Tuesday, September 21, 2004
Touchy-Feely Girls: For Shame!
I was in a post office the other day and came upon an interesting example of small town America and one of its hidden problems. I didn’t know this before, but apparently one of the things we most value is now being threatened: the sanctity of white teenage female bodies. How are these repositories of God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost and the GOP being sacrilegiously defiled? These girls are getting touchy-feely with each other. Horrors and for shame!
As I walked into the post office, a composite figure of all that is Right-and-Moral-in-America stood before me. He was a white teen male, dressed casually but meticulously in expensive clothing, good-looking as the TV ads go, full of pseudo adulthood and masculine church-state-and-school authority, obviously ready and willing to serve with even more authority for the betterment of his lessers. He was just finishing up advising one small town mom about this moral decay in the local high school, and another mom coming in asked him to caution her fully, too, because she had a daughter just starting at this corrupted school.
The high school guy happily explained—with an appropriately severe expression—that it was fast becoming an in thing for the girls to get “touchy-feely among themselves” in order to get attention from the boys. He himself acted as a peer counselor at the school and other students confided in him; oh how they genuinely trusted and talked to him. As more people began listening in, the mom asked, “Don’t the teachers and administrators stop it?” And the righteous guy replied that they do stop it when they see it, but they can’t always see it. (What our schools really need is more money for more cameras!) Upon being further questioned by the mom, he related that some of the boys really liked these actions on the part of the girls.
At that point in the conversation, I did venture to throw out while laughing, “Oh, so in other words, it works?” My laugh and tone of voice did not convey the proper atmosphere of grave concern. The words themselves, which questioned the unquestionable social commands—commands which everyone but the mentally, emotionally or socially challenged know and comply with—were unanswerable. I received four glares that I counted, and no verbal response.
The school in question has a federally funded, mandated abstinence course that doesn’t give out contraception information, so I figure they should be cheering at this new trend. I mean, these girls won’t get pregnant getting touch-feely among themselves.
Especially because of the entire demeanor of the morality cop teen, I couldn’t help thinking that part of what was going on was concern that the girls themselves were getting physically beyond the realm of male authority. What if some of them weren’t even doing this just for an end result of male attention? What if they actually ended up experimenting with their newfound sexuality and enjoyed their bodies without the boys? We’ve got to nip that in the bud or the entire social structure might collapse! This is a school with a history of serious racism issues but I don’t expect to ever hear such unified concern over those problems. (Is it really just me thinking our “values” are kind of screwed up?)
That teen guy epitomized for me everything that is wrong with our systems. Yes, he’s obviously bright and ambitious, the kind of kid who will be widely admired by those who uphold those systems, and he will surely rise in those white male ranks, adeptly working those systems. That’s a good thing, right? Those are the values we foster, right? Getting ahead, being successful? But all I kept seeing was an unthinking, morality-power-tripping guy who—in another time and place— would have enthusiastically joined Hitler’s Nazi Youth, and come to a position of power in the SS.
As for the touchy-feely girls, why not just leave them alone? Who are they harming? Who do they threaten? Or What?
Wednesday, September 15, 2004
Communities United Against Police Brutality
Recently, at a store, I heard a cashier telling a State trooper about a very peculiar driving incident wherein he was hassled and questioned by a cop--I think he even said he was ticketed--without having done anything wrong at all. Of course, I couldn't keep my mouth shut. I suggested to him, "Maybe it has something to do with the fact that you don't look very white." Yes, there were a few others about at the cash register, and of course the trooper laughed, whereupon I said, "I have heard way too many stories." Whereupon he replied, laughing again, "That's all they are, stories." Of course I didn't stop there. "I mean lots of first-hand stories, by people I respect." At that point he admitted that there might be some bad apples. A few bad apples do not cause the kind of systematic harrassment and brutality that many of us know damn well go on continuously, unstopped.
For those still in denial about this national crisis, think about what your life circumstances might be that keep you from knowing the reality. Go talk to people you usually don't talk to. And check out some ongoing cases from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area below. They're from the September 14 newsletter of Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB), found online at: http://www.CUAPB.org
Why do we allow this to go on?
FOLLOW UP TO LAST WEEK'S CASES
Court Watch Opportunities Abound
Cases are coming at us hot and heavy these days, from Minneapolis, St. Paul and the surrounding 'burbs. Here's a rundown of some of the cases we're working on and court watch opportunities.
Flowers Case Moves Forward
We told you in last week's newsletter about the sad and frightening harassment by Minneapolis police that Al Flowers and his family have had to endure while awaiting trial on bogus charges after cops beat him up. He and his lawyer had filed a motion for a restraining order against the MPD and another motion to drop the charges based on witness intimidation by the MPD. You'll recall that during a roll call, a sergeant even offered a steak dinner to anyone who would "take down" Al Flowers. There are numerous credible witnesses to this and the other threatening incidents.
As disgusting as the harassment is in this case, it is even more disturbing that no Hennepin Country judges were willing to hear either of the motions. Apparently, this is too hot even for a judge. Are they worried that the MPD will take out a "steak dinner" hit on them, too?
Because no one would hear the motions, the case goes to trial Monday (tomorrow). This is one court watch you will not want to miss!
Monday, September 13
Hennepin County Government Center
Haider Al-Amery: Post 9/11 Racial Profiling
On April 27, Iraqi artist Haider was driving home from working on his new mural when he was stopped by the police. The police told him to get out of his car and immediately handcuffed him. They took him back to their squad car and took his ID out his pocket. When they saw his name on the license they asked where he was from and when he responded he was from Iraq one of the police officers punched him in the eye. The officer then slammed his head into the squad car and slammed his elbow into Haider's back. Haider was then placed in the back of the squad car, where he was kept for over one hour before being taken to the emergency room at Hennepin County Medical Center. Haider was charged with reckless driving. We urge a full courtroom for his next hearing:
Tuesday, September 14
Hennepin County Government Center
Bruce Allen Synkiew, Jr.: Suburban Brutality
On April 7, 2004, Bruce was pulling his car into the driveway of his home in Brooklyn Park when about 14 squads from MPD, Brooklyn Park, Champlin, and Anoka pulled up. Officers dragged him from the car, jammed a flashlight in his mouth (making sexual comments and breaking out some teeth in the process), and dragged him into the back yard to beat him up. All of the officers' badge numbers were covered and they refused to give their names. They claimed they covered their badge numbers "in memory of an officer who had died." When his mother tried to ask the officers' names, she was forced to the ground and a dog was put over her. She was told that if she moved, the dog would "tear [her] up."
After putting Bruce in the squad car, he was driven one block, pulled out and beaten more and the squad car door was slammed on his foot.
Despite obvious injuries, Bruce was denied medical care at the jail. He has a number of charges including obstructing legal process and fleeing despite the fact that a number of witnesses say the lights on the squad cars didn't turn on until he pulled in the driveway. His next hearing:
Tuesday, September 14
Hennepin County Government Center
Elliott Pierson: Run Over by MPD Squad Car
On May 14, 2004, plainclothes officers in an unmarked car chased Elliott with guns drawn without identifying themselves. Scared for his life, he ran. The car ran him over breaking his leg in two places. The cops called an ambulance and he was taken to a hospital.
Elliott was treated and released uncharged. However, seven weeks later he was arrested on a warrant from the same incident. The police report claims he broke his leg running into the car but quotes two witnesses, giving names and phone numbers, who claim otherwise.
Wednesday, September 15th
Hennepin County Government Center
Lindell Jack: MPD Interference with Voting Rights?
Lindell is involved in a project to register voters. This earnest young African American man has been seen downtown and other locations for months, registering people as they leave work, go to clubs, etc. He is engaged in legitimate activities protected under the Voter Rights Act of 1965 yet he has been hassled for months by Minneapolis police who tell him to "move on," threaten him with arrest, etc. Interestingly, we have been contacted by others who have experienced harassment by the MPD while registering people to vote.
Recently, Lindell was standing on the sidewalk registering people to vote when police grabbed him and accused him of being involved in a robbery. The victim was brought to the scene and said that Lindell was not the perpetrator. Later, he learned that the man police were looking for did not fit his description and was wearing different clothing than what he was wearing. Nonetheless, police arrested him and took his cell phone, personal belongings and his voter registration materials, including completed and signed voter registration cards. So far, he has been unable to get them back.
Lindell was charged with the robbery and obstructing legal process. His hearing:
Wednesday, September 15th
Hennepin County Government Center
Jhontez Watson--"Caught on Tape"
Several days ago, KSTP Channel 5 aired a video showing a man laying on the ground in handcuffs and a Minneapolis police officer walking up on that man, moving a bicycle out of the way, and kicking the man right in the face. Beyond that, the man was jerked and shoved over to a police car, pushed around with night sticks, then shoved into the car on one side and pulled out on the other side. In the course of this, his leg was slammed into the door of the car.
We've told you before that just about everyone who gets beat up by cops gets charged with either obstructing legal process (OLP), disorderly conduct (DC), or fourth or fifth degree assault against a police officer. Jhontez has been hit with the "grand slam"--all four of these charges. Perhaps cops want to "pay him back" because someone had the foresight to videotape the incident or perhaps it is because the cops have to try to justify what they did to him. It is common knowledge that cops charge you for what they do to you.
We've been working with Jhontez' family to secure a lawyer and he goes to court soon. Considering the media in this case, it should be very interesting. We encourage you to attend this pretrial:
Hennepin County Government Center
UPDATE ON PAWLENTY ATTACK ON INS/BICE SEPARATION ORDINANCE
In our last newsletter, we told you about a letter sent by Gov. Pawlenty to the Minneapolis and St. Paul city councils asking them to rescind ordinances that prevented police officers from asking individuals about immigration status if that questioning was the sole purpose of the encounter with police. These ordinances were passed to make it safer for immigrants to request police services without having to worry that police officers would act as extensions of the INS/BICE.
A very successful meeting was held to discuss how to block Pawlenty's efforts. This large meeting was attended by representatives of virtually every immigrant community in the Twin Cities and many progressive organizations. Beyond discussing the meaning and reasons behind Pawlenty's actions, some significant, concrete action steps were planned.
A follow up meeting will be held on Wednesday, September 22nd at 7:00 p.m., location TBA but mark your calendars now and plan to attend.
Monday, September 06, 2004
Some Bodies That Matter: The Impending Draft
as a Moral Crisis for White People
The following essay is by Tamara K. Nopper, who is an educator, researcher, writer and activist in Philadelphia. She currently volunteers with the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (www.objector.org) doing research and publication work.
Lately there have been talks about an impending draft that would force people to serve in the US military and its “war on terror.” With two bills—the H.R.163 and S.89 sponsored by Representative Charles Rangel and Senator Ernest Hollings, respectively—being debated, folks have been scrambling to get their kids conscientious objector (CO) status. Given that if either bill passes, women and college students would be “draftable,” there appears to be a particular urgency to resisting the draft.
But which draft are people talking about? There has been a draft going on in this country for a while, one that has been successful in maintaining military enlistment despite the progressive critique of war and militarization. This is the “poverty draft,” the draft that posits the military as one of the few options for people to get their basic needs met or lures people with the promise of $50,000 in college money or job training. That many people—57%--never get a dime of tuition money and that many job skills learned in the military are not transferable to the civilian sector tends to go under the radar of many who are now currently concerned about “the draft.” As counter-military recruitment activist Mario Hardy Ramirez points out, the poverty draft has been more successful in getting people of color, particularly Blacks, in the military than any forced draft has.
This might explain why, when I answer phone calls at the counter-military recruitment and peace organization I volunteer at, parents concerned about a draft tend to be white and, from what it sounds like, middle-class. They ask for information on how to get their kids CO status, sometimes wondering if I can refer them to a lawyer to help out with their kid’s paperwork. At times they want lawyers to do all of the work for them, and are willing to shell out the money so that their daily routines are not interrupted as their kid obtains CO status. Some parents and even grandparents are looking into CO status for a young person who is in their pre-teens or even three years old.
While non-whites have historically opposed war and forced military enlistment and are actively doing so today, the concerns of people of color tend to differ dramatically from the scenarios just given. When I talk to people of color about military enlistment, whether over the phone or in person, they are usually talking about someone they know already in the military who went because they couldn’t get a job or they were broke or they had people to provide for. Or I have parents talking about how they want to provide their kids with college money but couldn’t so their children enlisted. Or some parents tell me how their kids feel it is necessary to go into the military to “prove” they deserve to exist or be here, notions often couched in highly nationalistic or gendered/sexual terms of being a “real American” or a “real man” or a “strong woman.” Or parents tell me about how their child went into the military against their wishes but may have been enticed by a school counselor or a military recruiter who is omnipresent in their kid’s school, neighborhood and hang-outs.
Many people of color, then, are not talking about the impending draft, but are talking about the poverty draft, one that poses to people, particularly people of color and even more specifically Blacks, that the military is the only option to get out of their situations. And the US military does this through a series of tricks and an annual budget of at least 2.7 billion just for recruitment alone, which is funneled into various “youth-friendly” packages such as hip hop material, video games and phone cards. The US also romanticizes or downplays the devastation it’s responsible for in non-white communities. In the US alone, the military has been a major force in maintaining slavery and suppressing slave rebellions, taking over indigenous lands and bodies in the Americas, suppressing and incarcerating Black and Brown bodies during the LA Riots, or helping in the incarceration of almost 2.2 million people, half of them Black. Basically, non-whites, particularly Blacks, then, are forced to pledge loyalty to or work for a military system that has shaped contemporary situations they find themselves trying to deal with.
And yet, despite the way liberals want to slice it, these contemporary situations are not a “people of color situation” one that can somehow be divorced from the reality of whiteness and white bodies. That is, the anxiety of whites who fear an impending draft can not be understood unless we look at the situation as one in which, to the “general public,” some bodies matter more than others. Implicit in this privileging of certain bodies are racist/sexist assumptions about other bodies. If one pays attention to public discourse, laws and public policies, military strategies and sociological interpretations, it is the non-white body that, for different reasons depending on their race, is treated as not human, one that can somehow handle a lot of violence, pain and suffering, or has some ethereal power that is so beyond the human world that violence doesn’t affect it.
In a white supremacist world, then, it is only white bodies that can experience human levels of pain and suffering. Basically, it is only white bodies that matter.
Thus, for whites, the draft poses a potential moral crisis, one that speaks to the possibility that more white bodies might have to experience the violence, pain and death that communities of color, particularly Blacks, have experienced through the military—whether enlisted or not. And the possibility that two sympathetic types, the white woman and the white college student, may be more at risk of experiencing violence and may not live to fulfill their manifest destiny as good citizens is also informing the current moral crisis for whites.
Basically, the draft poses a moral crisis that is blind to the fact that non-white bodies have been shouldering the burden of war, militarization and anxiety about military enlistment for centuries. It is a moral crisis that neglects the fact that white women make up about only 13% of all white people who are active enlisted members in the military, whereas the percentages of women in their respective racial groups are higher, with Black women making up almost 25% of all Black people who are actively enlisted. And it is a moral crisis because what served as the safeguard for many white people during the Vietnam War, the university, may no longer be able to serve that function in the capacity it once did.
Overall, then, what the current anxiety about the draft demonstrates is that some bodies matter, and unfortunately for the majority of the world, it is white bodies that matter the most. Thus, the current talk about the draft reflects a moral crisis for white people, one in which they are frightened by the possibility that they might have to experience some of the violence, pain and death that people of color, and in particular Blacks, have been experiencing for a while. This is what we saw during the Vietnam War, a war in which whites began to protest en masse when white corpses came home in body bags and an era in which many whites fled to the university and became part of the white intelligentsia that now gets to interpret today’s wars to the public.
Therefore, the struggle is two-fold. First, the institutionalized anti-war and peace movement must find ways to address the larger issues that force communities of color in disproportionate numbers into the US military, issues that the US military is also responsible for helping to maintain and enforce. Second, it is imperative that activists have a larger conversation about bodies that matter and how such racist/sexist notions inform who the military aggressively recruits as well as the current moral crisis of white people being expressed in talk about the draft. If both do not happen, the institutionalized anti-war and peace movement will simply remain a place in which the ever-impending threat of a moral crisis for whites dominates the agenda, an agenda that gets its coherence from the pain and suffering of non-white bodies, a pain and suffering that supposedly does not devastate us.
Copyright © 2004 Tamara K. Nopper