UNTIL BLACK LIVES MATTER.. Part One

There was a time when skepticism was an act of rebellion.

Since to a degree I both believe in evolution and have faith, I can only conclude that, as prophesied, to have faith will someday be an act of rebellion.” ― Criss Jami¹, Killosophy

Penn State student Zaniya Joe wears a piece of tape over her mouth that says "Black Lives Matter" during a Ferguson protest organized by a group of Penn State University students on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014, in University Park, Pa. (Nabil K. Mark/Centre Daily Times/TNS via Getty Images)

Penn State student Zaniya Joe wears a piece of tape over her mouth that says “Black Lives Matter”  (Nabil K. Mark/Centre Daily Times/TNS via Getty Images)

(whites must fight) UNTIL BLACK LIVES MATTER.. is realized Part One

So many white people have grown weary of the national debate on racial matters.

Too weary..

So weary that race will continue not to mater until an abolitionist-like² spirit is born into this present generation of white folks.

Therefore for the overwhelming majority of white people – black lives will continue to not matter.

Please indulge me for one moment.

I am a white male. I am sixty-three years old. I hold a Masters of Divinity degree. I have gone to the top ten percent of schools in the country. I grew up in the typical (WASP) white Anglo Saxon Protestant home. There was one black student in my high school. I have seen all four of my children through excellent colleges. I am a person of unearned privilege. I still believe in Liberation Theology. I embrace existential Christianity and I am an unapologetic social democrat³. I have been in the civil rights/ anti-war/ peace and justice movements for over forty years. (And as a best friend says I am a, “little pile of laundry with blue eyes“).

I confess these facts to prove my being an “expert witness” in the case that white people must fight for the reality that Black Lives Matter. In that light I make this opening statement and submit the brief that follows.

The vast majority of my white race in America does NOT understand the BLACK LIVES MATTER movement. Without our informed camaraderie the movement will fall into our post-post modern pedestrian blindness of tolerated segregation. Period.”

BLM in SeattleOnly recently did I have this shattering epiphany and wakefulness. It was Saturday Aug. 8th when Senator Bernie Sanders was campaigning in Seattle.

(pictured) Marissa Johnson speaks as Mara Jacqueline Willaford holds fist (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

(Sanders was pre-empted in a chaotic confrontation with a pair of Black Lives Matter protesters, who took the stage and refused to let him speak).⁴

Over coffee with a colleague I confessed my unease at the action taken by those young Black Lives Matter activists. I said, “Come on.. Bernie Sanders? I mean he’s the only one running for president who has consistently fought for civil rights and against all its’ systemic affiliations.”

My colleague agreed and added, “At the very least the action was rude. And it certainly didn’t help their cause.”

There it was. My white professor friend and his white protestant minister friend agreeing that these kids were rude to interrupt such a fine gentleman. Senator Bernie Sanders, a selfless servant to the cause of justice for all people. How could they hope, with these type of tactics, to win people over to their cause? How will their generations voice, that Black Lives Matter, ever be heard?

Indeed.

BlackLivesMatter-ExplainedForTheSlowThere it was. The man in the mirror was staring at me. There was my righteous white man’s face saying, “When will they ever learn?”

When will I ever learn?

If not for those few courageous young people.. I would not have learned.

If not for their willingness to be mocked by a large crowd of white people (who were supposed to be “sympathetic” to “their” cause).. I would not have been “offended.”

If not for their impassioned insistence to have their message attended to.. I would not have heard their voice.

Dear God I finally heard them.

Thank God they had the audacity to interrupt this caring white politician as he rallied his mostly white supporters. Bless them for walking the same path of uncertainty that their elders took fifty years ago during March of 1965 over bridges in Alabama.

After my friend was gone I just sat alone at our coffee hangout. I stirred the near empty cup. My new view was vivid in my mind. Then I remembered. It haunted me from so long ago. There was another group of young black students that seemed so disrespectful and offensive to yet another gathering of progressive white supporters of the cause.

Gang Peace Summit KC 93In 1993 the first National Urban Peace and Justice Summit (AKA: National Gang-Peace Summit) ⁵ occurred at St. Mark’s Union Church in Kansas City, Missouri. Community activists, city leaders, and rival gang members came from across the nation hold a summit in an effort to curb youth violence in the nations mostly black ghettos. It was a success.

The next year – again at St. Mark Union – many representatives from the first summit came back together to meet with the half a dozen other summits that had spawned in major cities around the country. Other new activists came as well. One group was the so-called New Black Panther Party (started in Dallas, TX). They were just as young and just as angry as the original (Black Panther Party for Self-Defense) under Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale organized in October of 1966.

Most of the assembled white folks (and some of the black folks) were intimidated in various degrees. It was not until a circle gathering later the first day that things changed for my unease. I sat beside the pastor of St. Mark Union Rev. Sam Mann. (Sam was the white Methodist minister at the all-black St. Mark Union. A son of the deep South he became an advocate for human rights active in the fight against racism for more than four decades — despite his upbringing.)⁶

Sam Mann 1 - CopyI asked him what did these young men need. It bothered me that they were not allowing anyone to finish their contributions without interruption. What did they want to hear?

(pictured: Rev. Mann and kids from St. Mark”s)

He whispered to me, “That is it. They want to be heard. They want to be heard until they are finished speaking. No matter what they say and no matter how long it takes.” Then he suggested that it would be interesting to see what they would do if, “one of you white clergy was to ask for their forgiveness.”

I was so humbled I did not need to ask “forgiveness for what?” I was almost too afraid and certainly too ashamed to ask Sam, “Should I?”

So I stood with my hand raised like I was back in 2nd grade. I suppose I looked so ridiculous in my clergy collar, blue jeans, cowboy boots and sixties hair cut (little pile of laundry with blue eyes) that they were embarrassed for me. I ask them if they would please accept a plea to forgive the Church, my ancestors, and me for our actions over so many years. I told them that I wanted to hear their voice today.

One young man answered that it was easier for him to forgive me than it would be for me to give their voice access into the white church.

Even though this group, the New Black Panther Party, was disavowed and shunned by the original founders of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense – and declared a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center – the young man’s’ reply was (and absolutely is) just as valid a statement. And the action of confession from people of white skin is still critical for reconciliation to be authentic.

Are we too weary to listen?

My epiphany that was jump started by the Sanders campaign incident in Seattle came into a clearer focus at the Senators next event in Los Angeles.

Rory Carroll of the Guardian reported from LA last week that, “Instead of protesters upstaging him – something that has sabotaged two previous events – the 73-year-old senator from Vermont had African American allies on stage to introduce him and reassure the Black Lives Matter movement, and others, that he may be an old white guy, but he was their old white guy.”

Carroll went on to recount that, “Before Sanders took the stage,.. some supporters had worried about Saturday’s fiasco in Seattle, when two women who said they represented Black Lives Matter seized the mic and demanded Sanders do more about police violence. It left nagging questions. Was he out of touch? Was Vermont too vanilla for a diverse nation? Would protesters again leave him mute?”

Symone-Sanders-Bernie-SandersInstead a young African American, Symone Sanders, appeared and introduced herself as the campaign’s newly appointed national press secretary. (Omaha native, Black Lives Matter supporter, criminal justice advocate, and communications specialist Symone D. Sanders was named national press secretary for Bernie Sanders.)

Another African American, Dante Harris, the leader of a local flight attendants’ union, helped warm up the crowd. “Workers’ lives matter! Black lives matter! The truth matters!”

Senator Bernie Sanders is – of course – a professional politician, but I believe he has been consistent in progressive actions over his career as an elected official.

In that light he is not displaying hypocrisy when he declared at the LA rally, “There’s no president that will fight harder to end institutional racism.”

What becomes troublesome for the singularity of Black Lives Matter was what Harris intoned before Sanders took the stage – when he said, “Workers’ lives matter! Black lives matter! The truth matters!”

I submit that black and white companions in the Black Lives Matter Movement must focus on just that for now until it is a reality.

UNTIL BLACK LIVES MATTER

Grace and Peace be Unto You .. Michael O Harrington


 

NOTES Part One:

  • 1.) Born May 29, 1987, Criss Jami is the lead singer of the rock band Venus in Arms based in Washington, D.C. He is also a poet, essayist, existentialist philosopher, and the founder and designer of Killosopher Apparel. He studied philosophy at George Mason University.
    2.) Dictionary.com 1. (especially prior to the Civil War) a person who advocated or supported the abolition of slavery in the U.S. 2. a person who favors the abolition of any law or practice deemed harmful to society:
    3.) Heywood, Andrew (April 10, 2010). Political Ideologies: An Introduction, 5th edition. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 127. ISBN 978-0230367258. “Social democracy is an ideological stance that supports a broad balance between market capitalism, on the one hand, and state intervention, on the other hand. Being based on a compromise between the market and the state, social democracy lacks a systematic underlying theory and is, arguably, inherently vague. It is nevertheless associated with the following views: (1) capitalism is the only reliable means of generating wealth, but it is a morally defective means of distributing wealth because of its tendency towards poverty and inequality; (2) the defects of the capitalist system can be rectified through economic and social intervention, the state being the custodian of the public interest”
    4.)Please see
    http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/black-lives-matter-protesters-shut-down-bernie-sanders-rally/
    5.) http://www.cleveland.com/specialreports/index.ssf/2013/03/stop_the_killing_gang_summit_h.html
    6.) http://www.depauw.edu/news-media/latest-news/details/11350/ http://www.indianapolisrecorder.com/religion/article_f662d409-bce9-5f5f-b6ba-b51a143ccb92.html

 

PART TWO to be continued..

We need co-conspirators, not allies’: how white Americans can fight racism’

BLM White Sign HolderWith the end of empire, we are coming to an end of the epoch of Rights. We have entered the epoch of Responsibilities which requires new, more socially-minded human beings and new, more participatory and place-based concepts of citizenship and democracy.” – Grace Lee Boggs

 


 

Not a Riot .. An UPRISING

What started with a routine traffic stop exploded into, a protest. Rumors helped light the fuse that accelerated from protest to the deadly destructive riot Los Angeles would never forget.

watts 4 -riots

Fifty years have passed since the so-called Watts riots broke out Aug. 11, 1965. Fifty years since the rage that burned for most of that week.
Fifty years since the smoke cleared and revealed that 34 people were dead, more than a 1,000 were injured and over 600 buildings were ashes or severely damaged.


A DRUNKEN DRIVER DRAWS A CROWD

Last week AP reporter Brian Medley took the following look at the event and its impact 50 years later.

“On a hot summer evening near the predominantly black Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts, a white California Highway Patrol officer pulled over Marquette Frye, 21, for reckless driving, according to a report commissioned by the governor.

When the black man failed a sobriety test, an older brother who was a passenger in the car walked two blocks home and returned with their mother so she could drive the car home. When his mother scolded him for drinking and driving, Frye, who had been cooperative, moved toward a crowd that had grown from a couple dozen to nearly 300 people. He cursed the police and said they would have to kill him to take him away.”


watts 1The book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. opens with an introduction by Vincent Harding (as well as a forward by Coretta Scott King) set in the ashes of the Watts riots, barely a year after the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

When King and several of his coworkers rushed to Watts to engage some of the young men who were most deeply involved in the uprising, they heard the youth say, “We won.” Looking at the still smoldering embers of the local community, the visitors asked what winning meant, and one of the young men declared, “We won because we made them pay attention to us.”


“In the ensuing scuffle, a patrolman struck Frye in the head with a baton and his mother jumped on another officer.
After police arrested the mother and both sons, someone in the growing, hostile crowd spit at officers.

Patrolmen arrested a black woman and a man they said had been inciting the crowd.

Some in the crowd mistakenly thought the woman was pregnant because she was wearing a smock. Rumors spread that cops had roughed up an expectant black mother.

Police retreated under a hail of rocks. The riots had begun.”

Watts 6 gettyimages-The Watts uprising happened less than one week after the federal Voting Rights Act was signed into law. It had hardly been a year after the Civil Rights Act.


Gerald Horne, author of Fire This Time: The Watts Uprising and the 1960s said after that week, “A lot of resentment, anger, pent-up frustration was combined with the idea that things were changing, that the country was changing. You have all this progressive change taking place, but not necessarily reflected in the daily lives of people, which I think also helps to feed the frustration.”

The events in Watts have since been called a riot. But Horne, a history professor at the University of Houston, chose to christen them an uprising. While the riots weren’t organized and exploded spontaneously, there was still some sense of order.

For 18year old Earl Ofari Hutchinson the first night of the uprising was “almost a carnival-like atmosphere.” Hutchinson who became president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable recalled. “There was that youthful thrill … a sense of the first time of hitting back, striking back.”

The worst day of the uprising was when the National Guard was called in. It was Friday the 13th.

A black man was caught in the cross fire between officers and the crowd. His was the first death.

Most of the 34 people killed were black.

The $40 million damage covered 50 square miles, much outside of Watts itself. Over a third of the 600 buildings were totally destroyed by fire.


Children holding hands while crossing street, w. storefront in rear covered w. graffiti fr. '65 riots indicating black-ownership & support of violence.

Children holding hands while crossing street, w. storefront in rear covered w. graffiti fr. ’65 riots indicating black-ownership & support of violence.

UPRISING AFTERMATH

The official agency that examined the riots advised for better schools, job mentoring, added low-income housing, greater access to health services, improved public transportation, and a better relationship between the Watts community and the police department.

Hardly any of that hope was realized.

Watts today is mostly Hispanic, poor, and still burdened by high unemployment.

The 1967 Detroit ‘riot’ had far more deaths and greater damage than the uprising in Los Angeles of 1965. But Watts is still the usual reference point for protests against police when they turn violent.

Watts was invoked in the past year after disruptive demonstrations followed police killings in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore.

ferguson 2Ferguson 1 year ago

Fifty years later, we’re still talking about it,” Hutchinson said.

Watts is kind of the granddaddy of civil disturbance.”


THE UPRISING TURNS FIFTY

Brenda Gazzar of the Los Angeles Daily News reported that 50 years ago Larry Aubry witnessed Los Angeles police officers shoot at least four looters as they were leaving an appliance store at West 61st Street and South Vermont Avenue during the Watts uprising.

At the time he was a Los Angeles County probation office and he lived near ground zero in South Central where the rebellion began. Today he is the co-chair of the Black Community Clergy and Labor Alliance.

Aubry feared he could also be targeted and die because of his skin color. “It was not so much disbelief, just anxiety and fear. That could happen to me,” Aubry recalled, “It was such a sharp line between us and them at this point. Even if you were vaguely perceived to be suspicious, then you were in line to be moved on by the police.

It was like a war.”

Watts 11 RiotRebellionCynthia Gonzalez, a Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science professor and a Watts resident who was an investigator on the 2013 study said, “We see the same outcomes happening with two (different racial and ethnic) populations. I don’t think asking for employment, quality education, access to care, places for shopping and sit-down restaurants is too much for a community.”

There has been an infusion of programs and facilities into Watts since the uprising that include the Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center, Charles Drew University, Bank of America, and various nonprofits. Even though these have improved things Gonzalez said, “urban renewal did not materialize.”

It did feel like immediate effective responses, but they weren’t effective in the long term,” said Gonzalez but, “There wasn’t a focus on self-determination. How do we remove the ills of poverty? Poverty produces a lot of the conditions we speak about in Watts, like poor health, violence and social stigma.


AN UPRISING OF SELF DETERMINATION

Desiree Edwards, the owner of one of the few sit-down restaurants in the area, says that Watts still has a long way to go.

“You know, there needs to be another grocery store over here, gas station closer,” she says. “You know, little things like that — just more service.”

This Watts coffee house has a long and winding past.

Kurt Streeter of the LA Times reported that,
“After a police stop turned violent, sparking riots that tore through Watts in 1965, a group of churches transformed an old furniture store on a fire-charred street. They created the Watts Happening Coffee House, and amid an explosion of pride and creativity that rooted in this corner of the city during the ’60s, it became a smoke-filled community hub.”

It’s one of the only decent things we have in Watts,” a young man was quoted telling city officials (in another) Times’ story published in 1966.

Watts 8 Desiree Edwards“Today, an updated version of Watts Happening is still in the neighborhood, on the same street, on a different corner. You’ll miss it if you’re not careful. It’s tucked behind an iron fence, stuck inside a worn community center, set behind a charter school. It’s simply the Watts Coffee House now.

Don’t let that fool you. Coffee isn’t king here. This is actually a bustling soul food joint. But as good and filling as the food is, as much as the wafting odor of grilled onions and brisket entice, it’s not just another place to eat.

Desiree Edwards greets customers at Watts Coffee House, which she has owned since 1994.
I didn’t take a single loan,” she says. “I ran on faith and prayer.” (Gary Friedman, Los Angeles Times)

It’s the only real, bona fide sit-down restaurant in Watts,” says Elvonzo Cromwell, echoing a sentiment heard repeatedly during my recent, gut-expanding visits. Cromwell is 34 and grew up in the nearby Jordan Downs projects. He clearly remembers being a teenager, walking into the coffeehouse for the first time. “It was fresh air. The first time in my life I saw class, real class, right here where I live.”

Without prompting, without knowing it, he then echoed the young man we quoted in 1966: “It’s one of the best parts of Watts. One of the only places here where people can just relax and hang.”


AND NOW REMEMBER THE UPRISING ..

watts 7 dr.-perry-crouchArun Rath of NPR reported that Dr. Perry Crouch was 16 years old the day that the violence started in Watts. Crouch saw firsthand the moment that sparked it.

As he remembers, he stood nearby as another African-American Watts resident, Marquette Frye, was pulled over by a California Highway Patrol officer for drunk driving.

I was right there when [the officer] started calling him ‘nigger boy’ and all that stuff right here,” Crouch remembers.

And his mother say, ‘His name is Marquette. You don’t have to call him like that.’ He told her, ‘Shut up, you black bitch, stay in your place.’ And then people was like, ‘I knew he didn’t say that.’

Officer told her, ‘Get your black ass out the way, don’t be interfering,’ and pushed her,” Crouch recalls. “When he pushed Ms. Frye, then him and Marquette got to tussling. Then she jumped on his back.

The crowd then swelled to about 150 to maybe 200, and then a bottle sailed over the thing — bam — and it was on.”

Crouch takes issue with the language that was often used to describe what happened:

— phrases like “insurrection by hoodlums” and characterizations of LA as “reminiscent of war-torn cities.” Crouch describes the unrest differently, as a rebellion rather than a riot.

People were angry and that was the way to relieve that anger,” he says.

It was a rebellion. It was an uprising.”

You see, a riot has no purpose. This was that spark everybody needed.”

He thinks it’s much less likely that a police conflict today could spiral into the kind of violence Watts saw 50 years ago.

Everything that’s been thrown at us have been thrown at us, so we know how to navigate effectively now,” he says. “It was a training experience for us, and we learned.”

We got them to see us as a partner,” Crouch says. “And they got to seeing us doing certain things to make their job easier. Like community leaders, our job is crowd control.”

Perry Crouch says that, while things are by no means perfect in Watts today, there may be lessons here for activists in Ferguson, Mo., and other communities across America facing racial tension between residents and law enforcement.

But he hopes those lessons don’t take 50 years to learn.

LA-REBEL-Ashes_Embers-GERIMA-1920x1280Still from Haile Gerima’s politically charged 1982 film “Ashes and Embers.”

(UCLA Film & Television Archive)

 

Grace and Peace be Unto You .. Michael

Someone Hanging from a Bridge

Some 26 Greenpeace USA activists helped form the 40-hour blockade that stopped Shell’s icebreaker from leaving port.
Then they came down from the St. Johns Bridge in Portland, Oregon.

An activist looks towards the rising sun as she hangs from the St. Johns bridge as part of a protest to block the  Royal Dutch Shell PLC icebreaker Fennica from leaving for Alaska in Portland, Ore., Thursday, July 30, 2015. The icebreaker, which is a vital part of Shell's exploration and spill-response plan off Alaska's northwest coast, stopped short of the hanging blockade, turned around and sailed back to a dock at the Port of Portland. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

An activist looks towards the rising sun as she hangs from the St. Johns bridge as part of a protest to block the Royal Dutch Shell PLC icebreaker Fennica from leaving for Alaska in Portland, Ore., Thursday, July 30, 2015. The icebreaker, which is a vital part of Shell’s exploration and spill-response plan off Alaska’s northwest coast, stopped short of the hanging blockade, turned around and sailed back to a dock at the Port of Portland. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

The climbers who caused Royal Dutch Shell’s icebreaker, the Fennica, to turn around and return to port after a spectacular face-off was reported on live around the world.

Annie Leonard the Executive Director of Greenpeace USA said:

We are incredibly proud of these climbers and truly humbled by what they have achieved here in Portland.

“The last two days have been a very emotional experience for all of us at Greenpeace, as well as all those who supported this action around the country and the world. Between the kayativists, the streamers, and the blue sky we have seen something new emerge, a sign that we can stand up to one of the most powerful companies in the world if we work together.

“This was a historic achievement not just because it blocked Shell’s icebreaker from reaching the Arctic, but because it helped spark an even bigger movement of people to raise their voices for something they believe in.

“Drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean would be a terrible mistake, and we call on President Obama to join the millions of people who are speaking with one voice to say it loud and clear: ShellNo.”

 

The controversial oil ship, the Fennica, managed to sail past a group of Greenpeace  protesters after police and Coast Guard officers forced the activists from the area.

The protestors were hanging from a bridge in Portland, Oregon.

Streamers float in the wind under the St. Johns Bridge In as activists climbed under the bridge in an attempt to prevent the Shell leased icebreaker, MSV Fennica from joining the rest of Shell's Artctic drilling fleet. T According to the latest federal permit, the Fennica must be at Shell’s drill site before Shell can reapply for federal approval to drill deep enough for oil in the Chukchi Sea.

Streamers float in the wind under the St. Johns Bridge In as activists climbed under the bridge in an attempt to prevent the Shell leased icebreaker, MSV Fennica from joining the rest of Shell’s Artctic drilling fleet. T According to the latest federal permit, the Fennica must be at Shell’s drill site before Shell can reapply for federal approval to drill deep enough for oil in the Chukchi Sea.

Protesters gathered to block a Royal Dutch Shell icebreaking vessel.

The ship was leaving port to head to an oil drilling site in the Arctic.

Some suspended themselves from the St. Johns Bridge.

Some formed a line of kayaks along the Willamette River to block the ship from leaving.

But the Fennica, slipped through a gap in the dangling protesters.
For six hours the “kayaktivists” and climbers held fast.
A judge fined Greenpeace USA $2,500 for every hour that protesters blocked the Fennica from passing .

Portland police and Coast Guard officers forced the activists from the area.
Bridge 3

Some dangled 40 hours in hope to block the Fennica from returning to sea.

They suspended themselves from one famous bridge.

For a brief moment they blocked the essential support vessel from traveling north.
The Fennica moved closer, the airborne protesters, joined by kayakers below, held their airspace.

The Fennica turned about and went back to its dock.

With armed authority the Fennica came again.

Kayaktivists moved toward the center of the river as the ship began its final trip.

Members of the Portland Fire Bureau’s technical rescue rope team built their own rope system.
… to force the climbers down.

Authorities in boats and personal watercraft finally cleared the narrow pathway for the Fennica.

She passed beneath the St. John Bridge to open water.

There was still someone hanging from a bridge.

 

I occupy my Faith with the action of changing the world.
My Faith is occupied with the action in changing the world.

My state of being is occupied by Faith.
Faith occupies my state of being.

My time is occupied by Faith.
Faith occupies my time.

Faith possess me.
I am possessed by Faith.

My position and my function is my Faith.
My Faith is my function and my position.

I reside in and I own my Faith.
My Faith resides in me and owns me.

(So… what is my Faith?)