Baltimore mom, Toya Graham, should be proud of her son

Toya Graham grabs her protesting son and forces him to go home with her.

Toya Graham grabs her protesting son and forces him to go home with her.

Toya Graham, a single mom in Baltimore, became a viral sensation after showing up to a Freddie Gray protest, finding her son Michael among the crowd, and smacking and berating him into going home. Before their names were even known, commentary flooded social media. The consensus seemed to be that Toya did the right thing, with some even labeling her Mom of the Year. But it is her son who we should all be applauding and encouraging.

Better not to judge the parenting tactics of others – particularly single, black mothers juggling six children – so this article won’t. But the story has been widely misinterpreted as a mother shocked and appalled at her son’s riotous behavior. While Graham says she doesn’t believe violence against police is the right course to take and was disappointed in her son for potentially participating in it, the primal motivation can be heard in the video when she appears to say, “Do you want to get killed?” and in interviews afterward: Toya feared her son might end up another black kid in a headline. Continue reading

DEA scandal reveals the failure of American hole-patching

Outgoing DEA Administrator, Michele Leonhart, speaks at a conference.

Outgoing DEA Administrator, Michele Leonhart, speaks at a conference.

In May, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Michele Leonhart, will resign from her post amid allegations that agents participated in sex parties with prostitutes paid for by Colombian drug cartels. This is only the latest and raunchiest in a litany of alleged offenses committed by the agency during Leonhart’s reign, including bribery, prisoner abuse, withholding information in trials, excessive surveillance, and the shooting of children. As David Graham, who catalogued several such offenses in a recent Atlantic piece, put it, “It’s not that the outrage in this case is misplaced – it’s that it’s a day late and a trillion dollars short.” Continue reading

White people shouldn’t need a video to demonstrate police racism

Community-oriented keepers of the peace slap handcuffs on a dying man who the officer on the left just shot five times in the back.

Community-oriented keepers of the peace slap handcuffs on a dying man who the officer on the left just shot five times in the back.

Add another notch in the American police force’s belt. This time, it’s Walter Scott, a black man in North Charleston, South Carolina, summarily executed by sociopath-in-blue Michael Slager. Scott is just one of, statistically, three people to be killed by a cop that day, April 4. But his story has generated special attention for two important reasons: first, his murder was filmed by a passerby, and second, his killer has been fired and charged.

Because of shoddy recordkeeping, there’s no accurate count of how many citizens have been killed by police, justifiably or otherwise. But in just the past eight months, several high-profile cases have made household names of black Americans killed by police. There was Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old who was shot for the crime of playing with a toy gun in Cleveland; Eric Garner, the man who was choked to death for selling loose cigarettes; Michael Brown, the 18-year-old who was shot in the climax of an altercation that began with his jaywalking; and now, Walter Scott, who was executed for fleeing a broken taillight traffic stop. Continue reading

Homan Square isn’t quite Chicago’s Gitmo

This innocuous-looking warehouse is used by Chicago police as a CIA-style "black site" for detaining and interrogating suspects.

This innocuous-looking warehouse is used by Chicago police as a CIA-style “black site” for detaining and interrogating suspects.

If only the mildest claims about it are true, Chicago’s Homan Square is a frightening escalation in the War on America currently being waged by domestic law enforcement. The Chicago Police Department has been using the building – to outside appearances, an equipment warehouse – as an off-the-book “black site” to detain suspects without charging them or giving them access to a lawyer.

Immediately, the similarities between Homan Square and the prisoner abuse scandals in places like Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay are obvious. Many observers already refer to Homan Square as “Chicago’s Gitmo,” and activists have begun using a hashtag, #Gitmo2Chicago. Suspects taken into Homan Square are roughed up, bound in compromising positions for hours at a time, locked in cages that resemble dog kennels, and not processed through any official booking. Attorneys are turned away at the front door. Continue reading

State violence, not peaceful protesting, inspires citizen violence

NYPD officers turn their backs on a video of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio at the memorial service for slain officer Rafael Ramos.

NYPD officers turn their backs on a video of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio at the memorial service for slain officer Rafael Ramos.

In times of tragedy, the first question the media asks is, “Who is to blame?” It’s a perfectly reasonable thing to investigate, but certain familiar patterns develop. In cases of serial killers, there’s usually an investigation into the killer’s background, interviews with family members, and so on. When the government is under investigation, there’s a long process of buck-passing that the media dutifully follows like a cat entranced by a laser. And in the case of political murders, blame is usually placed on the opposition party.

Since police militarization became a recurrent topic for mass media, there have been a handful of citizen-on-police killings and assaults, most notably the murder of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos by Ismaaiyl Brinsley. And though virtually everyone has condemned the murders, they’ve nonetheless found their way to becoming a contentious political issue. The divisions, though approximately right/left, are perhaps more accurately defined as authoritarian/anti-authoritarian. Continue reading

Special New Year’s edition: Three 2015 resolutions for America

Say what you will about America, there’s one thing that’s undeniably true: people don’t like you to say what you will about America. Despite being the most powerful economic and military force on the globe for the last 100 years, our culture is quick to take offense at even the mildest of criticisms. Self-reflection has never been our greatest strength, making a list like this controversial.

Nonetheless, we face several crises together. Most commentators don’t consider 2014 to have been a “good news” year. Whether we realize it or want to admit it, this country’s business and political classes have committed inhuman crimes in our name, and they will continue to do so for as long as we let them. If, instead, Americans pledged to confront these issues openly and honestly, we could pave the way to a much brighter future. These are the issues activists, organizers, and opinion leaders should be hammering home in 2015. Continue reading

The police are a domestic army and we are the insurgents

When dealing with a police officer, there’s a standard wisecrack a lot of people like to pull out: “Hey, I pay your salary; you work for me.” And while it’s true that tax dollars fund America’s police-industrial complex, what’s not true is that police are accountable to the public as an employee is to an employer. Authority figures tell Americans what to do – not the other way around. Continue reading

Ongoing state violence, oppression and injustice provoked Ferguson riots

I’d love to know what Darren Wilson, the white police officer who killed an unarmed black teenager, thinks of the rioting, looting, gunfire, and tense protestor/police standoffs that erupted in Ferguson when a grand jury, well after dark on Monday evening, announced its decision not to indict him. Based on Wilson’s testimony to the grand jury and the story he and his department have told ever since Wilson put six bullets in Michael Brown back in August, he might feel like none of this is his fault. Continue reading

Baseless paranoia about crime in America drives police violence

If you don’t already, you should follow CopBlock on Facebook. It’s a page that collects examples, very often with video, of police bullying and brutality run amok in America, and the first thing that astounds you is the sheer volume of such incidents. Exaggerated police responses to low-threat situations drive a great deal of the mayhem in America’s streets, and more and more citizens are documenting the disturbing trend for generations to study and learn from. Continue reading

Opinion: Get the police out of Ferguson

Nobody talks much about the 3rd Amendment. Everyone knows the 1st. There’s entirely too much hubbub about the 2nd. Most people know there used to be a 4th and a 5th. But what about the 3rd ?

For any non-constitutional scholars or anyone who’s forgotten middle school civics, the 3rd Amendment reads: “No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”

Most casual observers don’t consider the statement especially relevant. There are no soldiers stationed in America against anyone’s consent. Or are there? Continue reading