Tag Archive: Martin Luther King

Nov 30 2014

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Ferguson: Do the Right Thing Redux

This has been a busy weekend — dividing time somewhat schizophrenically between participating in one or the other of the many actions sparked by the decision in Ferguson not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown — while at the same time planning an annual Thanksgiving meal.  Being a “conscious” political and multi-racial “family”, on past Thanksgivings we often commemorated the day by attending a local American Indian event.  As the years past, we reverted to a somewhat more traditional community potluck dinner with friends with turfu, organic dishes, etc. Still later, as biological families divided into nuclear subdivisions with children, somewhat smaller gatherings were held where we would prepare the traditional feast with a nod to  and solemn commemoration of the genocidal history behind the holiday and watch a socially conscious movie.

This year, someone suggested that we Watch Do the Right Thing. (In full disclosure, we did not end up watching Do the Right Thing because one young black guest who happens to be gay felt that he had been bullied by his peers in the neighborhood as he was growing up and it would be a painful reminder (he still lives in central Harlem about a block from the National Action Headquarters) and another young black woman felt that she needed a break from the intensity of the explosion of feelings and responses that the Ferguson decision brought on. Life is often more full of contradictions and ambiguities than our political struggle for justice would suggest.

Still, the reminder of the controversial movie, first released to great criticism as to whether it was promoting violence or showing how destroying property was better than killing human beings, reminds us how a cultural representation can help people understand the emotions behind our struggle in a way that facts and figures can’t.

First released in 1989, Do the Right Thing, one of Spike Lee’s earliest movies,  tells the story of the racial tensions in the black community in a Brooklyn neighborhood which culminates in tragedy when a young black man is killed by police. The young man’s death results in a night of rebellion in which the people in the community burn down local businesses including the local pizzeria.

The movie was released long after the racial tensions and the riots of the 1960s which it was meant to portray, and before the Rodney King beating in 1991 resulted in the rebellion in Los Angeles. Long before 41 bullets felled Amadu Diallo, the African immigrant shot at his front door by police in the Bronx, or the brutal torture of Abner Louima who was beaten and sodomized with a broomstick by police after he was arrested outside a Brooklyn nightclub. (Sidenote: Neither of these later incidents resulted in riots, but in organized nonviolent civil disobedience and, eventually in sort of very limited conviction of some of the perpetrators. It is interesting to note, however, the Louima case only came to light after a nurse reported the incident when he was brought to the hospital. She was the only one of 28 people who had witnessed parts of the incident the night he was arrested. The other 27 people threatened her for speaking out.)

In Do the Right Thing, Lee sets out the many cultural signifiers of the community’s racial tensions that lead to the violence of both police brutality and the violence of enraged communities of color — in other words, the  very American history of the culture of oppression in the black community:

Mookie, played by Spike Lee, is the young man who, as the pizza delivery man, is viewed by a frustrated Tina, his girlfriend and mother of his child, as unambitious and unable or unwilling to live up to the model of the father and family man that is portrayed on TV, reflecting the tensions between the sexes in a community held down by racism.

Sal, the pizzeria’s Italian American owner, has been in the neighborhood for 25 years. His older son is openly racist while his younger son is friendly with Mookie. Sal sees himself as part of the neighborhood, but when asked by Smiley, a mentally disturbed young man who is always carrying around pictures of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., and “Bugging Out” (described by his name)to put up pictures of Malcolm and Martin on his “Wall of Fame”, along with the Italian Americans such as Sinatra, he refuses because, as he says, he owns the restaurant.

There are many other signifiers — “Da Mayor,” an old alcoholic man who signifies street wisdom and compassion (but who is not respected by the younger generation in the neighborhood), the young men who hang on the corner, the Asian store owner who signifies new cultures moving into the neighborhood and the conflict that brings (but who can hold her own in a swearing match in a confrontation with her black American neighbors).

But most significant is Radio Raheem, a big young black man who supported Smiley and Buggin Out’s demand to post Malcolm and Martin’s pictures in the pizza parlor. Raheem is well  meaning, but is always getting into trouble for playing his radio too loud.

When Sal and Radio Raheem get into a fight over turning down the radio and Sal calls him a “nigger,” a fight breaks out that spills into the street and draws a crowd and Sal calls the police. When the police come, they arrest “Buggin Out” and put Raheem in a chokehold which kills him. Once the cops realize he is dead, they beat up “Buggin Out” and leave the scene, leaving Sal and his sons exposed to the crowd’s rath.  When the Mayor tries to calm the crowd down, the crowd turns on him. Mookie then picks up a trash can and throws it through the window of the pizzeria and a race riot begins. In the melee, the Mayor saves Sal and his sons.  

While this is not a very good or complete synopsis of the movie, you get the picture Radio Raheem could be Michael Brown – or Earl Gardner, another “big” black man who was selling “loosies” on the street in Staten Island who was killed shortly after Michael Brown by NYPD officers in a chokehold, which was also witnesses by several citiznes (This raised new critiques about the appointment of William Bratton as the new New York City police chief since he has a known history of going after nonviolent offenders for small street “crimes” as well as a bad track record of chokehold deaths under his command)– or Anthony Baez (my neighbor in the Bronx) who was playing football with his nephew when the ball bounced and struck a police car and the policeman (who had already been moved from neighborhood to neighborhood to hide his history of excessive force) put 17 year old Baez into the chokehold and killed him — or 17 year old Jordan Davis who was killed in a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida for playing loud music because a 47 year old software engineer who was a known racist felt that Davis’ refusal to turn the music down “threatened” him and that he was  entitled to shoot Davis and would not be held accountable by the police or courts. He was in fact convicted of murder, but 17 year old Davis is still dead.

The fact is, we all have our own memories of the cases that most specifically affected us and there are many other cases across the country and across the years– far far too many to recount here and they seem to be increasing.  Which is why it is important to raise the question that Lee asks in Do the Right Thing.What must the black community do to finally overcome, once and for all, the virulent racism that is so endemic in the United.   (For an analysis of the importance of the movie and the Ferguson situation to questions of violence, issues of the “Rule of Law” or why it is important not to conflate race and class, read below the fold.)

Aug 28 2013

Where Were the Women in Washington?

Where were the female leaders of the civil rights movement in 1963? Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman is joined by 91 year old Gloria Richardson, co-founder of the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee in Maryland,to discuss the silencing of women at the 1963 March on Washington. Ms. Richardson was on the stage with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that day but before she was allowed to speak the microphone was snatched from her hand. She later became friends with Malcolm X. She also discussed her work to desegregate schools and hospitals in Maryland and her assessment of President Obama and the civil rights struggle today.



Transcript can be read here

GLORIA RICHARDSON: Yes, we had hotel accommodations and they came and got me to take me to the March. I was late, but that wasn’t because of me – they took me to the tent. When I got to the tent, the women were all there. They got up after a while and said they were going to the ladies room and would be back. So, I sat and waited for them to come back. In the meantime, I was doing some interviews. But then all of a sudden, Bayard Rustin popped up and said, what are you doing here sitting in a tent? I said, I am waiting – I explained to him I was waiting for them. Oh, no, he said, come, go with me. He took me through the crowd to the stage, and that’s when… [..]

And they said to me, they have taken your chair away. Well, it proved they had chairs I guess for everybody maybe that was named, with a banner across it. So, and asked me, you should raise Hell. I thought, no, I don’t have to do that. We’re out in the streets so I said to them, no, I see a lawyer back there and I have a problem, so I’m going to go back and talk with him. [..]

they called the name and I went up. People kept saying, go up anyhow. So I went up. So, I said hello, and I, really, by that time, was so annoyed, I was going to tell them, you all just sit here until they pass that civil rights bill, even if it is a week from away. And I said, hello. I guess they were right.

AMY GOODMAN: And they pulled the mic from your mouth.

GLORIA RICHARDSON: Oh yeah, they pulled it, but had one of the marshals. Then they came after — I don’t think I heard Daisy Bates speak, but, they came and got me —

Jun 12 2013

If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.

America is a wonderful place where everyone is caring, competent, conscientious and above average.

America’s law enforcement agencies have never gotten the wrong guy.

A mistaken identity arrest occurs almost every day, said policing experts and officials at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

America’s courts have never convicted the wrong person, and certainly no innocent person has ever gone to jail in America.

Freddie Peacock of Rochester, New York, was convicted of rape in 1976. Last week he became the 250th person to be exonerated by DNA testing since 1989. According to a new report by the Innocence Project, those 250 prisoners served 3,160 years between them; 17 spent time on death row. Remarkably, 67 percent of them were convicted after 2000-a decade after the onset of modern DNA testing. The glaring question here is, How many more are there?

 

Why, our American anti-terrorist infrastructure is virtually infallible in choosing whom to single out for investigation and actions which challenge their rights to participate in our society.

The meeting had all the hallmarks of an ordinary Congressional hearing. There was Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, discussing the problems faced by ordinary citizens mistakenly placed on terrorist watch lists. Then, to the astonishment of the crowd attending a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday, Mr. Kennedy offered himself up as Exhibit A.

Between March 1 and April 6, airline agents tried to block Mr. Kennedy from boarding airplanes on five occasions because his name resembled an alias used by a suspected terrorist who had been barred from flying on airlines in the United States, his aides and government officials said.

Instead of acknowledging the craggy-faced, silver-haired septuagenarian as the Congressional leader whose face has flashed across the nation’s television sets for decades, the airline agents acted as if they had stumbled across a fanatic who might blow up an American airplane. Mr. Kennedy said they refused to give him his ticket.

“He said, ‘We can’t give it to you,’ ” Mr. Kennedy said, describing an encounter with an airline agent to the rapt audience. ” ‘You can’t buy a ticket to go on the airline to Boston.’ I said, ‘Well, why not?’ He said, ‘We can’t tell you.’ “

Individuals working for law enforcement have never abused their authority and knowingly sought to obtain punishment or leverage over another person for political reasons.

Hoping to prove the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was under the influence of Communists, the FBI kept the civil rights leader under constant surveillance.

The agency’s hidden tape recorders turned up almost nothing about communism.

But they did reveal embarrassing details about King’s sex life — details the FBI was able to use against him.

The almost fanatical zeal with which the FBI pursued King is disclosed in tens of thousands of FBI memos from the 1960s. …

When King learned he would be the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, the FBI decided to take its harassment of King one step further, sending him an insulting and threatening note anonymously. A draft was found in the FBI files years later. In it the FBI wrote, “You are a colossal fraud and an evil, vicious one at that.” The letter went on to say, “The American public … will know you for what you are — an evil, abnormal beast,” and “Satan could not do more.”

The letter’s threat was ominous, if not specific: “King you are done.” Some have theorized the intent of the letter was to drive King to commit suicide in order to avoid personal embarrassment. “King, there is only one thing left for you to do,” the letter concluded. “You know what it is … You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.”

Individuals working for law enforcement have never abused their access to digital materials for any reason.

Despite pledges by President George W. Bush and American intelligence officials to the contrary, hundreds of US citizens overseas have been eavesdropped on as they called friends and family back home, according to two former military intercept operators who worked at the giant National Security Agency (NSA) center in Fort Gordon, Georgia. …

“These were just really everyday, average, ordinary Americans who happened to be in the Middle East, in our area of intercept and happened to be making these phone calls on satellite phones,” said Adrienne Kinne, a 31-year old US Army Reserves Arab linguist assigned to a special military program at the NSA’s Back Hall at Fort Gordon from November 2001 to 2003.

She said US military officers, American journalists and American aid workers were routinely intercepted and “collected on” as they called their offices or homes in the United States. …

Faulk says he and others in his section of the NSA facility at Fort Gordon routinely shared salacious or tantalizing phone calls that had been intercepted, alerting office mates to certain time codes of “cuts” that were available on each operator’s computer.

“Hey, check this out,” Faulk says he would be told, “there’s good phone sex or there’s some pillow talk, pull up this call, it’s really funny, go check it out.

America has never prosecuted Americans under the Espionage Act for political reasons.

The impassioned speeches of labor organizer, Socialist leader and five-time presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs were nothing short of evangelical in tone and effect. (He once called socialism “merely Christianity in action.”) Debs inspired groups large and small, and his remarkable charisma is what most concerned the powers that were. …

According to historian Ernest Freeberg, it was precisely Debs’ virtuosity that forced America to grapple with the limits of dissent. In 1918, Debs was convicted under the recently minted Espionage Act for questioning America’s entry into World War I. …

“People should go ahead and obey the law, keep their mouths shut, and let the government run the war.” Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. dismissed criticism of the court’s unanimous ruling against Debs as “a lot of jaw about free speech.”

Don’t worry. Be happy.

Average American citizens have never been targeted inappropriately by the government using authorities intended to combat terrorism

Documents released today by the American Civil Liberties Union reveal new details of Pentagon surveillance of Americans opposed to the Iraq war, including Quakers and student groups. The documents show that the Pentagon was keeping tabs on non-violent protesters by collecting information and storing it in a military anti-terrorism database.

President Obama’s got your back.

President Obama would never allow average American citizens going about their business of participating in American politics to be targeted as terrorist enemies.  

A Department of Homeland Security division produced daily briefings on “peaceful activist demonstrations” during the height of the Occupy Wall Street protests, documents released Tuesday revealed.

The 252 pages of documents were obtained in a March 14 letter from DHS by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, which in November 2011 launched a campaign to unearth public records that would show whether the federal government was spying on Occupy Wall Street. FBI records obtained by the group in December showed that the bureau investigated Occupy as a potential “domestic terrorism” threat.

“Taken together, the two sets of documents paint a disturbing picture of federal law enforcement agencies using their vast power in a systematic effort to surveil and disrupt peaceful demonstrations,” Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, said in a statement. “The federal agencies’ actions were not because Occupy represented a ‘terrorist threat’ or a ‘criminal threat,’ but rather because it posed a significant grassroots political challenge to the status quo.”

May 20 2013

Barack Obama, Occupy Wall Street and Martin Luther King’s Mission and Legacy

Barack Obama is the largest governmental obstacle to the continuation and completion of Martin Luther King’s mission.

Bill Moyers had an excellent conversation with James Cone and Taylor Branch about what could be called, “MLK’s unfinished business;” Moyers called it, “James Cone and Taylor Branch on MLK’s Fight for Economic Equality.”  I recommend checking out the whole conversation, which starts out this way:

You may think you know about Martin Luther King, Jr., but there is much about the man and his message we have conveniently forgotten. He was a prophet, like Amos, Isaiah and Jeremiah of old, calling kings and plutocrats to account, speaking truth to power.

Yet, he was only 39 when he was murdered in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4th, 1968. The March on Washington in ’63 and the March from Selma to Montgomery in ’65 were behind him. So were the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. In the last year of his life, as he moved toward Memphis and fate, he announced what he called the Poor People’s Campaign, a “multi-racial army” that would come to Washington, build an encampment and demand from Congress an “Economic Bill of Rights” for all Americans – black, white, or brown. He had long known that the fight for racial equality could not be separated from the need or economic equity – fairness for all, including working people and the poor. That’s why he was in Memphis, marching with sanitation workers on strike for a living wage when he was killed.

Popular notions of Martin Luther King’s work celebrate his mission as one that was fundamentally about racial justice.  Moyers and his guests point out that this conventional wisdom seriously understates the scope and scale of King’s vision and mission. King’s mission was not only to advance the interests of African-Americans but to demand and implement a culture of social and economic justice.

Jan 23 2011

“You Are the Un-Americans, and You Ought to be Ashamed of Yourselves”

Crossposted at Daily Kos and Docudharma

On January 23, 1976, one of the greatest Americans of the twentieth century died a nearly forgotten man in self-imposed seclusion in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  

Over the last three decades or so, you rarely, if ever, hear his name mentioned in the popular media.  Once every few years, you might hear someone on PBS or C-Span remember him fondly and explain as to why he was one of the more important figures of the past century.  In many respects, he had as much moral authority as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks; he was as politically active as Dick Gregory, Harry Belafonte, John Lewis, and Randall Robinson; and, as befits many men and women motivated by moral considerations, he conducted himself with great dignity.  For much of his life, not surprisingly and not unlike many of his worthy successors, he was marginalized and shunned by the political establishment of his time — until events validated their ‘radical’ beliefs and resurrected their reputations.

Throughout his life, few principled men of his caliber paid as high a price and for as long a period as he did for his political beliefs.

Jan 19 2011

The Week in Editorial Cartoons – Incendiary Political Rhetoric: Just Words?

Crossposted at Daily Kos and Docudharma



Jen Sorensen, Slowpoke, Buy this cartoon

:: ::

Sorensen writes on her blog:

What really drives me nuts in the wake of the Giffords shooting is the chorus of voices — mostly on the right — tut-tutting that “we can’t jump to conclusions.”  As though they are the source of caution and reason and all things prudent and high-minded.  Well, guess what: your candidates are anything but.  I don’t really care whether Loughner is schizo, or what particular bits of tea party propaganda he swallowed or didn’t.  If you don’t find the violent language of the right utterly repugnant, then it’s a sign of how far we’ve drifted away from normalcy in this country.

Jan 16 2011

MLK: Be True to What You Said on Paper

“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered this speech in support of the striking sanitation workers at Mason Temple in Memphis, TN on April 3, 1968 – the day before he was assassinated

Sep 02 2010

The Week in Editorial Cartoons – Of Kings and Wingnut Clowns, with Special Comment

Crossposted at Daily Kos and Docudharma

John Sherffius

John Sherffius, Comics.com (Boulder Daily Camera)

When I see a 9/11 victim family on television, or whatever, I’m just like, “Oh shut up” I’m so sick of them because they’re always complaining. — Glenn Beck

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Man is man because he is free to operate within the framework of his destiny.  He is free to deliberate, to make decisions, and to choose between alternatives.  He is distinguished from animals by his freedom to do evil or to do good and to walk the high road of beauty or tread the low road of ugly degeneracy. — Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Aug 29 2010

Rant of the Week: Jon Stewart on Glen Beck’s ‘I Have A Scheme’