Childhood’s End: The young have become the moral voice of America

student walkout

Students of Hellgate High School in Missoula, Montana stage a walk-out. One sign reads, “Protect kids not guns.” Dozens of similar protests have erupted across the country in the past week.

For the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, Valentine’s Day will forever memorialize the massacre of 17 of their classmates and teachers at the hands of a disgruntled man with a legally acquired AR-15. While shootings of varying severity are now depressingly common at American schools, this incident stood out from others. This is partly because of its high body count, but it’s been unique in another, more important way: it birthed some courageous student activists.

No longer content for their bodies to be the “price of freedom,” nor to accept the now-familiar deadly cycle of school shooting followed by thoughts and prayers followed by NRA hysteria followed by political inaction followed by school shooting, children are aware that it’s their lives at risk and they are doing something about it. Continue reading

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Why liberals protest and Republicans stay home

march

Even for a billionaire like George Soros, it must have cost a pretty penny to pay all those protesters and buy them all hats.

Concerned citizens have been antagonizing Republican lawmakers in state town halls for the past several weeks. Their concerns range from worry about how they’ll survive when Republicans take away their healthcare to wondering how our fragile civilization will survive with a lumbering, fascist orangutan in the White House. Republicans have done such a terrible job addressing their constituents’ concerns, many are simply skipping the events altogether.

So-called President Trump hasn’t tweeted much lately, but he did say, “The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!” Trump is right that the confrontations are, to some extent, planned. That hardly makes them illegitimate. If Trump didn’t want to contend with an organized citizenry, he should not have sought public office in a democracy – even one as flawed as ours.

Republicans insist that protesters are paid agitators, even the millions of Americans who protested Trump’s inauguration. Protesting isn’t easy, so to believe that is to believe they’re being paid well. In reality, many protesters take time off from work to march, and many don’t have jobs with generous leave policies. Walking, shouting, braving harsh weather, making signs, risking a confrontation with the police – all of it is a sacrifice compelled by concern for the country and the world. Continue reading

Conciliation is not the right response to Donald Trump

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President Obama shaking the hand of a huckster who entered politics by promoting a racist conspiracy about his birthplace.

The 2016 presidential campaign was the most bitter in recent history. Donald Trump was so loathsome that Hillary Clinton’s attack ads consisted of little more than the bigotry and sexism that came out of his own mouth. Clinton was so corrupt that Trump threatened to jail her. And after it was over, everyone decided to play nice. The loser called the victor, the winner thanked his opponent, the current president wished Trump luck, and talking heads encouraged us all to give the president-elect a chance.

Tens of thousands of Americans weren’t having it. Protests erupted the day after Election Day in Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Portland, Austin and elsewhere. In New York, some 100,000 people demonstrated their opposition to the incoming president. In Austin, protesters chanted “Immigrants are welcome here.” Graffiti saying “Fuck Trump” and “Black Queer Trans Lives Matter” was found in Chicago. For such marginalized individuals, there is a palpable sense of worry about their rights and status. Continue reading

Corporate media ignores massive Democracy Spring protests

Spring

Activists gather on the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. to protest money in politics and fight to overturn Citizens United.

Those who get their news primarily from the television may have missed the record-breaking protests going on in Washington, D.C. over the last week. Activists hoping to bring a “Democracy Spring” to the U.S. have been demonstrating against the corrupting influence of money in politics. More than 1,400 of them have been arrested since protesting began on April 11, breaking the arrest record for “non-violent direct action protests in Washington for a single week,” according to The Nation.

But mum’s the word in corporate media. According to The Intercept, in the days following the start of protests the three major cable networks devoted less than 30 seconds of coverage to them. CNN didn’t mention them at all. MSNBC talked about them for 12 seconds. FOX News talked about them for 17 seconds. Even then the networks missed the point, characterizing the activists as pushing “for improved ballot access and voting rights.” Continue reading

Donald Trump’s megalomaniacal war on the First Amendment

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If you protest at his rallies, this presidential frontrunner would really like to punch you in the face.

Much of the appeal in Donald Trump’s surreal presidential campaign comes from his willingness to speak his mind unfiltered. Supporters regard his flippant insults of political rivals, celebrities, and entire groups of people as courageous pushback against political correctness run amok. Given this it is perhaps ironic that one of the hallmarks of Trump’s platform is a megalomaniacal crusade against the First Amendment and the freedom of expression it guarantees.

In its entirety the First Amendment, perhaps the greatest pillar of our free society, reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  Trump tramples on each and every word. Continue reading

Stop trying to change the name of Black Lives Matter

Protesters carry signs insisting all lives matter.

Protesters carry signs insisting all lives matter.

Since it became a national movement, Black Lives Matter has been met with antagonism for its name alone. The phrase “black lives matter” is seen by some as divisive, confrontational and perhaps even racist. It reveals a great deal about the struggle black Americans face that controversy arises when they assert the value of their lives.

But there’s an important reason why the name shouldn’t be changed: In our criminal justice system, black lives are not treated like they matter. The name is therefore both an expression of what we wish reality to be and an exposé of what reality isn’t. 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

In Albuquerque, citizens seek protection from the protectors

If you move through city streets fearful of being assaulted, you better keep one eye on the police – especially if you live in Albuquerque.

Since 2010, police have killed 25 people in New Mexico’s largest city. For every 20 people murdered there, police kill an additional three. Put another way, in Albuquerque, you’re approximately 15 percent as likely to die at the hands of a police officer as you are a common thug or a spurned lover.

Hostility between the Albuquerque Police Department and the citizens has been boiling over for months, and it reached a peak following the release in March of a disturbing video that showed police killing an unarmed, mentally ill homeless man named James Boyd. Mounting protests in the wake of this spate of killings led to a tense confrontation between the city’s government and its population on May 5. Protestors commandeered a meeting at the Albuquerque city hall, calling for a citizen’s arrest of the chief of police and issuing demands.

Media coverage has been limited. Several outlets ran a tedious story with the headline, “What’s Next for Troubled Albuquerque Police?”, as though the real story is the APD’s struggle to move on from their public scrutiny and not the citizens’ outrage over the deaths of their friends and loved ones. “Angry protesters… shout[ed] at council members and caus[ed] such a ruckus that the panel’s president adjourned the meeting,” the story said. Notice that vivid descriptions of the activists’ misbehavior are plentiful, but for police, the language is more reserved and cautious, even as the story describes their lawless executions.

Worse still, the L.A. Times had this to say: “The council had tried to meet Monday, but adjourned early when rowdy protesters took over the meeting – sitting in council members’ chairs and even eating their Girl Scout cookies.” It’s stunning that a news outlet would even mention sitting in chairs and eating Girl Scout cookies when the discussion is supposed to be on deadly, excessive police force.

Albuquerque may be an extreme case of the law spiraling out of control, but it is far from unique. Heart-wrenching statistics about wrong-door raids and petty crimes being met with deadly violence tell a tale the media won’t touch: excessive police force is a systemic problem, not the result of a few bad eggs. It is routine; daily; even hourly. It runs the gamut from the absurd – a whole team of officers detained a female jogger for jaywalking in February – to the outright hideous, as in the cases of James Boyd, Robert Saylor and countless others.

A symbolic casket bearing the names of people killed by APD was carried to police headquarters. Photo by Luke Montavon, The Jackalope.

A symbolic casket bearing the names of people killed by APD was carried to police headquarters. Photo by Luke Montavon, The Jackalope.

Despite this, and even as more and more of the general population awakens to the reality of routine police cruelty, city officials, congressmen, judges and the U.S. President can say nothing critical of law enforcement without paying an enormous political cost. It’s somewhat mysterious why: on paper, there’s almost nothing in America failing as spectacularly as law enforcement.

Even as the crime rate declines, the use of paramilitary tactics by police escalates. No matter how badly they screw up, there are a plethora of defenses for police to choose from, including the standby, “It’s a dangerous job.” Statistically, being a police officer is far from the deadliest job in America, but a certain degree of risk is entailed. Yet it’s precisely for the assumption of that risk that police are held in such high esteem in the first place. By dressing police up like storm troopers and letting them shoot at anyone who might or might not be holding something that might be a weapon, we take nearly all their risk away and assume it ourselves.

As Radley Balko demonstrates in his crucial “Rise of the Warrior Cop,” both the Pentagon and private defense contractors capitalize on departments’ soaring federal funds, inundating them with unneeded weaponry. Thus, you get perverse statistics like this, from Balko’s book: in 2010 in Johnston, RI, population 28,769, the police department received $4.1 million in surplus military gear from the Pentagon, including 30 M-16s, nearly 10 million rounds of ammunition, a “sniper targeting calculator,” 44 bayonets, 12 Humvees and 23 snow blowers. With so many toys and so little crime, it’s no wonder that police use excessive force on every superficial offense, from low-level drug possessions to barbering without a license.

Protesters occupy APD headquarters in March to protest the death of James Boyd.

What’s happening in Albuquerque is truly inspiring. It deserves to be a much bigger news story than it is. As the indictments pour forth on the APD, including a Department of Justice report that documented a pattern of excessive force and poor training, citizens are taking action to ensure that police don’t weasel their way out of the criticism with a few meaningless press conferences and payouts. The city appears to be listening, with Mayor Richard Berry promising changes even before the DOJ issues its recommendations.

Police departments across the nation are rampant with guns and tanks and narrow on compassion and empathy. It’s time to overhaul their militarization and warrior mentality. Law enforcement should be an ally to the people, not the people’s most feared adversary. If change can happen in Albuquerque, it can happen anywhere – we just have to have the courage to demand it.