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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What really happened to Sandra Bland?

By Charles Brooks



We paid attention and took notice of the disturbing trend.  We read the stories and saw the videos of not only blatant police harassment but of vicious police violence visited not on black men – but on black and brown women.  All across the country we saw it over and over - black women pushed, punched, kicked, and at times suffering this violence while being handcuffed by the police. In those cases that did managed to reach national attention, we saw that these black women were college professors, house wives, bathing suit clad teenagers and yes – even pregnant black women felt the brunt of this police violence. 

Then we heard about what happened to Ms. Sandra Bland, a young 28-year old African American woman who was to start a new job with her alma mater, Prairie View A&M. She graduated from there in 2009 with a degree in Agriculture and was sorority sister with the Sigma Gamma Rho Society. 
 
There was a trickling of news coverage as social media turned up big time asking critical questions that still to many folks remain unanswered – what happened to Sandra Bland and how did she really die? The local community well aware of the racism in Waller County, immediately mobilized asking these very same questions as they took to the streets with protest demonstrations. The Medical Examiner of Harris County announced that Ms. Bland died by her own hands – by suicide – to a community who holds the strongest of doubts regardless of what autopsy reports concluded.  As Ms. Bland’s shocking death received more attention, there was this sense of bewilderment that simultaneously emerged that compelled the most natural of questions – why was Ms. Bland arrested and in jail for such a minor traffic incident?  And then we saw the dash cam video.  With each view, whether online or on television, there was a collective nod that deep down understood the reality that continues to define this nation – Sandra Bland would be alive if she was white. 

We know that on July 10th, Ms. Bland was pulled over by Texas State Trooper Brian T. Encinia for failure to signal a lane change – a minor traffic violation.  We saw from the dashcam video how this encounter quickly escalated due to the trooper’s aggressive behavior towards Ms. Bland. We also saw from cellphone video of Trooper Encinia using physical force on Ms. Bland.   She was charged with a third-degree felony charge of assault on a public servant and hauled off and held in jail on $5000 bond.  Three days later on July 13th, Ms. Bland was found dead in her cell.

From watching cable television news – there was a constant looping of the dash cam video – and rightly so.  The dash cam video needed to be looped over and over to visually frame the context of this encounter of police harassment and violence.  But consider this for a moment and ask yourself why we are not seeing the repetitive looping of the video of inside the jail where the death took place.  The video of inside the jail needs to be equally looped online and on the television screen over and over.  This is the scene that raises two very fundamental questions – what happened to Sandra Bland and how did she die? 

Fundamentally, the family just cannot reconcile the death of Sandra Bland with the fact that she was eager and looking forward to beginning a new chapter in Waller County.  Ms. Bland was due to start a new job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M. According to Ms. Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, Sandra was excited and enthusiastic about her future.  With the family knowing what they know about Sandra, this just doesn’t add up to them – and for a great many of those who did not know Ms. Bland.

From the very beginning of this tragic episode the family publicly expressed their doubts with the autopsy report – and for good reason.  During several interviews with media outlets, both members of the family and their attorney, Cannon Lambert have questioned the authenticity of documents paraded about by the media. They have also complained and expressed their frustration with how little information they are receiving from authorities in Texas. Incredibly, they received their information just like the rest of us - from the media! And if it’s at all possible to pour salt on the wound – apparently the medical examiner failed to complete a thorough autopsy and went so far as to request that the family return the body back to Texas for further examination.  Fortunately, the body was already embalmed in preparation for funeral services held July 25th in Chicago, Illinois.

But do you notice an unmistakable trend with these cases of police violence where critical questions are asked and remain unanswered along with a slow trickling of information. Then there’s the cruel assault on the victim’s character as information is given or “leaked” to public – a vicious smear public campaign designed to build a narrative framing the victim in the worst possible light. We’ve seen this nasty tactic being used before time and time again. Typically, there’s the recreational drug usage, sealed or not, the victims’ criminal record history, and with the Bland case, we see that authorities will go so far as to dig up your driving record history and release that information to the public.  You can see why there’s such a lack of confidence. So far we’ve witnessed “glitch” issues with the uploading of the dash cam video, medical examiner requests to perform additional testing on Ms. Bland after a “thorough” autopsy was completed, virtually no information from authorities provided to the family, inconsistent jail intake forms, and apparent non-compliance issues with the Texas jailing standards for training and inmate observation. 

Well, wouldn’t you know that in recent days, there’s been a flurry of activity from the District Attorney’s office; as of July 28th, they’ve created an independent committee to review reams of information for grand jury review and publicly released toxicology reports as well as more video footage of Ms. Bland in the jail facility.  According to the Waller County judge who released the video, he did so in response to, not only to address speculation and rumors surrounding Ms. Bland’s death in jail but also in response to a video posted by Anonymous who promised justice for Sandra Bland.  Let that soak in for a second – the threat of not violence but the exposure of “secrets” have forced their thinly disguised attempt at transparency.
 
 
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Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Throwaways: who are they?

 
 
Curiously, let’s start with the name of the film – The Throwaways.  What immediately comes to mind when you think of term throwaways - what comes to mind first? Items, things that you no longer want or need. An item that is no longer working or has passed its usefulness to you.  Items or things that do not meet your needs or demands any more. Spoiled food, batteries, shoes, clothes…the list can go on and on for sure. This film, The Throwaways is not about things but about people – people who are routinely dismissed, neglected, and yes – thrown away. Think about that for minute or two - the high school dropout, unemployed, the homeless, the drug addict, and yes, your convicted ex-felon are your typical throwaways.  There’s this notion that they are less than human with little or no value.  Simply put, they’re not look upon in the same way as those whose humanity is recognized. Featured in the film is Michelle Alexander, author of widely acclaimed, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the age of Age of Colorblindness explains it this way in the film:”… That’s ultimately what The Throwaways is all about, right… groups of people who are defined as different enough that you don’t have to care and can be just thrown away…”

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What really happened to Freddy Gray?



With each incident of police violence unleashed on yet another unarmed African-American – another wave of consciousness sweeps the country as new rebellious uprisings emerge.  There are black and brown communities all over the country – the constant targets of police violence – who have said no more and are actively galvanizing, mobilizing, organizing and yes, resisting.  There is something emerging in this country that can longer be contained – and we recently bore witness to that in Baltimore, Maryland. 

For the last two months there’s been relatively two burning questions asked by those in and out of Baltimore - what exactly happened to Freddy Gray and how did he die? Since Mr. Gray died from horrific spinal injuries occurring while in police custody - these questions were left unanswered only for the public to draw their own conclusions – until now.  The recent “leaking” of the autopsy report to the Baltimore Sun is supposed to finally address these questions.  The “leaked” autopsy report revealed that Mr. Gray suffered from what the report described as a “high energy” injury while making a comparison to injuries suffered from shallow-water diving accidents. The report states: The type of fracture/dislocation documented in imaging studies on admission is a high energy injury most often caused by abrupt deceleration of a rotated head on a hyperflexed neck, such as seen in shallow water diving incidents.”  

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Pres. Obama's Task Force: The Battle for the Public Trust begins...

By Charles Brooks

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
The interim report recently released by President Obama’s task force on policing will shed some light on their view of the public trust - a view that is not shared by those who seek more than just a laundry list of recommendations to address police violence.  The report was released just days before the Department of Justice (DOJ) released a report of their investigation into the Ferguson Police Department – a flashpoint of racial frustrations and deep seated tensions unleashed in the face of aggressive and excessive policing.  A rather scathing report that detailed the apparent racist activities engaged not just by the Ferguson police officers but the Ferguson municipal government. However, the explosiveness of DOJ’s Ferguson report on the Ferguson Police Department should not be allowed to overshadow the president’s task force interim report because as the president himself said: “This time will be different,” President Obama said, regarding the effectiveness of the task force compared to prior ones, “because the President of the United States is deeply vested in making it different.”


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Attorney General Confirmation Hearings: "...I will be Loretta Lynch."

By Charles Brooks


 
Confirmation hearings were recently held for President’s Obama’s nominee for U.S. Attorney General, Ms. Loretta Lynch to replace Eric Holder, who resigned four months ago.  Ms. Lynch currently serves as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.  If confirmed, Ms. Lynch would be the first African American woman to lead the Department of Justice – certainly a plus for the President’s legacy. Since the start of the Obama administration, both the President and Attorney General – both African Americans – have been the source of some very intense opposition and hostility from Republicans. When Holder announced his resignation, he was immediately described as “the most divisive U.S. Attorney General in modern history” by Republican Congressman Dan Issa, who serves as Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.  This is what Mr. Issa had to say: “Eric Holder is the most divisive U.S. Attorney General in modern history and, in a vote supported by 17 Democratic House Members, has the dubious historic distinction of being the first Attorney General held in criminal contempt by the U.S. House of Representatives,” said Chairman Issa. “Time and again, Eric Holder administered justice as the political activist he describes himself as instead of an unbiased law enforcement official.  By needlessly injecting politics into law enforcement, Attorney General Holder’s legacy has eroded more confidence in our legal system than any Attorney General before him. Republicans have attacked Mr. Holder on critical national issues such as voting rights, terrorism, and immigration while pointing to controversial issues such as the Fast and Furious and IRS scandals.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

2015 State of the Union: "...Imagine if we did something different..."

By Charles Brooks




Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
Typically the president uses the State of the Union to outline their political agenda for the year as well as their vision for the nation.  The president makes his address not just to both chambers of Congress but also to the players of national government who are in attendance – members of the President’s cabinet, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Supreme Court justices.  The State of the Union provides an annual opportunity to identify those critical political issues as the national priorities. Yet despite heavy losses suffered by the Democrats in the 2014 mid-terms, President Obama appeared before the nation apparently bolstered by recent reports of higher approval ratings.  Just a few days ago President Obama delivered his sixth State of the  Union address where he outlined the accomplishments and achievements of his administration, “…Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999. Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis. More of our kids are graduating than ever before; more of our people are insured than ever before; we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.”



Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
Appearing assertive at times, President Obama challenged House and Senate Republicans on policy items such as tax hikes on the wealthy and raising the minimum wage while issuing threats of presidential veto. The president focused on the economy and what he termed as “middle-class economics”.  The President explained: “…That’s what middle-class economics is – the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. We don’t just want everyone to share in America’s success – we want everyone to contribute to our success. So what does middle-class economics require in our time?  President Obama continues, “First – middle-class economics means helping working families feel more secure in a world of constant change. That means helping folks afford childcare, college, health care, a home, retirement – and my budget will address each of these issues, lowering the taxes of working families and putting thousands of dollars back into their pockets each year.”

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

The president actually had a pretty short wish list that includes proposals to provide millions of workers a week of paid sick leave, lower community college tuition to zero, and rebuild the nation’s infrastructure while producing jobs.  “We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance, or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street, or refighting past battles on immigration when we’ve got a system to fix. And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, it will earn my veto,” asserted President Obama.


Internationally, the president discussed trade agreements, identified climate change as the “greatest challenge”, mentioned the efforts to fight an Ebola pandemic, renewed his six year old promise to close Guantanamo Bay - again, and repeated his proposed changes to an antiquated 50 year old ineffective policy towards Cuba. But this year’s state of the union address was different – there was a different feel.  The president admitted as much when he said this year there will be no checklist – his submission of the budget will suffice. There were no catchy slogans this year where last year, 2014 was to be known as the Year of Action symbolized by presidential veto and executive orders.  
 
The truth is that while the president is showing higher approval ratings – the critical question will be whether the higher ratings are enough to enable President Obama steer the political narrative that will inevitably drive the national debate. Consider for a moment on the heels of devastating losses in the 2014 elections, the president has now entered the lame duck years of his presidency, and he will now be facing Republican majorities in both chambers on Congress – the House and the Senate. Meanwhile the Republican Party's agenda has set their sights on repealing the Affordable Care Act (otherwise known as Obamacare), anti-abortion bills, and of course, tax cuts. The president will be hard pressed to move his agenda forward in this hostile political climate where Republicans are empowered on the national and state level.  "...Imagine if we did something different…,” the president asks.  
 
But the significance of the president’s state of the union address is not so much about what was discussed but what was not discussed – or discussed enough. Issues such as income inequality, K-12 education, criminal justice reform and policing quickly comes to mind. Disturbing was the president’s stance on advocating for political prisoners abroad while refusing to acknowledge America’s political prisoners.  Although, the president has proposed transformative changes for community colleges he remains muted on K-12 education.  The president’s plan to address increasing income inequality appears to be based on his proposal to raise taxes on the high income earners and place fees on the richest financial institutions and then redistribute the money to pay for free community college tuition, and tax credits targeted for the middle class – “middle-class economics” says the president. President Obama never mentioned the poor or poverty – not even once during the nearly 60 minute speech. But what about the millions who have not reached middle class status? Or the dim prospects of these bills passing through a Republican controlled Congress? Certainly the political drama will be played out before the national stage over the next two years for all to witness – will the president’s pragmatism get bipartisan support? What will be the president’s legacy?
 
But what about criminal justice reform in the aftermath of the visceral public response to violent policing? President Obama indeed mentioned the need for criminal justice reform but in light of the world wide protests raising the public consciousness about policing – the president failed to cast his spotlight by not providing details as to what criminal justice reform would look like. He even refused to relent to the obvious symbolism to having the parents of Tamir Rice and Michael Brown, and the wife of Eric Garner in attendance as his guests: “…We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York. But surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed. Surely we can understand the wife who won’t rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift,” President Obama went on to say, “Surely we can agree it’s a good thing that for the first time in 40 years, the crime rate and the incarceration rate have come down together, and use that as a starting point for Democrats and Republicans, community leaders and law enforcement, to reform America’s criminal justice system so that it protects and serves us all.” The president’s lack of detail regarding his idea for criminal justice reform is particularly disappointing considering  the Justice Department's recent refusal to federally charge police officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown.

 

 

 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Ferguson/Garner protests: The uprisings will continue until...

By Charles Brooks
  
Photo credit: digitaldefection via www.flickr.com
For over a month now, the world has witnessed a special moment unfolding in America where literally thousands upon thousands took to the streets in a stunning display of mass resistance in response to, not one but two recent controversial grand jury rulings. The world took notice of the rebellious uprisings emerging in city after city – from Ferguson, Missouri to Brooklyn, New York to Oakland, California – making their presence felt uptown as well as downtown, in the ‘hood’, and on college campuses. Protestors infiltrated and disrupted holiday shopping, Thanksgiving parades, Christmas events – brought the nation’s major highways and the railroads to a stop – gnarling traffic for miles.  
Photo credit: Fibonacci Blue via www.flickr.com
Two separate high profile grand jury proceedings in St. Louis and New York City ruled against indicting police officers, Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo – in essence validating their use of deadly force against Michael Brown and Eric Garner, respectively. The vastly unpopular rulings triggered an incredible wave of mass resistance protesting against not just the police brutality issue but also against the abysmal lack of accountability for killing unarmed African American men. The grand jury’s decision not only exonerated the use of deadly force with no criminal charges but the decision also reinforced the notion that such deadly force is indeed the standard operating procedure, particularly when unarmed African Americans are involved. But there’s more - the grand jury’s decision essentially enables the uninterrupted freedom of both officers and allows them to return to their jobs, to walk the beat above ground while the bodies of Michael Brown and Eric Garner lay buried below ground. 
 


Simply put, the ruling triggered painful reminders from a wretched racist past.  Take for example, the ruling serving as a reminder of the second-class citizenship that typically characterized Black America in the days before integration – you know, like when lynching was routine.  Another reminder of how unjust and unequal the criminal justice system is towards the black communities that make up Black America.  Another reminder of the Black America’s relationship with the police and how different that relationship is with other communities that make up the nation. Another reminder of the role the police had during the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements – as the first line of defense -  the brutal enforcers of Jim Crow and legal segregation. Another reminder of their role with COINTELPRO. And yet another reminder of the tragic failure of the state to recognize black humanity.  
  
Photo credit: Rose colored Photo via www.flickr.com
Consider for a moment what activist Rosa Clemente recently noted when she underlined significance of the ruling: “…The grand jury’s refusal to indict Darren Wilson means that the physical evidence, testimony of witnesses, police report on the incident, and Wilson’s own inconsistent and implausible account will never be subject to cross-examination, scrutiny, and comparison before a jury.”  Simply put, Ms. Clemente nailed it in pointing out the implications when police are left unindicted – no trial, no public scrutiny, no transparency and certainly no accountability. That’s why so many are just infuriated with the grand jury refusals to indict, and in fact, held very little hope for indictments of police officers Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo.  Deep down…we already knew…
 
Photo credit: sierraromero via www.flickr.com
Take the Michael Brown case for instance where there were issues from the start. There were several events that instilled doubt within the local Ferguson community and larger extended community who demanded justice. Aside from not having a video of the shooting, Mr. Brown’s character came under heavy scrutiny, while the Prosecuting Attorney, Mr. McCullough refused to recuse himself from the case despite the strong conflict of interests.  Doubts around the Brown grand jury grew stronger as leaks spilled out, at one point, almost daily.  For days, all eyes were squarely riveted on Ferguson as we constantly heard that a decision “was coming any day now.” We braced ourselves for the worst… During this time the Governor announced his plan to deploy the National Guard, and declared a state of emergency…before an emergency.  Businesses fortified themselves as if preparing for a hurricane to blow through town. Schools closed down. Gun sales hit the roof. And then the announcement was made hours after the day turned into night - at the nighttime hour of nine o clock - Darren Wilson will not be indicted.  The Ferguson community erupted at the news and the rebellious uprising was in full swing quickly spreading across the country like California wildfire.  To make matters worse, we gradually learned about disturbing issues with the grand jury – first, the inconsistent presentation of evidence, and most recently, the apparent issues with lying witnesses. 
 
Then less than two weeks after the Brown grand jury decision, the Garner grand jury decided not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo. Despite the cellphone video showing an illegal chokehold used on Mr. Garner by Mr. Pantaleo as well as Chief Examiners Report that ruled Mr. Garner’s death a homicide!   Just like the Brown case, there were issues with the Garner case from the start – community demands for a special prosecutor, concerns regarding a jury pool being picked from a biased pro-police Staten Island community and the Staten Island District Attorney seemingly delaying the grand jury process considering they didn’t start hearing evidence until nearly October – almost three months after Mr. Garner was killed. And nearly ten days after the Brown grand jury ruling, the Garner grand jury was announced and the public response was both swift and fierce with a flurry of daily protests around the country. 

And then two New York City police officers were gunned down on a Saturday afternoon – and you can sense the gradual shift in the narrative as the pro-police forces began to assert themselves. The police killing was immediately linked to the protests, and echoed loudly with inflammatory commentary by police union chief Pat Lynch, former governor George Pataki and former mayor Rudy Guiliani.  Ironically though, calls were made to halt the protests against the police violence while making no mention of stopping the pro-police protest rallies or their divisive rhetoric.  Nonetheless a debate quickly emerged – should the protests continue in light of the two dead NYPD officers?  But the real question is not whether the protests should continue or not but rather - What is going to be done about the mental ill and gun control? But you can see that question has been ignored.

Meanwhile, the protest demonstrations continued unabated – and for a few good reasons. Let’s see, the issue of police brutality and violence has become a national crisis.  An issue that has been ongoing for many years with no apparent repercussions or consequences for police use of excessive deadly force. The police officers routinely get the benefit of the doubt regardless of the questionable circumstances that ultimately feeds doubt.  And then, aside from the Brown and Garner grand jury rulings, police officers were also not indicted in grand jury cases for Ezell Ford, John Crawford, Jonathan Baker, and Keyarika Diggles.  Yes – the protests have continued…and for good reason.

  

See The Blackboard's posts about the death of Eric Garner, Part I and Part II, and the death Michael Brown.

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