Black History, Police Body Cameras and the Urgency of Now

February 23, 2015 at 10:04 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Photo: Associated Press, Mark Lennihan)

(Photo: Associated Press, Mark Lennihan)

Guest editorial by Kevin C. Peterson

Though it may sound counter-intuitive, this Black History Month is an occasion to reflect on the necessity of arming the police with body cameras.

As recent history has painfully taught us, there is an urgent need to dispel all ambiguity surrounding the murder of black males by local law enforcement. Police body cameras are not a panacea for this problem, but they may help.

The ostensible lessons gleaned last year from the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice are that their deaths were more than separate, unrelated incidents.

Their deaths are apart of a historical pattern, which citizens within black communities have for decades called systemic “police brutality.” Their murders illustrate the truism that a protracted season of disregard for black life continues and that “death-by-cop” is too often a testament of the longstanding tension and racial resentment between white police officers and black males–especially young African-American males in the inner cities.

Racial animosity will take a longtime to dissipate in America, but for now practical responses and new policies are needed on how the police engage black men.

This is why Segun Iduwo wants his day in Boston court–and, if necessary, he’ll gladly take jail time.

The Mattapan minister was arrested last November during a rally outside the Suffolk County jail in Roxbury. He and hundreds were protesting the historical plight of black men as part the national reaction sparked by the Ferguson, MO grand jury decision to not indict a police officer in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Iduwo says he was standing silently at the “Black Lives Matter” protest when he was “singled out” by state police and arrested.

“They just came directly to me and handcuffed me. As far as I know they didn’t arrest anybody else.”

Still in his early 20s, Idowu, who is black, possesses a strong sense of history and a clear understanding of how civil disobedience, civic engagement and direct protest action can accelerate change. A product of the Boston Latin Academy, he attended Morehouse College in Atlanta. He has also attended, until recently, Boston University’s School of Theology.

Iduwo acknowledges he was arrested on charges of “disorderly conduct,” for protesting “the wrongs done to black men” and says he is willing to answer to the charges.

In the meantime, he has been pressing Mayor Marty Walsh and Police Commissioner Williams Evans to equip each Boston police officer with a body camera, believing they will deter police misconduct. Along with Shekia Scott, Iduwo co-founded the Boston Police Camera Action Team last August.

A 2014 ACLU study reported the Boston police department’s practice of “stop-and frisk” disproportionately impacts young black males. Some have argued that “stop-and-frisk” is a harassment tool. So, keeping a police video record of those encounters makes sense and may save lives.

Legislation was recently filed by Boston City Councillor Charles Yancey to equip police officers with body cameras. Yancey said the cameras will “protect” patrol officers as much they will document how citizens interact with the police.

Late last year President Barack Obama wisely dedicated 75 million in grants for local police departments to purchase body camera equipment. Boston has yet to apply for funding.

“Not only do we want body cameras on officers but we also understand that policy must go with it … We call ourselves the cradle of democracy and we are the most progressive city in the nation. So if we are going to be progressive, then we ought to be one of the first major city all of its police officers uniformed with body cameras.”

Sometimes history is the result of winning small, mundane battles that most never notice. Often black historical advances were won on the local level–in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida’s smallest hamlets–where change was seemingly unconnected to larger, unfolding events.

Iduwo is a fresh voice who deserves attention for his principled stance and wiliness to go to jail.

He is also one of Boston’s youthful examples of how black history can be engaged by anyone at anytime if the moral intentions are right and if the price for advancement is willing to be paid.

Kevin PetersonKevin C. Peterson is founder of the New Democracy Coalition and a senior fellow at the Center for Collaborative Leadership at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

The views expressed are those of the author.

Why The ‘Selma’ Soundtrack Deserves An Oscar

February 22, 2015 at 9:34 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Screen shot 2015-02-22 at 9.12.22 AMGuest editorial by Emmett G. Price, III

Selma is powerful, provocative, conversation starter on race relations in our nation. While pundits and critics focus on the portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson and others bemoan the lack of awards, don’t sleep on the music!

Selma offers the perfect soundtrack to not only make the screenplay come to life but to make history live again. The partnership of Music Director Morgan Rhodes and Director Ava DuVernay is not a new one (In 2012 they teamed up on DuVernay’s Sundance Award Winner, Middle of Nowhere and in 2013 they completed a short, The Door), but with Selma they made a timeless treasure.

Any attempt to chronicle the diverse lives of black folks, and others, must rely on the right music, stitched and weaved together, the right way. Within the black experience, whether historical or contemporary, music is never simply a background. Music is the foreground and it matters!

During the civil rights movement music provided the esprit de corps. Music kept thousands of individuals and families motived, encouraged and inspired to keep their “eyes on the prize.” The music of the movement set the pulse, stabilized the cadence and amplified the rhythm of masses of people into one combined force for change. DuVernay and Rhodes understood this and executed in impressive fashion.

The soundscape of Selma brilliantly balances tone and texture in order to empower the many voices of the people of the movement and not just the leaders. In this chronicle of a three-month journey, the music elevates the voices of women in a way that offers an enlightened correction to the often male-dominated depiction of the movement. We hear the voices of Sister Gertrude Morgan, Martha Bass, Sarah Vaughn and Odetta as we witness the priceless contributions of Amelia Boynton, Annie Lee Cooper, Diane Nash and of course, Coretta Scott King.

As curator, Rhodes demonstrates a sonic journey that includes folk, blues, jazz, gospel, funk, R&B, Black improvisational music, Hip Hop and new compositions by Jason Moran. Yes, Jason Moran!

The soundtrack offers not only a demonstration of the diversity of ideas, thoughts and voices within the movement but it also offers an informed notion that music is both sound and text. In moments where there were powerful verbal exchanges or pivotal speeches, there is a courageous amount of musical silence. Music is not merely the presence of sound but the negotiation of sound and silence.

It is in the music that the most comprehensive notion of resistance is heard and felt. From the opening silence, to the cacophonous explosion to the “voice of God” (phenomenally performed by Ledisi) to well calibrated excerpts of Otis Redding, The Impressions, Joyce & Johnita Collins, Fink, The Staple Singers, the Soul Stirrers, The Orions, William Attoway & Irving Burgie, McCoy Tyner and Yusef Lateef. What an amazing collection of differing voices with a wide range of approaches towards voicing the same goal of fighting for freedom.

Rhodes’ inclusion of J.B. Lenoir, Duane Eddy and Seabell Kennedy proves that she can crate dig with the best! A true testament to her sincerity, sensitivity and savvy was the inclusion of the actual field recordings of the Selma demonstrators recorded in 1965 by Carl Benkert and released on Moses Asch’s Folkways Records as Freedom Songs: Selma, Alabama (FH 5594).

Yet, the most powerful contribution is Common and John Legend’s protest anthem, “Glory.” The opus has already earned a Golden Globe and is nominated for an Academy Award. More important than accolades, though, is that the three-minute inspirational hit connects the events of Selma to the movement in Ferguson challenging all to understand that the struggle continues and must be fought until the war is over and victory is won.

Don’t sleep on the music of Selma, for it is the music that best connects generations, cultures, ethnicities, spiritual beliefs and races towards the pursuit of equality and justice for all. The music highlights the “drama” that Dr. King taught and modeled as a strategy for justice-based civil disobedience. It is in the music that we are challenged to “negotiate, demonstrate and resist!”

Emmett G. Price III, Ph.D. is a pastor and associate professor of Music at Northeastern University’s School of Music. He is the author of Hip Hop Culture and editor of several works including The Black Church and Hip Hop Culture: Toward Bridging the Generational Divide. Follow him on Twitter.

A Road Map Beyond Black History Month

February 20, 2015 at 1:53 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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bb_flag_1_6_2012Guest editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

Black History Month (which kicked off on Feb. 1) became a national annual observance in 1926. The goal of the month is to honor and celebrate the achievements of African-Americans.

If Dr. Carter Woodson, the Father of Black History, were alive today, he would be proud of the tenacity of the African American community. It speaks volumes about our survival here on this American soil, after centuries of slavery, decades of lynching and years of racial profiling.

However, for decades now, Black History Month has not broached the topic of the socio-political construction of white privilege.

There’s a reason why.

During Black History Month in 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder received scathing criticism for his speech on race. His critics said the tone and tenor of the speech was confrontational and accusatory.

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot,” Holder said, “in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.”

Many communities of color contest that white people—straight or LGBTQ—show no real invested interest in engaging in this country’s needed dialogue on race. While many whites have confessed their aversion to such a dialogue, stating that while a cultural defense of “white guilt” plays a role in their reticence, so too does their cultural fear of “black rage” for inadvertently saying the wrong thing.

It’s a polemic that has been avoided because of the politics of political correctness as well as how any discussion on race, no matter who’s stirring the conversation—a rabid racist, the president or Attorney General Eric Holder—invariably inflame our emotions more that inform our faculties.

Ironically, or tragically, the aversion to a conversation about race not only continues to harm people of color, but it also harms whites as well.

In her recent book “Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race” Cambridge author Debby Irving’s wrote the following:

“I can think of no bigger misstep in American history than the invention and perpetuation of the idea of white superiority. It allows white children to believe they are exceptional and entitled while allowing children of color to believe they are inferior and less deserving….Unless adults understand racism, they will, as I did, unknowingly teach it to their children.”

On one hand we have the dominate culture’s continued indelicate dance of white privilege and single-issue platforms which thwart coalition building with communities of color. On the other we have some people of color dismissing the notion that white marginalized and struggling groups (white women, LGBTQ, the poor) may have something to offer communities of color in terms of advice and shared (not same) experiences.

Both hands are right. And both hands are wrong. The only way forward it to keep talking about race. But how do we make our way through the current tangle of misguided good intentions and valid suspicions?

My answer: past harms need to be redressed.

For example, the killing of unarmed black males has awakened the movement. “Black Lives Matter” has taken to the streets.

Sadly, civil rights struggles in this country—black, women, and gay—have primarily been understood and demonstrated as tribal and unconnected rather than intersectional and interdependent of each other. But that is a false assumption.

When we look at how we moved forward on the issue of same-sex marriage, LGBTQ activists remember that an African-American woman named Mildred Loving set the precedent for marriage equality. Loving gained notoriety when the U.S. Supreme Court decided in her favor that anti-miscegenation laws are unconstitutional. Her crime was this country’s once racial and gender obsession—interracial marriage. Married to a white man, Loving and her husband were indicted by a Virginia grand jury in October 1958 for violating the state’s ‘Racial Integrity Act of 1924.’

For many years I taught a college-level course titled “Power and Privilege,” exploring how many of our stereotypes about people whom we perceive as being different invades our lives without much conscious deliberation on our part. Issues of race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, age and ability, among others, were considered, and how such distinctions often lead to an inequitable distribution of political power, social well-being, and the resources available to individual members of society.

On the syllabus I laid out the rules regarding classroom interaction:
1. We will address our colleagues in our classroom by name.
2. We will listen to one another—patiently, carefully—assuming that each one of us is always doing the best that s/he can. We will speak thoughtfully. We will speak in the first person.
3. Although our disagreements may be vigorous, they will not be conducted in a win-lose manner. We will take care that all participants are given the opportunity to engage in the conversation.
4. We will own our assumptions, our conclusions, and their implications. We will be open to another’s intellectual growth and change.
5. We cannot be blamed for misinformation. We have been taught and have absorbed from our U.S. society and culture, but we will be held responsible for repeating misinformation after we have learned otherwise.
6. We each have an obligation to actively combat stereotypes so that we can begin to eradicate the biases which prevent us from envisioning the well being of us all.

As we celebrate Black History Month, 2015, in what is clearly not the post-racial era many had hoped for, I wish as a nation we begin an honest talk about race.

Rev. Irene MonroeRev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. Rev. Monroe can also be heard every Monday on Boston Public Radio, WGBH 89.7. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes – “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies.

Opinions expressed in the guest editorials are solely those of the author.

The Real Housewives of Civil Rights

February 16, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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The Real Housewives of Civil Rights

I’m a little embarrassed to admit this (’cause icons are not to be tampered with, right?) but I found this video funny and well done.  I was struck by the fact it was done by an all-female, all-African American comedy troupe called Elite Delta Force 3.  First off, the production values are really good as well as the characterizations.  I also thought it was a sharp critique of reality show devices and situations, particularly The Real Housewives of Atlanta.  My only quibble is that I thought the Marilyn Monroe character was misplaced.  I didn’t think it was demeaning to the memories of Betty Shabazz, Coretta Scott King, Winnie Mandela, Maya Angelou and Rosa Parks (although the shot of her drinking from a flask was jolting). Indeed, by taking these historical, accomplished, complicated, iconic women and placing them in an extreme caricature, I would hope that it should make us (African Americans in particular and all communities in general) take a look at what we value in our entertainment.  And it’s all the more a poignant statement if you know the real history of the lives of these icons, versus the fabricated stories perpetuated in the Real Housewives franchise.

So… what are your thoughts on the video?

Thanks for stopping by,
Valerie Linson
Blog Editor & Broadcast Series Producer
Basic Black

Guest Editorial: Rev. Irene Monroe

February 25, 2010 at 11:12 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Do We Still Need to Celebrate Black History Month?
By Rev. Irene Monroe

Greensboro Sit-In: February 1, 1960

February 1 began Black History Month, a national annual observance since 1926, honoring and celebrating the achievements of African-Americans.

This February 1, the International Civil Rights Center and Museum (ICRCM) opened in Greensboro, North Carolina, honoring the courageous action of four African- American students. Their actions led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which mandated desegregation of all public accommodations.

Fifty years ago on February 1, 1960, the now ICRCM was a Woolworth’s store and the site of the original sit-in where  Ezell A. Blair Jr. (also known as Jibreel Khazan),  David Leinhail Richmond , Joseph Alfred McNeil, and Franklin Eugene McCain from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College (NC A&T), a historically black college, sat at its lunch counter as a form of non-violent direct action protesting the store’s segregated seating policy. And as a result of their civil disobedience, sit-ins sprung up not only in Greensboro but throughout the South, challenging other forms of this nation’s segregated public accommodations, including bathrooms, water fountains, parks, theaters, and swimming pools, to name a few.

If  Dr. Carter Woodson , the Father of Black History, were alive today, he would be proud that the ICRCM opened this month.

However, for a younger generation of African- Americans as well as whites, whose ballots helped elect this country’s first African-American president, celebrating Black History Month seems outdated.

“Obama is  post-racial. And Black History Month is old school,” Josh Dawson (26) of New Hampshire tells me.

For many whites as well as people of color of Dawson’s generation, Obama’s race was a “non-issue.” And Obama’s election encapsulated for them both the physical and symbolic representation of Martin Luther King’s vision uttered in his historic ” I Have a Dream ” during the 1963 March on Washington.

“King said don’t judge by the color of our skin, but instead the content of our character,” Dawson continues.

In proving how “post-racial” Obama was as a presidential candidate, Michael Crowley of “The New Republic” wrote in his article “Post-racial” that it wasn’t only liberals who had no problem with Obama’s race but conservatives had no problem too, even the infamous ex-Klansman David Duke.

“Even white Supremacists don’t hate Obama,” Crowley writes about Duke. “[Duke] seems almost nonchalant about Obama, don’t see much difference in Barack Obama than Hillary Clinton-or, for that matter, John McCain.”

For years, the celebration of Black History Month has always brought up the ire around “identity politics” and “special rights.”

‘If we’re gonna’ have Black History Month, why not White History Month? Italian History Month? Chinese History Month?,” Dawson questions.

During the George W. Bush years we saw the waning interest in “identity politics,” creating both political and systematic disempowerment of marginalized groups, like people of color, women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people. We also saw the gradual dismantling of affirmative action policies, like in 2003 when the Supreme Court split the difference on affirmative action, allowing the  Bakke case on reverse discrimination to stand.

In celebrating Black History Month this year in what is now perceived by some to be one year in the “post-racial” era since Obama took office, I worry how we as a nation will honestly talk about race.

For example, during Black History Month in 2009, Eric Holder received scathing criticism for his  speech on race. His critics said the tone and tenor of the speech was confrontational and accusatory.

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot,” Holder said, “in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.”

Within the African- American LGBTQ community, Black History Month has always come under criticism. And rightly so! The absence of LGBTQ people of African descent in the month-long celebration is evidence of how race, gender and sexual politics of the dominant culture are reinscribed in black culture as well.

It leads you to believe that the only shakers and movers in the history of people of African descent in the U.S. were and still are heterosexuals. And because of this heterosexist bias, the sheroes and heroes of LGBTQ people of African decent – like Pat Parker, Audre Lorde, Essex Hemphill, Joseph Beam, and Bayard Rustin – are mostly known and lauded within a subculture of black life.

However, the argument that celebrating Black History Month in 2010 is no more than a celebration of a relic tethered to an old defunct paradigm of the civil rights era and is a hindrance to black people moving forward is bogus.

To move forward you must look back.

And in so doing ask ourselves, were it not for the successful sit-ins, marches, and boycotts of the 1960’s, could we have this conversation in 2010?

Reverend Irene Monroe is a nationally-known writer, speaker and theologian.  She has been profiled in O, Oprah Magazine and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.  (The views expressed in this essay are solely those of the author.)

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