Tag Archives: police brutality

Welcome to 2021, Or: When Privilege is Handed to you on a Silver Platter, And No, We’re Not Better Than This

11 Jan

The Daily Don BLM MAGA illustration by Jesse Duquette
Illustration Credit: Jesse Duquette, IG @the.daily.don

I am not a political pundit, and am not going to analyze the week’s event that we all witnessed with our own unbelievin’, yet believin’ eyes. There have been enough news shows and articles for that.

I will be another person, though, to call attention to the great disparities in how Black people, and their multi-racial, multi-ethnic supporters, were treated this summer during protests calling for racial justice, equality, and the very basic human request to not be shot and killed–mostly by police officers, and sometimes by white vigilantes, simply because of their skin tone. I’m quite certain, too, that many men and women who fancy themselves vigilantes like the white father and son duo who killed Ahmaud Arbery, were in the crowd that showed up at the capitol this week to “take their country back.”

We saw it with our own eyes on video, and on the news, and yet, Roots drummer, dj, author, food and culture enthusiast, Questlove, in an Instagram post, had something to say about the statement that so many in our country would rather believe in, namely: “this is not who we are.”

Questlove says, “It’s no coincidence the unpacking of our lives is going down this way (this instance, the events in dc, the pandemic, BLM, MeToo–everything that has risen to the surface in the past 5 years–I know a lot of people wanna hang on to the common thread of “this isn’t who we are” or “we are better than this” “A lot of you have to ponder & rephrase it now.. “This is who we’ve been?”…”Can you imagine what went unchecked without the cell phone camera? This didn’t just start now…or 2011…or back in 91 w Rodney King…..this has BEEN going on & no one believed it.”

Questlove’s Instagram post was actually in response to the viral video of Miya Ponsetto, the white woman who physically attacked jazz musician, Keyon Harrold’s, 14 year-old son, accusing him as the person who stole her cell phone. Ponsetto singled out Mr. Harrold and his son, who are Black, as they simply walked through the lobby of their Soho hotel to go have brunch. The phone, turns out, was actually left in an Uber.

But, as Questlove shares, this same belief he sees so many falsely holding, was shared by countless people posting all over social media that “this is not who we are” after watching the January 6th domestic terrorist attack on the capitol. We can apply the “this is not our country,” to this most recent ‘Karen’ moment, or to the storming of our nation’s capitol, and we certainly have been applying it for years, decades, centuries, haven’t we? Those of us with white skin privilege who believed the myth we were taught of how our great country was founded, of how our democracy was for all of us. We want to believe we are better than what keeps playing on the screens in front of our own eyes. But if that were the case, wouldn’t we be behaving like we are better than this? Wouldn’t we have made things equal, equitable and safe for every one through the ages?

Wouldn’t we be doing something to change things since the notion “that all men are created equal” was never carried out in law or deed? We witnessed how giving up power and privilege is so damn frightening for the white warrior face-painted, Davey Crockett meets neo-Viking, fur hat wearing, confederate flag waving, heavily-armed men, and women, who stormed the capitol. We witnessed hundreds of these white folks descend upon the capitol building, break in through a window, be let in by politicians, take selfies with capitol police, without the presence of the National Guard or police in riot gear. Friend, Gloria Johnson, a risk analyst, and strong advocate for her community who sits on several non-profit boards, said, on social media, contrasting January 6th’s insurgence with the uprising for racial justice after George Floyd’s murder, “protestors this past summer were beaten, gassed and hit with rubber bullets for protesting and yet these mofos were allowed to get into the SENATE CHAMBERS…without being beaten, gassed or shot! Nothing…Clearly restraint can be used by law enforcement”…She added, “…white supremacy is a hell of a drug..” after witnessing the insurgents “just chillin in the senate chambers…”

That about says it all. We don’t need pundits to tell us what we saw. If we, in the words of James Baldwin, which always come to me the strongest in these moments, look in the mirror, we will see that it is us, white people, who are the violent ones, the oppressors, who founded this country on white supremacist notions, laws, and policies, overt and covert, for over 400 years. We saw that when Black people asked this summer to be treated like human beings and their right to live and thrive like everyone else in this country, instead of as a monolithic, faceless group to be feared and harmed, they are met with violence. We saw when white people, armed with guns and zip ties, force themselves into the nation’s capitol building in an attempt to overthrow democracy, that they are given carte blanche to roam the halls, make violent threats, and desecrate property, all aided and abetted by the President and some of the capitol police officers there–never mind the fact that there were a number of police officers, former military, and government officials who were part of the insurgent mob themselves.

We witnessed the fear of all of these white men and women losing the grip on what they believe their white country does for them. They fear being in the minority by number, and by privileges, real and perceived, they have always benefitted from, either without caring what happened to Black or brown people in this country, or with the will to do great harm to them.

I plead for all of us white people to see that this is who we are, and to every day do something about it. We can no longer believe we are better than this. We have to do the work to make where we are in each one of our very own communities a safe, just, equitable and free place for Black people. This is our call. A new President will not fix this. It is on us. If you don’t know where to begin, as I’ve said before, look around in your workplace, your neighborhood, your schools, your non-profit organizations, at your elected officials. Are these places equitable and just and inclusive? Who is in charge? Who has the power to make decisions? Do your elected officials represent the needs of all people? Connect with and listen to the Black leaders in your community. Listen to Black women. Think of ways you can support them and their work, and ask them if your ideas to support are okay, are necessary, or are something that isn’t needed, or off-base, or white savior patronizing. If you feel stuck, comment below, or message me. I am no expert. I am on this journey, just like you are, but if we keep saying we don’t know what to do, then we are the biggest part of the problem.

It’s 2021. Who is ready to change who we are?

____________________________________________________________________________

Illustration Credit: Jesse Duquette, IG: @the.daily.don Twitter: @JRDuquette

Facebook: The Daily Don

Follow Questlove: IG: @Questlove @qls @questlovesfood

Some Of Us White People

30 Jun

Protest following death of George Floyd, Providence, RI, June 5, 2020

It’s been a little over three weeks since the local protests took place here in Providence, and all over the world, in the wake of George Floyd’s death. And it feels like it’s been three weeks of vast numbers of white people in a tizzy over how we could not have known how bad things were for Black people in America, and how blind we all were to systemic racism.

Some of us woke up, and rose up, and said we want to help. We pored over the Google Doc of resources shared widely on social media by Sarah Sophie Flicker and Alyssa Klein–books, articles, organizations and funds to donate to, and legislators to call. Some of us also learned of the Justice in June Google Document turned website with expanded anti-racism resources and teachings by Autum Gupta and Bryanna Wallace.

Some of us bought all the books recommended on social media to educate ourselves on the history of racism in this country. Books like, Stamped From The Beginning, and How To Be An Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, The Me And White Supremacy Workbook by Layla Saad, Waking Up White by Debby Irving, and White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. Currently, The New York Times Bestseller List for Paperback Non-Fiction, shows all top ten books are on race, with the aforementioned books on the list.

Some of us have confessed on Facebook how ignorant or blind we were to our own white privilege. How blind we were to the continued systems of racial inequity that came about post-slavery through policies and laws that created redlining, Jim Crow laws, loan discrimination, education disparities, job discrimination, mass incarceration, and the one we, if we have any humanity, can no longer deny: the more than “a few bad apples,”systemic racism inherent in law enforcement, and the never-ending police brutality against Black people.

Shortly after some of us spoke about being overwhelmed and not knowing where to begin to educate ourselves, and take action, we learned about the police killing of Rayshard Brooks in a Wendy’s parking lot in Atlanta on June 12th. The 27 year-old Brooks, married and the father of three children, had fallen asleep in the Wendy’s drive-thru and the police were called. After a half-hour of conversation where Rayshard politely told officers he had a few drinks, and offered to leave his car in the parking lot to walk to his sister’s house which was just a few blocks away, the officers decided to arrest Rayshard after a failed sobriety test. Rayshard, who was on parole, and working hard to stay on track with his family and work life despite the many restrictions and burdens the judicial system placed on him, most likely feared what an arrest would mean for him and his future. He resisted by trying to free himself from the officers trying to cuff him, Brosnand and Rolfe, and a scuffle ensued. Rayshard did grab one of the officer’s tasers and ran away, pointing it over his shoulder, and shooting the taser once at Rolfe, a taser which cannot cause deadly harm. Officer Rolfe shot at the back of Rayshard Brooks with his gun, hitting him twice. Rayshard fell to the ground. Officer Brosnan stood on Rayshard’s shoulders while he was on the ground, and Rolfe kicked his body. They stood over his body for two minutes before administering any medical attention. Rayshard Brooks died later that night at the hospital after coming out of surgery.

Some of us returned to our urgent call to ourselves to “do something!” Some of us worried still about offending Black people by either saying or doing the wrong thing, so some of us did nothing. Some of us thought and hoped we were doing the right thing by reaching out to our Black friends and asking them how they were doing. Some of us felt guilty when we read articles written by Black people who were taken aback, or baffled, by the awkward ways white people were reaching out to them– about friends who before now, rarely, if ever, had conversations about race with them, or ever noticed the micro-aggressions their friends endured, or the way their own white privilege allowed them to move through the world never having to think about their race, because their white skin was the default.

Some of us Venmo’d our Black friends, either at their request, or after seeing articles that said sending money to your Black friends is what you should do, because we sure owe them, or as a gesture to promote self-care for the recipient, then felt guilty again when we read some posts on social media about how sending money to Black people was insulting. I received a link to a podcast through Facebook Messenger from my friend, Darrell, who is Black, which he thought was hilarious, and which I had to admit I could see my own shortcomings in. The podcast, /reply-all/, episode #162 The Least You Could Do, produced by Emmanuel Dzotsi, was about this very subject of Black people receiving texts with offers of money from white people, like some kind of offering to absolve ourselves from the sin of being white, and benefiting from white supremacy. In fact, toward the end of the podcast, Black Latinx comedian, Milly Tamarez, did just that. After the 2016 Presidential election, she did a stand-up act asking white people to pay her, and if they did, she would absolve them of the sins of their people. It took off, and lots of white people sent her money, confessed of their sins, and received absolution. While some of the sins confessed started out light, like performing in a West Side Story play in school where all the parts were played by white people, some got darker as time went on, like the confession by a young white guy who was dating a Black woman but was afraid to get intimate with her because he feared he wouldn’t be as good a lover as a Black man. I hope all of us reading here will want to listen to this podcast to hear Milly’s response, and her thoughts about the whole experience of her White Forgiveness Project, as well as the thoughts and feelings that some Black people are having about how white people are reaching out to them at this time.

Some of us may have found ourselves saying, “damned if we do, damned if we don’t,” yet, hopefully we learned instead, that Black people are not a monolith, and do not think alike, and that most Black people would probably say they’ve lived “damned if we do, damned if we don’t” to the point of life vs. death, every single day. We hopefully learned that while one friend or acquaintance might welcome your reaching out to ask them what they need from you, and one person might say, Venmo me, and another friend might tell you they are too exhausted from experiencing racism to do the emotional labor to respond to you. They might nudge you to initiate your own self-education, and tell you to talk to other white people who may be further along on their journey in anti-racist work and action. They might tell us to figure out amongst ourselves what we should do next. After all, it is all of us white people who created and continue to uphold racism and racist systems in the first place. But, we’ll never know what to do if we don’t put ourselves out there and ask.

And as some of us are spending way too much time dealing with our own white fragility, rather than being of benefit to the movement to support Black lives, we learned of the death of Elijah McClain. Elijah was a 23 year-old massage therapist from Aurora, Colorado who was walking home from a convenience store when he was stopped by officers after a call was made to police about a suspicious person walking down the street wearing a mask. Elijah, who played violin on his lunch break to cats at animal shelters, because he believed it calmed them, was a slight, young man, with anemia, who wore the mask to keep warm. He did absolutely nothing wrong, and was wrestled to the ground by several officers, held in a carotid hold, and injected with the tranquilizer, ketamine, before being taken by ambulance to the hospital. Elijah suffered a heart attack on the way there, and was brain dead and on life support, when several days later, his family had to make the decision to take him off life support, at which time, Elijah passed away. The heartbreaking words of Elijah McClain while he was being arrested and his tiny frame being pressed on, to the point he vomited and could not breathe, have been shared widely:

“I can’t breathe. I have my ID right here. My name is Elijah McClain. That’s my house. I was just going home. I’m an introvert. I’m just different. That’s all. I’m so sorry. I have no gun. I don’t do that stuff. I don’t do any fighting. Why are you attacking me? I don’t even kill flies! I don’t eat meat! But I don’t judge people who do eat meat. Forgive me. All I was trying to do was become better. I will do it. I will do anything. Sacrifice my identity. I’ll do it. You all are so phenomenal. You are beautiful. And I love you. Try to forgive me. I am a mood gemini. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Ow, that really hurt. You all are very strong. Team work makes the dream work…(crying)..oh I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to do that. I just can’t breathe correctly (proceeds to vomit from the pressure to his chest and neck).”

– Elijah McClain

And as we ask again, what should we do, some of us are pulling out our pocketbooks and making donations to local and national Black-led organizations that promote justice, and build resources for Black communities. Some of us are educating ourselves through reading, conversation, and attending virtual panels led by Black scholars and activists. In Providence, the calls to Defund The Police rang loud and clear this week on a 9-hour Zoom call for the City’s Finance Committee meeting, where residents, Black, white and Brown, got to use their voices to speak about far better ways to address community wellness and public safety.

Yet some of us learned of another Providence meeting of the City Council members, where Black councilwoman, Nirva LaFortune, was talked over and muted during the Zoom meeting, by fellow councilman, John Igliozzi. Igliozzi announced a petition he said he created to bring to the RI General Assembly to appeal the state’s Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights. Councilwoman LaFortune stated on the call, that she had been working on a resolution to repeal the bill and it was on the agenda to present to the council. She continued to say that Igliozzi was aware of and co-signed on it, and that this petition was appropriated from LaFortune by him without speaking with her, or giving her credit for the research, and work that she had done. Igliozzi continued to erase the work and voice of the Black woman councilwoman, as he muted LaFortune several times more as she tried in vain to make her point heard and acknowledged–the final time right after the councilwoman told Igliozzi that “this is oppressive behavior.”

And in all of this, still we wait for the arrest of the two officers who killed Breonna Taylor while she was sleeping in her home in Louisville, Kentucky. Breonna, 25, a beloved EMT, and her boyfriend, were asleep when the police broke into their home unannounced. Thinking it was an intruder, Breonna’s boyfriend walked toward the living room, licensed gun in his hand to defend himself and Breonna. The police upon sighting him started shooting. They fired eight shots that killed Breonna. Why did they break into her home? They were looking for someone who had a warrant out for his arrest for drug dealing. They were in the wrong home. The person they were looking for: He was already in custody.

Some of us are performing activism with expressions of outrage, and sadness, followed up with lackluster, or absent action. Many corporations have made statements in support of Black Lives Mattering, along with proclamations of intention to make their workplace “inclusive” and “equitable.” Some have even already instituted a policy to now make Juneteenth an official holiday. Some of us are seeing media outlets scramble to feature stories on race, and even hire Black writers and photographers and journalists to tell them. We are seeing art museums and arts organizations all of a sudden featuring the works of Black artists on their sites, like the Poem-a-day series I subscribe to that for the last month has featured daily poems by contemporary, as well as, 19th and 20th century Black poets.

Some of us are so worried about how dangerous the world feels “because of all the rioting and looting and Chicago and Black on Black crime, and nobody wanting to be a police officer anymore because of how dangerous it is for them, with everyone being against them now…” Many of our inner Karens have been exposed.

Some of us, a lot of us, say we really care, and we really do, and all of us, have to really do. I heard a Black woman artist at the George Floyd protest, who said in conversation with a friend of hers, another Black woman, that at this point, the only way white people can show they are supporting Black people, is to do one or more of these three things:

Give money

Share resources

Put your body on the line

Some of us see ourselves in some of this here, or all of this here, or none of this here. Trust me, my own white fragility guilt and shame level has been on ultra-high, too. Now is the time to rid ourselves of the guilt and shame that does nothing but absolve us in our own minds from doing anything, keeps us uncomfortable about ourselves only. Keeps us stuck and inert. With this focusing on ourselves and how bad we feel, we cannot see beyond ourselves, or be strong enough to do anything to break down racism. All of us have to be willing to be in discomfort outside of ourselves, whether it is in conversation with other white people about race, whether it is asking a question to a Black person that we are worried is going to make us seem racist, or whether it is digging into figuring out what actions we can take in our communities to break down systemic racism.All of us need to decide which ones of us we see here, and which one of us we are going to become.

Hype Man: A Break Beat Play, At The Wilbury Theatre: Timely,Urgent, So Worth The Hype, I Saw It Twice

26 Nov

hype man

Hype Man Wilbury Theatre

Hype Man actors, l to r, Phoenyx Williams, Jeff Hodge, Helena Tafuri, (photo credit: Erin X. Smithers)

I knew I wanted to see Hype Man: A Break Beat Play as soon as I heard about its November run at The Wilbury Theatre Group in Providence. And after seeing the play, I knew I had to write about Hype Man’s timely theme of race, police brutality, and the impact it has on the relationship of the play’s three characters: Pinnacle, the white rapper, played by Jeff Hodge,Verb, Pinnacle’s Hype Man, who is black, and is played by Phoenyx Williams, and Peep One, the woman who creates the group’s beats, played by Helena Tafuri. The play written by break beat poet and playwright, Idris Goodwin, was expertly directed by Don Mays, who allowed each actor to shine in their respective roles.

Verb and Pinnacle grew up together, the best of friends, and bonded further through music, and the formation of their own hip-hop group. Peep is a newer addition to the group, but is vitally important with her attention-grabbing beats. The entire play takes place in the group’s rehearsal studio–save one time the set doubles as a television stage–the spare set consisting of an elevated round platform fitted with a mixing table, a stool, and a microphone. I learned from the play’s director, Don Mays, that the tri-colored, at times overlapping, voice patterns painted on the black walls behind the set, represent the three recorded voice patterns of the actors.

In the opening scene of this one-act play, Verb enters and begins fumbling with the sound system. Pinnacle sneaks up on him, and after a good laugh, and greeting one another with a hug, we learn Verb is just returning to the group after a month-long hiatus for therapy, for what Pinnacle later calls Verb’s “wild behavior.” Peep enters in a rush, and apologizes for being late for rehearsal, sharing there was a police shooting by the highway that slowed her arrival. Verb, looking at his phone, reads that police shot a young black male, 17, named Jerrod. Peep picks up her phone and reads that Jerrod had just gotten the news that his grandmother had taken a turn for the worse in the hospital and was rushing to get to her before it was too late. He was unarmed. He was shot with his hands up while running away from officers.

Sound familiar? It is in this moment we, the audience, are about to witness […]

Let Us Listen To All Of Our Young People’s Cries For Help To End Gun Violence

21 Feb

photo credit: IBTimes UK

While this nation mourns the losses of the lives of the seventeen students and teachers who were killed by a former student with an AR-15 assault rifle on Valentines Day at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the nation is also inspired by the student survivors who are speaking out and taking action.

I am inspired by their passion, conviction, and ability to rise up after the devastation and trauma they experienced just last week. These brilliant young people have had enough, and are calling on the adults to keep them safe so that what happened at Parkland never happens again. And, yes, it is a pity that the adults who possess the political power to create better gun control laws, and to ban assault rifles, have thus far done nothing to heed the calls for change–not after Columbine, 19 years ago, not after Virginia Tech, not after Sandy Hook,  not after the Florida night club, not after Las Vegas, and not after Parkland.

Through tweets to the President, and videos gone viral, our young people know how to use social media to mobilize, and to gain widespread attention. The young students at Parkland, out of self-proclaimed necessity, have become overnight anti-gun violence activists. Student Emma Gonzalez’s 10-minute brave and direct speech, has been seen by over 1 million people. Reporters and journalists are contacting and following the students’ activities, which include a planned National March Against Gun Violence in Washington D.C. on March 24th. Here is Emma’s inspirational speech, if you have not yet seen it: […]

Selma: The Movie and Community Dialogue in Providence, RI

12 Jan

This past weekend, I attended a private screening party of Ava DuVernay’s film, Selma, which was held at the Providence Place Mall Cinema.  The event was sponsored by the Providence NAACP, and the Rhode Island Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women.

DuVernay’s Selma, focuses on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work and planned marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965, and the many working with him, and against him, to further civil rights causes, in particular the fight to pass the Voting Rights Act.  Like many who  during the post-film dialogue referenced the ages they were during this time period, I remembered how old I was– […]