Tag Archives: Ferguson

A Racial Justice Movement is Here Now!

black-lives-matterNew Orleans    There was Ferguson and protests erupted around similar outrages, and the notion of a building movement seemed local and directed mainly at police practices and profiling. The President picked up the challenge and looked at decriminalizing some drug beefs and taking steps for early release in Federal prison facilities. Black Lives Matter seemed to convene here and there, a banner picked up and unfurled effectively in the sign of an emerging movement. Tactics were debated. Heads were scratched and some opinions were altered. Race seemed to finally emerge again as a topic after all of these years that could not be avoided. Change was in the wind, but the breeze was still missing many places.

Then things started breaking out in other venues. LeBron James with his Cleveland Cavaliers and NBA players on some other teams stood tall on Ferguson, and that mattered too because race and police tactics leaped from local to national. Some NFL players stood up and spoke up, too. James Blake, former American tennis great, gets a beat down on a New York City street for the crime of being black and standing on a sidewalk in front of a hotel, and states clearly: fire the cop, and it happens.

In a movement, things change quickly and it’s hard for both the players and the bystanders to keep up. Consider: Hillary Clinton several months ago is confronted on the campaign trail after a speech by some young Black Lives Matter activists. They debate tactics and strategy, and she argues that the inside game is what really matters without crediting the value of pressure from the outside or seeming to understand the power of movements for change. She gets away with it for the most part. Months later the President of the University of Missouri has his YouTube moment and flubs a question on the corrosive impact of systemic racism and doesn’t’ get away with it after he tries to blame the victims and put the responsibility for correcting systemic racism on those hurt and not people like himself who are responsible for leading institutions to make systemic change.

LeBron James has proven that the Michael Jordan posture of a superstar that only cares about business and avoids race is your father’s baller and not the 21st century version. Northwestern University players are bold enough to try and organize a union for college players. The real world does matter. Athletics is not a separate place, but part of the national dialogue. There is no way that any serious athlete believes that race cannot matter.

The University of Missouri football team, led by its huge African-American player contingent, decides to support a graduate student hunger striker protesting racial conditions on the campus along with a student group that includes 1950, the year the university was integrated, in its name. They declare with the support of other players and even their coaches that they will strike and not play their next game in collegiate football’s super South Eastern Conference unless racial justice demands are met and the university’s president steps down. Money talks and people walk. Within 36 hours the President and Chancellor had stepped down. Yale students organize and demonstrate about racial issues on their campus.

These are all milestones worth noting.

Movements are unpredictable and as often willow wisps and mirages as the flesh-and-blood real thing. Mark my words. This is the real thing. It’s past time, but the time has now come, the genie is out of the bottle, and town and gown are now going to converge explosively as campus activists draw the line and local eruptions become commonplace. Everyone needs to get rap tight on race now. Athletes will not be sitting this one out on the sideline. Politicians won’t be as lucky as Hillary Clinton next time. Universities, Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and wherever are now on notice: this is the fire next time and it’s on time.


Demand Withdrawing Arrest Warrants to Stop Debtors’ Prison

s27272609New Orleans   It seems almost incredible to say that anything good could come from a spokesperson from Ferguson, Missouri or for that matter the State of Missouri when it comes to criminal justice issues, but this may be proof that in fact the sun does shine on old dogs every once in a while.

But, yes, Ferguson, the St. Louis suburb now infamous for the police killing of Michael Brown last year and helping trigger the movement, Black Lives Matter, has announced that it is withdrawing thousands of arrest warrants for municipal violations. Furthermore they are also claiming to enact protocols that would prevent the incarceration of people who cannot pay fines and fees. Ferguson acted in advance of measures being taken by the State of Missouri and passed by its legislature to curtail and cap the cash that municipalities can keep from minor traffic beefs. Missouri is also moving to put an expiration date on practices of the modern criminal injustice system that have created debtors’ prisons of our jails and many of our communities by putting caps on the amount of time people can be locked up for failing to pay fines and fees. What can I say, other than, right on!

Well, plenty, starting with “it’s about time!” Not just for Ferguson, but everywhere. How much more evidence do we need that we have criminalized the poor with their own poverty and that the vicious cycle of pyramiding fines and fees that act as a huge bungee cord pulling people back into the system for every petty beef and larding on the costs until they’re back in jail? The Justice Department investigations have found this not just in Ferguson and other St. Louis suburbs, several of them vacuuming up more money in this way than Ferguson, but in communities around the country. We’ve cited excellent books including Michelle Anderson’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness early and prescient warnings in this area and Alice Goffman’s more recent unmasking of Philadelphia’s system in On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City. How much more evidence do we need that this system is broken? How many more up-close-and-personal stories of this boomeranging of young men – and women – back to jail from selective policing in lower income, minority communities for minuscule beefs with escalating financial penalties?

Enough is enough.

In every community, we need to demand that lessons be learned from Ferguson, limits placed on penalties, and petty arrest warrants withdraw. There’s no way to repaint this problem or clean it up. We need a criminal injustice system makeover, a gut rehab down to the studs with an amnesty program vacating all of this garbage on minor, trivial matters, to realign our communities and our criminal justice and policing systems.

If Ferguson can do it, so can everyone else. It’s worth making the demands and engaging in the fight.


The Woodbox Gang’s Born With A Tail