Colorlines

NOW IN RACIAL JUSTICE

Thousands Protest for Trayvon Martin, Black Boys’ Lives [Photos]

Thousands Protest for Trayvon Martin, Black Boys' Lives [Photos] Photo

Thousands of people took to the streets in cities across the country over the weekend following George Zimmerman’s acquittal on charges in the murder of Trayvon Martin. The demonstrations were largely peaceful and brought people together to mourn Martin’s death as the latest marker in a long history of violence brought against black bodies. Historian Jelani Cobb summed up the sense of injustice at the New Yorker on Saturday night when he wrote, “To be black at times like this is to see current events on a real-time ticker, a Dow Jones average measuring the quality of one’s citizenship.”

Below are some of the most poignant images of the weekend’s protests.

Hurt, Sorrow, Anger: A First Look at Reactions to the Zimmerman Verdict

A six-person jury in Sanford, Florida found George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watchman, not guilty of killing Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old black teen, on Saturday. The jury, composed of six women, all but one of whom were white, acquitted Zimmerman of second-degree murder as well as a lesser charge of manslaughter.

On February 26 of last year, Zimmerman saw Martin walking home in the rain in his father’s gated community and thinking Martin a dangerous threat, approached him and soon after shot and killed the unarmed black teen. The jury deliberated for 16 hours after a nearly three-week trial during which Zimmerman’s defense argued that he’d been shaken by home break-ins and was attacked by Martin, killing him out of fear for his own life. The prosecution argued that Zimmerman, who ignored a dispatcher warning not to approach Martin, was driven by malice toward Martin. With their verdict, the jury decided that Zimmerman could have been justified in killing Martin that rainy night.

Courtroom proceedings during the trial studiously sidestepped race—Judge Debra Nelson barred attorneys from using the word “racial profiling” during the trial in a murder case that was driven entirely by racial profiling. 

Observers of the trial reacted to the verdict with outrage on social media. Below are a few of the responses from folks in the racial justice world.

Bay Area TV News Airs Racist Asiana Airlines Prank

Bay Area TV News Airs Racist Asiana Airlines Prank

It’s hard to feel sympathy for KTVU right now. During its noon broadcast today the local San Francisco Fox affiliate announced the supposedly newly released names of the pilots of the Asiana Airlines flight crash—“Sum Ting Wong,” “Wi Tu Lo,” “Ho Lee Fuk,” and “Bang Ding Ow.” This, despite the fact that the pilots had already been identified

The fake names are so obviously fake and deeply offensive that it makes KTVU’s error that much more embarrassing. Whoever pranked the station’s probably gleefully enjoying their little success, but there’s no victory here. 

The prank is just the latest of the racist ignorance news outlets have been circulating in the wake of the deadly plane crash.

KTVU apologized later, in the same broadcast, for their error. 

Zimmerman Defense: “Trayvon Armed Himself with Concrete”

Zimmerman Defense:

George Zimmerman’s future is largely in the hands of a jury that’s finally deliberating after a nearly three week trial in connection with the killing of Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman’s defense team presented its closing arguments, followed by the state’s rebuttal. The jury of six women, five of whom are white, was given instructions by Judge Debra Nelson, and will decide whether Zimmerman is not guilty, guilty of manslaughter, or guilty of second-degree murder.

Despite a trial that has rather cautiously avoided race up until closing, defense attorney Mark O’Mara explicitly cited early-on that most of the break-ins in his client’s neighborhood were committed by criminal “young black men.” Martin, of course, was not breaking into a home on the night in question. He was also unarmed. But while awkwardly lugging a considerably large piece of sidewalk in the courtroom, O’Mara did argue that the victim was equipped with a weapon, telling the jury  “Trayvon Martin armed himself with concrete.”

O’Mara also played for jurors a controversial animation, created by an artist, that’s based on shoddy assumptions—like Martin using his left hand to swing at Zimmerman, although Martin was right handed. The defense attorney closed his statement by asking jurors to allow Zimmerman to “get back to his life” by acquitting him.

After a short break, state prosecutor John Guy began with a slow moving, and poignant argument about the human heart. He reminded jurors that Martin was the victim, and that, like any other child, his fear was to be followed by a stranger in the dark. Responding to the defense’s claim that Zimmerman was innocent, Guy argued, “If ever there was a window into a man’s soul,” it was Zimmerman’s spiteful voice on the 9-11 call. He repeatedly asked the jury if Trayvon Martin did not also have the right to defend himself the night he was killed by George Zimmerman.

After a lunch recess, Judge Nelson instructed the jury from a document that clearly lays out the jury’s responsibilities and options. AP reporter Kyle Hightower tweeted that the one juror appeared to be wiping a tear from her eye during rebuttal; it happens to be the one juror of color in the trial. But it remains unknown, of course, when the jury will come to a decision, or what that decision will be. 

South Carolina’s Voting Walking Dead Story Proven Fluke

South Carolina's Voting Walking Dead Story Proven Fluke

According to some state lawmakers, there is an alternate universe where zombies run amok, looking not to physically attack us but vote us out of existence through fraudulent ballot casting.

To fight off the World War Z scourge, they say, we don’t need Brad Pitt but photo voter ID cards. South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles director Kevin Shwedo said as much last year during hearings where he pushed for voter ID, claiming he had a list of over 900 voters who cast ballots from the grave.  

As reported by Corey Hutchins in the Columbia Free Times, state Rep. Alan Clemmons, a Horry County Republican, ran with Shwedo’s unsubstantiated claim, telling the public, “We must have certainty in South Carolina that zombies aren’t voting.”

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, also a Republican, made the same claim and used it to crusade against President Obama’s Department of Justice (DOJ). Along with his friends at True the Vote, Wilson spun a narrative about how the federal government was preventing him from defending his state against the zombie voter fraud attacks.

But it turns out that, like most zombie stories, this was pure comic book plot. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division conducted an 18-month investigation into whether dead people voted — and found not one legitimate case of any such thing happening.

The Division’s report was released quietly just before the Fourth of July holiday, following an information request by Hutchins, who noted in his article that the agency made no comment about their findings.

And it’s not just South Carolina. This same voter fraud mythology has been peddled in Pennsylvania by lawmakers as they made a case for a voter ID law — only to walk it backwhen it was time to go on the record during a legal challenge to the law.

Similar voter fraud claims have also been made — and debunked — in TexasWisconsinMississippi, and Minnesota. And who can forget voter fraud hustler James O’Keefe’s attempt to stage a zombie voter fraud outbreak in North Carolina?

In all of these situations, Republican lawmakers and conservative activists drummed up tales of voter fraud, made outrageous claims in public, but failed to apologize when the data contradicted them. Meanwhile, photo voter ID laws are still being passed based on bad information.

This was cross-posted from the Institute for Southern Studies blog “Facing South,” where I’m guest-blogging for July. Read the rest of the post here

Farm Bill Passes House Without a Dollar for SNAP Food Assistance

Farm Bill Passes House Without a Dollar for SNAP Food Assistance

The farm bill passed by the House yesterday is but the latest symbol of the political polarization in Congress right now. GOP leaders successfully separated SNAP “food stamp” funding from the bill for the first time in decades against Democrats’ loudest protests and tears. The bill includes $195 billion in subsidies exclusively for farmers over the next 10 years. Not a single Dem voted for the bill, which passed 216-208. A month ago, the House attempted to pass a farm bill that included SNAP subsidies, but cut it by $20 billion, from $763 billion to $743 billion. During debate for that bill Louisiana Sen. David Vitter infamously attempted a permanent ban for anyone ever convicted of a violent crime from accepting SNAP benefits — a deal Democrats at the time accepted. That bill did not pass. 

The decision to strip away SNAP benefits — which will be considered in their own separate bill, according to Republican majority leaders  — was urged by the conservative Club for Growth, whose founder Stephen Moore is a scholar at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and Heritage Action, the lobbying arm of the Heritage Foundation. The SNAP subtraction reportedy moved Rep. Corrine Brown, an African-American Congresswoman from Florida, to tears. Meanwhile, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer said he had no confidence that Republicans will pass a SNAP bill later. 

The bill is now supposed to go to conference to negotiate with Senate leaders over the bill it passed last month, which includes $760.5 billion for food stamps and nutrition. But some are doubtul that any agreement can be made between the chambers without the SNAP assistance in the House bill — nor would a SNAP-less bill likely have the votes to override a veto from President Obama if it did. 

The current SNAP program ends September 30, so either way new legislation would need to happen before then. Last year close to 47 million people received food assistance, a consequence of the recession, a 13 percent increase on average since 2008. Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said that if House Republicans decide to take up a separate SNAP bill later, it is “very likely” that they would pass one with more “severe” cuts. 

“Splitting the farm bill and paving the way for the House to pass a more draconian SNAP-only bill in coming weeks would be the latest demonstration of how dysfunctional the House is becoming,” said Greenstein in his blog yesterday.

A Tribe Called Red Asks That Fans Stop Coming to Shows in ‘Redface’

A Tribe Called Red Asks That Fans Stop Coming to Shows in 'Redface'

This year has been huge for “A Tribe Called Red.” The trio of Native American DJ’s has become widely popular, and that’s great. But what’s not so great is the fact that their newfound fame also invites some fans to act out their racist impulses by showing up to performances in red face. Now, the group is asking folks to stop. 

From CBC:

Ava DuVernay to Direct An Episode of Next Season’s ‘Scandal’

Ava DuVernay to Direct An Episode of Next Season's 'Scandal'

“Scandal” producer Merri Howard announced this week on Twitter that Ava DuVernay, the acclaimed director of “Middle of Nowhere”, will be directing the eigth episode of the ABC hit drama next season.

In other news, DuVernay has also been tapped to direct Lee Daniels’ Martin Luther King, Jr. drama “Selma”, which also stars Kerry Washington. 

(H/T Shadow and Act)

Janet Napolitano’s Next Stop? University of California

Janet Napolitano's Next Stop? University of California

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is leaving her post to lead the University of California system, Reuters reported this morning. In her tenure as head of the Department of Homeland Security Napolitano has responded to bombings like the Boston Marathon attack and natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy. But for racial justice watchers in particular, Napolitano will be forever remembered for overseeing the largest and most aggressive deportation program of any presidential administration. Under her leadership, the Obama administration deported over 1.5 million people, ramped up the deadly militarization of the border and expanded the enforcement program Secure Communities, which criminalized everyday immigrants.

“After four plus years of focusing on these challenges, I will be nominated as the next President of the University of California to play a role in educating our nation’s next generation of leaders,” Napolitano said in a statement today. She called her time as DHS Secretary the “highlight” of her professional career. 

“Since day one, Janet has led my administration’s effort to secure our borders, deploying a historic number of resources, while also taking steps to make our immigration system fairer and more consistent with our values,” President Obama said in a statement, Reuters reported. “The American people are safer and more secure thanks to Janet’s leadership.”

It’s not clear who will take Napolitano’s spot, but in California, she will be greeted by a prestigious network of public universities struggling with sagging investment in public education and the long-simmering ire of students who’ve been made to bear the brunt of the system’s economic woes.

Watch This Incredible Time-Lapse Video of a Woman Who Learns How to Dance in a Year

Watch This Incredible Time-Lapse Video of a Woman Who Learns How to Dance in a Year

Some of us just aren’t rhythmically inclined. But that didn’t stop Karen Cheng, who learned how to dance in 365 days and captured it all on video.

(H/T Angry Asian Man)

TAGS: dance

3 Things to Love About Palestinian-American Football Player Oday Aboushi

3 Things to Love About Palestinian-American Football Player Oday Aboushi

It’s been a rough week for Oday Aboushi, a 22-year-old Palestinian-American rookie football player for the New York Jets. As a fifth-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft, Aboushi’s trying to keep his job and earn a place on the team’s final roster. And, as a practicing Muslim, he’s enduring grueling summer workouts while also observing Ramadan. But to top it all off,  Aboushi has found himself at the center of a manufactured scandal in which he’s been accused of being an anti-Semite (see background here and here) and compared to former NFL player Aaron Hernandez, who’s sitting in a Boston-area jail accused of murder. The reason? He’s simply proud of who he is and where he comes from.

“This entire episode shows you that as a Palestinian public persona, you have to be quiet about your history, beliefs and views or you will be silenced by attackers who want to bring you down,” wrote CUNY political science professor Yousef Munayyer at The Daily Beast on Thursday

Aboushi has handled the controversey gracefully. He’s shown gratitude to supporters on Twitter and not taken the bait tossed his way from ignorant critics. Since the uproar has pushed a relatively unknown player into the spotlight, here’s what else you should know about him:

Zimmerman Trial Prosecution Presents Closing Arguments

Zimmerman Trial Prosecution Presents Closing Arguments

Florida Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda presented closing arguments in the case against George Zimmerman, charged with second-degree murder—although, as is common practice in Florida, the charge means that the jury will also be allowed to consider the lesser charge of manslaughter. De la Rionda presented sometimes-passionate arguments, ahead of the defense’s closing Friday.

The prosecution has avoided presenting issues of race in the trial. While the state can present the argument that Zimmerman “profiled” Martin—and did so during closing arguments Thursday—Judge Debra Nelson has warned it against using terms like “racial profiling.” As the trial comes to a close, the prosecution appears to have figured out how to navigate around that directive. De la Rionda went as far as evoking Martin Luther King Jr., and spent a good deal of time defending prosecution witness Rachel Jeantel, who was berated by the defense, as well as by traditional and social media because of her race, gender, and size. He told jurors that although Jeantel was not a “sophisticated person,” he “had a dream that today, a witness would be judged not on the color of her personality, but on the content of her testimony.” De la Rionda additionally urged jurors to not discriminate against Jeantel’s Haitian background.

The prosecutor also spent much of his time Thursday defending Trayvon Martin. Despite the fact that Martin is clearly not the one on trial, it might be necessary ahead of the defense’s closing tomorrow. The defense is expected to argue that Martin attacked Zimmerman, and Zimmerman acted in self-defense. De la Rionda used graphic images to present his point—including photos of Martin’s hands, which contained no blood; the defense might attempt to present the argument that Martin repeatedly punched Zimmerman with his hands.

But the prosecution also highlighted Zimmerman’s lack of credibility—presenting contradicting statements he made on the 9-11 call, statements he made to police investigators, and an interview he gave to cable television pundit Sean Hannity. Zimmerman awkwardly declined to take the stand in his case when questioned about it directly by Judge Nelson yesterday.

The defense is expected to present its closing arguments Friday, which will almost certainly include a controversial animation that is based on disputed assumptions about the night that Trayvon Martin was killed. If convicted of second-degree murder, Zimmerman could face life in prison; a manslaughter conviction could mean as many as 30 years behind bars.

Infographic: The Hard Search for Healthy Food in South L.A.

Infographic: The Hard Search for Healthy Food in South L.A.

We’ve all heard that insulting refrain that people in poor neighborhoods are unhealthy because they are choosing burgers from fast food restaurants over vegetables from farmers markets. This week the Community Coalition in Los Angeles released a bold and direct refutation of that line. The truth is that in poor neighborhoods fast food restaurants and liquor stores outnumber options for healthy eating. 

CoCofoodaccess.jpg

With the Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Health’s service planning areas as guidance, the Community Coalition compared healthy food access for residents in South Central L.A.—including the predominantly people of color and working class communities of Compton, Crenshaw, Lynwood, Paramount, Watts, Inglewood and Hawthorne—with food access for people who live in whiter and much wealthier West L.A., which includes Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Culver City, Santa Monica and Venice. It’s not just that healthy food is harder to find in poorer neighborhoods. It’s also that people of color are aggressively bombarded with junk food.

Click here for a full size version of the infographic. 

Conservatives, House Locked on Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Conservatives, House Locked on Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Update @ 5:47 pm ET: House majority leader Eric Cantor has confirmed that his party will take up immigration in a piece meal only approach, issuing the following joint statement authored by several Republican heavyweights:

“Today House Republicans affirmed that rather than take up the flawed legislation rushed through the Senate, House committees will continue their work on a step-by-step, common-sense approach to fixing what has long been a broken system. The American people want our border secured, our laws enforced, and the problems in our immigration system fixed to strengthen our economy. But they don’t trust a Democratic-controlled Washington, and they’re alarmed by the president’s ongoing insistence on enacting a single, massive, Obamacare-like bill rather than pursuing a step-by-step, common-sense approach to actually fix the problem. The president has also demonstrated he is willing to unilaterally delay or ignore significant portions of laws he himself has signed, raising concerns among Americans that this administration cannot be trusted to deliver on its promises to secure the border and enforce laws as part of a single, massive bill like the one passed by the Senate.”

++++

Former President George W. Bush was back in the spotlight Wednesday morning, appearing at an opening for a center with his namesake in Dallas, Texas. He tackled immigration just as lawmakers in Washington were preparing to do the same. But while Bush’s message was based on what appeared as a sincere hope that comprehensive immigration legislation would move forward, the House doesn’t appear likely to push through a Senate bill passed less than two weeks ago.

Bush offered his remarks at a naturalization ceremony—which inaugurated the George W. Bush Institute. In welcoming a group of immigrants who had just attained citizenship, Bush recognized that for many of those involved, it had been a long process, adding that he was honored to call those in the ceremony his fellow Americans. He then moved to address the broader question of immigration reform. “I don’t intend to get involved in politics, or specifics of policy,” said the former president. “But I do hope there is a positive resolution to the debate.”

But conservative voices remain varied on immigration. A joint editorial, penned by William Kristol and Rich Lowry, appeared in both the Weekly Standard and National Review; both are respective editors at the two leading conservative publications, with a far reach. The editorial, which stipulates that there is “no rush to act on immigration,” concludes that passing the Senate version of the bill “would be worse public policy than passing nothing.”

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Oh., meanwhile, is pressed to convince his colleagues to support a comprehensive immigration bill or piece-meal legislation—and it appears he’ll push for a series of stand-alone bills if he’s not satisfied that a bigger bill will first secure the border. Boehner continues to maintain his position that he will not back the current Senate bill. But that gamble may prove difficult if the Republicans want to keep the House next year.

As House lawmakers meet to figure out what to do next, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus is also meeting with President Obama Wednesday to talk about immigration reform. One member, Filemon Vela, D-Tx., resigned from the caucus last week, in protest of the Senate version of the bill’s stipulation for increased border fencing and surveillance.

NC Redistricting Decision Another Setback for Voting Rights

NC Redistricting Decision Another Setback for Voting Rights

This week, a three-judge panel in North Carolina voted to preserve the 2011 GOP-drawn redistricting plans that civil rights and voter groups say are racially gerrymandered.

“It is the ultimate holding of this trial court that the redistricting plans enacted by the General Assembly in 2011 must be upheld and that the Enacted Plans do not impair the constitutional rights of the citizens of North Carolina as those rights are defined by law,” reads the judges’ ruling.

What does this mean for voters of color and citizens of North Carolina?

Well, challenging the redistricting plans was already a tough deal to begin with. Republicans drew the post-2010 Census lines to their advantage, giving themselves a 9-4 congressional district edge, up from the 7-6 split with Democrats before. They also placed roughly 27 percent of African-American voters in newly split state House precincts, compared to just 16.6 percent of white voters. There was similar disproportional segregation of black voters in the new congressional and state Senate districts. But Attorney General Eric Holder’s Department of Justice precleared the plans, more than once, when counties were still subjected to the Voting Rights Act.

The Act, dealt a blow last month when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the formula determining which jurisdictions are subject to preclearance, did provide for “minority-majority” districts to ensure that voters of color were able to elect candidates of their choice. As numerical minorities in the state, people of color could never elect their own candidate for a statewide office like governor on their votes alone. But with the VRA “minority-majority” protections, they could still influence statewide policy through ensured proportional representation in the legislature and Congress.

Voters in North Carolina had been forming cross-racial coalitions, the results of which were seen last November in the 51 percent of votes that went to Democratic Party congressional candidates despite the gerrymandering (a judge ruled that the GOP map could be used for last year’s elections).

To read the rest, visit the Institute for Southern Studies Facing South site where I’ll be guest blogging for the month of July. 

The World’s First Mayan Telenovela Debuted in Mexico This Month

The World's First Mayan Telenovela Debuted in Mexico This Month

I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing, but there’s Mayan telenovela on Mexican TV these days. From New America Media:

Baktún, the world’s first Maya language telenovela, is a great achievement for indigenous communities, according to filmmaker Bruno Cárcamo. 

Finally, Mayans have the right to be entertained by the same kind of poorly-written, overacted, predictable melodramas the rest of us have absolutely adored for years.

Directed and produced by documentary filmmaker Cárcamo, the 30-episode drama was filmed in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo and will soon be made available for your enjoyment on YouTube. The series premiered at the Museo de Antropología last month. Cárcamo told Mexican news outlet Sin Embargo that it would air on Mexican television this month, and also possibly in Peru and Bolivia in the future.

Notably, the show’s characters speak Maya. “If you lose a language, you’re not only losing those words,” filmmaker Bruno Cárcamo told Sin Embargo, via Univision.” “You are losing an entire peoples, and this could happen with the Mayan people of the Yucatán.”

TAGS: Telenovela

A Long Overdue Celebration of Asian Food, From the Fung Brothers

A Long Overdue Celebration of Asian Food, From the Fung Brothers

Here’s a tribute to Asian food from the Fung Brothers, an Asian-American rap and comedy duo.

Jennifer Hudson’s Portrayal of Winnie Mandela Hits Theaters This Fall

Jennifer Hudson's Portrayal of Winnie Mandela Hits Theaters This Fall

Nelson Mandela remains hospitalized and is reportedly on life support in South Africa. The 94-year-old’s health has been described in the press as “perilous” and millions of people around the world are praying for both Mandela and his family. But as the South African freedom fighter’s health deteriorates, we’re now paying more attention to the various theatrical projects in the works that attempt to pay tribute to his legacy, one that undoubtedly includes that of his ex-wife Winnie Madikizela Mandela.

A new American biopic starring Jennifer Hudson is in the works. According to a press release, the film, now titled “Winnie Mandela”, will be released on September 6 and is based on Anné Mariè du Preez Bezdrob’s biography Winnie Mandela: A Life.

Now 76 years old, Winnie Mandela has remained active in South African politics since the decades she spent fighting against her country’s Apartheid regime. The film has already sparked a good amount of controversy for casting Hudson in the lead role and has reportedly had little input from Winnie Mandela. 

Making the film even more suspect, it will be presented by megapastor TD Jakes.

Zimmerman Defense to Introduce Controversial Animation at Closing

 Zimmerman Defense to Introduce Controversial Animation at Closing

Zimmerman defense attorney Mark O’Mara surprised viewers yesterday when he casually mentioned that the defense would be wrapping up its case as early as today. Jurors were sent home, and most of the people in the courtroom—including Trayvon Martin’s parents, Sabrina Fulton and Tracy martin—left as well.

In an almost empty courtroom a while later, the defense began to argue to enter into evidence an animation based on testimony of John Good during Zimmerman’s trial for the second-degree murder of Martin. Good had previously testified to seeing part of a confrontation between Zimmerman and Martin that resulted in Martin’s death.

Daniel Schumaker, who, according to his LinkedIn profile, holds a BA degree not in forensic science, but in graphic design, created the animation. It illustrates 17-year-old Martin, in a black hoodie, watching and then straddling George Zimmerman. 

The image above, taken from the animation, shows Martin punching Zimmerman with his left hand—despite being right-handed; Good made clear during testimony that he saw no punches being thrown, and no witness stated that Martin used his left hand during the confrontation. Further, the animation does not match the lighting of the night in question. In other words, the animation is based more on disputed assumptions than on evidence. 

The prosecution argued against admitting the animation during the evidentiary hearing. Judge Debra Nelson, who drew attention to the possibility that Schumaker violated sequestration by consulting with O’Mara after first testifying, took the arguments into consideration and reviewed related case law overnight, after a marathon 13-hour day in court yesterday. Judge Nelson decided this morning that the animation will be blocked from entering into evidence—but that it can be used as a demonstrative exhibit in the case. 

Zimmerman’s defense team is expected to play the animation for the jury during its closing statements, which could be delivered later this week. 

Ryan Coogler, Oscar Grant, and the Basic Humanity of Black Men

Ryan Coogler, Oscar Grant, and the Basic Humanity of Black Men

Biggie probably said it best: “You’re nobody until somebody kills you.” And in the rare case where death plucks you from everyday anonymity to national news story, a lot is gained and probably even more is lost. I’ve been thinking about this a lot for the past week while I’ve been in Oakland. Ads for Ryan Coogler’s “Fruitvale Station”, a fictional portrayal of Oscar Grant’s death at the hand’s of a BART police officer back in 2009, are all over the city as the film gets ready to hit theaters this week. Meanwhile, in Florida, George Zimmerman’s trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin has been on cable news nonstop.

On the one hand, it means something that the deaths of black men and boys are getting attention. On the other, there’s something about that attention that minimizes them, that transforms their lives from individual cases to national causes. 

Ryan Coogler recently spoke with Sergio from Shadow and Act. What stood out to me was Coogler’s commitment to humanizing Grant in the film. He’s neither a hero nor villain, which is an experience to which I think most of us can relate. But it’s a point worth stressing given the tremendous amount of attention surrounding his case, both in Oakland and across the country. Grant will be remembered as the smiling 22-year-old clad in a black beanie and hoodie. In this film, Coogler does what any meaningful artist sets out to do: show a relatable human who’s flawed, yes, but certainly doesn’t deserve to die.

Check out an excerpt of Coogler’s interview after the jump.

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