BroadSnark

Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A
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Things You Might Have Missed

May 16, 2014 By: Mel Category: Misc

Poster4

Cool SOA Watch posters can be procured here.

If any of you read Italian, one of my blog posts is in A-Rivista Anarchica.

A small victory for us. The PG County police did not live tweet a prostitution sting. In fact, there was no sting.

Short and fascinating interview with Jessica Gordon on her new book about the history of black cooperatives.

If skipping school had been an imprisonable offense when I was a kid, I’d still be in prison.

Of course, they’ll lock you up for going to school to.

Victoria Law’s newest on women getting strip searched and filmed by male guards in prison just made my skin crawl.

Also creepy as shit, Violet Blue on our future of total surveillance. But don’t worry says the government. Future us won’t have read 1984.

“You have no idea. People in this state are scared that the little things they do have, they’re afraid they’ll be taken from them,” he says. “You know how people talk about the Confederacy? This still is the Confederacy. Besides fast-food, Alabama’s main industry is prisons.” – says the fast food worker on strike who was later arrested.

Everyone is talking about those girls in Nigeria. Lots of people are calling for military action without having any idea of he history there. Please read Glen Ford’s article before you start beating a war drum.

Interesting interview with Peggy McIntosh, the woman who really kicked off the “privilege” conversation.

Rural hospitals are getting screwed by their local anti-Obamacare governments and by the Obama administration.

Depressed after reading all of these? Don’t worry. Total societal collapse is only a couple decades away.

Commencement Controversies

May 13, 2014 By: Mel Category: Inequality

Johns HopkinsIt is commencement protest season again. Almost 3,000 people have signed on to a petition to get Chris Christie off the schedule at Rowan University. IMF Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, has cancelled her commencement speech at Smith College after student protests. Condoleezza Rice will no longer be giving the commencement speech at Rutgers after protests there. Last year it was Robert Zoellick and Ben Carson.

Everyone who talks about these controversies in terms of free speech or academic freedom – just stop.

Everyone who pretends like they can both climb the hierarchies and not be morally compromised – just stop.

A commencement speech is not a conversation. It isn’t a debate. It isn’t an open platform. There is nothing free about it. A commencement speech is where an institution selects an elite to tell the fresh crop of social climbers coming up behind them how they can be better than everyone else. Selecting a commencement speaker is about confirming the social status of the speaker. When you select someone to speak, you are saying that they are someone worth emulating. It isn’t the same as having someone speak on a panel where their views and status can be questioned.

That said.

If you are in the university system, you are there to receive the credentials to continue being one of the privileged few. If that credentialing is truly important to you, then you are completely invested in the system that creates Robert Zoellick and Condoleezza Rice. If your goal is to gain a position of power over anybody – even in a liberal social work warm fuzzy sort of way – you are not morally superior to the people you are protesting against.

Anyone who thinks they go to a university that is somehow different from all the other institutions conferring power and privilege, please feel free to make your case. But remember how many universities are doing research for the military. Rutgers, for instance, makes military armor. And remember where university funding comes from. If you go to Johns Hopkins, I really hope you like Mayor Bloomberg, cause that is who is funding your studies.

Maybe people should stop protesting commencement speeches and start protesting institutions that perpetuate privilege and power. Or at least select someone to speak who might have something important to say. I bet the people who clean up after the students on campus would have a lot of insight.

The Compartmentalization of Injustice

May 09, 2014 By: Mel Category: Criminal Injustice System

Cecily McMillanIt is all over the news that 9 out of 10 jurors who voted to send Cecily McMillan to prison have written the judge asking for a lenient sentence

The letter follows initial reactions of shock and regret from some who served on the jury—which was not informed of the verdict’s severe sentencing guidelines during the trial—once they learned McMillan could be incarcerated for years. One juror expressed “remorse” to theGuardian on Tuesday, stating, “Most just wanted her to do probation, maybe some community service. But now what I’m hearing is seven years in jail? That’s ludicrous. Even a year in jail is ridiculous.” Martin Stolar, criminal defense attorney affiliated with the National Lawyers Guild and co-counsel for McMillan’s case, said two other jurors had contacted him with similar expressions of regret, according to the Huffington Post.

During McMillan’s trial, the jury was not informed of the severe sentencing guidelines for the verdict, as is the standard in the United States, except for death penalty cases.

When I was on grand jury duty we were told again and again that we were not to think about the consequences. When people asked what the possible punishment could be – because they clearly did not think the person should go to prison – the prosecutors would refuse to answer. When people had questions about the legality of searches, the prosecutors would tell us that the defense attorney would worry about that. When people asked questions about the flimsy evidence, the prosecutors told them that those matters would get settled at trial – knowing full well the case would never go to trial.

I tried to muster up some sympathy for the other jurors. I reminded myself that they had not spent the last decade learning about the torture in our prisons. But try as I might I could not find it in me to let go of the rage. It isn’t just that I was in a room full of people who remained willfully ignorant about a system that affects tens of thousands of their neighbors in this city. It was that there has never been a time in my entire life when someone would have told me not to think about what might happen at the end of the line and I would have just saluted and gone along.

What kind of person does that?

Clearly the cop in the room does it. He was the most vocal about us needing to follow the law. He was the one who reminded people that they weren’t supposed to think. He was the poster child for the banality of evil. It was someone just like him who stamped the transport papers for train rides to Auschwitz. But what about the rest? So much obedience ending in so much disaster. What creates that? More importantly, what uncreates it?

On my better days I tried to focus on just how hard the system works to keep us compartmentalized. Without compartmentalization, the whole system would fail. As obedient as the people in that grand jury room were, had they had the opportunity to determine the actual consequences, I believe many of them would have refused to send people to prison. And I say that knowing that they were almost completely unaware of what happens in those places.

Our lives are entirely compartmentalized. We are pressured to limit our thinking all the time. We study in silos of academic disciplines. We work in factories or offices where we have little idea where our tasks fit into the whole. We draw lines through our work and personal lives so that the filth we do to earn a living might not dirty the rest of our lives. We allow ourselves to be cogs in oppression machines.

We have to stop compartmentalizing. We have to stop taking the easy road of choosing to follow orders because resisting is hard. It isn’t o.k. to just go along.

Things You Might Have Missed

May 05, 2014 By: Mel Category: Misc

Orozco painting in the Museo de Arte Carillo GilEver wonder why the whole world celebrates labor day on May 1st? Did you know that May 1 in this country is “loyalty day?” The Nation explains.

In case you have ever thought about a volunteer vacation, read this on how growing Western demand for altruistic vacations is feeding the white-savior industrial complex.

Speaking of the white-savior industrial complex. There is a very good article on Reason about how early “white slavery” scares justified our current surveillance state.

It is so important for people to understand how children of color are targeted and harassed by cops. The stop and frisk stats just don’t bring it home as clearly as this.

In Phoenix, if you offend the delicate sensibilities of the state, you will have your choice of prison or church. In PG County, the police will just live tweet your arrest.

Wisconsin is now the first and only state to require that police shootings not be investigated by the police. I’ll be curious to see if it helps any.

Which women get thrown in solitary confinement? The ones who report sexual abuse by guards, or have a mental illness…You can read more here.

A new study shows that a conservative estimate of false convictions of those sentenced to death is 4.1%. Radley Balko has been asking his readers how many innocent people put to death would be acceptable to them.

What about for other cases? How many innocent people in prison is acceptable? And when someone is innocent, is it acceptable that they lose days, months, or years of their lives with no compensation?

You know what, I don’t actually want to read about the longevity revolution on the same week I read about how the life expectancy of poor women is actually decreasing.

Good post by Sikivu Hutchinson on Unpacking White Jewish Racism.

And finally Questlove on How Hip Hop Failed Black America.

 

Four Decades Doesn’t Totally Suck

May 02, 2014 By: Mel Category: Misc

Gold sequin disco shoesAs some of you may have picked up on from reading my birthday post from last year, I wasn’t too happy about turning forty. I think I spent the entire preceding year in denial. And then there was that attempt I made to celebrate for 40 days straight. I’m fairly certain that my liver still holds a grudge. Today I’m feeling surprisingly o.k. about being an old fart. And that is despite some chronic health bullshit that is making me all too aware that the body isn’t gonna be getting any better.

So I’ve been sitting here thinking about whether or not I’ve learned anything in 41 years.

This is when I’m supposed to go into some nonsense about how life gets better and we all get wiser. That’s a lie. Sometimes life gets worse. Health almost always gets worse. A lot of us are getting poorer. People get sick and die. Governments repress. People do terrible things to one another. And there are a whole lot of people who use their years on earth perfecting their ability to remain willfully ignorant rather than actually learn something.

I don’t know how much I’ve learned. But I do know I’ve changed.

  • My wanderlust has decreased significantly. I still like adventures, but I don’t want to spend all my time travelling and there are many places in the world I am quite fine with never seeing for myself.
  • Instead of travelling I’d rather spend more time with my friends, building the kind of communities of trust and support that make life and social change possible. (And also getting wasted.)
  • I used to think I could just put my nose to the grind and get things done and was contemptuous of people who spent all their time shmoozing. Now I think life is about relationships and that I need to learn the art of shmoozing.
  • I no longer think the next thing is going to be better. Sometimes it is. Sometimes the next thing sucks ass.
  • I try to stop myself from thinking big. It’s the little things that add up. Too much focus on the grand gestures, the big protests… It can really fuck us up. It is part of the ladder climbing mentality that we need to escape.
  • I’m a huge grudge holder, but I’ve gotten better knowing all the mistakes I’ve made.
  • I still feel the need to always be accomplishing something, but am working on my ability to do nothing without guilt.
  • I have to work harder to dig up the righteous anger that we should all feel for every single injustice, even when the story is as old as time.
  • I believe middle-aged hormones are even worse than teen hormones. But I have more agency and can make people get out of my face easier.

I’m sure there is more, but I need to get off my ass so that I can go get wasted and nap in a park. Because the weather is beautiful. And I plan on spending this birthday weekend getting drunk with friends, doing nothing without guilt, and feeling very lucky that I am spending my birthday with dozens of beautiful, imperfect people who I love and who are willing to wear polyester for my ridiculous disco party.

Also I have ludicrous shoes.

Today does not suck.

 

A Note on Land Rights

April 30, 2014 By: Mel Category: Inequality

Casita in Copan HondurasSomehow my last post devolved into a twitter argument about whether or not some parts of Nevada were devoid of people when white people got there and so were open to be homesteaded. I’m not going to jump into that argument or write much about it. But for those of you who attach your ideas of legitimate use of resources to the idea of homesteading, I would like to throw out a few questions.

  1. Why do you feel the need to argue that there were some empty spaces when Europeans tripped over the Americas?
  2. Why is it that people can only seem to conceive of the replacement of previous people and their way of life, rather than integrating into what was already there?
  3. Are you aware that about 98% of the people in the Americas were killed by disease and that we are still discovering vast societies in areas that were (according to the colonizer) supposedly pristine wilderness?
  4. Does the fact that a person might not have had to kill or displace a specific set of residents change the overall narrative of colonialism?
  5. How does homesteading account for different ways of living? I’ve written before about pastoralists whose territory is so large it takes years to return back to where they started.
  6. How do you reconcile a right to resources based on making them “productive” with the need for places on this earth that are not cultivated?
  7. How does the conception of homesteading apply to the use of resources in the ocean or the air…?

I have nothing against rights based on use or need. I just think the concept of homesteading is very much rooted in an agricultural, European, individualist culture/history and it is grossly inadequate.

“Anarchist” Is Not a Pejorative

April 29, 2014 By: Mel Category: Anarchism

Anarchist ThingsI was not paying any attention to this Cliven Bundy thing and had no intention of writing anything even remotely related. But as I was catching up on my blog reading, I came across this post from The Field Negro.

Cliven Bundy is an anarchist and lawbreaker who should be arrested and thrown in jail… he has been praised in some circles as a true American patriot…Saturday he was surrounded by tea party types, nut job militiamen, and white supremacists, while he dared the federal government to come and take his cattle.

Well they should, and if some of these losers masquerading as patriots get hurt in the process well then so be it. You can’t just shake your d^*k at the law and expect to get away with it. If you give these anarchist an inch they will want a yard…I mean the guy declared that he doesn’t recognize the federal government for crying out loud. (At least not this version of it with the Negro in charge.)

“They have faith in the Constitution,” he told KDWN-AM in Las Vegas on Monday. “The founding fathers didn’t create a government like this.”

They didn’t expect American citizens to steal from their government, either.

One day it is Glenn Beck talking about how us evil anarchists have infiltrated to bring our commie leftiness to Wisconsin. Another day it is Harry Reid saying anarchists have taken over congress through the Republican party. This month it is a “citizen of the world” who has decided that the best way to denigrate a belligerent racist is to call him an anarchist.

To all the people who throw the word anarchist around without bothering to learn anything about it.

Anarchy means without rulers. Anarchy is as opposed to monarchy or oligarchy. We are opposed to being ruled by a few assholes. We are not opposed to small d democracy, the kind where communities sit together and work things out. As one reporter learned from watching the anarchists at occupy:

At its core, anarchism isn’t simply a negative political philosophy, or an excuse for window-breaking, as most people tend to assume it is. Even while calling for an end to the rule of coercive states backed by military bases, prison industries and subjugation, anarchists and other autonomists try to build a culture in which people can take care of themselves and each other through healthy, sustainable communities. Many are resolutely nonviolent. Drawing on modes of organizing as radical as they are ancient, they insist on using forms of participatory direct democracy that naturally resist corruption by money, status and privilege. Everyone’s basic needs should take precedence over anyone’s greed.

I’m not an anarchist because I support “stealing from” government. I’m an anarchist because it is government armies that push indigenous people off of their lands to make room for people like Bundy. I am not an anarchist because I “have faith in the constitution.” I’m an anarchist because I know the constitution was written by and for rich, white men who supported slavery and imperialism. I’m an anarchist because the supposedly wonderful constitution that protects people’s rights may as well be used as toilet paper by the 2.3 million people in prison. I’m not an anarchist because I’m a “patriot.” I’m an anarchist because I reject the suffering caused by arbitrary colonial lines – something a “citizen of the world” should be able to understand.

I don’t know if this Bundy character has ever called himself an anarchist. I cannot stop anyone from calling themselves an anarchist any more than the black church can stop the KKK from professing Christianity. But if you are going to use the word as an insult or suggest that people who are anarchists deserve prison or bodily injury, then perhaps you could take a moment to actually find out what it means.

So maybe read an essay by Cindy Milstein or watch an interview with David Graeber. Watch this video of Ashanti Alston talking about Anarchism, Zapatismo & the Black Panthers. Go check out your local worker-owned and managed cooperative. They won’t all be explicitly anarchist like radical book publisher AK Press, but you will probably find anarchists there. Find your local Food Not Bombs and help them feed people with food that grocery stores are about to throw away, at least when the police aren’t arresting them. Maybe your city has a free school like the one in Baltimore inside Red Emma’s and where you can take or teach a class for no money. Maybe some of the public art in your city is created by anarchists like these women in Bolivia. Maybe you’ll find some anarchists at your local Books to Prisons or your local chapter of the Anarchist Black Cross.

Maybe you could talk to an actual anarchist before you wish harm on us as a group. Because the U.S. has a long, long history of oppressing people for their political beliefs and we don’t need another round.

Is It A Death Sentence if You Were Never Convicted?

April 24, 2014 By: Mel Category: Criminal Injustice System

A follow-up to my last post about people sitting in jail without having been convicted of a crime.

Just in case you had not heard the full details about the homeless veteran who baked to death in a cell at Rikers last month. He was there because he was too poor to make bail.

Homeless and looking for a warm place to sleep on a cold night in February, Murdough was arrested for trespassing on the roof of an apartment building in Harlem. He was presented with two options: (1) either pay the city $2,500 in order to be released — a cost-prohibitive sum for someone without a job or a home, or (2) be detained on Rikers Island and wait for his case to be adjudicated, a process that can take months or even years.

You can read the rest on the Pretrial Justice Institute blog here.

You’ll also read about Kalief Browder who was arrested at 16 and held for almost three years without ever having been convicted of anything.

Who is the criminal here?

 

Incarcerated Until Proven Innocent

April 22, 2014 By: Mel Category: Criminal Injustice System

Infographic on bail in America

http://www.pretrial.org/the-problem/

I am officially finished with grand jury duty. Which means I now get to start the process of unloading on you all of the frustrations of watching our injustice system in action. And I think I’ll start with an article I came across just an hour after leaving the prosecutors’ offices.

Marktain Kilpatrick Simmons, 43, was jailed in November 2006 for the stabbing death of Christopher Joiner and yet his case has not yet gone to trial. Hinds County Judge Bill Gowan denied bail for Simmons, saying he wanted to hear more evidence of Simmons’ mental problems, according to The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.

Similarly, Lee Vernel Knight, 47, has been in jail without trial since December 2007, accused in the Christmas Day stabbing death of his brother, Michael Palmer. Knight, who has been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, had previously been committed to the state hospital. Gowan ordered Knight committed to the state hospital in 2013, but there have been no beds available there.

If you are counting, that means those men have been in jail awaiting trial for six or seven years. Let me just let that sink in for a moment. They have been locked up for years without having been convicted. Their cases are some of the most egregious that I have heard, but they are not alone.

As I was listening to one of the cases presented before my grand jury, It dawned on me that the accused had been in DC jail for a very long time. In fact, he will likely be in jail for about two years before he goes to trial. I confirmed with the prosecutor that he was indeed being held waiting for trial and not on some other charges. I asked her if that was typical. It is. She estimated a year and a half wait for trial. She didn’t say how many of those people are waiting in jail.

But as you can see from the Pretrial Justice Institute infographic posted here, 60% of the people in jail nationwide are waiting for trial. And just in case the loss of freedom for months or years is not enough of an injustice for you, how about this.

Research shows that among defendants facing the same charge and who have the same criminal history, those who are kept in jail before trial receive worse plea offers, are sentenced to prison more often if they are found guilty, and receive harsher prison sentences than those who are released under court-ordered supervision.

Studies also find that just two to three days in jail pending trial can have a significant and lasting impact on a defendant’s family, such as the loss of permanent employment or, for single parent households, a child being placed in state custody.

If they were rich, they would be waiting for their trial at home. We have a system where Bernie Madoff gets to walk around while he waits to be tried for a $50 billion Ponzi scheme, but the poor and homeless and mentally ill will spend months or years in jail without having been found guilty of anything.  Many of them will eventually be acquitted of the often petty crimes they are accused of.

And meanwhile the bail bonds people are raking it in. There are “15,000 bail bond agents work in the U.S., who write bonds for approximately $14 billion every year. Those companies are backed by multibillion-dollar “insurance giants.” 

Amazing how much money people make off of the poor.

According to this Christian Science Monitor article, DC is one of the better places when it comes to holding poor people for minor things on bail they cannot afford. But even those accused of murder are still only accused. What is all that nonsense we are told about our rights to a speedy trial and innocent until proven guilty?

 

Airbnb – Profiles of Gentrification

April 21, 2014 By: Mel Category: Change, Culture, Inequality

Sign for New DC construction "Meet you at the top"I’m going to an event in New York this June and I was thinking about using Airbnb. But then I saw this article.

As many as 7,500 San Francisco housing units are kept off of the rental market and are instead set aside for users of Airbnb and services like VRBO.com, KALW reported.

Activists with the San Francisco Tenants Union identified 1937 Mason Street, a three-unit building, as apartment housing set aside entirely for vacation rentals, the radio station reported. To make matters worse, the former renters there were ousted with the Ellis Act

The Ellis Act allows San Francisco landlords to “go out of business” and kick everybody in the building out. Sometimes the units become condos. Sometimes the landlord kicks everybody out to make room for Airbnb.

7,500 units is only about 2% of the 376,942 total San Francisco housing units counted in the last census. Maybe that doesn’t seem like a lot. But when you look at it in the context of the massive displacement in the Bay Area, the situation becomes clearer. Colorlines reported that

Between 1990 and 2011, median rental housing prices in San Francisco neighborhoods in the late stages of gentrification increased 40 percent. What’s more, the rental price increases and housing crisis have fueled the displacement of blacks and Latinos from both cities.

Between 1990 and 2011 the proportion of black residents in all Oakland neighborhoods fell by nearly 40 percent. Perhaps more stunning, black homeowners were about half of north Oakland’s homeowners in 1990. By 2011 they were just 25 percent of the neighborhood’s homeowners.

Washington DC, where I live, has been getting whiter, more expensive, and more unequal as well. We have “the fourth-highest gap between richest and poorest residents of large U.S. cities. While the poorest 20 percent of D.C. residents make on average under $10,000 per year, the top five percent make over $530,000 per year.” This income inequality is playing out in the housing market in a huge way.

According to the most recent data compiled by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in DC is $1,412 a month, the second highest in the nation. To afford rent in DC without spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, a renter would need to earn $27.15 an hour, over three times DC’s $8.25 hourly minimum wage. In other words, a minimum wage earner would need to work 132 hours a week to pay rent in the district. Since 2000, DC has demolished at least nine public housing properties, which coincides with the city losing more than half its low-cost housing units in the past decade. Meanwhile, DC’s homeless population has quadrupled since 2008.

So I started thinking about who exactly is benefiting from Airbnb in my town.

Airbnb Profile Airbnb Profile Airbnb Profile Airbnb Profile Airbnb Profile Airbnb Profile Airbnb Profile Airbnb Profile Airbnb Profile

Best I can tell, of all the profiles I randomly clicked, not one of them seemed to be from this city. Only one of them might not be white. It seems likely that they own their properties, especially that real estate agent. They travel all over the world. They surely make way more than $10,000 per year. And they live in neighborhoods that are newly infested with bougie bars and luxury condo projects with slogans like “meet you at the top.”

I’m not putting those profiles up so that you can hate on those people. The truth is that they aren’t all that different from me. I am not from DC. I have a college degree. I’ve been able to travel some. I work for the anti-poverty wing of the non-profit industrial complex in an office full of people who aren’t from this city and have never been poor in their lives, people who look a lot like those profiles. If I had decided to climb the ladder or if my parents had a little money, I’d probably be them.

I talk about privilege blindness a lot and this is one of those moments when my own smacks me in the face. It never occurred to me to think about who Airbnb was marketing to, how much privilege is required to participate, or how it is contributing to the disasters that are happening in cities all over the country. In fact, I thought it was a great thing to avoid staying at the big evil chain hotels. But if the Best Western is hiring locals at union wages and your Airbnb is run by a landlord who kicked out a bunch of residents to make more money, that chain hotel starts to look a lot better.

We cannot end oppression with consumer choice. Some decisions may cause a little less suffering than others and that is reason enough to try to make ethical life choices. But the system is designed for the benefit of a few people and most of those people will probably not even see the havoc they are causing. They will, in fact, think they are doing something great.

Check out this letter from Airbnb’s cofounder and CEO. Do you think when he tells his employees not to “fuck up the culture” he is referring to the culture of those people who are getting pushed out of DC/San Francisco/New York to make room for the young white professionals who like to rent out their $300,000 condos for extra cash when they travel around the world?

When those of us who have the privilege of choices think about making those choices ethical, we need to realize that we are going to be blind to many (maybe most) of the effects of our actions. We need to realize that having the space to think about the ethics is a privilege. Maybe, if we shut up and pay very close attention to the most marginalized people, we can start to see how much the world is designed for people like us at others expense. Maybe we will all learn that the most ethical travel decision would be to decide to do it a lot less and to spend that time and money in our communities working toward smashing the systems that make ethical choices impossible.

I needed a reminder. Maybe some of you all did too.