Saturday, March 31, 2012

400 March Against Police Violence, Racial and Class Oppression During The Final Four Tournament

more march photos here
Over 400 people rallied in front of City Hall today against the recent police murders of Justin Sipp and Wendell Allen, as well as in support of Trayvon Martin's family and other victims of unaccountable police and vigilante terrorism.

During the march, at least 3 police cars had their tires slashed, and at City Hall people wrote dozens of messages in chalk about racism and police violence for city officials to see on their way in to work on Monday. 
Speakers connected the economic subjugation of the city's largely African-American working class to the violence of the police in upholding a racist and classist social order. The marchers formed a diverse picture of the New Orleans community, with older African-American civil rights activists down to little 8 year olds holding signs calling for justice, as well as a sizable number of white people, including SOAR from Tulane University, who were willing to stand up to the racist violence done supposedly in the name of their "safety."

The march wound its way down Poydras Ave., in full view of the thousands of college basketball fans coming to party in a city where the ruling class has been desperately trying to hide the fact that it is a racist, apartheid police state before the tourists arrive. Many took photos with their camera phones, with the few non-white fans eager to take fliers and read what the marchers-- shouting "no justice, no peace!" and accompanied by a brass band and African style drummers-- were protesting. Most of the white fans just looked confused and uninterested.

The march then headed down Carondelet St. and up Canal Street to Loyola Ave, where it turned and headed back to City Hall. The crowd on Canal Street, away from the hordes of tourists, was much more receptive and responsive to the cries of justice for victims of police violence. Arriving back to City Hall, a woman fainted from heat stroke and had to be picked up by an ambulance, with tense arguments erupting between the woman's family and the NOPD cops who were on the scene and treating her concerns dismissively.

What's next?
Denver keeping it real
Many people see this as only the beginning of a struggle against police violence and apartheid conditions in New Orleans. Many discussions around neighborhood self-defense committees have been making the rounds in social media, and perhaps that is where the struggle should go next.

Organize your neighborhood to keep the police out and keep disputes mediated between residents so the police are unnecessary. Community autonomy is ultimately the only way we can keep ourselves safe from police terrorism, because the police will always work for the rich since they have the power to fund politicans' campaigns, and therefore get politicians to legislate for their interests and protection, at our expense.
Erect barricades to block the economy of the city until Wendell Allen's murderer Jason Colclough is arrested, and until Justin and Earl Sipp's shooters are put on trial so the facts can come out about what happened to them. Defend your barricades from the NOPD dismantling them with your friends and neighbors. Learn how to be together in the streets, get each others' backs, and deal with the cops trying to force a return to business as usual while NOPD murderers still freely walk the streets. Test your skills, build your confidence, challenge yourself. This is what it will take. All that's left is to begin.
If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what a people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. Men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must pay for all they get. If we ever get free from all the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and, if needs be, by our lives, and the lives of others. --Fredrick Douglass
Changing the Mayor or police chief, as some proposed at the march, will do nothing to make the situation any better because politics is a puppet show put on for us by the economic elites to distract our anger away from blaming them. 

Disruption of the economy is the strongest way for the struggle to win victories. From roadblocks to sit-ins, strikes to occupations, flexing people power to stop the normal functioning of the apartheid economy in New Orleans -- an economy protected by unaccountable police terrorism -- will put pressure on the political class to solve the situation before the ruling elites get angry at the politicians for allowing the situation to get to the point where we are angry enough to interrupt their profits to demand freedom.

Organize. Fight back. This is only a beginning.
If you want help organizing in your hood, or are taking action, be sure to let others know, including us (leave us a comment or email us at ).
Resistance inspires resistance! 
Don't fight alone!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

March Against Police Murders & The New Jim Crow! March 31st, Noon, City Hall.

UPDATE: Officer Giror, one of the cops who murdered Justin Sipp, has resigned after making disgusting comments about Trayvon Martin and being suspended for them by NOPD. Fuck you Jason Giror! You belong in jail for murder!

(What is the "new Jim Crow"?)

wear a hoodie on saturday!
Some kids from the 9th ward are already getting out there! So great! Let's Go!

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Perils of Looking 'Suspicious' While Black and Interpreting While White

Resistance to NOPD brutality is growing and building day by day, as posters spring up all over the city calling for justice for Wendell Allen and Justin Sipp. The momentum is picking up! Get involved! Take action!
via Bridge The Gulf, written by Pam Nath --
Sometime around 5:30 a.m., on March 1, 2012, an off-duty policeman working for a private neighborhood security force stopped two young black men driving in a predominantly white neighborhood in New Orleans. The officer called for back up. The incident tragically ended in the shooting death of Justin Sipp, the 20-year-old passenger of the car, who was African-American, as well as non-fatal injuries to two of the officers and to Justin's brother Earl who was the driver of the car.

The circumstances around Sipp's death sound eerily too simlar to the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, a black teen killed in Florida for looking "suspicious," this time not by law enforcement, but by a neighborhood watch member.

In the Sipp case in New Orleans, I've been listening to various reactions to this tragedy in community meetings, and reading about it on neighborhood association listserve posts. I've been ruminating about the chasm that exists between the two “worlds” in which I have lived.  I am white and before I moved to New Orleans, I lived and worked in predominantly white communities. Now many of my friends and coworkers are black folks and other persons of color, and the focus of my work is racial justice. It is from this perspective that I will try to make sense of what happened to the Sipp brothers.

Making sense of what happened requires interpretation because beyond the basic facts about the police stop described above, there's a lot of uncertainty. When each one of us interprets facts, especially limited facts, we must rely on knowledge from our past experiences, as well as the assumptions and values that have grown out of those experiences. Having traversed a chasm between two very different worlds, I know something about the information gap that handicaps white people living in racially segregated worlds, where even if people know or work with people of color, they typically lack deep personal connections to help them understand everyday realities in communities of color. Without this understanding, the shootout with the police and the criminal records of Earl and Justin Sipp reported by the media seem to validate that these brothers were “criminals” who the police needed to stop to ensure the safety and protection of neighborhood residents.

So I wasn't surprised when I read posts on neighborhood association listservs praising the officers' actions and supporting a blood drive organized in their support:

One listserv message read:
"As an advocate of a proactive role for our security district, I have asked for traffic stops or other stops to ask fair questions about people in our neighborhood, ON A NON DISCRIMATION  (sic) approach. I was glad to here (sic) that our guy from MCSD [Mid City Security District, the private security force] was doing that work yesterday morning. Getting guns and drugs off the street is a hard job but MSCD and NOPD [New Orleans Police Department] stops will make the free transport of drugs and weapons in cars too risky for criminals." 

Note that there have been no reports that the brothers were in possession of drugs at the time of their shooting, and even their past arrests weren't drug-related. But to mention that there seems to make sense to the poster because black folks with criminal charges, guns, drugs and shoot-outs with police all go together in the perspective from mostly-white commnities, even as they view the facts of this case.

This individual's post stood out to me because of his professed support for “non-discrimination.” I have no reason to doubt that he sincerely wants to avoid race-motivated stops, but in reality, pervasive assumptions of black criminality such as the one the poster demonstrates makes it impossible for proactive stops in majority white neighborhoods to be non-discriminatory.

What does it mean to look or act "suspicious"?  The Sipp brothers -- and others like Trayvon Martin -- are much too easily seen as perpetrators who are transporting guns and drugs through the neighborhood rather than as normal citizens, or workers trying to get to their job on time.  In reality, Earl Sipp was driving his younger brother Justin to work at a nearby Burger King. As their uncle told the media, they "were on their way to work trying to make an honest living."

The police story is that Earl and Justin Sipp were stopped because their license plate light was out. Because of the realities they have lived, black folks know how often they are stopped just for “driving while black,” and so they are justifiably suspicious of police officers.

A Department of Justice investigation of the NOPD, released just last year found patterns of unwarranted stops and searches, as well as “reasonable cause to believe that there is a pattern or practice of ... discriminatory policing (p ix)”  based on race, as well as gender and sexual orientation.

Quoting from the Justice Department report:
 “Our review of officer-involved shootings within just the last two years revealed many instances in which NOPD officers used deadly force contrary to NOPD policy or law. Despite the clear policy violations we observed, NOPD has not found that an officer-involved shooting violated policy in at least six years, and NOPD officials we spoke with could recall only one out-of-policy finding even before that time.... Even the most serious uses of force, such as officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths, are investigated inadequately or not at all.  NOPD’s mishandling of officer-involved shooting investigations was so blatant and egregious that it appeared intentional in some respects. (p. vi - vii).”

 I should note that while the NOPD are a particularly egregious example, it is not unique among police departments, many of which manifest similar problems.

The Justice Department report also noted that the vast majority of cases involving use of force and all of the incidents resulting in death involved African Americans. Within less than a week of Justin Sipp's death, another NOPD officer shot and killed another black man, 20-year-old Wendell Allen during a drug raid; Allen was unarmed at the time.

In addition to the dismal collective record of the NOPD, Jason Giroir, the officer who stopped the Sipps and who was one of two officers who fired shots during the stop, also has an individual past history that raises even more suspicions in the black community about what may have occurred that fatal day.  In April 2006, Giroir yanked a woman out of her car by her hair, pepper-sprayed and punched her after a similar “routine traffic stop."

Given the harassment and brutality that black communites routinely experience at the hands of police, any signs of anxiety exhibited by black persons during police stops are as likely to be the result of negative expectations as they are to suggest a guilty conscience. But this anxiety can add to the already existing stereotypes about black criminality in increasing the likelihood that black folks will be interpreted as acting “suspicious.”

If the police report that Justin Sipp pulled out a gun and began firing on police is true, one can only guess at the experiences that led him to conclude that a shoot out with police officers was preferable to whatever was happening or whatever he expected to happen as the result of the police stop.

The “record” of the police department as a whole or of individual officers is not, however, what gets emphasized in the media or in conversations about the incident in white communities.  Within hours of the shooting, the arrest records of Earl and Justin Sipp were released to the public, reinforcing stereotypes that they were “criminals” and “felons.”  Interpreting arrest records also looks different depending upon one's past experiences.

 All but one of the arrests of the Sipp brothers failed to result in convictions and the one that did involved a plea to a reduced offense (unauthorized use of a credit card). In the TV cop shows that populate our psyches, arrests that fail to lead to convictions are often the result of technicalities, mistakes on the part of police or judges or juries that allow guilty people to “walk.”  In black communities, racial profiling and police harassment are an everyday reality, and that's exactly what arrest records (especially arrests without convictions and arrests that result in pleas) indicate.

The way I interpret guilty pleas and reduced sentences has been forever altered by an incident that occurred just months after my move to New Orleans. A young black friend and co-worker of mine who was riding as a passenger in my car was asked to produce identification to an officer who had stopped us for a so-called traffic offense. I was cited for “impeding the flow of traffic” for apparently driving too slowly as we searched for a side street, late at night, with no other cars on the street. When my friend calmly asked the officer why he had to show ID since he was not driving, the officer called him an “a-hole,” ordered him out of the car, and charged him with battery of an officer and resisting arrest.

My friend was eventually found innocent of these completely fabricated charges but only after he bravely resisted repeated and coercive offers that he plead guilty to lesser offenses.  He insisted he was innocent and wouldn't plead guilty for something he hadn't done. His father and friends who were worried for him reasoned with him that he had so much to lose if the judge didn't believe our story, which was quite possible given that to believe us, the judge had to also accept the fact that the police officer was lying.

If I weren't a white, middle-aged woman working for a religiously affiliated organization  there to support his story, would an innocent verdict have been within the realm of possiblity for him?  I doubt it. What happened to him is not an isolated incident and is repeated daily in traffic stops and courtrooms across this country. You can read more about our justice system's reliance on pleas (which are too often coerced) in this recent and excellent opinion piece by Michelle Alexander in the New York Times editorial, and while you're at it, read Alexander's book The New Jim Crow:  Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, which is a great source of awakened consciousness for those with limited awareness of the devastating destruction that our criminal justice system causes in black communities.

Views of the police – whether they are seen as trusted authorities and a source of safety or as a source of threat and destruction -- is one of the pervasive and drastic racial divides that persist. Is there a way to bridge this chasm? Can listening to stories open our hearts to new realities? That is my hope and my plea to my white brothers and sisters. There is much  to learn about the perils of "driving while black" and "interpreting while white" if we are ever going to be able to stand in true solidarity with our brothers and sisters of color.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Wendell Allen Murdered by NOPD: Another Tragic Example of "The New Jim Crow"

In Chile, this is how people react to the police murdering someone. Banner reads "Mendoza Collio: We Mourn Your Death With Fire." May our anger boil over to such powerful action.
Wendell Allen was murdered yesterday by the thugs in blue of the NOPD. He was unarmed. He was a star basketball player. He had his whole life ahead of him.

While the outcome of his encounter with the police may have been especially tragic, his story is far from unique.

The New Jim Crow system of justice put his body on an all too familiar path, on a collision course with the fear-inspired bullets of the NOPD thugs who broke down his door last night.

The entire story of Allen's interactions with the justice system reflect a perfect example of The New Jim Crow, in the way Michelle Alexander defines it in her book of the same name. From Wendell Allen's criminal record for minor offenses (especially drug offenses), to the trap of probation violations, of non-payment of exorbitant fines due to poverty leading to further warrants and arrests, of kids with criminal records being second-class citizens when it comes to employment, leading many to turn to the black market economy to survive (not saying that Allen sold weed himself, but some around him of the same age group did, and it led to his unjustifiable murder by Officer Josh Colclough).

All of these events in Allen's life are straight out of Michelle Alexander's narrative of how a new system of Jim Crow has been enacted on African-Americans through the policing and imprisonment systems over the past 30 years.

Listen to Alexander's excellent NPR interview and you'll be amazed as she recounts almost word for word an outline extremely familiar to what Wendell Allen had encountered in his short life. Now he will never get the chance to live in freedom from this new Jim Crow system, and another mother is burying a son far too soon in New Orleans.This daily terrorism, the relegation of large portions of our community to second class citizen status, and the police murders that inevitably result from the system's criminalization of an entire generation of young people must come to an end!

RIP Wendell Allen, Justin Sipp, Adolph Grimes III, Henry Glover, Shotgun Joe Williams, Cayne Miceli, and so many more.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Mid-City Police Shootings: An Inevitable Result of the Apartheid Police State

A worker at a near by Burger King cries on the ground near where the New Orleans Police Department investigates the scene where two NOPD officers were shot and one suspect killed and another wounded on North Bernadotte near Toulouse Street early Thursday morning, March 1, 2012. According to restaurant employees, the slain suspect worked at the Burger King.
Early this morning, the police murdered another young black man in our community. His relatives say he and his brother who was also shot, were good young men. Both worked at Mid-City Burger King restaurants. Two police officers were also shot, presumably by the men they'd pulled over in a "proactive" traffic stop, i.e.- driving while black. This comes as no surprise, and is an inevitable result of the apartheid police state we live in.

Perhaps after being arrested and caged like animals several times at OPP only to have their charges later dropped the brothers vowed, like Truth Universal has, to never submit to NOPD taking them back to OPP on false pretenses yet again? It's very hard to climb out of the financial hole a false arrest can put a person in, especially on a Burger King salary. It's enough to make someone very angry, especially when they are pulled over mere blocks from their workplace.

No one knows exactly how or why 2 police officers and 2 young black men ended up shot this morning in Mid-City. But we do know that the NOPD arrests young black men at a rate that causes intense resentment in our community towards the cops. And we know that the NOPD shoots young black men dozens of times every year, making every encounter with law enforcement potentially deadly if you happen to be young and black.
Unsurprisingly, the corporate, police-guarded media has already begun defaming these young men's character, doing the indispensable job of slandering their lives that helps the NOPD make every police shooting seems justified. How else will the Times-Picayune get inside scoops and maintain friendly relationships with the police and those in power if they don't defend the NOPD's murderous actions? They are bringing up the victim's arrest records, even though they were not convicted. Such records are almost universal among young black men due to the nature of the Apartheid Police State we live in.

Pulled over for no reason on their way to work, these young men, already victims of the apartheid police state multiple times over by being locked up again and again while never convicted of any crime, no doubt felt targeted, harassed, and angry when they were pulled over for absolutely no reason this morning in Mid-City. One can only imagine their frustration and anger as the police made them late for work for a "pro-active traffic stop."

If people are angry that 2 police were shot, blame the system that pays them to harass, cage, and often to murder young black men in the streets, and engender the type of anger that could lead to such shootings. We have to get the NOPD to stop waging war on our fellow New Orleanians!
Jerome Simon, an uncle to the brothers, described his nephews as close knit and hard working. "They are home-body individuals. They go to work and come home, seriously. That’s a fact."
"They respect the law. I really, truly believe they won’t try to harm anybody," said Simon.
"They (NOPD) are supposed to be protecting around here, but they're not doing their job. 'Cause if they was, they would have all the ones they keep putting back out on the streets with these guns," said one of the victim's girlfriend. "It was a regular routine all of the sudden this."
No tears for cops shot in an apartheid system. 
R.I.P. 20 year old New Orleanian Justin Sipp.