lurkitty: (Pogo)
Who are the Jena 6 and why you should care.

I walked out of the grocery store yesterday here in suburbia right behind two middle-aged African Americans. One was a bit agitated. I tried to get closer to hear what he was saying because it seemed to me he was talking about someone in the store hassling him, singling him out because he was black. I wanted to know. It has happened before in my community; an insular, white, working class place. It happens out of ignorance.

There are over ten thousand people marching in Jena, LA. Listening to the media coverage of the event, it is because six African American students were charged initially with attempted murder when they beat up a white student, and white students were suspended for only three days when they hung nooses from a tree.

That isn't the whole story. Not by a long shot. Even an august newspaper of the calibre of the NYT has failed to bring forward the facts that have lead to filling this 85% white community with thousands of people of color. In doing so, they have perpetuated the the racism.

The story, as described more fully by NPR in July, starts last year, when a new African American student asked the principal at Jena High School if he could sit under a big shade tree in the courtyard where white students were sitting. The principal told the student he could sit anywhere he liked.

The next morning, three nooses were found hanging from the tree. The three white boys responsible were initially recommended to be expelled, but instead received a suspension for three days.

From the NPR article:
The school called an assembly and summoned the police and the district attorney. Black students sat on one side, whites on the other. District Attorney Reed Walters warned the students he could be their friend or their worst enemy. He lifted his fountain pen and said, "With one stroke of my pen, I can make your life disappear.

Black students felt the white DA was looking right at them. The racial tensions continuted, and on Nov. 30, the school was burned down. Each side thought the other was responsible.

Again, from NPR:

The next night, 16-year-old Robert Bailey and a few black friends tried to enter a party attended mostly by whites. When Bailey got inside, he was attacked and beaten. The next day, tensions escalated at a local convenience store. Bailey exchanged words with a white student who had been at the party. The white boy ran back to his truck and pulled out a pistol grip shotgun. Bailey ran after him and wrestled him for the gun.

After some scuffling, Bailey and his friends took the gun away and brought it home. Bailey was eventually charged with theft of a firearm, second-degree robbery and disturbing the peace. The white student who pulled the weapon was not charged at all.

The following Monday, Dec.4, a white student named Justin Barker was loudly bragging to friends in the school hallway that Robert Bailey had been whipped by a white man on Friday night. When Barker walked into the courtyard, he was attacked by a group of black students. The first punch knocked Barker out and he was kicked several times in the head. But the injuries turned out to be superficial. Barker was examined by doctors and released; he went out to a social function later that evening.


To reiterate, when a white boy pulled a gun, he was not charged. The black boy was charged with stealing the gun and disturbing the peace. No charges were brought when the black boy was beaten, but when the white boy incurred superficial wounds, the blacks were charged with felonies.

This is why people are marching on Jena. The shade tree that bore the shades of strange fruit has been chopped down, but the legacy of inequality remains.

Currently, Mychal Bell, the only defendant remaining in jail, may be released sometime today, according to CNN. Last week, an appellate court vacated his conviction on the basis that he should not have been tried as an adult. He has served nine months so far.

The US Attorney for the Western DIstrict of Louisiana, Donald Washington, has determined that while the noose incident bore some marking of a hate crime, it did not meet Federal criteria because the students were under 18 and did not belong to the KKK or other hate groups.

That is not to say the KKK is not present, as this incident in nearby Alexandria shows.


No more Strange Fruit. Free the Jena 6.
lurkitty: (Pogo)
Protesters going to a march have some reasonable expectation of conflict with the police. This weekend's march on the Capitol included a "die-in" during which over 100 pre-selected participants tried to get arrested in the name of a dead American soldier. This is a well-known and often highly choreographed dance, with rules and playbooks on both sides dating back to the 'sixties, when the two fingered "V" for Victory salute was co-opted into the anti-war Peace symbol.

A truly disturbing trend has emerged, however, involving the individual arrest and brutal treatment of individual, unarmed citizens seeking merely to participate in the Democratic process. On Sept. 11th, Rev. Lennox Yearwood, a former Air Force officer, was waiting in line to attend the Petraeus hearings. By his own account, given to Democracy Now!:
But instead, when I got there, I was waiting in line. I was standing there. I had to do a radio interview. I asked the officer, I said, “Can I step out of line for a second to do an interview?” He said, “No problem.” I did my interview. I came back to the line. I got back in the line. I was waiting.

A policeman passing out post-it notes passed over both Rev. Yearwood and Col. Ann Wright, telling them that they could not get in. Col. Wright was subsequently given a post-it, but Rev. Yearwood, who was wearing a button that said "I love the Iraqi People" and was the only person-of-color in the line, was not given a pass.

And that’s when it started. I said, “Why are you singling me out? What is going on?” It’s important to know. We have this huge rally at the White House, and a march to the Capitol is coming Saturday. And I know my picture is on the flier. But regardless, I asked, “Why are you singling me out?”

At that point in time, they became to be aggressive, and they got around me. And I said that -- “You’re going to be arrested.” I said, “What am I going to be arrested for? What have I done? I just want to go inside and hear the hearing for myself.” At that point in time, one came behind me, said, “You’re going to be arrested.” And then somebody grabbed me on my shoulder. And I kind of turned. Amy, by the time I turned, I was on the ground. And I actually just felt myself going headfirst into the concrete.


A video of the scene starts at the point where Rev. Yearwood is saying "Why are you singling me out?" It shows that the police are speaking of arresting him long before he actually commits any crime. Rev. Yearwood was standing in line talking to the police. What would the charge have been had he not reflexively moved away from the policeman that grabbed him from behind? What exactly was he doing wrong? Wearing a button? Asking why he was being arrested? Being Black in public?

When Rev. Yearwood was tackled by the six to eight Capitol police officers, his leg was injured and initially thought to be broken.

On Monday night, Sen. John Kerry was speaking at a campus forum at the Univeristy of Florida. When a student stepped up to the mike for the last question of the evening, it was obvious from the start that he had an agenda. Andrew Meyer went on and rambled in asking his question before his mike was cut off. Campus police moved in and grabbed him, carrying him off and finally wrestling him to the ground and tasering him.

Watching the video, there were several points where the the situation could have been deescalated. Sen. Kerry was already trying to calm the student down and answer his question when the police grabbed him from behind. The student was already pinned to the ground by several officers before he was tasered.

The Machinist blog at Salon point out that, like the UCLA taser incident earlier this year, the taser was used in "drive stun mode". Quoting the blog:

In typical Taser operation, the gun shoots out electrode darts at a target. The darts incapacitate the target. Drive stun mode, on the other hand, is meant for close contact. There are no shooting electrodes -- the gun is placed directly on a target's skin. Drive stun does not incapacitate a target. He merely feels a great deal of pain that officers hope will induce compliance.

According to the Palm Beach Post, Taser International, the company that makes the device, warns officers that drive stun mode can lead to "prolonged struggles" with targets and that "it is in these types of scenarios that officers are often facing accusations of excessive force."


There you have it. The taser was not used to incapacitate the subject, but to inflict pain. Is this sort of treatment really warranted in the case of an unarmed student disrupting a forum that was nearly over?

Two officers have been placed on leave in the Florida case and the charges against Meyer are being reviewed. University President J. Bernard Machen made a statement yesterday voicing his regret that civil discourse did not occur.

It is tempting to blame police for this sort of problem. Police, however, act on orders and guidelines from their superiors. What is leading them to believe that individuals who question authority are as threatening as those who wield physical weapons? Why has the use of force been allowed to expand to the point that it is okay to subdue someone who is resisting only with words, not with actions?

In both these cases, the police escalated a verbal confrontation to a physical confrontation and the subject ended up in pain. This trend bears examination and intervention.
lurkitty: (Pogo)
As a migraineur, there are days that I am called upon to suck it up and leave the house despite the pain in my head. Because my preventatives are pretty successful, those days are, thankfully, few and far between. But when I have to, I leave wearing my trusty Chicago Cubs hat (the bright red "C" is the Universal sign of eternal optimism) and rhinestone encrusted sunglasses.

Curiously, it is not the sun that bothers me in the generally overcast Willamette Valley. It's the ever-present fluorescent lights, especially the ones that are flickering.

If some banks have their way, it would be against the law for me to wear my migraine armor into a bank. Now, granted, they have their reasons. Apparently, most bank robbers wear a hat and sunglasses, and the initiative is supposed to exclude people wearing hats and sunglasses for "religious or medical reasons". But how will that be determined? Frankly, I'd think that someone wearing a veil would more likely be targeted in today's atmosphere of profiling.

Why is it that we need a law when a bank or credit union can simply as a customer on its premises to remove the offending articles before serving them? So that banks don't have to risk losing customers by playing the heavy, forcing them to comply with a dress code. Banks want to blame it on the FBI! So you and I can risk getting arrested for wearing sunglasses and hats because some bank doesn't want to lose a customer.

That's real customer service for you! Don't ask people, arrest them!
lurkitty: (Default)
We realize that, you, the public rely on us to stay abreast of the latest developments. We were on top of this story as it arose. You have probably gathered, from our previous comments, that we have been less than supportive of TSA actions in the past. But we do appreciate the gravity of the current crisis facing the embattled airport securers: what to do about gel-insert brasiers.

"Ma'am, does your bra have gel inserts?" asks the blushing guard, who, only the previous day, had basked in blissful ignorance as his eyes lingered at the cleavage presented before him.

The confusion about rules and anger over having to throw away expensive little secrets from Victoria has grown as the days have worn on. It appears now that the TSA has given into pressure (probably from their girlfriends) and gel-inserts are allowed in the main cabin once more.

We are relieved.
lurkitty: (Default)
Among the experiences I will never forget is one that occurred in a classroom during my first year at college. This was a prominent private college where I was studying International Affairs, in fact, it was IA 101, and it was being taught but none other than the head of the department. This man was not known for his tact or pleasant demeanor; several in the class had already endured taunts and derisions at his hands. I had been called a dilletante for failing to answer a question correctly. The thing we had not realized was about to become quite obvious.

There was a nervous, mousey girl in class who was called on to answer a question and fumbled badly, most probably due to nerves. This appeared to break some long pent up jam, and the professor looked her in the face and asked, "What are you doing here?"
He then looked up at the rest of the women in the class. "What are you all doing here? Why aren't you at home with a husband making babies?"

I should have taken the hint. I spent another two years there before I realized that I would never prosper in that department. I transferred to another university.

I'd like to read the full text of the article in Nature by Ben Barres quoted in this article in the Houston Chronicle. Dr. Barres has a very interesting perspective with respect to sexism in the field of science. He has experienced both sides of the fence, as it were.

Ben Barres used to be Barbara Barres.

He reports a significant increase in respect from people who don't know he is transgendered. He finds it easier to finish a sentence without being interrupted when talking to male colleagues, for example. He even overheard one scientist who didn't know remark that Ben's work was better than "his sister's".

I was working at a university where an excellent female professor came up for tenure in Chemistry. An old male professor voted her down, remarking that no woman would achieve tenure while he lived. She left for a university that would allow her advancement.

The incident I described at the beginning of this essay happened some thirty years ago. I am sadden by the fact that things have not gotten significantly better. While that particular professor has stepped down, there are still no women among the IA faculty of that college.
lurkitty: (Default)
The holiday season is here and it's time to pull out the DVDs. There are standard holiday movies I must watch every year. I thought I'd let you in on my list and spend some time on a post on each one telling you why I find it essential to watch it.

To start, here's the list in must watch order. I've linked to IMDb so you know which version I'm referring to:
1. Scrooge
2.Holiday Inn
3.White Christmas
4.The Bishop's Wife
5.It's a Wonderful Life
It would be best to start at the top with number 1, so I'll start with #2 instead.

Holiday Inn is Bing and Fred at their best. It's all about the singing and the dancing and the rivalry over a girl (never mind what she thinks). This is the movie where Irving Berlin introduced White Christmas. One of my favorite Astaire dances is his solo with firecrackers (I know, you can see the placed lines of charges going off, but the timing....)
The blackface number...well...yes. It is appalling by today's standards.

But underscoring it all, and making it timely, is the war. This is a wartime, feel-good musical. It even has a war bond plea stuck smack in the middle. Bing singing it loudly to remind us those troops are out there winning our freedom.

I wonder if it made more sense to audiences back then than it does now. Our boys were in Europe fighting Nazi's for our freedom. Just like our soldiers are in Iraq right now fighting for our...huh? I'd have a better chance of buying that if we were still as free now as we were in 1942.

Consider the fact that although we were very much at war with a very powerful enemy, we didn't feel the need at that time to curtail our own civil rights (well, okay, except for that really awful thing we did rounding up Japanese-American citizens). The case of Deborah Davis comes up this week for arraignment in Colorado. What was her crime? She refused to show ID on demand while riding a public bus as it passed through a Federal Building complex. The day before her case is heard, oral arguments will begin in the case of Gilmore vs. Gonzales, a challenge to the secret directives that require us to show ID at airports when flying within (or without) the US.

But, one may argue, the Nazis didn't attack us on our own soil. Neither did the Iraqis.

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