Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Racial Roots of Campus Policing

The article originally appeared in the Howard University student newspaper the Hilltop

"Overseer, Overseer, Overseer, Overseer
Officer, Officer, Officer, Officer!
Yeah, officer from overseer
You need a little clarity?
Check the similarity!"

-KRS One, "Sound of Da Police"

On Sept. 16, the Students Against Mass Incarceration (SAMI) held a rally at the flagpole on The Yard in support of

Troy Davis, inviting community members and the media to protest the injustice of the impending execution. Not only was the media barred from campus, but HUPD stated that because the protest was not authorized by the university, the rally could not take place.

When the point was raised that fraternal organizations did not need authorization to do stepping routines on the yard, SAMI was told "that's a tradition." Well, in the militant tradition of Howard student takeovers in 1925, 1968, and 1989 SAMI preceded with the rally, consequences be damned.

Why did the campus police attempt to stop the rally? In an article entitled "The Modern Campus Police" John Sloan shows that contemporary campus police are a response to the student rebellions in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Think about it, Black students all over the country were taking over administration buildings and the anti-war movement was in full swing.

Since campus security could not put down these rebellions, the National Guard often had to be called in. At places like Jackson State, South Carolina State, and Kent State some students were even killed in campus rebellions. Therefore, the campus police did their historical and assigned role: putting down any and all potential radical student activity.

Thus, the campus police and the American police force appear to have similar origins and purposes, maintaining "order" and squashing any potential acts of rebellion. Several scholars and commentators have traced the origin of American policing to the slave patrols in the American south. Slave patrols were composed primarily of lower class whites who put down insurrections of enslaved Africans and caught those who attempted to escape enslavement.

Armed with this information, no Black person should be shocked by the over-policing in our communities or by that campus police officer who flies on his Segway to the scene of a student protest, but is mysteriously missing when you need an escort.

The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense stated that the role of the police in Black communities is similar to that of an occupying army. The primary purpose of police is to protect property: Howard University, its image, reputation (oh yeah, and you, the student [intellectual property],too). Whether on campus or in the community, understanding that the purpose of the police is primarily one of social control can only serve to enlighten and enhance our inevitable interactions with them as Black youth.

This does not mean that individual Black policeman are our inherent enemies, but the police are an institution. Although individual Black policeman are our potential working class allies, unfortunately, that is not usually the case at Howard, or in the world.

As students, acknowledging and challenging the racial roots and consequences of policing—in all its forms--is an important step towards stopping the trend of criminal injustice in our communities.

Friday, September 16, 2011

We are Troy Davis

On September 21, 2011, an innocent man could die. That is the execution date that the state of Georgia has set for Troy Anthony Davis. In 1989, Davis was convicted of murdering a white police officer named Mark Allen MacPhail. An off-duty cop, MacPhail was working as a security guard outside of a Burger King, when he was shot multiple times.

Nine people originally stated that they witnessed Davis shoot Macphail but, today, seven witnesses have recanted their testimony. Several now assert they were coerced by local law enforcement. One witness who worked at the Burger King states he cannot read, but was forced to sign a written confession. In addition, there is not one shred of physical evidence--such as a gun--which connects Davis to the crime.

His case has gained international support and calls for clemency from such well-known figures as former United States President Jimmy Carter, anti-apartheid leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Georgia Congressman John Lewis, and many more. This is Troy Davis' fourth execution date. Each time the international outcry has been so great that the state of Georgia has issued a stay of execution. This time, however, the Supreme Court has refused to hear his case.

The racist nature of the criminal justice system is hardly a revelation to most black people in America. While Nelson Mandela is now arguably the most celebrated ex-political prisoner in the world, the late Black Panther Party member Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt never experienced such reputation reversal, after spending twenty-seven years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Better yet, maybe someone should ask Sean Bell's young New York widow and fatherless daughters what justice means to them. There are so many examples of the horrors black people have experienced at the hands of the criminal justice system that criminal injustice has become the norm. How many of us, brothers especially, were raised to anticipate and handle interactions with law enforcement? Despite our best efforts, some of us still failed during those encounters. Even more of us know someone who did. Troy Davis was one of those people, and because of it, his life has been hanging in the balance for the last two decades.

As Howard students, it is up to us to stop settling for the status quo. We cannot simply be those parents who raise our children to anticipate injustice. Instead, it is time for us to be the young adults who challenge it.

An International Day of Action has been called for this Friday September 16. Mr. Davis has been saved several times before, and it is up to us to do it again. For our parents and grandparents, for Sean and Geronimo, for every brother and sister we know who has ever been a victim of criminal injustice, for ourselves, and most importantly for our brother, we must stand again and again and say, "We are Troy Davis."

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Capitalist Circle of Life

“The average Black male
Will live a third of his life in a jail cell
Cause the world is controlled by the white male”

“Police State” -Dead Prez

This blog orginally appeared in the Hilltop, Howard University student newspaper

Earlier this year, Wachovia Bank, now Wells Fargo, was fined by the U.S. government for laundering $378 billion in drug money from 2004-2007 to Mexican drug lords. This raises the question: How do other US institutions benefit from the drug trade? The answer to this question has important ramifications for Blacks in the US.

In 1998, Congressman John Conyers submitted A Tangled Web: A History of CIA Complicity in Drug International Trafficking into the Congressional record. Furthermore, according to the Dark Alliance series published in San Jose Mercury News by Gary Webb, in order to fund covert operations in Nicaragua, the CIA assisted the Contras in selling cocaine to street organizations in South Central Los Angeles in the 1980’s.

At the same time, the U.S. passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 & 1988 that established mandatory minimum sentences (MMS), statues that require judges to set a sentence no lower than a predetermined number of years, establishing automatic punishment for drug offenders. Although there is no substantive chemical difference between crack and powder cocaine, in the 1980’s, a mass hysteria developed regarding crack and violence that contributed to the passage of harsher drug laws for the possession of crack than for the possession of cocaine. Because Blacks disproportionately use crack and whites disproportionately use powder cocaine, these drug laws were a major contributor to the explosion in the number of Black people trapped in the clutches of the prison industrial complex (PIC).

As Eric Schlosser asserts, “the PIC is a set of bureaucratic, political, and economic interests that encourage increased spending on imprisonment.” This includes prison management companies such as Corrections Corporation of America and companies that pay prisoners as little as $.25/hour for their labor. Of course, this is all legal because the 13th amendment, which allegedly abolished enslavement, states “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist in the United States.” In other words, contradicting article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which outlaws slavery, enslavement is still legal in US prisons.

The passage of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced sentencing disparities for the possession of crack versus powder cocaine, is a step in the right direction, but it is still inadequate.

Once released from prison, returning citizens face numerous obstacles. They can legally face employment discrimination, be denied public housing, and lose access to student loans and voting rights. In her book, The New Jim Crow Michelle Alexander argues that returning citizens can legally be treated like a Black person in Alabama in the 1940’s.

The U.S. government helped to introduce drugs into society, passed harsh drug laws, set up a prison industry to profit, over-policed Black communities, and, to top it all off, US banks laundered the drug money. It’s a parasitic, capitalist circle of life.