin. I can’t help people love each other. I can’t help people stop hating each other. I can’t prevent people from believing, in their core, that some people’s lives don’t matter as much as others.

I am left, empty.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Huffington Post

Freedom Winter: The Failure of Truth to Keep Black Men Breathing

Like much of our nation’s civil rights history, the experiences of freedom summer of 1964 can be and have been used to illuminate all of the progress we have made and direct our gaze away from the stagnation that surrounds us today. Look, it seems to say as it shows us old poll tax cards and Klan uniforms. Look at how far we’ve come since then. By shining a light on the barbarities of our past, we are invited to juxtapose them with our present and marvel at how we ever could have harbored such hatred and oppression.

For White America, these sorts of retrospectives—along with Disneyfied films like The Help and Remember The Titans—have the often unintended consequence of helping us to absolve ourselves of our collective past sins and to treat the Civil Rights Era and all that came before it as a separate chapter in American history. White America compartmentalizes and cordons off the actions of our parents and grandparents, operating under the false assumption that we are less prejudiced and less hateful than they were. That we are somehow above all that.

Words from the children of The Freedom Summer in Mississippi

Because that’s what the job is for.
To keep a little freedom bubble
From rising to the surface
And spreading
Everywhere

Pop
Pop

So the job of a cop
Is to stop

Stop
Stop

Those words are 50 years old. They did not come from poets or civil rights workers, but from children. Children who were born and raised in the suffocating stillness of segregation once attendant to the farthest reaches of the Deep South. These were the children of a gross and unfathomable iniquity. They were the grandchildren of sharecroppers and great-great grandchildren of slaves who had toiled in these Delta fields under the hot Mississippi sun longer than memory could recall.

Their words survive today because they were the fruit of Mississippi’s Freedom Summer—written down on lunch bag colored paper with black and green marker at voluntarily attended Freedom Schools by wide-eyed activists who were only beginning to comprehend the ubiquitous and lethal terror that accompanied their students every moment. Right now those words are encased in glass at the Mississippi State Archives in Jackson as a testament to the bravery and humanity of those children, as well as that of their families and the volunteers who worked with them. But, in another sense, the Freedom Summer exhibit is there to illustrate the differences between then and now.

White America draws a million little lines in the sand between Medgar Evers and Mike Brown—between Alabama’s George Wallace and Missouri’s Jay Nixon—between Birmingham cops with fire hoses and Ferguson cops with armored SWAT vehicles—all in an effort to convince ourselves that there’s nothing to see here. So we can just forget about it all and get on with our lives that were never negatively effected by a society that valued our skin color above all others. Put all of those lines together and you have the explanation for why fewer than 3 in 10 white people thought the shooting of Trayvon Martin raised important questions about race or why 85% of whites thought the protesters in Ferguson went too far. In the words of one Ferguson resident, “I feel for everyone involved, [but] I think the protesters just need to go home.”

But the protesters can’t go home. The black men can’t go home because there’s no telling if they’re ever going to get there without some jackbooted thug of a police officer pulling him over for a seatbelt violation and shooting him for doing what he was told or choking him to death for selling cigarettes on the sidewalk. The loved ones of those black men can’t go home either for fear that one night they get there and their father-brother-son-husband-boyfriend-best friend never makes it back because they were murdered by a cop for the crime of walking around a Walmart with a cell phone in his hand and a toy gun on his shoulder in an open carry state.. And once the deed is done and the black man is dead, no one can go home because they know that justice will never be served unless they can somehow lead the eyes of the world to constantly peer over its shoulder.

The truth is not enough. It never has been and probably never will be. All of the members of the Green County grand jury saw the tape. They saw John Crawford pick up an already unpackaged BB gun. They saw him meandering up and down the aisles by the garden center with the toy gun casually slung over his shoulder and talking on the phone with his girlfriend as customer after customer after customer walked by him without apprehension.

They heard the absurd and erroneous set of circumstances being described by a convicted thief and fraudulently enlisted “ex-marine” to a 911 dispatcher and they saw that these claims bore no resemblance to what they saw on the tape and they watched as Beavercreek’s finest stormed into that Walmart and shot John Crawford twice without even the slightest attempt at deescalation or communication beyond violent shouting. Those grand jury members saw all of that evidence that pointed to the inescapable truth that Officer Sean Williams had killed an innocent man in cold blood and they still declined to indict him.

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There is a rage that has begun boil over—it is the rage of people who have been reminded with alarming frequency that their lives mean nothing in the eyes of those who hold power. As I type this, the streets of Ferguson are burbling with a white hot anger that has been compressed and condensed over the past few weeks and which has burst forth once more as word is being spread that another body could be awaiting ceremonial pickup from an ambulance that isn’t bound for a hospital, but for a morgue. 50 years ago we had a Freedom Summer down in Mississippi and now, we must prepare for a Freedom Winter.

All of the idealism and hope of the Civil Rights Era has withered away under a half century teeter-totter of progresses and regresses and the torrent of unjustly slain black men’s bodies that has fallen upon us recently. What is left from those long ago days is little more than a 400 year old frustration that has been left to fester and ferment in our “post-racial” nation. A frost is coming America. Bundle up and pray it thaws fast.

The Michael Brown Shooting: Why the Requirement for ‘Perfect’ Victims is About Race

By the time Norma L. McCorvey was 21, she had abused drugs and was on her third child. While carrying that third child, her scheme to falsely claim she was raped in order to obtain a legal abortion put her in the path of attorneys seeking to challenge U.S. abortion laws. Those attorneys who would make her (as “Jane Roe”) the lead plaintiff in a landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case that would make abortion within the first three months of pregnancy legal for all women in America and halt the deadly practice of amateur, underground abortions: Roe v. Wade. Subsequently, McCorvey, despite her background, became a national symbol of women’s rights and the fight against female oppression.

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via Twitter/PhillyPhill

Was McCorvey an angel? No. Was McCorvey free from teenage and young adulthood missteps? No. Was her right as a woman to make decisions about her own body worthy of justice and defense –regardless of her sketchy background story? Yes.

Enter Michael Brown, 18, of Ferguson, MO (2014).

An unarmed Michael Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014 in Ferguson. Community uproar and demand for accountability, justice and legal recourse for police brutality followed the shooting. Then on the day Ferguson police officials released Wilson’s name to the media, they also released a video allegedly showing Brown stealing cigarillos from a convenience store right before his shooting. Several days later, it was ‘leaked’ that an autopsy revealed Brown had marijuana in his system on the day he was killed.

The message being sent from the video and marijuana leak was clear: Brown wasn’t an angel. Therefore, because there were no wings found on his dead body, the legitimacy of the community and others fighting for his rights and seeking justice against police brutality should be questioned.

Those looking to understand why McCorvey’s backstory did not alter public and court perception about the need for justice in her case while the exact opposite plays out in the Brown case need only know this: McCorvey is white. Brown was African-American.

Sure, a situation in both the lives of McCorvey and Brown intersected with a long-standing discriminatory American policy/law, thus garnering demands for change. The difference is that in America, there is an expectation steeped in racism that African-American victims of injustice and/or those African-Americans fighting for justice should be beyond reproach, while white victims or justice fighters can be ‘flawed’ or ‘complex.’

Just look at the African-American symbols of injustice in some of the most significant U.S. Supreme Court cases and justice movements in history: James Meredith, who integrated the University of Mississippi; Rosa Parks, who brought national attention to Jim Crow laws on public transportation; little pigtailed Ruby Bridges, 6, who stoically endured racists and violence while integrating a white Southern school; and Mildred Loving, the other half of the couple in Loving v. Virginia that struck down laws against interracial marriage. These people were so squeaky clean that if they were a floor, you could eat off of them.

Meanwhile, America is quite comfortable with its white heroes, leaders, and activists being flawed. What does it matter that Thomas Jefferson had essentially a second family with his slave Sally Hemings while President of the United States? Why should politician David Dukes let a little fact that he was a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan stop him from being voted in by the American people as a Louisiana State Representative? Who can forget the Oscar-winning performance by Julia Roberts of Real-life Environmental Activist Erin Brockovich. The film portrays Brockovich, as a struggling single mother, who was able to expose corporate environmental crime after being hired by a boss who, when first meeting her, was able to overlook her dressed with certain upper body parts hanging out to see her ‘passion’ and ‘potential.’

As the Brown case illustrates, even teenagers are not spared from this ridiculous double standard. For teenagers doing teenager stuff resonates quite differently when that teen is African-American. I can speak from past professional experience working in a treatment center serving white, rich kids, that marijuana use is not exclusive to African-American teenagers. Many of those kids had lied and stolen to support their drug habits. Some have been violent right before my eyes toward their parents seeking help for them. But with these teens – as with the infamous “affluenza” teen, Ethan Crouch, who killed four people while driving drunk and was sentenced to not-so-hard time in a treatment center – we are supposed to understand that not being fully mature, teenagers need our support, understanding, and second chances because they have – “potential.”

By contrast, the news that Brown may have had marijuana in his system, whether true or not, has been used to illustrate his being unworthy, a “thug” (aka, N-word), not deserving of empathy, but very deserving of being shot at least six times (twice in the head) by Wilson. One need only read Twitter feeds, listen to commentators on television news programs, or read the comment section of virtually any newspaper covering the story to see examples of this thinking.

Then the video of the alleged cigarillo ‘robbery’ was released, and the judgment was swift and decisive. “HP” wrote in the New York Times comment section that the video has convinced her “that incident is no longer between a Gentle Giant and rogue cop. It is between a felon and a cop.” And then in the same comment section, “David” of Chicago reminds us that Brown could reasonably have been expected to act aggressively toward Office Wilson because “as any psychologist will tell you, past behavior predicts future behavior.”

So, Brown, whom authorities have verified did not have a criminal record, is now labeled permanently in death as a “felon.” But, of course, that’s a fair assessment because, as “David” points out, what was done in your past is always what you will do in the future.

But, again, such reasoning only applies to African-American victims.

When then 20-year-old Caroline Giuliani, daughter of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, was arrested in 2010 for shoplifting at a Sephora in Manhattan, the worst she was called was “rebellious” (New York Post). The New York Daily News even went so far as to try to milk sympathy for her plight by calling her a “Poor Little Rich Girl,” while even interviewing a psychologist on what could motivate someone like her to steal. They even included a photo of her as a cute little girl to further drive home the point of her innate innocence to readers. Absent were the references to predictions of “future behavior” of the then Harvard student –– flawed, but worthy of a chance at a bright future. And unless my ears and eyes are failing me, I missed that psychological assessment in media accounts of Brown’s alleged cigarillo swipe.

The double-standard extends to those who are fighting against injustice, as well. Lest we forget, the Occupy Wall Street Movement took over – let me repeat – took over a park in downtown Manhattan for months, met police efforts to shut them down with righteous resistance. They disrupted as they raised awareness about economic inequality between the 99% and the One Percent. Yes, people were tear-gassed. Yes, people were arrested. Yes it was mayhem. Yes it was chaos. Yes it was an uprising watched worldwide. These people meant business. Now, there was some public and media resentment toward the movement, including Newt Gingrich famously telling the large hipster contingent of the movement to “go get a job right after you take a bath.” But unless my ears are failing me, I don’t recall these activists being referred to as “animals” deserving of being murdered by the police, despite whatever flaws critics thought Occupy protestors possessed.

But “animal” has actually been mild compared to other things said about African-American protestors in Ferguson. Some Americans have consistently questioned the protestors’ right to speak out about injustice toward the black community by whites because of “black on black crime,” looting,” and other irrelevant topics. In other words, how can a race of people, whose issues and actions are ‘complex’ and not perfect like their grandmother’s sweet potato pie, think they have the right to demand justice against police killing unarmed black men and women? That’s like saying white Americans should just sit back and accept the murders of loved ones at the hands of serial killers because the vast majority of serial killers are white males.

But, then again, one can’t really expect a logical assessment of Ferguson protestors from people who view them as racially inferior people whose lives are not worth much at all. “If looting and firebombing, destruction of property and violence is their reaction to everything, perhaps we haven’t shot enough?” asked “Kevin,” of Kansas, on a New York Times comment section, without any shame.

But not every white person in America is drinking that Kool-Aid. Some get the double standards in both word and deed. One poignant Ferguson protestor sign carried by a white male captured on Twitter read: “At 18 Yrs old in Festus, MO, I shot a cop with a BB Gun. Why am I still alive?”

People who are looking for perfection from fighters for justice are living in an alternate reality. For as history has shown, those who are willing to risk it all to right a wrong or correct injustice are not usually those who have the most to lose in the way of big and shiny things like cars, houses, boats, and the corner office. It is usually those with nothing left to lose, nowhere to go but up. And life at the bottom ain’t no crystal stair. Therefore, the people at the bottom will not be perfect. They may look the brother in the now famous Ferguson protest photo, who slings a fiery object back at police with one hand while holding a bag of potato chips in the other. But they will be courageous.

Author James Baldwin, himself a participant in the black Civil Rights’ Movement of the 60s, understood this formidable combination when he said: “the most dangerous creation in any society is the man who has nothing left to lose.”

But don’t’ be misled that this powerful fact is lost on those participating in the smear campaigns of Michael Brown, Eric Garner before him, Renisha McBride before him, Jordan Davis before her, and Trayvon Martin before him.

Their goal in focusing on the imperfections of victims and protestors is to silence minority concerns through de-legitimization. Their goal is to create a smoke screen to blind others to the obvious injustices. Their goal is to steer the discourse off-topic in hopes that it will remain there and never find its way back.

It’s an old tactic. It’s a pretty transparent tactic, but people still accept it in America.

The reason is as clear as black and white.

Letter to the Editor: A Social Worker’s Thoughts on the Killing of Michael Brown

This is a Letter to the Editor that I received from a member of the social work community. Although I disagree with the opinion and facts of this reader, I believe this Letter to the Editor provides a perfect example of how conservatives and non-minorities conduct their analysis of the events in #Ferguson. I will be writing a response in order to open a dialogue on the competing viewpoints. You may also want to view “Social Work Appears Absent from Ferguson Global Conversation”~Deona Hooper, MSW

Here is the Letter to the Editor in full:

Hi I’m a licensed clinical social worker who has been working in the field since 2000. I read your latest article “Social workers Appears absent in #Ferguson Global Conversation”. I appreciate your opinion on Michael Brown’s shooting & I know there is a tremendous amount of pain in the communities of color because of years of experiencing prejudice & discrimination. At the same time, different opinions need to be discussed openly for the conversation on race relations & police brutality to progress.

I consider myself a very socially liberal person, but I strongly feel most of the media, far left wing activists, & some prominent members of the black community were quick to label the PO a murderer without hearing all the crucial evidence from both sides.

surveillance_mike_brown_1I know Brown’s friend (Dorian Johnson) was a key eye witness from the beginning, but since the shooting, it has become clear he has a history of lying to the police. For example, Johnson told the police & the media after the shooting that Brown & himself were not doinganything wrong when they were confronted by the PO.

The video from just minutes earlier proves that Johnson was with Brown while Brown was committing the robbery & nearly assaulting the shop keeper. From my understanding, if Brown was still alive, he might be charged with a felony. We also now know Brown had marijuana in his system at the time of the confrontation which might help us understand his mindset at the time.

It’s also really difficult to take Johnson’s testimony of the shooting seriously. It was widely reported that in the past, he was accused of stealing a backpack & I believe lying to the police regarding the incident.  The PO also experienced a swollen face with a possible broken eye socket from his confrontation with Brown.  This information flies in the face of Brown being called a gentle giant.

Of course, Brown did not deserve to be killed at only at eighteen years old & I feel very sorry for him & his grieving & traumatized family. At the same time, there is a strong possibility that the PO would most likely not get charged with homicide because of some of the contradictory evidence I described.

I think one of the most important things to remember right now is for people to continue protesting for justice in the case, but at the same time not be so quick to jump to conclusions about the PO being a murderer & a racist. I’m aware there are still very racist cops throughout the country, but it does not mean the PO was not within the law to protect himself if Brown used physical force against him.

No matter if the PO is found guilty or not, we must allow our criminal justice system to examine all the evidence & make a final verdict. I just wanted to express my opinion to you & I hope I was respectful because I did not mean to be insensitive to anyone. I’ve never written an email to a social work site, but I’ve been following the Brown killing very closely.

Giovanni Forcina, LCSW

Social Work Appears Absent in #Ferguson Global Conversation

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As Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper, I recently published an article entitled A Grand Response from Social Work is Needed in Ferguson written by Dr. Charles Lewis who is the President of the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy. Due to my coverage on the shooting of Mike Brown and the police response in Ferguson, Missouri, I have received lots of comments and responses from both social workers and non-social workers via email and various social media outlets.

As a result of comments I have received on Facebook, it makes me extremely fearful that some of these people are actually social workers, and I pray they are not working with minority communities. Maybe its a good thing the national media and reporters are not patrolling social worker forums and social media platforms to see what social workers think about national and global events. If they did, many would not be able to withstand the scrutiny placed on their statements.

As a strong warning, if you are going to proudly display yourself as a social worker in your cap and gown at your School of Social Work graduation, don’t make comments you would not want screen-capped and publicly reviewed. It has been my policy to hide these comments from public view, but this is only a cosmetic solution and does not address the racial divide and attitudes within our profession.

As one social worker and Facebook commenter provider her analysis of the events in Ferguson:

The police have nothing to do with voting, the police were shooting at a someone who wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time, but a thief who was stealing from a store, then when stopped by the police, charged the police and was shot. This has nothing to do with voting. Look at the autopsy report, instead of hearsay and the media looking for the next big story. I love being a social worker, but it makes my blood boil when other social workers jump on bandwagon going nowhere. Know the facts before you post something like that. Rioting, stealing and destroying other people’s property is not going to help the situation.”

If this is the primary analysis social workers are developing after seeing the events in Ferguson, then I have to question how are we preparing students and professionals to engage and meet the needs of minority communities. The best explanation and analysis that I could find to help social workers understand why they should care about Ferguson is in a video by John Oliver host of HBO’s Last Week Today. Also, you can view an article at the Jewish Daily making a case for why Jews should care about Ferguson.

Not only has the shooting of Mike Brown sparked a national conversation, it has sparked a global conversation on all inhabited continents according to the LA Times. Palestinians in Gaza are tweeting advice to American citizens on how to treat tear gas exposure, Tibetan monks arrived in Ferguson to show solidarity with protesters,  #dontshoot protests are happening around the world as a show of solidarity with Ferguson, Amnesty International sends first delegation ever to investigate on American soil, and the United Nations has been holding hearings on the civil rights violations against African-Americans in Geneva, Switzerland.

According to the New Republic,

In a 2005 study from Florida State University researchers, a mostly white, mostly male group of officers in Florida were statistically more likely to let armed white suspects slip while shooting unarmed black suspects instead.Police in that study shot fewer unarmed suspects than the undergraduates did, a difference attributable to professional training.  Read Full Article

As part of my research for this article, I did a Google news search using the strings “social workers” and Ferguson, then I used the string teachers and Ferguson. Please, click on the links to view the results.  I found two results one of which was the article published by Social Work Helper, and the other was a small blurb in a local news reporting stating that Social Workers are going door to door to assist with crisis counseling.

There is no doubt that there are many social workers already in or headed to Ferguson at their own expense to donate their skills during this crisis. But, the question we should be asking is who is helping to support their efforts on the ground? If you wanted to connect with them, how would you do it? We have many Schools of Social Work and many dues paying social work associations, but has any of them stepped up to offer assistance, help with coordination, provide a point of contact for social workers who do care about Ferguson and want to contribute? If there is, please let me know, and I will help promote your activities. Are social work professors writing letters to the editor, opinion editorials, or looking for ways to incorporate issues in Ferguson in their lesson plans? I found one professor at Columbia University who wrote a letter to the editor in the New York Times via twitter.

In the past, I have often been frustrated when it seems social workers are always left out of the conversation when discussing federal protections, pay increases, and job loss which tend to focus on teachers, police, and first responders. Also, I have been equally frustrated when professors from other disciplines are becoming political analysts for media outlets for the purpose of explaining social safety net programs that social workers implement. Lately, I have begun looking at this dynamic with new eyes and a fresh perspective, and I am beginning to form another hypothesis. Is social work not apart of the conversation due to exclusion or is it because social work is not showing up?

Another social worker who I truly respect and admire made the comment, “I am reminded that my profession is ALWAYS active. We don’t have to REACT, because what we do everyday is the action that is part of the solution.” However, I respectfully disagree with this assessment because crisis and emergency situations do not fall into the scope of what we do everyday.

Even during natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, social workers acting outside the scope of their employment were left to their own devices. Without a social work organization leading the effort, it increases the difficulty of volunteer social workers to provide information, get support, as well as help with coordination of resources in order to maximize their efforts.

Human services agencies, Schools of Social Work, and Professional Associations have not exhibited the skill sets to create virtual command centers to steer potential resources to on the ground efforts as well as relay the needs assessment made by ground forces. As a matter of fact, it does not seem that these types of efforts are even viewed as actions to fall within the scope of their responsibility.

Teachers are change agents everyday, but they are reacting to the events of Ferguson in the following ways:

Ferguson students have been out of school for the past two because their community has been a war zone. 68% of students in Ferguson schools qualify for reduce or free lunch. As many social workers know, many students in poverty-stricken communities rely on school lunches to survive.

To help bring some relief to the community, Julianna Mendelsohn, a 5th grade teacher in Bahama, N.C., launched a fundraising campaign to benefit the St. Louis Area Foodbank, with the hope that the organization can offer food assistance to needy students. Mendelsohn set an initial goal of $80,000, and crossed that line today. As of this post’s publishing, her initiative had raised just over $110,000, with two days still to go. Read Full Article

150 Ferguson teachers used their day off as an opportunity for a civics lesson to help clean broken bottles, trash, and tear gas canisters from the streets.

“We’re building up the community,” says Tiffany Anderson, the Jennings School District superintendent. She has organized the teachers helping with cleanup, is offering meal deliveries for students with special needs, and has mental health services at the ready. “Kids are facing challenges. This is unusual, but violence, when you have over 90 percent free and reduced lunch, is not unusual,” Anderson says. “Last week, I met with several high school students, some of whom who are out here helping clean up. And we talked a little bit about how you express and have a voice in positive ways.” Read Full Article

Without school being in session, many educators are concerned with the needs of children due to the high poverty rates.

Today through Friday, Ferguson-Florissant will provide sack lunches at five elementary schools for any student in the district. The schools are Airport, Duchesne, Griffith, Holman and Wedgwood. On Tuesday, Riverview Gardens provided lunch to 300 children. Jennings also opened up its school cafeterias. Read Full Article

Ferguson schools are doubling the amount of counselors in their schools. But, what about the parents and adults in this community? Who will help care for their needs and direct them to resources?

Public schools in Ferguson, Mo., are reinforcing their counseling services for the first day of school Monday in anticipation of students’ anxieties after two weeks of protests in their community. Ferguson-Florissant School District is doubling the number of counselors Monday, and it’s training school staff to identify “signs of distress,” said Jana Shortt, spokeswoman for the school district. Read Full Article

Most importantly, educators have created the hashtag #Fergusonsyllabus to help other educators turn the events in Ferguson into teachable moments. They have also developed a google doc with resources and teaching tools to create lesson plans on Ferguson which can be found here.

The bulk of this article focused primarily on service needs, but the macro and advocacy contributions needed in this community are even greater. SAMHSA has also issued a press release to help direct Ferguson residents to their disaster relief and crisis counseling hotline which can be found at http://www.samhsa.gov/newsroom/advisories/1408110710.aspx

How can social work contribute and be apart of the solution, or is this somebody else’s responsibility? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Police: Serving and Protecting the White Middle-Class and Mentally Well

A violent threat, a criminal, a gangster, a drug-dealer, a menace, it seems these are all the things the police see you as in the United States of America if you are a black male. If the current media coverage of the shootings of Mike Brown and more recently Kajieme Powell have taught us anything, it is that to be a young black man in America is to know, despite much progress, you will still be treated as a second-class citizen.

Police fire tear gas in Ferguson Missouri
Police fire tear gas in Ferguson Missouri

The first thing to note is that the cases of Mike Brown and Kajieme Powell have brought media coverage that is long over-due. These killings are in no way unique. Kimani Gray (aged 16), Kendrec McDade (aged 19), Timothy Stansbury Jr. (aged 19), Sean Bell (aged 23), Aaron Campbell (aged 25), Wendell Allen (aged 20), Ramarley Graham (aged 20),  Oscar Grant (aged 22). The list goes on.

All these young men were unarmed and all of them were killed by police officers. Just because these incidents have not made international headlines, does not mean that similar cases are not happening all across America on a frequent basis.

Many of these shootings are the result of deep-rooted racial stereotypes of African-American men. The racism is subtle and implicit. However, on other occasions the racism has been overtly hateful, such as in the case of Orlando Barlow.

In 2003, Barlow (aged 28) was surrendering on his knees in front of four Las Vegas police officers when Officer Brian Hartman shot him dead. During the investigation into the shooting it was revealed that Hartman and other officers had printed T-shirts labeled “BDRT,” which stood for “Baby Daddy Removal Team”.

Serious questions need to be asked about when firearms can be used by Law Enforcement Officers. Even if Kajieme Powell did steal from a convenience store, that does not warrant lethal consequences. As someone who disagrees strongly with the death penalty, I do not believe that the state should have the authority to kill its citizens. Even the death penalty, when implemented after years of careful consideration by a Court, still can and does get things wrong (the case of George Stinney being particularly heart-breaking).

How we expect police officers, responding to high-stress, high-speed situations with minimal information, to demonstrate clear judgement in the use of lethal force, is an impossibility. Police should of course have the right to defend themselves but this should be in the form of skilled de-escalation and disarmamant techniques. We know that it can be done.

Every 28 hours in the United States of America, someone dies at the hand of the state. This is an alarmingly high figure, especially as the state has proven, time and time again, that it cannot be trusted. Police statements from Mike Brown and Kajieme Powell’s shootings have not matched up to later released videos. In another recently highlighted case, police were shown to be lying about the arrest of Marcus Jeter. If the dash-cam video had not surfaced, proving the police had tampered with and concealed evidence, Jeter would just be one more African American male in prison victim to an unfair and unjust system.

The shooting of Kajieme Powell also raises alarm bells with regards to the police’s approach to people with mental health problems. Whilst I am not suggesting that Kajieme was mentally unwell, it is clear from the police report that they were aware, prior to arrival on the scene, that Kajieme was acting erratically and talking to himself. When they arrived, Kajieme shouted at the officers to shoot him, which of course, they did. Anyone currently feeling angry or depressed, who watched the video footage, will know now that the easiest way to commit suicide in America is to provoke the police. The police have to be trained  on how to deal with vulnerable and mentally unwell people without killing them, otherwise there will continue to be tragic consequences. Ronald Maddison was a forty year old man with severe learning disabilities who, on hearing police gunshots, ran away and was subsequently shot and killed by police officers.

Equally important, however, is the fact that the highly publicized killing of Mike Brown has rightly caused extreme anger across America and the rest of the world. Kajieme Powell did not have to be mentally unwell to act the way he did. Mike Brown’s killing sent a clear message across America that the system is racist, corrupt and murderous. It is entirely possible that Kajieme Powell was trying to further prove the words of W.E.B. Du Bois, that have for a long time reverberated around black communities: “A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect.”

It is all too easy for the Political Class to become complacent over the issue of race. Since the election of Barrack Obama, there have been cries that racial equality has been achieved and that the Civil Rights Movement has come to a complete and happy conclusion with America’s first black President.

This could not be further from reality. Obama’s success story is the exception, not the rule. One out of nine African American men will be incarcerated between the ages of 20 and 34, and this is the rule. The fact that there are more black males in prison than enrolled in university should not be the rule. Malcolm X sums it up best when he said: “No matter how much respect, no matter how much recognition, whites show towards me, as far as I’m concerned, as long as it is not shown to every one of our people in this country, it doesn’t exist for me.”

We cannot underestimate what is happening here. Police officers are killing innocent citizens and lying about doing it. We must get over our disbelief and stop looking for other explanations as to why these atrocities have occurred and realize, what many communities in America knew already, that the police do not protect everyone equally. It is time to stand together regardless of race or religion and say enough is enough. We will take no more!

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Oe9zK6SJr0[/youtube]

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