Posts tagged with "ahmaud arbery"

Kaelen Felix illustrates Ritchie Torres for 360 Magazine

TRAILBLAZER: CONGRESSMAN RITCHIE TORRES

By Elle Grant

January 3rd marked the commencement of the 117th Congress and the swearing of its newest members. For many, it marked the beginning of a new dawn. One that will be followed by the inauguration of TIME’s People of the Year, President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. They will replace President Trump on Inauguration Day on January 20th. Yet several other remarkable individuals were elected this year and sworn in a bit earlier, solidifying the 117th Congress as the most diverse in American history. One of these representatives is a freshly elected Ritchie Torres, a 32-year-old politician serving the 15th congressional district in the Bronx, New York. Torres is the first openly gay Afro-Latino man elected to Congress, and one of two gay Black men that will serve in the 117th Congress, a distinction he shares with fellow New Yorker Mondaire Jones. 360 Magazine had the opportunity to sit down with Torres to discuss the story of his life, the issues he considers vital, as well as pick his brain for his thoughts on current events.

“I am a product of the Bronx,” Torres says of his childhood, “I spent most of my life in poverty.” Ritchie Torres was raised by a single mother, one of three children, in the Throggs Neck neighborhood of the East Bronx. He recalls the difficulty his mother had raising a family on minimum wage in the 1990s, as well as the awful conditions of the public housing he grew up in. Torres recollects these experiences with the soft yet fluid countenance that marked his speech throughout 360’s conversation with him. He floats between topics and memories with ease.

He recalls, with a rich sense of irony, the construction of Trump Golf Links as a child. “My life is something of a metaphor. I grew up right across the street of what became Trump golf course and actually something funny, is when the golf course was undergoing construction, it unleashed a skunk infestation. So, I often tell people I’ve been smelling the stench of Donald Trump long before he became President.” His own situation, compared with the government subsidized construction of the Trump Golf Links, deeply unsettled Torres’ image of society. He says collectively of his youth, “Those experiences shape not only who I am as a person, but as a public official.”

Such injustices prompted Torres to seek to become “The change that you wish the see in the world,” he says, quoting Mahatma Gandhi. He named public figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Ted Kennedy as role models. He got his start as a housing organizer and eventually took the leap of faith to run for public office, becoming New York’s youngest elected city official at age 25. He had “No ties to the machine. No ties to the dynasties of Bronx politics, but I was young and energetic. I knocked on thousands of doors,” he claims that kind of face-to-face contact won him that election. Torres then became the first LGBTQ+ official elected from the Bronx.

“I think it has several implications,” he says when asked what this early accomplishment meant to him. “I mean, first, we are all products of our identities and our lived experiences. Right? Who we are as people shapes what we do as policy makers. It is important to have LGBTQ policy makers in the room where decisions are being made. A wise person once said, ‘If you don’t have a seat at the table, then you are probably on the menu.’” Referring to his 2020 election win, he says “My election means that LGBTQ people of color, in particular, will have a seat at one of the most powerful tables, the United States Congress.” He calls the reality of his election both empowering and normalizing. “I am a symbol of possibility.”

“I met Mondaire for the first time four years ago,” Torres says of Mondaire Jones, U.S. representative of New York’s 17th congressional district. “I remember when I met him for the first time, we had a conversation about the lack of LGBTQ representation of color in New York state politics. And I never imagined that four years later, he and I would become the first openly LGBTQ Black members of United States Congress.”

Congressmen Torres recognizes that his path, though marked with accomplishments, has not been one of only highs. Torres stands apart as a public official on the national stage who is open about the lows of his life and his struggles with mental health. When asked why he chooses to be so transparent, he says “I felt a deep sense of obligation to speak openly about my own struggles with depression in order to break the silence and shame and stigma that surrounds mental health.” He seeks to evolve, not perpetuate, the current ideas surrounding mental health. He hopes to show that “there is a way forward” out of difficult moments, which for him were struggles with substance abuse, the loss of a friend, and moments when he considered taking his own life. But seven years later, Torres was elected to city council. “I would not be alive today, much less a member of the United States Congress, were it not for mental health care which saved my life.” He aspires to send a message that “Recovery is possible. You can take an antidepressant, as I do every day, and find normalcy and stability” and achieve feats like being elected to Congress.

The 117th Congress is slated to be the most diverse in history. Torres says of this reality, “I think American is increasingly becoming a multi-racial, multi-ethnic inclusive democracy. We are witnessing the collapse of politics as an old voice network. I am part of a new generation of young leaders every bit as diverse as America itself. Congress is becoming what it always should have been, a miniaturization of America itself.”

Torres acknowledges the year 2020, monumental in many ways, as harrowing for his Bronx community. “COVID-19 has been a catastrophe for the city and the country, and the South Bronx has been the epicenter of COVID-19. The South Bronx had the highest rate of COVID-19 morbidity and mortality during the peak of the pandemic. And just as destructive as COVID-19 itself were the deeper inequalities that were brought to light.” He argued that the coronavirus exposed the deeper health inequalities, racial inequalities, and class inequalities laid bare by the pandemic.

These issues are at the forefront of Torres’ mind in thinking of his work as a legislator. When asked what he saw as the first step to rectifying the rampant racial injustice in the United States, he answered “the first thing is to bring greater accountability to policing in America,” an argument familiar to many Americans following the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd and their ensuing protests. As the Black Lives Matter movement swept the nation with greater momentum than ever before, cries for justice and defunding the police became common across the country’s cities. “Where there is no accountability, there will never be an end to police brutality” Torres says, being especially critical of qualified immunity in the United States.

Torres heads to Congress as a man with a mission regarding many issues. He himself declares “My great passion is affordable housing,” reflecting a long journey working continually in the housing sphere. He seeks to secure far greater funding for public housing in New York City and to expand the Section 8 program. The Section 8 program, also known as the Housing Choice Voucher program, created by an act in 1978, provides assistance to eligible low- and moderate-income families to rent housing in the private market. Torres says, “For me the surest way to stimulate the economy is to put money in the pockets of struggling families.” In order to do that, he believes the solution is an expanded child tax credit, which he describes as the single largest tax expenditure in America, yet he finds fault with a system that is “so regressive that it excludes a third of American families. Particularly the poorest families in America.” Torres’ passion shines through when he discusses the subject, detailing how this solution could slash childhood poverty by 40% in the span of the year. He calls its potential an absolute “game changer.”

Without question, affordable housing and tax reform are the first issues Torres hopes to address after being sworn in to the 117th Congress on January 3rd, 2020. “For me, the central mission of my life is to fight poverty in America. Racially constructed poverty in America. The South Bronx is said to be the poorest district in America and if we can make progressive policies work in the South Bronx, we can make them work anywhere.”

360 Magazine also had the opportunity to discuss a variety of current issues with Congressman Torres, one of which being the then impending Senate run-offs in Georgia. Following races too close to call in November 2020, Republican incumbent David Perdue is facing a challenge from Democrat Jon Ossoff. Additionally, GOP appointee Kelly Loeffler is defending her seat against Democrat Reverend Raphael Warnock. The election is vital because it will determine which party will control the Senate. “The stakes are supremely important,” Torres says of Georgia. “As long as Mitch McConnell refuses to bring critical bills to the floor for a vote, there is a limit to what we can accomplish. For me, Mitch McConnell is the single greatest obstruction on the path to progress. Winning those two seats in Georgia are essential.”

Regarding the impending mayoral race in his home of New York City, as well as early polls that display former Presidential candidate Andrew Yang as the frontrunner, Torres is coy. “The mayor’s race is wide open. Anyone who claims to have it figured out is lying.” He goes on to affirm “It is full of more than one credible candidate.”

“To be clear, I never announced that I wasn’t going to be in the squad.” Torres says, referring to ‘The Squad’ of United States Congress, composed of Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a fellow New Yorker, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib. With new young progressive politicians like Torres joining the fray, claims of expanding membership are common. Torres, along with the aforementioned Mondaire Jones, as well as Congresswoman Cori Bush, Congresswoman Marie Newman, and Congressman Jamaal Brown are commonly referred to as impending members.

Instead, Torres clarifies, “I would never issue an announcement that I would not be a part of something. That would be an odd thing to do. Whenever I’m asked about the squad, I simply state that I’m my own person and I prefer to be judged on the basis of my own story and my own record, on my own terms.” He goes on to assert he is willing to work with “anyone and everyone in the service of delivering to the people of the South Bronx. That is my highest priority.” Torres is clear in this declaration that he is willing to work with more conservative members of his own party or the Republican party in hopes of progress.

On a future in politics, Torres affirmed his intent to serve the people in the moment and to “let the dice fall where they may” regarding the future. When asked what wisdom he would impart to a younger generation, Congressman Torres says “We are all only as strong as the support we have in our lives and be grateful for the supporters you have. The friends and family. I would not be here today if not for the friendship of people who believed in me more than I believed in myself. Know who those people are and value them and be grateful for them.”

Update as of 1/14/21, Congressman Ritchie Torres has formally endorsed former presidential candidate Andrew Yang for mayor of New York City. This comes just a day after Andrew Yang announced his campaign in a video titled ‘Why I’m Running,’ which features Torres in it.

Lupe Fiasco House for 360 Magazine

Lupe Fiasco × Kaelin Ellis – HOUSE

Today, GRAMMY-winning rapper Lupe Fiasco and Orlando producer Kaelin Ellis released their collaborative EP HOUSE via 1st & 15th / Thirty Tigers. The EP came together by chance — on May 5th, Lupe was tagged on Twitter in the replies of a Tweet from Kaelin Ellis, a rising producer who had been posting clips of himself creating beats in lockdown. Reading “Get this to @LupeFiasco somehow,” Lupe listened, liked the beat, screen recorded Kaelin’s video, dropped it in GarageBand, freestyled over the beat, exported it in Quicktime, then Tweeted the song just a few hours after he first saw the mention.

The two then began interacting over Twitter, Kaelin sending beats to Lupe, who rapped over the tracks he liked. A few weeks later they had a 5 song EP titled HOUSE, referencing that the two had created the collaborative EP locked down in their respective houses.

For the album art, Lupe and Kaelin were inspired by iconic Columbia Records jazz album covers like Dave Brubeck’s Time Out and Charles Mingus’ Mingus Ah Um. The art on HOUSE features a painting of “The Glass House” painted by Peter Gellatly, the father of Lupe’s friend Sky. Peter recently died of COVID-19 — in the album’s liner notes, Sky Gellatly eulogizes his father, and includes a story about how Peter was a Merchant Marine who once sold a boat to the government of Nicaragua, then rode a motorcycle through Central America back to the US, returning with the money he’d use to build Sky’s childhood home. 

For the EP’s first track “HOMME MADE,” Lupe had his friend Virgil Abloh speak about the concept of a house — Virgil has a Master of Architecture, and Lupe wanted to present an architect’s perspective. Abloh is also featured on the song “SHOES,” where he describes hypothetically designing the shoes that Ahmaud Arbery was wearing when he was murdered. The song “DINOSAURS” is about how we could be on the brink of another mass extinction, and “SLEDOM” (“models” spelled backwards) is a critique of the modeling industry. The final song “LF95” is the original track Lupe recorded that set this project into motion.

About Kaelin Ellis

With over 10+ years of performance and hands-on creative experience under his belt, Kaelin Ellis is a multi-platinum music producer that has established himself among the top class of producers in the modern electronic / hip-hop beat scene. Formerly known as mr.mockwell, he was originally part of an online crew, dubbed “lofalab,” where he came in contact with fellow musicians and later collaborative-partners, Kaytranada, Sango and many more. Kaelin also has many production credits with other artists such as Waldo, Deffie, and K-pop supergroup Exo on their song “Jekyll.” Since the beginning of his musical journey, he’s managed to upkeep a discography that sonically keeps up to many of his heroes.

About Lupe Fiasco

Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, better known by his stage name Lupe Fiasco, is a Chicago-born, GRAMMY award-winning American rapper, record producer, entrepreneur, and community advocate. Rising to fame in 2006, following the success of his debut album, Food & Liquor, Lupe has released seven acclaimed studio albums; his latest being Drogas Wave released fall 2018. His efforts to propagate conscious material helped solidify him as GQ’s Man of the Year in 2006, and garnered recognition as a Henry Crown Fellow. While musical genius and ingenuity are at the forefront of Lupe’s achievements, the artist extends his innovation to projects that aim to foster creative discourse and opportunities in underprivileged and impoverished communities.

Follow Kaelin Ellis: Twitter | Instagram | Soundcloud | Spotify

Follow Lupe Fiasco: Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Spotify

Book illustration

The Stranglehold Series

By Katherine Jeffries

Lenient and non-existent criminal sentences have given rise to movements such as #metoo, #yesallwomen, #whyididntreport, #protecteverychild, #endmodernslavery, #blacklivesmatter to name a only a few. The growing unrest of a rigged justice system is rightly being met with a “burn it down” sentiment.

The Stranglehold Series was inspired by the very frustrations and inequalities we, as a country, are currently attempting to voice and rectify. While the BlackLivesMatter movement, as well as others, focuses on horridly heavy-handed punishments, even deadly uses of force for petty detainments of people of color, Stranglehold was birthed from the growing disgust of certain privileged offenders getting little-to-no consequence for acts so inhumane that most people cannot process the monstrous details.

We have privileged perpetrators such as Brock Turner, who, in 2016, brutally assaulted an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. Even with witnesses to the heinousness of his attack, he got little to no punishment for the various and twisted injuries he inflicted. Not a year later, the #metoo movement against prominent men who assault women and men alike went viral. Because of public outcry and the bravery of those willing to share their stories in solidarity, some semblance of justice is beginning. More recently, in the case of Ahmaud Arbery, actual video evidence of the murder did not result in the arrest of the killers until that footage was made public months later, demonstrating that if you are well-connected, you could commit the coldest atrocities and skate back into life-as-usual—so long as someone is incentivized enough to keep your secret.

These kinds of non-existent or delayed sentences doled out by those in the criminal justice system who don’t want to “ruin” the lives of predators has only emboldened some institutions into not only hiding those who commit certain crimes, but also continue to allow perpetrators access to more victims (as we’ve seen with the Catholic and Mormon churches, to name only a few). Despite complaints and investigations filed, some organizations even reward and promote harassers, as we’re discovering with the military and hundreds of women being demoted or discharged for reporting while their attacker is unscathed, such as the recent and upsetting murder of Vanessa Guillan.

Much of the same issues are at play in the society in my thriller series, Stranglehold. Unknown US politicians are funneling money into legal organizations set to keep violent, even sadistic criminals on the streets, all in hopes of growing government power in the name of “safety.” Although I’d quickly condemn anyone enacting vigilante justice against any suspect or convict, Stranglehold does offer a satisfying outlet as Grant Steele, Gemma Pearl and Trent Roth deliver swift and ruthless deaths to those who find pleasure or triumph in the pain of the innocent.

That said, Stranglehold isn’t a typical bang-bang-you’re-dead thriller. After all, Gemma Pearl can hear—down to the word—if someone is lying. That she can decide—on the spot—who is guilty isn’t the sole determiner, it sure helps them focus on who’s a threat and find what they need to decide who lives and dies. (In our current political climate, how handy would it be to have not only a sign-language interpreter sharing the stage with any given talking-head, but someone like Gemma calling bullshit. Not sure it would change much, but it would add some comedy to it all).

Beyond that aspect of magic realism, which allows for many polite phrases and the motives behind them to have moments of examination (imagine being around someone who knows every little white lie you tell—every.single.one), Stranglehold takes on the emotional toll trauma exacts. After all, Gemma Pearl isn’t only an assassin, but a woman who has endured years of isolation, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her husband. The two of them were corralled into their marriage for the sake of Gemma’s safety, which inspires Gemma to ask, “Safe from who?” After Gemma murders her husband and while under Grant and Trent’s protection, Gemma is allowed to unearth and begin to unravel the trauma she’s not only endured, but also caused.

Most thrillers don’t attempt to unpack the damage done to their characters, portraying them instead as revenge-driven-until-revenge-satisfied. Stranglehold is far more thoughtful than that and readers who have survived abuse and trauma deserve a character who is strong, graceful and vulnerable at once. Trauma survivors have earned a character who is wounded but wanting more for herself, who is writhing out form beneath the feelings of unworthiness and invisibility abuse causes, who is learning to voice her hopes and carefully venture back into trust and love with someone who is just as embattled, just as scarred, just as determined to be healed as she is.

As a society, as a world, we have a long way to go, but with the discussions in Stranglehold about punishment, honesty, government roles and trauma healing, we can hopefully step into deeper interactions with ourselves as we heal and with each other as we demand a better system of actual justice.

Racial justice illustration by Mina Tocalini

Racial Justice

The Magnanimity of The Moment

Learning from Our Past in Today’s Fight for Racial Justice

By Jason Green

The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and far too many other black bodies have answered Langston Hughes’ prophetic question: “What happens to a dream deferred?” As justified anger and frustration have exploded across communities large and small, I have quietly questioned whether there is room for community building. I thought for a moment that our collective hurt and fatigue might be so great that there simply might not be space for hope and reconciliation. The idea of searching for fellowship felt naïve and insignificant.

Seven years ago, as I sat at the bedside of my then 95-year-old grandmother, she told me how, in 1968, her all-black church merged with two all-white congregations (themselves split generations earlier over the issue of slavery) in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Given the tumultuous backdrop, I was surprised by their decision to join, but I will be forever moved by the intentional community building that has kept their congregation together for more than 50 years. The hardest decision wasn’t the one to come together, it was the decision to stay together.

Last week, on our weekly call, my Grandmother Green reawakened my spirit. “We have to keep working and praying and not give up,” she extolled. “Even if things are not going our way we have to have that faith, and do the work. It was important that they see my face in the choir in 1968. Well, it’s just as important today.” She helped me realize in times like these, we need to be reminded of what is possible and to be vigilant about the hard work required to achieve it.

I’ve spent years chronicling how those three congregations came together in 1968 and how they have persisted, purposefully integrated, for more than 50 years. Below are three lessons I’ve learned from that experience that can inform how we collectively move forward today:

•Establish A Clear Goal

As they stumbled through the early days of the church merger, leadership of each congregation gathered to agree to the goal of coming together. A specific shared outcome gave them something to hold tight to when the path got difficult. As individual groups began working toward their own agenda, it armed the broader coalition with a mission to pull them back to. In this moment, people have begun working in different directions to speak out against and organize in support of racial justice. There is not one way to do the work — in fact, there must be a multitude of strategies, activities, and actors. To be successful, we must define the objective to hold others accountable to if their efforts achieve progress toward that shared goal, not question if their strategies happen to be similar or different to our own.

•Trust Must Be Built

When the churches merged, each harbored fear, skepticism, and animosity. There wasn’t the hugging and hand-holding you’d expect in church. To overcome, they had to be intentional; this started with acknowledging the pain of their history and being deliberate about difficult conversations. No meeting would end if someone still had something to say. Leadership demanded people share their concerns and complaints, though sometimes harsh, and those concerns were addressed. The work that faces us now is deep and structural and must push beyond performance. It will require addressing a history of hurt and creating alliances, with both traditional and non-traditional allies, to meet the magnanimity of the moment. At times, it will require taking the first step, even when you took the first step last time, and recognizing that sometimes, alliances will fray. Work to build trust anyway.

•Be Prepared To Go Alone

For those in the movement, this moment feels like a turning point, and there’s a desire to draw a line in the sand: “If you aren’t with us now, then you are against us.” But the reality is there will be folks who, even in this moment, will not be prepared to take action. Because we know that for something to be truly gained, something must be given up, there will be those who aren’t prepared for what change will mean for them. In 1968, my grandfather disagreed with the proposed church merger. My grandmother, my father, and his brother, decided to merge, despite Grandpa’s objection. We must be prepared to do the work, knowing that it is rooted in righteousness, and that there will be some who are not ready for change, even amongst those whom we love and respect. Move forward anyway, but resist the temptation to draw those terminal lines in the sand. Continue to build bridges for others to come on the journey. My grandfather joined the merged congregation years later. Before he died, he was one of its trustees.

Like the church merger, our democracy is one big social experiment that requires engagement and vigilance if it will ever reach its promise. Elections have consequences, and policy has impact. To see change, we must be active at the federal, state, and local levels to enable leadership that aligns with our values and implements policies that reflect the communities we represent.

But elections cannot eradicate racism, and policy cannot force neighbors to see each other with dignity, value and respect. This moment does not call for an “either or” approach; this must be a “yes and” strategy. And, if we want to eradicate the poison that killed George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Tamir Rice, and every other individual lost due to racist acts, then in addition to external activation, we must look inward to understand what each of us is prepared to do, give, and change in this moment.

Last week, my grandmother turned 102, and as we discussed plans for her socially distanced drive-by birthday parade, we also talked about the current state of the world. As I expressed frustration regarding the lack of national leadership and exhaustion that this is where we find ourselves, in true Grandma Green fashion, she said, “I hear all that, but what are you gonna do? What are you prepared to do for those who look like you and those who don’t? For those who don’t pray like you? For those who don’t love like you? What are you gonna do to inspire fellowship and build the community that we all want to see?”

I guess I know what to give for her birthday this year. Join me in making change. Across the country. Within our communities. And in ourselves.

Jason Green is a Maryland-based attorney, entrepreneur and filmmaker. Green recently directed Finding Fellowship, a documentary inspired by conversations with his grandmother which focuses on the unlikely merger of three racially segregated churches in 1968. Green is the co-founder of SkillSmart, Inc., a workforce development company that creates transparent paths to economic prosperity. A current Commissioner for the Montgomery County Commission on Remembrance and Reconciliation, Green also previously served as Associate White House Counsel to President Barack Obama.

BLM “Now, We Transform”

Today, Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation releases and official new call-to-action visual titled “Now, We Transform” – an action and awareness initiative created to continue the fight for liberty, justice and freedom for black lives worldwide. The revolutionizing incentive is promised to evoke thorough race equality reform by harnessing the collective power of supporting voices across the globe. The visual, which pays homage to some of America’s most impactful freedom fighters including Harriet Tubman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Fitzgerald, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Malcom X, Angela Davis and Marsha P. Johnson, encourages those who are willing to join the fight to end injustice to text 24365 or visit www.BlackLivesMatter.com for more information on how to get involved. To watch the latest #BlackLivesMatter video, click HERE.

“Now, people in every state across America are standing up to say: Black Lives Matter. This is our revolution. Transformation is happening. Change is coming” Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation released in an official statement.

“After the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd in close succession, the world has finally said enough is enough. Now we must honor their sacrifice and ensure this never happens again. This moment of collective acceptance of the systemic, institutional, and individual racism Black people face every day around the world, must be galvanized into collective action. Black Lives Matter Global Network is committed to providing tools and resources to people all around the world as we continue to fight in defense of Black people” said Kailee Scales, Managing Director of Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation.

JOIN THE FIGHT FOR FREEDOM. USE YOUR VOICE AND YOUR PLATFORM TO CREATE CHANGE.

Twitter: “This is our revolution. Transformation is happening. Change is coming — and we’re only just getting started. Watch and share @BlkLivesMatter newest video #BlackLivesMatter”

Facebook: “We are united. We are loud. We are strong. And we are only just getting started.”   Instagram: “Our voices are getting louder, our movement is getting stronger, and we are only just getting started.”

This is our revolution. Transformation is happening. Change is coming. #BlackLivesMatter

About #BlackLivesMatter

#BlackLivesMatter was founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer. Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc is a global organization in the US, UK, and Canada, whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes. We support all Black lives including the Black queer and transgender communities, the disabled, the undocumented, those with records, women, and those all along the gender spectrum. By combating and countering acts of violence, creating space for Black imagination and innovation, and centering Black joy, we are winning immediate improvements in our lives.

Rita Azar, 360 Magazine, illustration, corporation

Companies Profiting from BLM

By Eamonn Burke

As the nation grapples with the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, among many others over many years, protests have called for massive police and corporate reform. Changes have already been made, as major companies and institutions have begun to exclude forms of racism and include new reforms and statements. However, as with many corporate sentiments, the genuine nature of these statements is being called into question and exposed as hollow.

It has become a trend for major companies to undertake policies and claim responsibility for social issues, in what is known as “Political Corporate Social Responsibility.” Media is flooded with brands preaching change and pledging to be a part of it. In today’s instant society, however, it is difficult to discern the true motives of these businesses in their support of the BLM movement.

Major companies like Microsoft and Amazon have been actively projecting support for the BLM movement, yet both corporations have shockingly low involvement of black people within their company structure. Intel joined in the trend with a cringey tweet as well.

Fast food companies like Wendy’s and Burger King, and Popeyes have also seemingly been using the movement to boost their reputation using tweets and ads, despite the fact that they thrive on minimum wage workers who are often people of color. The stark insensitivity is reminiscent of Pepsi’s distasteful ad that was pulled amidst the movement in 2017. Some companies, however, didn’t even try to voice support. One such company was Starbucks, who announced that employees were forbidden from wearing BLM merchandise, a policy that has since been reversed. Other food brands such as Quaker Oats are making real changes – the Aunt Jemima brand will be dropped because of it’s racial stereotyping, as well as Uncle Ben’s.

Following a petition signed by more than 5,000 people, Trader Joe’s announced in July that they would be changing the names of their “racist packaging” such as “Trader Ming’s” and “Trader José.” San Francisco High School student Briones Bedell, who started the petition, claimed that “The Trader Joe’s branding is racist because it exoticizes other cultures — it presents ‘Joe’ as the default ‘normal’ and the other characters falling outside of it.”

The company is now going back on that promise, and have says in a new statement that “We disagree that any of these labels are racist,” arguing that they are meant to show appreciation for these cultures. Company spokeswoman Kenya Friend-Daniel originally had accepted the petition, acknowledging that it may have the opposite effect of its intended inclusiveness. Now, however, she says that they will only look into these types of changes from employees, not from petitions online.

The racial revolution in the wake of George Floyd’s death has seen the downfall of other brands and images such as Aunt Jemima and the Washington Redskins, but Trader Joe’s is the first prominent one to resist the “cancel culture.”

What consumers really want, however, is not posts on social media. They want real action and real change. This means companies should “Open Their Purse” and donate to anti-racism organizations. Many companies have, but many have also donated to campaigns for Congress people that are rejected by the NAACP.

The public is skeptical of these statements and promises, and not without reason. The history of major businesses like Bank of America and Goldman Sachs have in the past had to cover up allegations of discrimation, and others fail to include minority members in their top ranks. Other major institutions like the NFL condemned the kneeling for the National Anthem just a few years ago, but is now apologizing and admitting the players were right. The question remains: have sentiments truly changed?

Brands and institutions are recognizing that being anti-racist and pro-BLM is selling more than ever. “Costs Signals,” which are the cost that companies pay to undertake these policy changes, are what should be used for judgement, says UPenn Marketing Professor Cait Lamberton to ABC News. Andre Perry, another ABC correspondent from Brookings Institution, warns that “These statements are a sign of defensiveness more so than an indication that they are proactively working to deconstruct racism in this country.”

For a list of donations made by major companies click here.

Minority Report

A comprehensive report of the continuation and influx of unjustified treatment towards minorities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

February 23: 25-year-old Georgia resident Ahmaud Arbery was fatally shot while running unarmed. No arrests were made immediately, but Gregory and Travis McMichael, who claim to have been making a citizen’s arrest, have since been apprehended more than 2 months after the shooting and charged with murder and aggravated assault. The murder and its delayed action have sparked nationwide protests and calls for justice. The lawyer, hired by Ahmaud’s family, was also hired by another African American victim – Breonna Taylor.

March 13Breonna Taylor was shot and killed in her Louisville home after police entered the house on a search warrant. Taylor and her boyfriend believed they were burglars and began firing at the police. The shootout left 26-year-old Taylor dead and her boyfriend, 27, arrested and charged with assault and attempted murder of a police officer. Neither Taylor nor her boyfriend Walker had a criminal record, but Walker had a firearm license.

March 23: A newly released video shows a 68-year-old black Missouri woman by the name of Marvia Gray and her son Derek being forcefully arrested on the floor of a department store on March 23rd. The two were accused falsely of trying to steal a television and were injured when thrown on the floor by police, according to Gray. They were however, arrested for assault on a police officer and resisting arrest.

April 18Steven Taylor, 33, was shot to death by police in a California Walmart while attempting to steal from the store and threatening violent acts with a baseball bat. Taylor was fatally shot, however, after becoming a non-threat, it prompted the family to call for charges against the officers. Taylor was also allegedly in a mental health crisis and has a history of disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Taylor leaves behind three children and three siblings.

April 24: Austin Police murdered 42-year old Michael Ramos after a nearby 911 call about a possible drug deal. The police shot Ramos when he was out of his car, with his hands above his head. When Ramos re-entered his vehicle and began driving away, he was shot again and soon after, died. A later investigation found no sign of a firearm in the car.

April 28: A shootout with police in Florida killed 26-year-old Jonas Joseph after his car was pulled over. Joseph began firing at police, who returned fire and killed the young man.

May 6: 21-year-old Sean Reed was killed by police following a vehicle pursuit on the evening of May 6, 2020. The police pursued Reed after being seen driving erratically on the highway. The pursuit terminated, but when Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Assistant Chief Chris Bailey spotted the car parked, he approached. Reed tried to flee, but the confrontation left the young man dead. A crowd of protestors at the scene demanded the reasoning for the officer’s use of force.

May 9: 48-year-old Adrian Medearis was killed after being pulled over under suspicion of driving while intoxicated in Houston. The officer conducted a sobriety test, and attempted to arrest Medearis, a well-known local Gospel singer and choir director, but he resisted arrest and was fatally shot  in the ensuing altercation. His family and community are demanding the release of the video.

May 18: A Sarasota police officer was filmed using excessive force and kneeling on Patrick Carroll’s neck during an arrest. The video was put on social media and the officer in question has been put on administrative leave weeks after the event.

May 25: A woman named Amy Cooper called the cops on Christian Cooper, a Harvard alumnus and former Marvel Comics editor. The 57-year-old man was bird watching in Central Park when she approached him without her dog on the leash. After he asked her to put the dog on a leash, she called the police and claimed to be threatened. The altercation went viral after Christian Cooper posted a video of the event on social media, recording the woman aggressively restraining her dog and her saying, “I’m going to tell them [the police] there’s an African American man threatening my life.” Amy Cooper has since publicly apologized. But, Cooper has faced repercussions beyond negative comments on Twitter. She has been fired from her job at Franklin Templeton Investments, where she was vice president, and her dog has been rescued by a pet shelter.

Also on Monday May 25th, a Minneapolis man named George Floyd was murdered by police after an officer knelt on his neck despite his cries for help. Floyd was taken to a hospital where he died, and four officers were fired soon after the incident. A police statement says that Floyd was being investigated for a “forgery in progress” and resisted arrest. But, surveillance video of the arrest shows Floyd complying with the officers. On May 29th, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was charged with murder and manslaughter, four days after George Floyd’s death. On June 3rd, the other three officers involved in George Floyd’s murder, J.A. Keung, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao, were arrested and charged with Aiding and Abetting Second Degree Murder and Aiding and Abetting Second Degree Manslaughter. Floyd’s murder sparked protests around the country with citizens looting and setting fire to buildings. The protestors have been met with tear gas and rubber bullets from police officers.

Allison Christensen, 360 Magazine, Vaughn Lowery

May 28: At a protest in Minneapolis, 43-year-old Calvin L. Horton Jr. was fatally shot and a suspect is in custody.

A Mississippi cop is on leave after a video is released of him choking a young suspect.

May 29: CNN reporter Omar Jimenez and his crew were arrested while reporting on the protest in Minneapolis. Meanwhile, another CNN reporter, Josh Campbell, says he was treated very differently by police and allowed to stay and report. Jimenez is black and Latino whereas Campbell is white. All three CNN workers were released from custody an hour later.

21-year-old Javar Harrell was not protesting but was fatally shot near protests in Detroit. It is unclear if his death is tied to protests.

May 30: The “Rally To End Modern Day Lynching” took place in Harlem in honor of George Floyd. The rally emphasizes that participants should still practice social distancing and wear a mask. Also on May 30th, participants will honor Floyd at the site of Eric Garner‘s murder in 2014. These New York protests became progressively more violent into the evening. Governor Brian Kemp issued a state of emergency and curfew for Atlanta in preparation for planned protests on May 31st. After four days of protests, Governor Newsom declares a state of emergency in Los Angeles. The courthouse and city hall were set on fire in Nashville.

A 21-year old unnamed man was fatally shot at a protest in Detroit.

In Dallas, a machete-yielding storeowner confronted protesters and was then violently beaten by the crowd; the man is now in stable condition.

Chris Beaty, 38, was killed from multiple gunshot wounds and was pronounced dead at the scene in Indianapolis.

May 31: After setting fires and looting in Santa Monica, the city declared a curfew. Curfews have since been set all around the country.

Italia Kelly, 22, and another victim were fatally shot while leaving a protest in Davenport, Iowa.

In Victorville, CA, Malcolm Harsch, 38, was found hanging from a tree and authorities are investigating the event as a potential homicide. Harsch’s family says they are very skeptical of his death being by suicide.

June 1: In Minneapolis, a group of men attacked Iyanna Dior, a black transgender woman; Dior is okay and in stable condition now.

53-year-old David McAtee was shot as national Guard troops and Louisville police broke up a protest; some footage shows McAtee shooting at police but it is unclear who fired their guns first because the officers involved did not activate their body cameras. The Louisville Metro Police Chief, Steve Conrad, was immediately fired because of the officers’ unactivated cameras.

16-year-old Jahmel Leach was tased in the face by NYPD and could be permanently disfigured from the attack. It is unclear why the police officers used force to arrest Leach.

June 2: Six Atlanta police officers have been fired and arrested for using excessive force towards Messiah Young and Taniyah Pilgrim, two young black people leaving the protests.

77-year-old David Dorn, a retired St. Louis police captain, was fatally shot by looters of a pawnshop after responding to an alarm.

June 4: At 3:45pm, NAACP holds a moment of silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in honor of George Floyd live on their Twitter.

June 5: All 57 members of the Buffalo Police Department’s emergency response team resigned in protest for police brutality – particularly seen in a video of Buffalo police pushing an unarmed man.

Reddit Co-founder Alexis Ohanian resigns from the company’s board and urges the company to replace his spot with a black candidate.

In a YouTube video, Robert L. Johnson, the first black American billionaire and co-founder of BET, talks to The Breakfast Club about racism and reparations.

20-year-old Dounya Zayer was violently shoved by a police officer at a protest in Brooklyn, NY. 

June 6: Michael Jordan and Jordan Brand pledge $100 million donation over the next 10 years to organizations promoting social justice and racial equality.

A video shows protestors creating a human shield to protect NYPD officers fro rioters throwing objects at the policemen. 

June 7: Virginia governor plans to remove Robert E. Lee statue later this week.

CEO of CrossFit Greg Glassman’s insensitive tweet about George Floyd has caused Glassman to face serious backlash. Partners of CrossFit, like Reebok or Rogue Fitness, and athletes, including Brooke Wells and Richard Froning, released statements that they will cut ties with CrossFit.

BLM protestors in Bristol pull down statue of Edward Colton, a slave trader who transported nearly 100,000 slaves in the 17th century. 

Harry H. Rogers drove into a group of protestors near Richmond, Virginia. Rogers identifies as the leader of the Ku Klux Klan and prosecutors are investigating the assault as a potential hate crime.

June 8: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announces police reform legislation called The Justice in Policing Act of 2020 which would ban chokeholds, establish a national database to track police misconduct, and more.

Minneapolis City Council announce plans to defund the Minneapolis police department.

GoFundMe suspends Candace Owens’ account saying that Owens, “spread hate, discrimination, intolerance and falsehoods against the black community.”

June 9: Greg Glassman, the CEO and founder of CrossFit, retires after his inappropriate tweet about George Floyd’s murder.

New York Police Chief Mike O’Meara shames the press for vilifying police officers in a video here.

June 10: In Palmdale, CA, 24-year-old black man named Robert Fuller,  was found hanging from a tree in what was originally described as an apparent suicide. Citizens are demanding that Fuller’s death is investigated as a homicide.

June 11:  After Trump’s comments about Seattle protestors being “domestic terrorists” and that law enforcement must “dominate the streets” to “take back Seattle,” Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan clarifies that the protestors are not threatening and that the president’s claims are unconstitutional.

June 12: Atlanta police fatally shot Rayshard Brooks, 27, at a Wendy’s drive-thru. Brooks’ murder caused Atlanta police chief Erika Shields to resign.

June 13: Patrick Hutchinson, a black personal trainer from London, rescued ‘far-right’ protester who was badly beaten during protest clashes in London.

A young, black FedEx driver named Brandon Brackins turned to social media to tell his followers how he was called racial slurs while working. 

June 16: A story resurfaces from 2006 when black, Buffalo, NY cop Cariol Horne was fired for stopping her white colleague from choking a handcuffed suspect.

Philadelphia court supervisor Michael Henkel is fired after video shows him tearing down BLM signs.

June 17: Quaker Oats plans to retire their Aunt Jemima branding and logo after acknowledging the racial stereotyping.

June 18: A Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputy fatally shot 18-year-old Andres Guardado.

June 20: Rioters storm the streets of Tulsa, Oklahoma during President Trump’s rally. 

June 21: A NYPD officer is on unpaid suspension after a chokehold incident in Queens.

June 22: Department of Justice is investigating a noose found in Bubba Wallace‘s NASCAR garage. Wallace is the only black driver in NASCAR’s top circuit. On June 23, the FBI determines that Wallace was not the target of a hate crime.

August 23: Jacob Blake is shot by Kenosha police officers after breaking up a nearby fight that two other women were having. Blake was unarmed and shot seven times in the back. He is currently hospitalized for his injuries.

 

 

Looking for ways to help? Here are some places to donate to:

George Floyd Memorial Fund

Minnesota Freedom Fund

Louisville Community Bail Fund

National Bail Out

Transgender Law Center In Memory of Tony McDade

Brooklyn Community Bail Fund

Dream Defenders

North Star Health Collective

The Louisville Community Bail Fund

The Freedom Fund

Northwest Community Bail Fund


politics, podium, flag, speech

Preservation Organization Supports Monument Removal

Today, the National Trust for Historic Preservation announces a major change in its position regarding the preservation of Confederate Monuments in public spaces. A more than 70-year-old institution, which has had to evaluate whether to support saving some of these monuments over the course of its history, is announcing today that it believes the removal of Confederate monuments from public places is justified. The Trust released the following statement:

In recent weeks, protests throughout America and around the world have sprung up in support of racial justice and equity, sparked by the horrific killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and others. The National Trust stands committed to support this fight for justice. We believe that Black Lives Matter, Black History Matters, and that historic preservation has a powerful role to play in telling the full story of our often-difficult history.

A critically important part of this work is elevating and preserving the enormous and important contributions that African Americans have made to our nation and carrying that profound legacy forward through places of truth, justice, and reconciliation.This nationwide call for racial justice and equity has brought renewed attention to the Confederate monuments in many of our communities.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has previously issued statements about the history and treatment of Confederate monuments, emphasizing that, although some were erected—like other monuments to war dead—for reasons of memorialization, most Confederate monuments were intended to serve as a celebration of Lost Cause mythology and to advance the ideas of white supremacy. Many of them still stand as symbols of those ideologies and sometimes serve as rallying points for bigotry and hate today. To many African Americans, they continue to serve as constant and painful reminders that racism is embedded in American society.

We believe it is past time for us, as a nation, to acknowledge that these symbols do not reflect, and are in fact abhorrent to, our values and to our foundational obligation to continue building a more perfect union that embodies equality and justice for all.

Although Confederate monuments are sometimes designated as historic, and while many were erected more than a century ago, the National Trust supports their removal from our public spaces when they continue to serve the purposes for which many were built—to glorify, promote, and reinforce white supremacy, overtly or implicitly. While some have suggested that removal may result in erasing history, we believe that removal may be necessary to achieve the greater good of ensuring racial justice and equality. And their history needs not end with their removal: we support relocation of these monuments to museums or other places where they may be preserved so that their history as elements of Jim Crow and racial injustice can be recognized and interpreted.

We believe that communities have an obligation to take on this issue forthrightly and inclusively. We recognize that not all monuments are the same, and a number of communities have carefully and methodically determined that some monuments should be removed and others retained but contextualized with educational markers or other monuments designed to counter the false narrative and racist ideology that they represent, providing a deeper understanding of their message and their purpose.

We also recognize that some state legislatures have prohibited removal of such monuments, disallowing the rights of local communities wishing to remove these offensive symbols. Until such state laws are changed or overturned, contextualization may be the only option, at least for the present. Our view, however, is that unless these monuments can in fact be used to foster recognition of the reality of our painful past and invite reconciliation for the present and the future, they should be removed from our public spaces.

Rita Azar, 360 MAGAZINE

Defund the Police

Defund the Police: What does it mean?

By Emmet McGeown

In John Le Carré’s 1963 spy novel, “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold,” the character Control, a prominent member of the British intelligence service, describes the duty of law enforcement as follows: “We do disagreeable things so that ordinary people here and elsewhere can sleep safely in their beds at night.” The role of policing is often depicted in this light. There exists a prevalent view that the police exist in order to do things that civilians have neither the ability nor stomach to do, whether this be subduing suspects or dispersing delinquents. Yet, what if this didn’t have to be the role of police? What if the police were viewed more as a public service as opposed to a pseudo-military presence?

This is the idea presented by the “defund police” movement. Over the past few weeks, since the unwarranted and horrifying murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, there has been a significant push for police forces all around the country to receive less money in municipal budgets and federal grants. It’s a controversial plan.

Law enforcement is a sacred pillar of post-9/11 American society. To be a police officer is to be part of an institution, an illustrious and insular institution where prestige and eminence are vigorously upheld in the name of justice. The lionization of American police forces has coincided with their increasing militarization. To question the splendor of law enforcement is to express doubt in the American experiment; at least that’s how many would regard it. This is evident in the fact that even leading Democrats like Nancy Pelosi are eager to distance themselves from the potential consequences of defunding the police. Veteran Senator, Dianne Feinstein, when asked, expressed, “I just don’t believe in that as an answer.”

Furthermore, Democratic Presidential candidate, Joe Biden, anxious to appease moderates, released a plan last year that would actually add $300 million to the Community Oriented Policing Services program (COPS) which, since 1994, has invested over $14 billion dollars in local police departments to hire and train local police officers. There is no reason to believe that he intends on revising this plan in the wake of nationwide protests.

So, besides defunding, as its moniker quite blatantly advocates, what else is the “defund police” movement aspiring to achieve? Well, a concomitant effect of defunding would be extra money to potentially invest in other community programs. San Francisco, Portland, Denver and Nashville are among the many cities that are already debating diverting police funds to other first responders, schools, and community initiatives. The movement is gaining traction. In America’s second most populous city, Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti shifted $150 million from police budgets to education, healthcare, and housing in communities of color. Fueling such actions is the belief that poverty is a catalyst for crime thus tackling impoverishment is a way to reduce instances of police brutality. This is an interesting concept. In fact, a report by the Bureau of Justice released in 2014 revealed that from the period 2008-2012 persons in households living at or below the federal poverty line had more than double the rate of violent victimization than those in high-income households. More so, Richard Rosenfeld, a criminology professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis conducted a study that revealed that areas with higher rates of unemployment and few social services also tend to have higher crime rates. In the city of St. Louis, according to the same study, firearm assault rates per 1,000 residents are more than six times higher in high-poverty neighborhoods than in low-poverty neighborhoods. Thus, alleviating poverty through allocating more money to social services, employment schemes, and public education may have a profound effect on crime rates therefore could minimize the need for heavy-handed police tactics.

This idea doesn’t seem so radical when elaborated upon. Indeed, a 2008 Yale study of the relationship between welfare and crime rates concluded that frequent welfare payments that are sufficiently large would be associated with lower levels of crime. Yet, the slogan “defund police” lacks the syllables to encapsulate sufficient nuance. Those advocating for defunding the police may want to sacrifice their snappy maxim for detailed proposals if they wish to create meaningful change.

The third aspect of the “defund police” movement is arguably the most agreeable. Many activists in the movement have outlined that police officers respond to an overwhelming number of situations for which they are not equipped nor qualified. These include dealing with people suffering from mental health issues, domestic disputes, disobedient school children and drug addiction. Activists argue that the police have become the remedy to every societal problem regardless of the magnitude. Even ancient Rome divided the role of the city’s police force into the Vigiles, Praetorian Guard, and Urban Cohorts, each being responsible for maintaining a certain type of public order. Yet, in modern-day America, 911 can be dialed in the event of a murder or because a birdwatcher asked someone to put their dog on a leash. This imprecise prophylactic policing trivializes policing as we now rely on officers to resolve even the most miniscule of disputes. This contributes, not only to wasting police time, but also to the perpetual escalation of the insubstantial into the inexcusable. After all, George Floyd was initially interacting with the police for using a counterfeit $20 bill, a crime hardly worth an arrest never mind public suffocation.

Even so, there are still many obstacles in the path of those aspiring to defund the police: “Sixty percent specifically oppose reducing the budget for police to reallocate it to other public health and social programs, while 39 percent support that move,” said ABC News.

For many Americans, the police are untouchable. This attitude is expressed eloquently, albeit brashly, by conservative political commentator Heather MacDonald in a City Journal article titled “Why We Need the Police.” Here, Ms. MacDonald decries the notion that better-funded social services would ameliorate crime rates in cities. She argues that New York City is a prime example because “No city spent more on welfare, yet crime continued to rise.” Ms. MacDonald outlines that “fewer cops and depleted NYPD funding mean longer response times and less training.”

One must concede that there is a logic to this argument. Indeed, research by Dr. June O’Neill and Anne Hill for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed that a 50 percent increase in the monthly value of combined AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) and food stamp benefits led to a 117 percent increase in the crime rate among young black men. So, one could argue that an increased reliance upon social services in impoverished neighborhoods will actually result in an increase of crime.

Lastly, many are weary to openly endorse defunding the police because it appears to be a tributary feeding a more radical river: abolition of the police. Abolishing the police, much like the movement to abolish ICE, is a policy idea expressed by the fringes of the left wing. The belief system undergirding this viewpoint is that the American police force is chronically racist. Its members, thus their actions, are discriminatory and perpetuate the racial inequality admonished by those calling for the abolition of the police. A NYT op-ed, written by Mariame Kaba, argues that since policing has roots in slave patrols and union busting the asphyxiation of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin is an expected and unsurprising corollary of an organization that has been marinating in a mélange of classism and racism since its genesis.

For those advocating police abolition, “reform” is viewed as insufficient. It is seen as a bromide used by moderate politicians to avoid a tangible restructuring of policing thus immortalizing the status quo. Reform is a more palatable dish in suburban dining rooms. Abolition, derived from the Latin infinitive abolere literally meaning “destroy,” makes many middle-class voters twitch as they imagine a future in which the thin blue-line restraining mayhem is snapped, unleashing a cascade of crime. Yet, the push to abolish the police may have its merits…

“Why did you have to shoot? I mean that’s the only question that matters right now. Why did you kill my son?” asked William Schultz, father of Scout Schultz who was a Georgia Tech student suffering from depression shot by Georgia Tech police in 2017. In the now infamous video, Scout can be seen holding a multi-purpose tool walking toward two police officers. After Scout’s death questions were asked as to why lethal force had to be used. Contrast this with an incident in Camden, NJ, where a knife-wielding individual threatened customers of a fried-chicken joint then walked down the street refusing to obey cops demands for him to put down the knife as he thrashed erratically. For 5 minutes, over a dozen police officers formed a loose semi-circle around the suspect, following him as he walked down the street. After repeated warnings, the man was tased, disarmed, and arrested. No death. What was the difference? Advocates of abolishing the police would argue that because the latter city had disbanded their police department and rebuilt a new, community-focused county force, violence was avoided.

In May 2013, the Camden City Council approved several resolutions that eliminated the city police department and established a new one under county control. The remaining city cops were all laid off and had to reapply to work with the county, under far less generous nonunion contracts. The Camden police was now bigger. By cutting salaries, the county was able to hire more officers, increasing the size of the department from 250 to 400. Plus, the officers were no longer rewarded for the number of tickets they had written, or how many arrests they had made. No longer would officers be the “arbitrary decider of what’s right and wrong,” Camden police chief, Scott Thomson, announced but rather consider themselves as “a facilitator and a convener.” A result of this structural innovation has been a 72% drop in violent crimes over 7 years.

It is clear that something has to change. However, this change should not be limited to the police. In order to prevent more George Floyd’s, one must approach the problem of policing as though it were a rock formation consisting of multiple compressed strata, preserved in time, now requiring excavation and examination. Such attempts have been made in the past, most notably by the presidentially appointed Kerner Commission set up to analyze the cause of the civil unrest in the late 1960’s. In the Commission’s landmark 1968 report it concluded: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal…White society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.” It’s time we stopped ignoring the inequality which persists in this nation. Poverty and policing are inextricably linked, defunding police might feel good for the Left and defunding welfare programs may feel good for the Right but what will work?
We still don’t know.

360 Magazine, Justice, Protest

Poor People’s Campaign Digital Assembly

On June 20th Poor People’s Campaign digital mass assembly, people from more than 40 states suffering from poverty, COVID-19 & police brutality to tell their stories & demand moral agenda.

Poor and low-income people of every race, creed, color and sexuality from more than 40 states will demand change as they share stories of struggling through poverty and protests for racial justice at a historic digital assembly and march sponsored by The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.

Hundreds of mobilizing partners — including 14 national unions, 16 national religious denominations and dozens civil rights organizations — will join the campaign for the Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington.

The assembly and march will be aired at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Eastern on Saturday, June 20, and at 6 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, June 21. It can be viewed at june2020.org, and MSNBC will livestream the entire event, as will other local and national media.

“When we began organizing the poor people’s assembly and march two years ago, we knew 140 million people — 43% of the nation were poor or low-income and that 700 people died each day — or 250,000 a year — from poverty,” said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of Repairers of the Breach and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign.

“We knew racist voter suppression was blocking voters from casting their ballot and blocking progressive policy decisions. We knew over 80 million people were uninsured or underinsured and millions were homeless and without clean water. And we knew that we had a war economy with a gross and unnecessary budget. We knew all of these realities are morally indefensible, constitutionally inconsistent and economically insane, undermining our national health. And then a pandemic hit and exposed the wounds of racism and poverty, and a lynching by police of a black man on camera poured salt in the wound, which makes our call for a moral fusion coalition of all people to address five interlocking injustices even the more relevant,” said Rev. Barber, a bishop and pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina.

Former Vice President Al Gore and other young climate activists will introduce those testifying about the effect of ecological devastation on their lives.

Actors and activists such as Erika Alexander, Danny Glover, David Oyelowo, Jane Fonda, Wanda Sykes and Debra Messing will introduce testifiers and invite Americans and people around the world to tune in.

“The numbers of people suffering in this the richest nation in the world is already increasing and deepening as the effects of the pandemic, recession and racist and anti-poor policies continue to hurt poor and low-income people the hardest,” said Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign.

“On June 20th, poor and impacted people will come together to tell the nation what it means to not have enough food to eat, to wonder how to keep a roof over your family’s head, and to have to choose between risking your life by going to work or staying at home and not getting paid. We will share the bold and visionary demands people are putting forth that can solve these grave injustices and the powerful and creative resistance of people organizing across the country. History shows that when those most impacted by injustice come together in a powerful movement, that this country can indeed change for the better. Those whose backs are against the wall are pushing this whole nation towards justice today.”

The campaign notes that the day’s focus will be on poor and low-income people who demand that their voices be heard. These people from 43 states — white farmers and coal miners standing with black women Latino meat packers, First Nation Apaches and Asian people — will tell the pain of their stories and demand a specific policy, moral budget and political agenda. That agenda includes a demand that the nation address the five interlocking injustices of systemic racism, systemic poverty, ecological devastation, the war economy and militarism and a distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism.

Among the impacted people who will speak are service workers from the Midwest who have worked through the pandemic without PP; families hurt by police brutality; a coal miner from Appalachia; mothers who have lost children due to lack of health care, residents of Cancer Alley in Louisiana, and an Apache elder who is petitioning the federal government to stop a corporation from destroying a sacred site in Arizona.

The assembly and march are being held in the wake of protests spurred by the death of George Floyd, who died on Memorial Day as a Minneapolis police officer held his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. His cry of “I can’t breathe” echoed that of Eric Garner, who died in 2014 when a New York City police officer put him in a chokehold. It followed those of Breonna Taylor, who was shot eight times by officers who invaded her apartment in Kentucky with a battering ram, and Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed by two white joggers who weren’t charged until a video emerged.

The campaign’s leaders decided at the end of March to hold a digital assembly and march because of the pandemic rather than gathering in person in Washington, D.C. Amidst protests that are happening in every state, this digital mass assembly presents an opportunity for all Americans to join together in a united call for justice from wherever they are.