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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Book Review – The Occupy Handbook

October 16, 2012 By: Mel Category: Book

The Occupy HandbookThe Occupy Handbook by Janet Byrne

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I hate this book.

I really tried to give it a chance. But I knew going in that any book about occupy that was compiled by someone described as “an editor who has worked with Nobel Prize-winning economists, Pulitzer Prize-winning writers, and leading political figures, financial journalists, academics, and bestselling authors” was going to be a shit show. And a shit show it was.

It isn’t that all the essays are crap. Some of them are quite good. The first section breaks down the financial crisis and brings in some history of previous people’s movements. The second section talks about occupy itself. The third section, the part that really sealed my hatred, is about what we should do now.

What are the proposed solutions? Campaign finance reform. Corporate regulations. Environmental regulations. Progressive taxation. Elect a different congress. Smart loans…Are you still awake? The only reason I haven’t passed out from boredom is that I want shake these people until their heads pop off.

Dear asshats who think everything will be solved if we just all rally around one magic, conservative/liberal bullet like ending corporate personhood. Please take your brilliant idea to someone sitting in prison for twenty years on a weed charge, with all the fabulous opportunities they have to look forward to when they get out, and tell them they need to set aside their pet issues (aka their life) and lobby for some bullshit bill. And if you wouldn’t mind filming that for me.

But the contributors to this book weren’t thinking about people in prison. They weren’t thinking about anything that doesn’t affect them. And who are they? There are 66 contributors to this book. Fifteen of them are women. One of those women is just an interviewer. Eight of them are co-authors with some dude. One of those women is Asian. There is one black man who contributed an essay. Three Indians (by which I mean grew up in India) are contributors. 61 of the 66 authors are white (though eight of those people are from Argentina, Chile, Cuba, Spain, or Turkey). 52 out of 66 authors have grad degrees. At least 35 of them went to school or taught at Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, MIT, Georgetown, or Oxford.

This book is the antithesis of what occupy was supposed to be about. The book oozes status, hierarchy, academic circle jerks, and conservative/liberal “solutions” that nip around the edges of the system, but have no interest in actually changing it – much less getting rid of it. This book is the worst kind of racism, sexism, and classism. It is the kind that just erases anyone outside of their tiny, elite circle. It is the kind that wraps itself up in a pretty package of intellectualism.

The reason occupy has been so damn difficult is that the people involved had to confront head on all of the issues that this book ignores – often failing spectacularly. But at least there was some space for people who didn’t have the kind of pedigrees that the contributors to this book have. The reason occupy took off is precisely because it created a space for people to be heard, to negotiate directly with other people, to come up with ideas outside the usual bullshit that kept most of us at home drinking ourselves into stupors and yelling at our televisions.

The last thing we need is a bunch of essays compiled by some woman who creams her pants every time she meets a white dude with a PhD from an Ivy League school.

View all my reviews

Drug War History – And So It Begins

September 17, 2012 By: Mel Category: Drugs

Reefer MadnessWhile I was pulling up articles for my last post, I re-read the infamous New York Times piece Negro Cocaine “Fiends” Are a New Southern Menace. The article is a very convoluted argument against prohibition. And it is made by trying to scare the crap out of  ignorant people.

The doctor who wrote the article claimed that cocaine “may produce the wildest form of insane exaltation, accompanied by the fantastic hallucinations and delusions that characterize acute mania.” (They didn’t have very strict standards for doctors back then did they?)

Also, when on cocaine, a person “imagines that he hears people taunting or abusing him, and this often incites homicidal attacks upon innocent and unsuspecting victims.” (Given that this is 1914 in the South, I’m guessing those black men were not imagining the taunts and abuses.)

Did I mention that cocaine makes you impervious to bullets? No really. That’s what the good doctor said. Do a few bumps and your skin turns to kevlar or something.  So those poor cops in the South had to get bigger guns.

Oh and then there is this.

When we consider that even a single ounce – a quantity that does not fill an ordinary watch pocket – will keep fifty “fiends” well “doped” for a week or more, we can readily understand why every effort to suppress the traffic utterly fails.

OK now. You might have convinced me that there is some really good shit out there that gives you awesome hallucinations. I might have even gone for the bulletproof thing. But a single ounce wouldn’t have lasted me one night at Warsaw.* I’m gonna have to call bullshit.

Naturally, there is no solution to this insanity. “Once the negro has formed the habit he is irreclaimable. The only method to keep him from taking the drug is imprisoning him.”

It’s easy to make fun of this article and movies like Reefer Madness. They are so incredibly ridiculous. But what’s even more ridiculous is how much of it is still part of the public narrative. The crack cocaine reports I grew up with in the 80s weren’t a whole lot different from that 1914 article. One taste and a person is ruined for life. They are going to lose their mind. They will be violent.

There will be no social control!

And by social control we actually mean control of black men and women and “locoed” Mexicans - people like that. We can’t have bulletproof black guys just walking around. And what about those women who smoke weed and become all lusty and whatnot. The only legitimate response is to lock em all up, or at least tuck them away in a suburban kitchen making hamburger helper.

And that is the beginnings of the drug war. The only thing that changed is that it just kept getting worse.

_______________

*I cannot believe Warsaw is now a deli, that MSNBC’s Morning Joe broadcasted out of no less. South Beach has gone to shit.

Victims, Villains, and Heroes

September 14, 2012 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Violence

Clint EastwoodWhen I first started delving into the drug war and criminal injustice system, I saw it as a process of dehumanization that I couldn’t ignore. While I had friends who were caught up in the system, as one of the least targeted people, the only connection I saw to my personal life was what I had learned as the grandkid of holocaust refugees.

People ask how atrocities could happen and a whole society be blind to them. While I don’t want to make comparisons between concentration camps and prisons, it isn’t hard for me to see how a whole country could have shut their eyes. People are tortured, raped, and murdered behind bars in this country now and most of us don’t even notice.

But the more I learned about how this particular dehumanization works, the more I realized the special role that I play in it. I’m the victim that excuses the violence.

If you have never read Ida B. Wells on lynchings, you need to. Despite the fact that the majority of black men who were lynched were not even accused of rape, the defenders of lynchings always used the rape of white women as their cover for murder – or as one Southern newspaper put it “the barbarism which preys upon weak and defenseless women.”

How ironic that white men used the rape of white women as their excuse. How many of us in the colonized world are a product of the rape of black and indigenous women by white men – what the Mexicans like to refer to as La Gran Chingada (the great rape)? But women of color are not generally the victims of our national narrative. They are mostly invisible.

As a white woman it is my job to be a victim to excuse the bloodthirst. The boxes people have tried to cram  me into my whole life – weakness, dependency, purity – are really just about playing that role. If you refuse to be defenseless. If you refuse to be appropriately dependent. If you refuse to be fallen. Then there is hell to pay. It isn’t just about control of women and their sexuality. It is that our role as victims is key in a narrative that holds up the authoritarian system.

If there are no victims and no villains then what need do we have for heroes? Our heroes are, of course, violent. Usually, they wear a uniform. Sometimes they might take it off for a night to do their lynchings undercover. But whether it is a cop or a soldier or a vigilante, we accept the armed and violent hero only because we believe in the helpless victim.

The racialized and genderized victim/villain/hero narrative undergirds everything. It is part of the lynchings of 100 years ago. It was there when we were accusing Chinese men of defiling white women to get opium laws passed. It is built into the criminal injustice system that targets men of color. It is part of every war that we fight, the way we use women as an excuse to bomb countries.

And what does it do to the people who are trying to live up to their role as hero by picking up those guns? In order to fit into that hero/man box you have to become a killer. You have to be broken down until whatever it is in you that recognizes another person’s humanity is gone. There is no coming back from that, certainly not for the thousands of soldiers who come back and kill themselves. Not likely for the prison guards either.

I’m not trying to infer equivalency between the experiences of someone sitting in solitary confinement and what is going through the head of the person who put them there. I’m not saying that a white woman’s fight to get out of the victim box can be compared to being lynched. The full weight of the system does not hit us all evenly.

Nor am I saying that people are never victimized, that some of the people in prison have not done horrible things. But most of those people have also been victims. We can all be victimized, villainous, or heroic. The system needs to wedge us into narrow categories in order to feed itself. It needs to provide a narrative that makes it seem like the armed thug’s job is something besides protecting the power and privilege of a handful of people.

We need to understand the connections. If we don’t, we will inevitably end up fighting against one part of the narrative while upholding another.

White women who fight the violence against them in a way that supports, rather than challenges, the racist criminal injustice system will never make life better for women. Black men who fight the criminal injustice system but hold a view that tries to put black women on the same purity pedestal that white women are chained to will never make life better for black people. Anti-authoritarians who don’t understand the role that racism and sexism play in upholding the state will never see it smashed.

For me, understanding the connections means being a really terrible victim. It means refusing the accept the villainization of men – especially men of color. It means refusing to accept the heroization of people with guns – even the ones I may have some sympathy for. It means focusing on the criminal injustice system and the war machine and any other victim/villain/hero narrative that keeps this state alive.

Because if we break those narratives we all get out of our boxes, real and metaphorical. We break the fear. We stop so much of the torture and violence and suffering.

No more victims. No more villains. No more heroes.

Beware of Strange Men on Airplanes

August 26, 2012 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Sex, Violence

It seems that Virgin airlines has a policy that unaccompanied children cannot sit next to men on their airplanes. An Australian man, who was assigned a seat next to two boys he did not know, was asked to switch seats with a woman. Pissed off about being treated like a presumed predator, he blogged about it and complained to the airline that their policy was sexist.

Francois Tremblay thinks this guy is being an entitled douche and that is ridiculous to call this sexism. Meghan Murphy compares this man’s one moment of discomfort with the daily bullshit that women have to go through to avoid being harassed or worse. I get what they are saying, but the policy is still wrong. And the privilege that this guy is showing isn’t the one they think it is.

Gender essentialism is our enemy. It is not o.k. to base policies on gender essentialist notions, regardless of who is negatively affected. I know what you are thinking. But Mel, men are the ones who commit most violence. As Murphy cites in her article, 90% of child sex offenders are men. Ok. But do you know what else that very same article states? 70 – 90% of child sex offenders are known to the child.

In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, most child abusers are parents. And about half of the perpetrators of abuse and neglect are women. Granted, women are more often caregivers. And there is no telling what bullshit some states are calling neglect. But the fact remains that it would be more logical for the airline to separate kids from their parents if they really wanted to stop abuse.

But we would never do such a thing. Because one of the things that perpetuates child abuse is the idea that parents can do whatever they want to their children. “I brought you into this world. I can take you out of it.” It seems we are more likely to have irrational policies on airplanes than to intervene when we see a parent abusing their child – verbally or physically.

And do you know what else perpetuates rape and sexual abuse? The idea that rapists are strangers who crawl into your window and hold a gun to your head does. It is the reason why so many rapists think they are not rapists – despite the fact that they have no concept of consent and no problem using coercion, violence, drugs… Cause I mean hey, it was a girl I was on a date with so it can’t be rape.

This Australian guy is showing his privilege. But the privilege that he is showing isn’t that he is not in constant fear of being harassed. It is that he is a white guy, an emergency service worker no less, and accustomed to being cast in the role of hero. If he were black or Arab then being cast as the evil predator wouldn’t have come as much of a shock. It is standard operating procedure.

What if he had been black? What if he was Arab or Muslim? What if he was trans? How would those kids (and the rest of the people on that airplane) have processed that move? And how did two boys, who will soon grow up to be men, process the idea that in a few years they will be too scary to sit next to children?

We can’t end sexism by being gender essentialist. We can’t end racism by ignoring how race affects the way people are perceived. We aren’t going to raise healthy men by demonstrating to boys that they must be avoided when they grow up. We aren’t going to end abuse – sexual or otherwise – by focusing on the few incidents that are perpetrated by strangers and allowing people to operate under the convenient illusion that abusing the people that you know, and maybe even love, doesn’t really count.

Anti-Authoritarianism, Anti-Racism, and Avoiding the Subject

April 20, 2012 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Violence

In response to my Trayvon post, one of the commenters denied that police and prison guards killed black kids and brought up how many black people were killed by other black people. I responded to the comment, but I think there is a bit more to say.

Within the black communities that are most affected by violence, there is a lot of discussion about black people killing each other and how to stop it. But poor black people don’t get attention from major media or get invited to Harvard symposiums to discuss race. When people do hold rallies or talks on the issue, there is no media. Few people outside those communities hear about it, much less show up.

Maybe it appears to some like nobody talks about it, but anybody who thinks that black people are ignoring black on black violence is clearly not speaking to any black people, or even just reading ColorLines (where that graphic came from).

But a lot of white people who don’t want to be perceived as racist do avoid the issue. Which means the only white people who talk about it are white supremacists who want to blame some kind of inherent defect – biological or cultural – for violence in black communities. Which, of course, makes it that much more impossible to talk about.

So we have too few real conversations about why things are the way they are and what can be done about it. It just turns into a racist shit show or an argument about personal responsibility versus oppression.

I don’t want to rehash everything I wrote in Who is Responsible. I’ll just reiterate that personal responsibility, social circumstances, and structures of domination are not mutually exclusive.

I’d also like to make one other related observation. I’ve been looking at drug war stuff for eight or nine years now. And I have found that a lot of my best information about police/state abuse comes from libertarians who have a real beef with authority and an obsessive penchant for documenting its abuses. Unfortunately, they all too often have done no work to understand how all the isms, including racism, are used by the authorities they hate.

I have also observed that the kind of information that drug war warriors and libertarians document doesn’t seem to reach people outside of their circles. So while I have seen many posts about Trayvon, I have seen almost no posts about the guy who was killed because a social services person thinks they smelled weed during their visit.

If only more anti-racists would become anti-authoritarian. If only more anti-authoritarians would become anti-racist. Then we might really start to get somewhere.

Is Stand Your Ground a Distraction?

April 02, 2012 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Politics, Violence

A lot of people, especially in mainstream media, have been talking about the “stand your ground” law. Darren Hutchinson wrote an excellent post about how “stand your ground” has nothing to do with the Trayvon Martin case. Definitely read the whole thing, but the short of it is this.

In some states, self-defense is not available if the defendant had the ability to “retreat” from the harm. In other words, if the defendant could have escaped the danger without using violence, then the use of force is not justifiable. These states impose a duty to retreat in order to discourage the unnecessary use of force.

In 2005, Florida amended its law to remove the duty to retreat provision. So long as the person claiming self-defense had a legal right to be in a particular location, that individual can stand his or her ground and remain there without any duty to retreat from the threat

So why are people talking about lobbying to reinstate the duty to retreat in the context of this case? Doesn’t that imply that the shooter was possibly acting in self defense? An armed man followed an unarmed kid under the pretext of there having been some robberies in the neighborhood? Even if you believe the kid might possibly (eyebrow raised) have punched the shooter who was creepily following him, that just boggles the mind.

Did Martin have a TV in his hoodie pocket?  What if he had stolen the world’s tiniest TV? Is theft now a capital offense? Zimmerman didn’t even see the kid do anything, much less have reason to fear for his life. Is every bar brawl where somebody punches somebody now a self defense claim for murder? Not even the people behind the law change think it applies in this case, cynical as their statements may be.

Let me repeat. ZIMMERMAN WAS FOLLOWING HIM!!! I’m sorry to yell, but really.

This case isn’t just tragic and infuriating, it is absurd. And we should be focusing on the absurdity that any kind of self defense claim was accepted by the police. Seems to me that talking about the  “stand your ground” provision as though it applies is almost helping the defense.

We should be focusing on the murder and on the police and prosecutors who let someone walk away from it. Why are so few people discussing all the citizens of Sanford that have come forward about how local police have handled their cases? Why aren’t we discussing a pattern of Sanford police letting people connected with the police department get away with murder? Why is there so little discussion about how Zimmerman may have walked away from previous charges because his father is a judge? I mean the guy had an altercation with a cop and got no charges. Who the hell does that ever happen to?

The law is applied differently to people who are poor or black or otherwise marginalized.

“I can tell you that if it was the other way around, someone would be in jail by now,” Ulysees Cunningham said Wednesday.

No shit.

Florida is a cesspool of thug cops and corrupt officials. One of my earliest memories growing up in Florida is of the Liberty City riot that broke out after a bunch of white cops got away with beating a black man to death. The cops tried to cover it up. The truth came out. They went to trial and then they walked away.

Nothing much has changed. Seven black men were shot and killed by Miami police in the course of eight months. As of last July, there were 63 police shootings in Miami (25 resulting in death) that remained under perpetual “investigation” while nothing happened to the officers. Growing up in Florida, I can tell you that I didn’t know many young males that were not regularly harassed by cops. If you were black, it was far worse and far more often, but Florida cops are real fucking thugs.

To the best of my knowledge, the “stand your ground” provision does not compel police and prosecutors to let somebody go if there are no other witnesses. It may be true that self defense claims have increased since the law was enacted. And the Garcia case that Ta-Nehisi Coates mentions on his blog is disturbing as hell. But I personally would be careful to assume that is typical.

Changes in the law around the obligation to retreat actually came about in part in response to battered women who killed their abusers.

And 100 years later, courts and legislatures faced a new problem: What to do with women who said they were victims of domestic violence and had killed their husbands to save themselves? Did you have a right not to retreat if the person coming after you lived under the same roof? At first, the answer was no, to the fury of feminists. Then in 1999, the Florida Supreme Court said a woman who shot and killed her husband during a violent fight at home could successfully call on the Castle Doctrine to argue self-defense. “It is now widely recognized that domestic violence attacks are often repeated over time, and escape from the home is rarely possible without the threat of great personal violence or death,” the court wrote.

What if we were talking about obligation to retreat in the context of one of the women who was in prison for murdering her abuser and finally pardoned by the Ohio governor? What if it was somebody faced with a bunch of armed Neo-Nazis stopping them on the street? What if Martin had been able to wrestle the gun away from Zimmerman and shoot him? Would you want the prosecutors to claim that he should have run away? We’re talking Florida here. The state would have killed Martin for sure.

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that it is how laws are selectively enforced that is at the root of the horrors that are our criminal (in)justice system.

One last thing.

Growing up in a very liberal, urban household, I was under the impression that it was only white supremacists stocking up for a race war that wanted guns. In the last fifteen years, I have met a whole lot of gun loving people who distrust/hate authority (especially cops) far more than they dislike people of other races and ethnicities.

I’m not saying that said people are free from racism. Racism is in the air and water in this country. I’m saying that I was often mistaken in what I imagined peoples primary motivations to be.  I was often mistaken about where their anger and rage was focused. Not always mistaken. But often enough.

Florida is an extremely libertarian state. Even the liberals lean libertarian. Focusing on a provision of the self defense law doesn’t only seem to help the defense. It also distracts attention from the massively corrupt and abusive authorities in the state (especially police and prosecutors). And it decreases any chance people in Florida might have to build the seemingly unlikely alliances that might actually have the power to change things.

Let me be clear that I do not think focusing on police abuse and corruption should be instead of focusing on racism. Racism needs to be front and center. But we also need to be focusing on classism, privilege, power, and the abuses of power that are epidemic in the criminal (in)justice system.

It would not be easy to make those alliances. And it is asking a lot of people to try. But what other way is there?

_____________

* If anyone has good data on the cases that have used “stand your ground” as part of the defense, send them along.

What’s Different with Trayvon?

March 29, 2012 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Violence

Last week I wrote about how I think that the Rush Limbaugh shit storm was in large part because of who the target was, how people perceived her, and what they thought their role towards her should be.  Now I’m thinking about how much attention the Trayvon Martin murder has gotten and why.

Black kids are killed all the time. They are killed on the streets. They are killed by cops. They are killed by prison guards. Why did this one cause such an uproar while the others end in silence?

There is this idea that racism is only personal prejudice - extreme personal prejudice. George Zimmerman confirms that view of racism for us. Racists are those southern, white, redneck, low-class, militia, KKK types. And in this case, we even have a German name for added umph. You can practically see the Hollywood script being written.

When some southern vigilante kills a black kid, everyone can be up in arms without questioning our society and all the institutions in it. Not so when it is a cop or a prison guard. When an “authority” does it, we either have to accept it or question authority. Not so when racism is not personal prejudice but systemic, institutionalized, economic and social subjugation. Then the fault is not some redneck. Then the fault is ours.

It is true that some people are making the connections, but how many? How long will that last? And why does it have to take a kid murdered by a stereotype to make people pay attention? Weren’t all those other dead kids human too?

Probably not. At least not in the minds of a lot of people.

Not surprisingly, the dehumanization of Trayvon has begun. Somewhere along the line we have accepted that a person who smoked pot once or did one stupid thing in their life deserves to suffer for all eternity, or even die for their arguable imperfections. Only in a truly sick society would any of the accusations – true or not – matter at all.

Be upset that some kid was shot down in the street. But be more upset that so many people accept a society that glosses over its racism by focusing only on people like Zimmerman. Be more upset about the millions of people who languish or die in prisons because we have accepted dehumanization as a way of life.

In Defense of the South

January 02, 2012 By: Mel Category: Change, Inequality

Tour gathered outside African American history museum at Harper's Ferry WVThere were a couple of interesting pieces out in the last week. One was an outsider’s view of  southern plantation tourism, where slavery is never mentioned and everyone wants to be Scarlett O’hara. The other article was written by a southern woman who pushes back on the usual northern/western/coastal take on the South.

Reading the articles made me think of how many times I find myself defending the South from people who “hate” it, despite the fact that many of those haters have spent little or no time there.

Technically, I’m from the South. But South Floridians don’t really think of themselves as southern. Southern people are those backwards, redneck, white supremacist, country bumpkins. South Florida is urban, suburban, diverse, Latino, Caribbean… Right?

Except that Florida is the South. You can find all of the southern stereotypes in Florida, even South Florida, if you know where to look. I mean I grew up in a suburb called Plantation for Pete’s sake. But you can also find pretty much everything else in Florida. I think maybe I thought Florida was the southern exception, but it isn’t. The South is much more complicated than movies, television, and pundits would have us believe.

Not every person who lives in the South is a white supremacist. Even if every white southerner was a white supremacist, not every person in the South is white. Damn near 40% of the state of Mississippi is black.  Damn near 40% of the state of Texas is Latino. There are indigenous communities and immigrant communities. There are incredibly rich people and incredibly poor people – with all kinds of backgrounds.

I’ve run into a cafe full of Guatemalans in the middle of Arkansas. I’ve seen the former cronies of Papa Doc throwing their cash around in New Orleans. I’ve learned Spanish colonial history at a Seminole reservation. And I’ve watched an Asian family learn about John Brown at Harpers Ferry. All of it in the South.

When people talk about The South as though the only people that exist are the KKK, they dismiss so many people who live there. It is amazing to me that the same people who hold up the civil rights movement as the pinnacle of justice and exemplary non-violent action could turn right around and dismiss the very people who took part in it. MLK, Medgar Evers, Rosa Parks, Jo Ann Robinson, Claudette Colvin, Ella Baker – all from the South.

When people dismiss the South as being backwards and racist, they imply that where they are from isn’t.  They are implying that it is only low class people who think like that, not them. It is a way for people to define racism as solely the kind of violent white supremacy you see in Mississippi burning – rather than the institutional discrimination and economic exploitation that is, and has always been, found in every state.

California and New York prisons are filled with POC that have been targeted by some of the worse drug laws and police departments in the country. The North and West have plenty of police brutality, housing discrimination, job discrimination, profiling, hate crimes… I’ve lived in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, Santa Cruz, and DC. Of all those places, the one where I saw the most discrimination and closed-mindedness was Santa Cruz, CA.

I liked both of the articles that inspired this post. I’m certainly not suggesting that the writer who criticized those horrible plantation tours was wrong. But we need to examine truthfully all the many layers of fuckedupedness, past and present, all over this country. It isn’t just a southern thing.

Targeted, Vilified, Ignored

December 22, 2011 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Politics, Violence

In a strip mall, right across the border from DC, there is a small event center called Plaza 23. People can rent the space for all sorts of things, from birthday parties to cabarets. Often, they have go-go shows.

Go-go is DC music. This is a city that can be incredibly segregated by both race and class. Go-go is the music of the working class and poor black people that are all too often targeted, vilified, or ignored. The people who listen to go-go are portrayed as violent and dangerous. So is the music they listen to and any place that plays it.

That isn’t to say that there have never been violent incidents at or near go-go shows. But any time there is violence nearby, it is all too easy for the “authorities” to swoop in and scapegoat the artists and venues based on already preconceived ideas about who listens to go-go.

Plaza 23 is located in PG County, Maryland. PG county had a spate of violence in January of 2011. Unfortunately for Plaza 23, and all the other music and dance venues in PG County, the sixteenth homicide of 2011 happened not far outside the Plaza after a TCB show.

In response, the PG county council passed an emergency bill regulating dance halls. Lowlights of the bill include:

  • A $1,000 nonrefundable license fee
  • A background check and denial of a license to anyone who has been “convicted of a felony, violating any Federal or State laws relating to offenses involving moral turpitude, or crimes involving financial misrepresentations”
  • A security plan, including installation of cameras inside and outside
  • Private security officers to patrol the perimeter
  • Suspension or revocation of the license at the whim of the “authorities”
  • No dancing between 2:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.
  • A $1,000 fine or up to six months in jail for anyone who “is a licensee, and/or owns, leases, operates, is in charge of or in apparent charge of an adult dance hall or teen dance hall, or promotes a facility or event required to be licensed under this Division without first having obtained a public dance license”. Same penalties for violating any provision of the act.

The emergency bill sailed through the PG County council in July of 2011. Just before the bill was passed, the owner of the Plaza tried to get his license renewed, but the county was not renewing them. Applications in accordance with the new bill were not made available until October. In November, as the Plaza was trying to apply for their license, they were cited and closed down.

According to this Washington Times article from December 18th, “no new dance hall licenses have been granted and the county has ceased to renew old licenses…save for the two venues whose old dance hall permits are still valid, Prince George is a dry county in regard to dancing.”

Isn’t this the plot from Footloose?

Shutting down the Plaza because someone got shot outside is like saying we should shut down the Hilton across from my house. After all, Reagan got shot there. And those shady political types are always gathering there. It’s just too damn dangerous. And perhaps we ought to outlaw homes too. That is where the biggest chunk of violent crimes occur.

That part about hiring security for the outside of venues. They were already required to do that. Every event required inside security and the hiring of off duty cops for the outside. Except that the PD in PG county refused to show up for some shows. That saying about how we should respect cops because they run towards violence while we run away from it – turns out not so much.

What about felons not being allowed to own dance venues? DC has the highest rates of incarceration of any city in the United States, often on bullshit drug charges. Three out of four black men in DC will go to prison. Then they come out and nobody will hire them. On top of that, all kinds of licenses are denied to former felons. Now we can add owning a dance hall to that list. How is a person supposed to make a living?

Ironically, at the very same time this is happening, the DC council is holding press conferences on jobless ex-offenders.

“We need to look at helping ex-offenders get businesses and apply for contracts,” said Charles Thornton, director of the Office of Returning Citizen Affairs in the D.C. Mayor’s Office. “If you own a certified business, with more contracts, you can hire who you want.”

Charles, maybe you could go and have a chat just over the border? In fact, perhaps you could have a chat with a whole bunch of Maryland officials. While incarceration rates across the country are decreasing, Maryland has the dubious distinction of being one place where they are going up. Somehow I don’t think bills like this are going to help.

Plaza 23 is not giving up without a fight. They have hired an attorney. But they are fighting without being able to operate their business. And their funds are sure to dry up soon. They are asking people to spread the word and to sign this petition to let them operate while they contest this.

I said before that this is about a community that is routinly targeted, vilified, or ignored. Let’s not be the people that ignore them.

Occupy DC Targets Wells Fargo and the Prison Industrial Complex

December 03, 2011 By: Mel Category: Change

Yesterday, the criminal justice committee of Occupy DC organized on action targeting Wells Fargo’s involvement in private prisons through their investments in the GEO Group. Pics of the march and pre-march are below.

I loved this action for a whole lot of reasons:

  • The injustice system is one of the most hideous manifestations of the racist, exploitative, militarized state. It needs to be central.
  • Focusing on Wells Fargo’s participation highlighted how the prison system is central to economic exploitation.
  • The action focused on the local effect of a national problem. They highlighted GEOs involvement in Rivers Correctional Institution, a place that locks up thousands of DC residents for mostly parole violations.  In a city where 3 out of 4 black men will end up in prison this is an issue the local community has a real personal stake in.
  • Related to the above, the march was not focused on congress or the Whitehouse.
  • Most of the slogans were radical. There was a bit of “money for education not incarceration” and some stuff about private prisons (as though state prisons are great). But most of the chants and comments were along the lines of
Wells Fargo, Tear it Down. The Whole Damn System, Tear it Down.
This is not a protest. This is a boycott.
Get your money out of Wells Fargo. Stop Funding your own incarceration.
We don’t want to reform Wells Fargo. We want to shut it down.
They get bailed out. We get locked up.
Incarceration is the new Jim Crow.

P.S. I also attended the general assembly. Since I criticized them a bit the other day for the lack of women speaking at the GA, I have to give some props for that not being the case at all last night.

Wells Fargo Action – Images by Pinorrow Photography