Colorlines

NOW IN RACIAL JUSTICE

Here’s More On That St. Louis Symphony Flash Mob

Here's More On That St. Louis Symphony Flash Mob

By now you’ve watched viral video of 23 protesters who delayed (or, disrupted, depending on your point of view) this weekend’s St. Louis Symphony program to dedicate a requiem to Michael Brown. Here’s a bit more of their backstory from the three organizers, Sarah Hermes Griesbach, Elizabeth Vega and Derek Laney. They’re middle-aged, parents (including one grandparent, Vega) and all have been involved daily in Ferguson—from street protests to doing healing art with children to planning actions—since the late hours of Saturday, August 9.

Of all places for an action, why the symphony?

Because Cardinals Stadium didn’t work out too well. A few weeks ago Griesbach and Vega, by all appearances two middle-aged white women in Cardinals jerseys, showed who they really were. “When we lowered our Michael Brown banner,” Griesbach says, “we went from people being smiled at to instantly being perceived as representing something that was hated.” A wall of sports fans started screaming, ‘Pants Up, Don’t Loot’ and ‘Lock Them Up!’ After being handcuffed and escorted out of the stadium—moreso “for our own safety,” both say—Vega recalls Griesbach looking at her and deadpanning, “I think we need a new venue.” Vega says she cracked up. “I really needed to laugh, then,” she says.

A couple of days later while reliving their game nightmare at a local Thai restaurant, Griesbach hit on the symphony crowd—mainly because they weren’t the typical Cardinals crowd. “I knew they would be more receptive. I knew this was a public that was interested in the world, that listened to NPR, read newspapers and [was therefore likely to hold] nuanced views.”

Oh my God, but that song?!

Vega got the idea for, “Which Side Are You On, Friend” from a 2013 Rebel Diaz remix featuring dead prez.

That was stuck in my head. I had been arrested a couple of days before and I was in jail singing this song,” Vega says. The hardest part of their planning meeting was figuring out the new lyrics.

Derek, that voice!

Laney fit right into the cultural milieu as he started off the round in a seemingly stage-quality baritone. “No, I’m not a professional singer,” says Laney who also started the hashtag, #ChalkedUnarmed. “We knew we wouldn’t be able to cherry-pick singers so I just stepped up to do it.” Unsurprisingly, he’s had several compliments on his voice since.

Most gratifying?

Vega points to this moving quote from conductor*, Kenneth Woods:

One friend of mine questioned whether staging a protest on private property was fair to the hall, the orchestra and the audience. I’m not sure I agree. If the concert hall can’t be the center of civic life, a hub for intellectual discussion, a place to share ideas, a place we can mourn, cry, scream, love and heal together, we may as well burn every concert hall to the ground. When we value genteel niceties and professional convenience over the existential questions of right and wrong, life and death, we, as artists, have probably made ourselves completely irrelevant.”

What’s next for the upcoming Weekend of Resistance?

This coming Friday night, Vega says there will be a día de los muertos (day of the dead) event for all people killed by police this year. The reading of the submitted names will be followed by a two-mile march to the Ferguson police station to challenge its 11 p.m. curfew. On Saturday, look for five “pop-up” potluck lunches to take place throughout St Louis County. Mike Brown, race, class and privilege will be the topics of conversation, all led by trained facilitators. 

Also, find an updated schedule of events here.

 

* Post has been updated since publication to accurately reflect that conductor Kenneth Woods is not affiliated with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.

Supreme Court’s Sour Record on Civil Rights, Racial Justice

Supreme Court's Sour Record on Civil Rights, Racial Justice

It’s back-to-court day for the Supreme Court, which began its new term today. Among the key race issues the Supreme Court will consider this year are gerrymandering of African-American-heavy districts, the Fair Housing Act, religious discrimination, and the extent to which rap lyrics comprise a threat. 

In other words, it’s time to brace yourself. University of California, Irvine School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky writes in the Los Angeles Times that for those concerned with civil rights, the High Court’s long past and recent history doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence:

[O]ver the course of American history, the court has repeatedly failed at its most important tasks and at the most important times. As much as we might like to think of the court as an evenhanded dispenser of justice, it often is not. For the first 78 years of American history, until the ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865, for example, the court consistently sided with slave owners and aggressively enforced the institution of slavery. For 58 years, from 1896 until 1954, the court embraced the noxious doctrine of “separate but equal” and upheld Jim Crow laws that segregated the races in every aspect of Southern life.

Citizens think of the nation’s highest court as the last resort for the individual, but the Supreme Court has continually failed to stand up to majoritarian pressures in times of crisis. During World War I, individuals were imprisoned for speech that criticized the draft and the war without the slightest evidence that the expression had any adverse effect on military recruitment or the war effort. During World War II, 110,000 Japanese Americans were uprooted from their homes and placed in what President Franklin Roosevelt referred to as concentration camps. During the McCarthy era, people were imprisoned simply for teaching works by Marx. In all of these instances, the court ruled in favor of the government and erred by failing to enforce the basic constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and equal protection.

Read the rest at the Los Angeles Times, and a quick look at cases the Supreme Court will consider this term from SCOTUSblog.

Michel Martin on Who Americans Are, Really

Michel Martin on Who Americans Are, Really

When St. Louis Public Radio wanted to host the region’s first live town hall on August 28 to discuss Michael Brown’s murder and the explosive events after, it’s no surprise they asked Michel Martin to moderate. Part of the job that Thursday evening in Wellspring Church would mean mediating—and there’s no media personality better at hosting tough conversations and bridging chasm-like divides than Martin. The former host of “Tell Me More,” which ended this August after seven years on air, took the other seat in a recent and intimate hour-long interview with Krista Tippett. She hosts the excellent radio program, “On Being,” which very often touches on the role of faith in her subject’s lives. The talk is wide-ranging, from Martin’s growing up in Brooklyn, to dealing with her younger brother’s suicide and her role as a journalist in a society that struggles still with talking about race and difference.

Listen above. And if you don’t already regularly listen to “On Being,” get on that.

Raven-Symoné: ‘I’m an American, I’m not an African-American’

Raven-Symoné: 'I'm an American, I'm not an African-American'

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey on “Where Are They Now?” Raven-Symoné made clear that she doesn’t “want to be labeled as gay,” but rather as a “human who loves humans.” Raven-Symoné, the star perhaps best known for her role on “The Cosby Show,” who appeared to quietly come out last August, says she’s tired of labels, adding, “I’m an American, I’m not an African-American,” pointing out that an “American is a colorless person.” 

Another Ebola Patient Arrives in U.S., Nobel Prize in Medicine, B.B. King Cancels Tour

Another Ebola Patient Arrives in U.S., Nobel Prize in Medicine, B.B. King Cancels Tour

Here’s what I’m reading up on today: 

  • The Nobel prizes in science kick off this week; the prize in medicine goes to three who located the brain’s internal GPS. The prize in physics will be announced Tuesday and the prize in chemistry on Wednesday. 
  • 89-year-old B.B. King cancels his tour after being diagnosed with dehydration and exhaustion. 
TAGS: Morning Rush

Supreme Court Takes Up Muslim Woman’s Challenge to Abercrombie and Fitch

Supreme Court Takes Up Muslim Woman's Challenge to Abercrombie and Fitch

Among the cases the Supreme Court will take up in its next term is Samantha Elauf’s challenge to Abercrombie & Fitch’s hiring practices. In 2008, Elauf, then 17 years old and applying for a job at a Tulsa, Oklahoma, Abercrombie & Fitch store, was told that the headscarf she wore wasn’t in line with the company’s “look policy.” Elauf was turned down for the job. 

While the company policy actually contained exceptions for religious head coverings, the store manager didn’t ask Elauf whether she wore her head scarf for religious reasons, and Elauf didn’t explicitly ask for an exemption either. Whose responsibility was it to make sure that Elauf wasn’t discriminated against based on her religion?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the company and won a religious discrimination suit on Elauf’s behalf, but last October, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s ruling.

Jessica Glenza at The Guardian explains the questions the Supreme Court will consider:

The case hinges on whether employees must explicitly inform prospective employers that they require a religious exemption, in this case for dress. Abercrombie argues that Elauf did not specifically request an exemption and thus one was not required, even though managers correctly assumed she wore the scarf for religious reasons.

“It is undisputed that Samantha Elauf did not inform Abercrombie that her religious beliefs required her to wear a headscarf when she was at work. It is axiomatic that an employer must have actual notice that an applicant’s mandatory religious practices conflict with an employment requirement,” attorneys for the company argued.

The EEOC argues that if “actual knowledge” of an employee’s religious beliefs is required by employers, companies could discriminate against employees because of perceived religious practices, so long as they do not have explicit statements from an employee.

‘We Are the South’ Rises with LGBTQ Racial Justice Activists

'We Are the South' Rises with LGBTQ Racial Justice Activists

LGBTQ activists at the intersection of race, place, class, sexuality and so much more working toward racial justice in the South? No, you’re not dreaming. This week, the Better Together Southern Leadership and Action Cohort, a network of eight organizations gathered by Colorlines’ publisher Race Forward, launched We Are the South. It is a photo campaign highlighting the people at the center of this week’s launch. On social media, #WeAretheSouth and #SomosElSur amplified those activists’ experiences.

Here now, a roundup of some of the photos activists shared via wearethesouth.org.

wearethesouth_tumblr_10314.jpg Image via wearethesouth.org from the Center for Artistic Revolution, a Little Rock, Arkansas, social justice organization.

For more information and to submit your own photo, visit wearethesouth.org, and check out Better Together organizer Paris Hatcher’s Storify of this week’s Tweet chat. 

No Second Chance For Ferguson’s PR Rep, Also An Ex-Con

No Second Chance For Ferguson's PR Rep, Also An Ex-Con

Ferguson’s public relations operative Devin James, 32, has been under fire since last week’s Post-Dispatch report that he once served time in 2009 for killing an unarmed man in 2004. James, who is African-American, says it was self-defense. He’s since lost his city contract but according to MSNBC, is staying on as spokesman, pro bono. Now, James is telling his story—and viewed next to the week’s negative reaction to his criminal past (and possibly lying on his resume), it’s hard not to think of second chances. Who gets them? Who doesn’t? James, it must be said, isn’t all that different from tens of thousands of other African-American men seeking to start over with criminal records stemming from everything from failure to pay excessive criminal fines to murder. 

James explained his motives, background and past during a 10-minute St. Louis Public Radio interview yesterday (follow link for audio). An excerpt:

It’s important to have someone who’s faced similar challenges at the table [in Ferguson] at the strategic level…. I know what it’s like to be a black man who has a sense of fear when he’s pulled over from law enforcement or who fears any interaction with law enforcement. I know what it’s like to have been in the system and therefore have challenges establishing my credit again or being able to get a job afterwards. …The fact that I didn’t graduate from high school; I got my GED. The fact that…my education so to speak, or lack thereof, didn’t define me. So I think I bring something to the table.

Even with the recent attacks on me, I guess it would be different if I was a rapper, or if I was a football player, then none of this really matters. But because I’m not, you know, all of a sudden we need to destroy this person’s character—when I’m one of the only African-Americans that’s actually at the table trying to make sure that Ferguson changes their perspective.

If everyone in the St. Louis region has a problem with me and I’m the guy who’s overcome some of those challenges, kinda got his life together, got a company going, trying to make a positive impact and you still have a problem with me—what do you think about the folks who don’t have their life together? Is that to say that they shouldn’t be given a second chance as well?

 

Jobs Report, JP Morgan’s Massive Data Breach, Gorgeous Seafloor Topography

Jobs Report, JP Morgan's Massive Data Breach, Gorgeous Seafloor Topography

Here’s what I’m reading up on this morning:

  • New York City will soon consider legislation that would deny cooperation with common immigration detainers, as well as remove immigration agents from Riker’s Island jail. 
TAGS: Morning Rush

Federal Civil Rights Charges Unlikely for George Zimmerman

Federal Civil Rights Charges Unlikely for George Zimmerman

The chances of exacting some kind of accountability for George Zimmerman’s killing of Trayvon Martin are dimming, the Washington Post reports. The Justice Department’s open investigation into whether or not Zimmerman’s actions constituted a federal civil rights violations will likely conclude with no charges. 

The Washington Post’s Sari Horwitz reported:

The federal investigation of Zimmerman was opened two years ago by the department’s civil rights division, but officials said there is insufficient evidence to bring federal charges. The investigation technically remains open, but it is all but certain the department will close it.

Investigators still want to “dot their i’s and cross their t’s,” said one official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on the matter.

This week GQ published a look at where the Zimmerman family is today, two years on from 17-year-old Martin’s death.

Free After 3 Years: Chicago’s Jon Burge Who Tortured 100 Black Men

Free After 3 Years: Chicago's Jon Burge Who Tortured 100 Black Men

Signs that things may be bad where you live: if your state’s general assembly ever creates something called a Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission (TIRC). Today, according to human rights lawyer Flint Taylor, former Chicago police commander Jon Burge, 66, walks free on early release from federal prison in North Carolina after having been “convicted of lying about torturing over 100 African-American men at stationhouses on Chicago’s South and West Sides.” Note that Burge was convicted in 2010 for perjury—not his deeds. The Illinois general assembly created TIRC in 2009 to deal specifically with Burge, other officers under his command and the claims made by scores of their torture victims. Burge made news earlier this year when the city’s pension board, the Chicago Tribune reports, allowed him to keep his $4000-a-month pension.

In a must-read, Taylor recounts the costs to citizens, taxpayers and of course victims—some of whom remain in prison based on confessions coerced under torture. Taylor writes:

The contrast between the official treatment of the torturers and their victims has spurred activists, torture survivors and lawyers working with the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials Project (CTJM) to campaign for the passage of a city ordinance that would address this appalling discrepancy. Introduced into City Council last October by Aldermen Joe Moreno and Howard Brookins, the “Reparations Ordinance” calls for the establishment of a $20 million fund to compensate torture survivors who have so far received little money or nothing at all.

The 40-year Burge saga is far from over. To learn the backstory, start here at the Chicago Reader.

(h/t In These Times)

Following Ferguson: Grand Jury Being Investigated For Possible Misconduct

Following Ferguson: Grand Jury Being Investigated For Possible Misconduct

News broke yesterday that St. Louis County officials are investigating the grand jury charged with deciding whether to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Grand juries are sworn to secrecy but according to the Washington Post, activist and active Tweeter Shaun King informed the St. Louis County prosecutor’s office that at least one juror may be talking. Evidence so far is a snapshot of the following Tweets:

Speaking to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Peter Joy, director of the Washington University School of Law’s Criminal Justice Clinic said, “This is in the realm of rumor and speculation. If I were a betting person, I would assume that this is just some person who made up something out of thin air.”

The St. Louis County prosecutor’s office is investigating. Protesters have been calling for county prosecutor Robert McCullough to be replaced.

Watch for more as this story develops.

Cartel Leader Beltrán Arrested, Jobless Claims Down, 35K Walruses Ashore in Alaska

Cartel Leader Beltrán Arrested, Jobless Claims Down, 35K Walruses Ashore in Alaska

Here’s what I’m reading up on this morning: 

  • Jobless claims fell way below Bloomberg’s consensus; this will make for a positive employment report on Friday. 
  • Facebook apologizes to the LGBT for its name policy; in a post, chief product officer Chris Cox (is his legal name Chris or Christopher, though?) explained that the community pretty much made Facebook do better. 
  • Workers paint over a Banksy piece in England, which makes me wonder when graffiti is graffiti and if actual graffiti can ever be sanctioned. 
  • Climate change’s latest victims? 35,000 walruses on an Alaskan shoreline.
TAGS: Morning Rush

In Jordan Davis Retrial, Florida Jury Says, ‘Guilty’

In Jordan Davis Retrial, Florida Jury Says, 'Guilty'

In a retrial, Michael Dunn, 47, was found guilty this afternoon of the first degree murder of 17-year-old Jordan Davis. Outside a Jacksonville, Florida, convenience store in November 2012, Dunn shot and killed Davis after an argument over the volume of the teenager’s music. This February, the so-called “loud music” trial ended with Dunn convicted on three counts of attempted second-degree murder. The jury deadlocked on the first-degree murder charge, however. With today’s conviction, and already looking at 60 years in prison, Dunn now faces the possibility of life without parole.

Read more of this developing story at NBC News.

Dept. of Ed: School Districts Must Eliminate Racial Disparities in Funding

Dept. of Ed: School Districts Must Eliminate Racial Disparities in Funding

In a letter (PDF) addressed to states, school districts and schools around the country, the U.S. Department of Education warned today that racial disparities in school funding “persist,” and that school districts have a legal responsibility to “provide students with equal access to these resources without regard to race, color, or national origin.”

“Chronic and widespread racial disparities in access to rigorous courses, academic programs, and extracurricular activities; stable workforces of effective teachers, leaders, and support staff; safe and appropriate school buildings and facilities; and modern technology and high-quality instructional materials further hinder the education of students of color today,” the letter reads. The guidance is a follow-up to data the Department of Education released this spring which found ongoing, widespread disparities between affluent and white students and poorer students and students of color, Education Week reported. For example, among schools serving the highest concentrations of black and Latino students, only 66 percent offered chemistry, and only 74 percent offered Algebra 2, according to the letter. 

Those who fail to address these gaps leave themselves to federal investigation. Read the letter in full here (PDF). 

ICYMI: On CNN, Reza Aslan Teaches 10-Minute Seminar on Bigotry

ICYMI: On CNN, Reza Aslan Teaches 10-Minute Seminar on Bigotry

The original aim of this past Monday’s CNN Tonight segment appears to have been to use a recent monologue by comedian Bill Maher to engage religious scholar Reza Aslan in a debate about the violent intentions of Islam. That sorta happened. Really though, over the course of 10 minutes CNN anchors—poorly armed with generalizations but not specific facts—participated in a master class, led by Aslan, on bigotry. At one point Aslan uses the word “stupid,” as in the serious, dictionary definition of the word. Watch above.

(h/t MediaMatters)

It’s Now Easier to Find Government Data on Asian-Americans

It's Now Easier to Find Government Data on Asian-Americans

For decades, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders have been left out of big studies that focus on race and ethnicity. A couple of years ago, Pew released a comprehensive report called “The Rise of Asian-Americans,” but even that was widely panned for playing up the model minority myth.

“Our community is one of stark contrasts, with significant disparities within and between various subgroups.,” Congresswoman Judy Chu, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said back in 2012 after the release of Pew’s report. “The ‘Asian Pacific American’ umbrella includes over 45 distinct ethnicities speaking over 100 language dialects, and many of the groups that were excluded from this report are also the ones with the greatest needs.”

The White House Initiative on Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders just launched a new initiative that it hopes will offer broader statistical data on the diverse set of ethnicities that make up the AAPI community. On Tuesday, the initiative announced that Data.gov/AAPI is open for business.

“The launch of Data.gov/AAPI marks an important milestone for better understanding and responding to the complex needs of AAPIs, now the fastest growing racial group in the country,” WHIAAPI executive director Kiran Ahuja said in a press release.

Already, the trove of information offers an important glimpse into the often underreported experiences of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders.

  • In the first year of college, Asian American and black students have the highest enrollment rates in remedial education courses. Explore the data.
  • Of the immigrant orphans adopted by United States citizens, nearly half are of Asian descent. Explore the data.
  • Pacific Islanders have among the highest unemployment rates of all racial and ethnic groupsExplore the data.
  • The AAPI community is expected to more than double to over 47 million by 2060. Explore the data.

The new website features roughly 2,000 data sets and reports from nearly 50 federal, state, city and county sources. See more at Data.gov/AAPI.

The White House also released this video about the new website:

First Ebola Case in Dallas, Obama’s Upcoming Economy Talk, Wild Chimps Develop Culture

First Ebola Case in Dallas, Obama's Upcoming Economy Talk, Wild Chimps Develop Culture

Here’s what I’m reading up on this morning:

*Post has been updated since publication to reflect that Obama will speak at Northwestern on Thursday, October 2, rather than today, October 1. 

TAGS: Morning Rush

Inmates and Families Charged to Send, Spend Their Own Money

Inmates and Families Charged to Send, Spend Their Own Money

With 2.4 million people locked up in the United States, prisons are big business, and not just for the private companies that operate them. The Center for Public Integrity has a multi-part look out today on the business scheme to make inmates and those newly released from prison pay to access their own money. 

The report focuses on JPay, a prisoner financial services company which sells debit cards and money transfer services to inmates and their families. Amirah Al Idrus reports for the Center for Public Integrity:

In Michigan, for example, JPay charges users 50 cents to check the card’s balance at an ATM, $2 to withdraw cash, 70 cents to make a purchase and 50 cents a month for a maintenance fee. Even not using the card costs money. Doing nothing draws a $2.99 fee after 60 days. To cancel the card, it costs $9.95.

In a companion article, Center for Public Integrity reporter Daniel Wagner writes that families have few alternatives but to submit to this fee-filled world.

Inmates’ need for money is inescapable, Nelson says. Those in northern Illinois are not issued cold-weather clothes, he says, leaving them vulnerable to frostbite unless they can get money to pay for prison-approved long underwear and boots.

Taken together, JPay and other prison vendors create a system in which families are paying to send the money, and inmates are paying again to spend it, says Keith Miller, who is serving 21 ½ years at Bland for a series of drug-related, violent crimes committed in his early 20s. The earliest he may be released is 2021, when his mother will be 87 years old.

“The fact that [my mother] has to pay the fees to send the money and then the fact that [prison agencies] make a certain cut off it seems to me that [the prisons are] double-dipping into the money they’re sending,” he said in an interview at the prison. “It really doesn’t make sense to me that this should be allowed.”

CPI will release the second half of its report on Thursday. Read the rest at the Center on Public Integrity.

Rikers Island Will End Solitary Confinement for Its Youngest Inmates

Rikers Island Will End Solitary Confinement for Its Youngest Inmates

After a year of scathing media reports and a Department of Justice review, New York City is changing the way it treats its teen inmates. The city will stop holding 16- and 17-year-old inmates in solitary confinement, beginning at the end of the year, AP reported.

In August, the United States attorney’s office released a report that said that Rikers Island, where the majority of New York City prisoners are held, too often turned to solitary confinement and had a “deep-seated culture of violence,” the New York Times reported. The change will affect roughly 300 of Rikers Island’s 11,000 inmates.

For more, watch this report of a former teen inmate at Rikers Island talking about the experience and lasting impacts of being held in solitary confinement while he was behind bars.

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