Maintaining our Voice in Narratives of Activism

sas protest

Activists are human beings. As such, some harbor some of the very oppressive attitudes they are sworn to oppose: racism, patriarchy, elitism, self absorption, racial, gender, sexuality or class privilege, etc. I’ve found that white activists for example, often frame their conferences and issues in such a way that privileges white narratives of feminism, white supremacy, homophobia, over Black perspectives of the same things. We cannot rely on others to tell our stories. express our pain, or articulate our issues better or more powerfully than WE.

Nor can we allow others to tell ANY story of activism or social justice and omit or trivialize the pivotal role and contributions of BLACK PEOPLE!  Study American history and observe how Black people have always been the radical conscience of the U.S. Observe also how our movements and activism have inspired other oppressed and dominated people to organize their own liberation movements. Then observe how we’ve had to fight with white activists over what stories to tell and WHI should tell them . Read Frederick Douglass’ issues with William Lloyd Garrison, Sojouner Truth’s issues with white suffragists, Dr. King’s issues with white clergy members, or Black feminists’ issues with their white counterparts.

This does not imply that Black people cannot or should not work with others to address issues of social injustice. It does mean that if we do choose to enter alliances/partnerships with others, we do not allow those partners to dominate the discussion, determine demands, strategy or tactics or policies for us or without our input,  or to privilege their issues and interests over our own.

Take this advice lightly at your own risk. These considerations manifest in every oppressor/oppressed dynamic: men attempt to dominate and frame discussions of gender and patriarchy; whites do the same with discussions of race; middle class interests impose its values and leadership on the working class, white feminism often excludes the leadership, issues and achievements of Black or Latina feminists.

I’ve accepted an invitation to participate in a two-day student activism teach-in at Syracuse University, where I completed my undergraduate education and was president of the highly activist Student African American Society. SAS, as it was known, launched an 8-month campaign to improve and rejuvenate our African American Studies Department on campus.

This campaign involved political education and propaganda, widespread community outreach and coalition-building (among professors, students, and the larger community), a petition drive, an array of press conferences/radio and television interviews, and two semesters of intense protests, rallies, meeting disruptions, and building takeovers. We out strategized the university and compelled Chancellor Melvin Eggers, Arts & Sciences Dean Samuel Gorovitz, and Vice Chancellor Gershon Vincow (with permission from the Board of Trustees of course) to agree to all 13 of our demands. The university’s attempt to punish me for leading this campaign resulted in a list of false charges against me including inciting a riot, destroying school property and assaulting campus security. If found guilty at a university hearing, I faced expulsion from school. Because SAS did such an excellent job of community outreach, political education, and coalition-building, NOT ONE student, professor or Syracuse community member serving on the hearing board showed up to the hearing! This tremendous display of solidarity forced the university to drop all charges against me and other SAS leaders. The entire school and larger community (residents, pastors, civil rights and interracial pacifist groups) got involved. All demands agreed to. No student punished. MLK Library moved, refurbished, and developed into an award-winning institution. The hiring of a full-time chairperson and more graduate teaching assistants. The creation of a Master’s degree program in African American Studies. The complete overhaul and increased funding for the Community Folk Art Gallery (R.I.P. to professor Herb Williams).

I’ve reviewed the list of activities, topics, and speakers at the teach-in I’m attending. There appears to be a strong emphasis on white woman feminists, gay/transgender activism, and “activist history” from particular perspectives.

I’m supposed to speak on a panel of current and former SU activists, after viewing a documentary about campus activism. I get the uneasy sense that the triumphant struggle of Black students at Syracuse University will overlooked and reduced in terms of its impact and significance. What WE accomplished on campus and in the community is poised to be suffocated between discussions of feminism, heteronormative oppression and other narratives of resistance by more privileged people/issues. But then again, this will not occur on my watch, not while I’m still breathing. It appears that not just Black lives but Black resistance, collective memory and agency matter as well…

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 Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

4 Myths about Dr. Martin Luther King

mytruesense:

Old article but still relevant….

Originally posted on MY TRUE SENSE:

Dr. King1

Today we observe the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday and reflect upon Dr. King’s message, mission and moral mandate.  Much of what transpires today is predictable: Students have no classes, many workers have the day off, and opportunistic corporations will likely have sales in his “honor.” Churches and community centers will hold large and small commemorations and television networks will air their annual Dr. King movies, interviews, and news specials. Some of us will play audio or video clips of Dr. King’s passionately poetic speeches and marvel at his courage, commitment and vision.

Of course, the magnitude of this day is not lost on President Barack Obama whose inauguration ceremony coincides with King’s holiday.  According to the Constitution, Presidential inaugurations occur on January 20th. So President Obama was privately sworn in yesterday at noon in the White House. Anytime an inauguration day falls on a Sunday, the public…

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Calling the Black Church: Take a Stand Against Police Brutality!

churches protest

My appreciation for the Black church is well-documented, as are my critiques. Among other things, sound scholarship requires a balanced and nuanced approach, the ability and willingness to appreciate one side of a debate even while taking a valid opposing position.

Discussing the Black church adequately requires this nuanced thinking, particularly when political activism and social justice frame the discussion. On one hand, we can argue that as an institution, the Black church (especially its Protestant branches) has advocated for its congregants and extended congregants in the larger Black community. It created some of our first places of literacy and learning in the United States. It provided safe places for us to meet, renew our spirits, reinterpret Biblical passages and white theology into a Social Gospel to make sure God’s “Will be done on Earth, as it is in heaven.”The Abolition Movement, Reconstruction, and Civil Rights Movement could not be sustained without the Black church. Whether through protest music, projects of benevolence, education, or organizing the community to politically agitate, the Black church played a pivotal and indispensable variety of roles in the struggle for Black liberation and empowerment.

And yet, our church is not above critique. After centuries of white cultural imperialism, and the deliberate erasure of our role in world civilization and U.S. history, too many of our churches insist that “God has no color,” but continue to depict Jesus Christ as a white man on their stained-glass windows, and refuse to teach congregants about their cultural, aesthetic, and historical beauty and greatness; The church – like every other institution – suffers from patriarchy and gender bias. While Black women continue to comprise the overwhelming majority of Black church congregants, financial supporters, and volunteer workers/leaders, relatively few lead a church in the role of minister; The church dragged its feet and took an infamously conservative position on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in years past, presumably because it was uncomfortable having conversations about then-taboo subjects of fornication and homosexuality.

The Black church (representing as it does a people who are still stereotyped, criminalized, killed by police, underrepresented in sites of power and over-represented with respect to incarceration, deprivation, drugs and fratricide) must have a theology that connects spiritual edification to earthly empowerment. This becomes crystal clear with the issue of anti-Black police brutality. Police officers attack or kill Black and Brown people with disturbing frequency and are predictably exonerated.

The Black church cannot isolate itself to the pulpit or the pew, locking itself in a spiritual castle surrounded by a moat of dead Black bodies mangled by police bullets, white hatred, or Black apathy. Black Ministers and congregations throughout the United States must uphold the value of Black life and find ways to engage local communities in discussion, prayer and activism around the issue of police brutality.

This society has attempted criminalize an entire race of people. Your spiritual beliefs, church affiliation, or denomination offer you no protection from police brutality. Stand up, Black church, like you did in the era of enslavement. Be the radical moral conscience of this country like you did during the Civil Rights Movement. T.D. Jakes and churches in Los Angeles, and in other cities throughout this nation. Some ministers and churches are doing fine work, but the pressure has decreased since last month largely because two NYPD officers were murdered.  We applaud and support those churches taking a stand on the issue of police brutality and incorporating this into their sermons and activism. But far too many are preaching the same ole’ “God will make a way out of no way” or “Put on the whole armor of God” sermons devoid of any political education, organizing or activism.

As I understand Christian theology, Jesus healed the sick, cured the blind, made the lame walk, fed the hungry, educated the ignorant, and resurrected the dead. Whether you interpret these miracles to be actual or symbolic, the point is that the Christ was not only concerned about earthly issues affecting common people, but meaningfully involved in addressing them.

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 Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

Police Brutality is The Issue!

black_livesSome politically aware members of the Black community are disgruntled because they feel we’re giving the issue of police brutality way too much of our time and energy. Allow me to humbly share another perspective: We do have a multitude of serious issues to address (including but not limited to, education, gang violence, poverty, incarceration, environmental concerns, healthcare, domestic violence,  war, unemployment,  etc).

Fortunately, there are organizations addressing all of these issues and more. We can debate the relative importance and priority ranking of these issues. As time, money and energy are finite, we are wise to sort through these issues and determine which are more or less pivotal.

However, we should recognize when an issue deeply resonates with the masses in ways other concerns don’t. The issue of police brutality has energized and activated pastors, entertainers, students, athletes, the working and middle classes, all races, and our young and elderly. People who’ve never protested before are taking to the streets, finally proclaiming, “Enough is Enough.”

Observe the ongoing protests, rallies and “die-in” demonstrations taking place all over this country. The people have spoken. Clearly, this is an issue our people are united on, angry over and feel compelled to address.

I do not exaggerate when I write, “Police brutality is to this generation what abolition was to the19th century,  desegregation was to the 50s and 60s, and apartheid was to the 80s.”

The murders of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and Akai Gurley, represent the Rosa Parks incidents of this generation. In my personal opinion, Black people had every right to hit the streets in righteous indignation around any number of issues, even if NO acts of police brutality occured! Nevertheless,  Police brutality is one issue that galvanizes everyone. As people overcome their fear of repressive authority and develop leadership skills/thinking, and political consciousness, they will likely turn their attention to other societal ills and become meaningfully involved in resolving them. This is typically how activism works.

For all of these reasons therefore,  I for one, made the decision to give this issue my FULL energy and attention for the time being. After all, if you don’t have life, little else  matters anyway. This issue reminds us and  others of two basic principles that have traditionally fueled all social change movements in our history : “BLACK LIVES MATTER,”  and since others oppose or compromise our right to exist as equally empowered  human beings , “WE FIGHT to BREATHE.”

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Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

Why Whites Justify and Defend Police Brutality

police support

[P.S. Please join our NATIONWIDE PROTEST AGAINST POLICE BRUTALITY ON JANUARY 19, 2015. Visit the We Fight 2 Breathe website for more information.]

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When crisis occurs on a huge level, we can respond in several ways. We can crumble under the pressure and bury our heads in the sand, we can become bitter or self-pitying, or we can analyze the situation, learn from it and more forward.

No one would disagree that the ongoing issue of police officers killing Black people with impunity is a crisis on a HUGE level. Rather than becoming bitter, self-pitying or indifferent, I suggest we see this issue as a teachable moment (in addition to resisting it at every turn). Every time a police officer murders a Black person in the United States and faces no adequate punishment for his/her deed, we protest or cry out for justice. Whites consequently respond to our protest, usually in resentful and non sympathetic ways. We can learn much about the nature of this country via white backlash to Black resistance. This phenomenon reveals much about white supremacy, the perception of Black people, and whites’ own naiveté.

The tragic and unnecessary murders of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Akai Gurley – and in a separate but related issue – New York City police officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, teach us about the issue of police brutality and its related consequences. But our lessons don’t stop there. These tragedies also lift the curtains of white American psyche and reveal disturbing attitudes, perceptions and instincts that forcefully explain the significance of race in our society and why racial injustice will likely be here for some time to come.

First, we must understand that police brutality is not a new or modern phenomenon for Black people. State-sanctioned and organized violence has always been the “enforcer” or “muscle” behind white supremacist policies. This began centuries ago when whites first invaded the African continent to snatch Black people for purposes of enslavement.  It manifested again when European powers colonized the continent, and used indigenous labor to mine the soil for diamonds, gold, rubber and other resources to jump-start European industrial growth. Whether under the guise of enslavement, colonialism, imperialism or modern inner-city occupation, military force was/is a constant. The only differences were the uniforms, weapons, language, dialect used or time period employed.

Why was military force so crucial? Because no one wants to be exploited, enslaved or mistreated. People will rebel, resist and refuse to cooperate with their subjugation. White supremacists therefore needed coercion to control our wealth and labor and intimidate us from mounting any resistance to their efforts. Police – despite what we learned in school – do not actually exist to “protect and serve” the poor or marginalized. They exist to protect and serve state power, policies and property. They exist to monitor, intimidate, and control the masses so that the corporations and government can run smoothly and safely with minimal glitches.

This is not to suggest that modern police do not provide important services to non-affluent or well-connected citizens. They do intervene in domestic disputes and help to prevent or solve a variety of crimes. Society does require some degree of safety and complete chaos is bad for business. Also, an aspiring police-state in a “leader of the free world” nation like the United States must carefully camouflage its sinister intentions, lest it lose face throughout the world and lead the masses to initiate full-scale revolution. When we challenge police brutality then, we confront more than police violence; we also challenge the very nature and structure of U.S. culture and that of its police force, must ultimately be radically transformed. It’s tactics and practices need reforming, but even farther, the nation and its police force will need to be rebuilt with vastly different objectives, values, and priorities.

In fairness, we must concede that several thousands of whites in this country acknowledge and oppose the disproportionate assault and murder of Black people by  police officers. In city after city, whenever protests occur, we notice mixed crowds, with whites chanting, marching, “dying-in” and being arrested, alongside Black folk. Regardless of our political ideology, we simply predict people’s politics based on their racial identity. We cannot easily place people in rigid categories or sides regarding the issue of police brutality. For example, We know of police watch groups and  activities supported largely by white activists, and regular citizens. Their struggle and sacrifice are duly noted and appreciated.

Nevertheless, why do so many whites justify and support the very police forces that mistreat and kill us? Why do so many blame us for being attacked and killed? And what does this tell us about this country and about the nature of white supremacy? This  is the question of the hour.

  • Many whites even when presented with the statistics and other evidence refuse to acknowledge anti-Black police brutality. This denial is sometimes psychological. Such whites don’t want to admit that this country still mistreats certain citizens because they desperately need to believe that this country, and by extension themselves, are as fair-minded, and good-hearted as they proclaim they are. How else can people rail against human rights abuses in other nations and psychologically distance themselves from their equally inhumane behavior? How else can they salute the flag, and praise American military campaigns against the “bad guys” overseas? In the divisive game of us vs. them, privileged whites need an outsider to oppose. Therefore, whites’ insensitivity to us meets a psychological need.
  • Some whites don’t empathize with the pain and suffering of Black people because deep down inside they believe the racial stereotypes classifying Black people as violent, criminal and prone to exaggeration about racial injustice. In other words, when a cop kills one of us, they believe that we  deserve it.
  • The white establishment has long worked to separate whites and Blacks and encouraged even poor whites to have antagonistic relations with and perceptions of Black people. There was a time long ago when poor whites and Blacks fought together to defeat the rich white planter class in the U.S. Privileged whites responded by legally punishing poor whites that sympathized with Black resistance rather than enjoying their racial privileges. This created a false sense of alliance with privileged white elites against Black people with whom they shared class oppression. Creating rigid racial and class divisions among poor whites and Blacks serves the elite’s interests, as they can prevent possibly revolutionary interracial class alliances between Blacks and whites, and maintain control over both groups. In this sense, whites have been duped.
  • Many whites have a deep-seated fear of Black violence and retribution. Given the opportunity, they believe, Black people will harm or kill them in retaliation for all the years of discrimination, brutality and exploitation. They see the police then, as their security blanket against Black insurrection and therefore are prone to support and defend them. This also explains the exaggerated media, financial support, and “hero” status awarded to slain officers Ramos and Liu. This becomes necessary both to support American values and reverence for the police.

In conclusion, the verdict is clear. Our perspectives, values and interests are not shared by everyone. There will be times when whites and our own people are unwilling or unable to “get it.” In the case of whites, this is because they derive privilege and status relief from our subjugation. Our people cower in fear of their enemies, in addition to naive and unreciprocated feelings of humanitarianism and “oneness.”  But our struggle is a righteous one, and we must wage it regardless of outside vindication or dissension from family members OR outsiders. Simply put, white folks don’t get to decide what Black people get upset about or how we choose to express our outrage. Black lives DO matter, and no one, cop or otherwise has a license to kill us with impunity. We are tired of people’s attempts to decide which of our issues is ‘worthy” of our attention or to champion and defend those responsible for our death.  We are tired of being pressured to grieve for others or empathize with their pain, when NO ONE GRIEVES FOR US! When the two NYC police officers were killed, they were labeled “heroes,” flags flew at half-mast, and every media personality described their murders as “executions” or “assassinations.” The city began raising money to pay of the mortgages of their wives and children. Who cries for us? Who acknowledges our humanity and right to live? It is insulting that when our people are killed we have to defend why they did not deserve to die! Police officers lives are no more precious than the lives of civilians. Nor will we allow whites to determine our political priorities or “heroes.”

The sad reality here is that for all the so-called “progress” everyone tell us we’ve made, white supremacy, along with its insulting assumptions, perceptions, and unwritten truths, is alive and well. It is infuriating to know that the average person will get more jail time for killing a DOG than they will for shooting and killing an unarmed Black man. Just ask Michael Vick.This fact, and the fact that white folks are comfortable with and derive privileges from the racist state of affairs, practically guaranteeing a long life for white supremacy. It’s not just a simple matter of life and death, but of privilege, identity, and values. And that is the grand lesson here. Black lives, in far too many instances only matter to Black people…..

P.S. Please join our NATIONWIDE PROTEST AGAINST POLICE BRUTALITY ON JANUARY 19, 2015. Visit the We Fight 2 Breathe website for more information.

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Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

Caution: Lessons Ahead! Thoughts on Black Rage and Protest

Here we are again. That familiar yet uncomfortable place between paradox and irony. Ongoing acts of unbridled state-sanctioned murder of Black people have stirred a storm of Black rage and protest. In a society where too many Black folk became a little too comfortable and bourgeois, we activists and organizers welcome the recent flood of Black rage and protest around the murder of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and others….right?

Well that’s where things get tricky. As righteous indignation and irreconcilable discontent give way to bitterness and rage, little things like wisdom, long-range thinking and responsible leadership get kicked to the curb. This is an unfortunate development – one that partly compromised the Black Power Movement of the late 60s and 70s, and one that threatens to self-sabotage our present-day movements for freedom, justice and safety. With this in mind, we must pause to address some disturbing developments taking place around the issue of our protest against racist police brutality.

1. When news of Michael Brown’s murder hit, activists from around the country mobilized and descended upon Ferguson, Missouri to join local protest activities. This of course, was inspiring and helped to make the protest movement there sustained and intense. However, some of those outside activists took the position that if one didn’t go to Ferguson, one was somehow disconnected from the “real” struggle. By privileging this struggle over others around the country, and by “guilting” activists who were unable to travel to Ferguson, or who were engaged in important local activities, such people made a critical mistake. In truth, “the enemy and the struggle is everywhere.” At any given time, we face a multitude of issues that require our energy and organizing. Activists cannot allow ourselves to create false divisions, become ambulance chasers, or demoralize other activists dealing with equally important issues like education, imperialism, or mass incarceration for example. It is true that some issues take higher priority than others. But it’s also true that there are more than enough of us around the country to address multiple issues simultaneously. Also, if activists are politically educating our people, and teaching them to challenge their oppression, we should support them, not criticize them for not being a part of one particular issue in the way we define it. This is an arrogant and logistically poor position to take.

2. I’m hearing seasoned and traditional activists critique neophyte activists for participating in non-traditional forms of activism (i.e. using social media, blogging, online petitions, etc. Again, this is an arrogant and inflexible position. As I recently posted on Facebook:

Shout out to all of you doing something to challenge police violence against our people. Please do not allow anyone to impose their standard or definition of activism on you, or make you feel that your way of organizing doesn’t count. It’s almost 2015. The one Black spokesman, three national organizations model was problematic (patriarchal, top-down, inflexible, bureaucratic ) and is no longer viable. There are SEVERAL ways to protest, educate and organize today, and there are SEVERAL genuine people doing the best they can to play a part in the process. Remember the often misunderstood quote of brother Malcolm: By ANY means necessary. Our enemies use every means imaginable to subjugate us. Why are we still using only 1 or two forms of protest to liberate ourselves? I may not find certain forms of protest effective, but I support them. Get in where you fit in!

3. Some people who are more militant in their approach, seem to think it’s appropriate to praise the random murder of two NYPD officers on December 20, 2015. One can be outraged by racist police brutality AND have compassion for humanity and decency. I believe in our right to defend ourselves from attack by anyone, and I stand on that belief. However, I respect and value life and think it irresponsible for anyone to publicly praise or condone the murder of the two cops (one Latino and one Chinese, by the way) who themselves are innocent (have no demonstrated record of police brutality, nor of encouraging or allowing it). The struggle as I understand it, is against police that use excessive force, and prey on people of color. Our struggle is also against the police department as an institution  functioning as an occupying army in our neighborhoods. We must be careful not to allow our rage to push us to impulsive or inhumane positions/actions, even as we confront the ills of our often wicked society.  Borrowing from classic Black literature, we cannot hide underground and isolates ourselves like Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, nor can we become cold, heartless Tin Men like Richard Wright’s Bigger Thomas.

4. At the same time, I am deeply disappointed and disgusted with those among us who areFIGHT TO BREATHE FLIER civilians or on the police force, who write strong posts empathizing with those slain officers and their families, but had NOTHING TO SAY when OUR innocent people were killed by police with impunity. Unlike those officers, these young men and women have no powerful union providing them benefits, no media personalities describing them as “brave heroes” who were “assassinated” or “executed by madmen,” flags flying at half-mast, or a national period of mourning. These young Black victims committed no crime, their killers have gone free (in at least one case with known false testimony). Furthermore, in every case from Trayvon to Mike Brown, the mainstream corporate media criminalized our slain brethren (robbed a store, flashed gang signs, illegally sold cigarettes) as if to subtly imply that these individuals deserved to be killed! This begs the question: Is our rallying cry, “Black lives matter,” or is it “Black lives matter less (than whites or police officers?)

We should not tolerate the devaluation of our lives. We will not sit quiet and allow others to mistreat us. If you are upset about police brutality, and want to get involved, you can do so without physically attacking anyone or travelling to a distant city. Join the #WEFIGHT2BREATHE campaign and voice your outrage through peaceful protest right in your own city on MLK Day (January 19, 2015.

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Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

NATIONWIDE DAY OF PROTEST, JANUARY 19, 2015!

fight to breathe pic

#WEFIGHT2BREATHE is not a formal or traditional organization, but a campaign against police brutality and the repeated murder of Black people by police all over the United States. Our supporters include political and social justice activists in Harlem, New York in addition to concerned and outraged brothers and sisters who have declared, “Enough is Enough,” after witnessing escalating acts of police using excessive and deadly force against members of our community nationwide.

We support and encourage the role of traditional Black organizations (so long as they are effective and genuine). Yet we recognize that the emergence of the Internet and social media networks have eliminated some of the bureaucracy and challenges of traditional organizations. We are now living in a time where concerned individuals can act decisively on a mass level and have great impact without the cumbersome and time-consuming challenges of developing group consensus, approving budgets, appeasing a board of directors, or a need to validate one media-recognized celebrity leader to advocate for all Black people/interests. The name of our campaign is inspired by the last agonizing words spoken by NYC resident Eric Garner before police choked and killed him…. “I can’t breathe.” These tragic words inspired a protest call by the same name heard around the country by outraged protesters.

In a society that devalues Black life, and that constantly threatens our survival, we proclaim that #WEFIGHT2BREATHE. We take this to mean that we are part of the movement to actively protest and resist police brutality against Black people, and to remind ourselves that our survival and freedom will not come from moral reasoning with those who oppress us, but from sustained protest and resistance to such people and forces. This campaign is a NONVIOLENT direct action campaign that seeks to encourage, support, and participate in peaceful protest activities that oppose police brutality.

FIGHT TO BREATHE FLIER

NATIONAL DAY OF PROTEST

We are inspired and impressed by the sea of protests around the United States challenging the unfair and racist decisions not to indict the killers of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. We are taking our stand and making our contribution by calling for a National Day of Protest on January 19, 2015. This date is meaningful, being that it is the Martin Luther King Jr. National Holiday. We can think of no better day to conduct a nationwide protest against injustice. We encourage young people to participate and play an active part in this protest and learn to appreciate the activities and legacy of Dr. King himself. As students are out of school and many parents have a day off from work, this date helps to increase maximum participation throughout the country.

At 1:30pm Eastern Standard Time, we request that Black people and others in every United States city wear all-black, assemble at their local City Hall building, and coordinate marches, rallies, and/or die-ins to protest police brutality. We respect the authority and ability of local leadership and organizers, and we know variables like weather or police actions will affect your plans. We trust you will provide the leadership needed to make this day a success in your respective cities. All we ask is that the protest, march, rally, or die-in be peaceful, well-attended, occur at City Hall, and begin at 1:30pm Eastern Standard Time. Larger cities will have several sites of power. In NYC for example, it might be effective to conduct protests at City Hall, One Police Plaza, and the United Nations complex.

EDUCATING YOUR COMMUNITY

Many of the people you’ll be recruiting to this protest will not be seasoned and experienced activists. Some have never protested before, and know little about the issue of police brutality other than what they see on the news. Therefore we encourage you to educate them on the issue during the weeks leading up to the National Day of Protest. Teach-ins should occur in your local churches, community centers, and even in homes. This site offers excellent sources of teaching about police brutality including poetry, video clips, timelines, and pamphlets. Speaking of unfair and abusive police or law enforcement, you might encourage people to sign the petition calling on President Obama to drop all criminal charges on Assata Shakur!

You will also want to emphasize that this is a peaceful protest. Caution against members of your community taunting cops, throwing things at them, or hitting them. Also remind them that this is not about looting stores or burning property. Our goal here is to make a united and powerful statement against unfair and excessive police force in our communities. Protests like this can force mayors, city councils and police to the table to negotiate effective reforms and better policing policies.

WE WANT TO HEAR YOUR VOICE!

The presence of YouTube offers exciting and creative ways to interact with our community. We want to hear what you have to say about police murdering and assaulting Black people in this country. We’d love for people all over the country to record brief YouTube/Instagram videos stating your first name, what city, state you represent, and your thoughts about why we should fight to breathe. Make sure to include #WEFIGHT2BREATHE as a hashtag in the description or on the video itself, and leave a link to your video at our Facebook page.

WHAT ARE WE DEMANDING?

Disjointed protests are not as effective as coordinated protest movements. It is not enough to simply protest without an agenda. What exactly do we want or hope to achieve? The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement has developed an excellent set of demands, which all serious police brutality activists should seriously use and refer to.

The Limitations of Boycotting as a Protest Tactic

mytruesense:

This deserves repeating…..

Originally posted on MY TRUE SENSE:

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The decision by a Missouri grand jury not to indict police officer Darren Wilson  for the murder of black teen Michael Brown, has caused national outrage among black people. It also inspired activists and others to do something about this injustice.

One of the most prominent ideas that emerged from the tragedy in Ferguson was the national call for black people to boycott white retail establishments on “Black Friday,” “Cyber Monday,” and in some cases, indefinitely.

We heard a similar call when George Zimmerman was cleared of criminal charges for murdering innocent teen Trayvon Martin in Florida. The strategy in that case was for black people to launch a national boycott against the state of Florida, with a focus on its tourism and retail industries.The battle cry was, “Don’t shop in Florida, don’t buy products from Florida, and don’t vacation in Florida!”

As a general rule, organizing strategies and…

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The Limitations of Boycotting as a Protest Tactic

image

The decision by a Missouri grand jury not to indict police officer Darren Wilson  for the murder of black teen Michael Brown, has caused national outrage among black people. It also inspired activists and others to do something about this injustice.

One of the most prominent ideas that emerged from the tragedy in Ferguson was the national call for black people to boycott white retail establishments on “Black Friday,” “Cyber Monday,” and in some cases, indefinitely.

We heard a similar call when George Zimmerman was cleared of criminal charges for murdering innocent teen Trayvon Martin in Florida. The strategy in that case was for black people to launch a national boycott against the state of Florida, with a focus on its tourism and retail industries.The battle cry was, “Don’t shop in Florida, don’t buy products from Florida, and don’t vacation in Florida!”

As a general rule, organizing strategies and tactics should be relevant to the issue we’re addressing and strategically designed to produce desired outcomes. The tragic incident that occurred in Ferguson, Missouri is about police brutality and how the state murders Black people without remorse or consequence.

The simple question for us then,  is “How does boycotting retail businesses  eliminate or reduce the assault or murder of black people by hyperviolent and over-militarized police?

I’m all for boycotting malicious and greedy corporations in an effort  to use our $1.1 trillion purchasing power with people and in ways that empower us. But this tactic doesn’t adequately address and resolve the issue of police brutality.

Effective boycotts target institutions or businesses directly responsible for the oppression we’re challenging, or closely involved/invested in entities that are directly responsible.

For example the 1955-56 Montgomery bus boycott that catapulted Martin Luther King to national recognition, made sense.Black people in Montgomery were tired of paying the same bus fare as whites, but having no power to choose  where they sat on the bus. Furthermore,  we paid our fare on the front of the bus, then had to get off and board via the back doors. White bus drivers often took off without allowing black people who already paid to board the bus!

The injustice didn’t stop there. Once on the bus, we had to sit in the “colored section.” And if the white seating section became overcrowded, we had to relinquish our seats to white passengers! Rosa Parks was arrested if you recall, for refusing to relinquish her seat.

Activists in Montgomery, primarily Black women, made a good call by asking Black folk not to ride public buses. Why should we support a company or service that cheats and mistreats us? The rest, as you know, was history.

In this case white retail stores –  while guilty of harassing Black shoppers, charging exorbitant prices, and underpaying Black workers – do not murder us and are not directly tied to the police  that do.

If we choose to boycott, it should target either the police or court institutions or institutions directly involved with or supportive of them. Courts and law enforcement agencies don’t sell retail items to the public. Therefore we can’t boycott them, and we have yet to identify outside institutions that directly support their ability to attack and kill us. A boycott simply isn’t relevant or effective given these considerations.

There is another major point for us to consider. By targeting establishments not responsible for police brutality, we potentially punish “innocent” people or institutions (innocent of committing police brutality, at least).

Since many black people work as cashiers, sales clerks, and low-level managers  in U.S. retail establishments, the boycott being called for will likely cause many black folk to lose much needed jobs in a very tough economy. How do we justify a tactic that punishes innocent people and negatively affects US, more than it does our opposition?

For these reasons, I do not believe a nationwide boycott of U.S. retail stores will effectively address or resolve the issue of anti-Black police brutality,

There are, to be fair, some advantages to boycotting: doing so will keep the issue current, create and promote Black solidarity, and raise consciousness among our people while mobilizing us to resist our oppression.

However, as already mentioned, the targets of the boycott are too broad and vaguely defined, they are not responsible for the issue we raise, nor do these businesses wield the power or responsibility to resolve the problem. Also, the boycott can result in massive layoffs that may harm us more than it punishes our opponents.

Nevertheless, the boycott has many supporters, is gaining ground, and has a few advantages like those I’ve identified above.
To be clear, I support Black resistance to oppression, and I applaud and generally support attempts to make us wake up and stand up against the racist devaluation of Black life.  I’m not suggesting that we abandon the boycott. I’m suggesting we tweak it to make it more relevant and effective.

In conclusion and going forward, perhaps we can target a specific retail chain or other institution that is highly supportive of police, donates money to murderous police officers or “Police Benevolent Associations,”  or that has publicly defended his/their their acts of aggression against us. Even this wouldn’t end or reduce police brutality, but it would at least punish those who collaborate with or defend belligerent police.

Lastly, It might also be a good idea to couple a “Buy Black” movement with this boycott. We can develop a list of Black-owned businesses throughout the U.S. that provide important goods/services we desire, and help Black businesses and Black consumers simultaneously. Of course these businesses would show their appreciation by lowering prices in return for their increased sales volume.

But even these boycott tweaks will prove to be of minimal influence if we fail to openly and persistently confront, embarrass, disrupt and neutralize police precincts, prosecutors’ offices,courthouses, and propagandist news networks (like Fox) that defend police, devalue Black life, and mischaracterize activists fighting for justice and safety in this nation. Black Consciousness, Black Power!

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Lessons From the Ferguson Decision and Repeated Police Brutality

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As Thanksgiving approaches in three days, it would be sacrilegious for me to suggest that Black people in the U.S. have little for which we are thankful. Yet, when it comes to our experience under racist and irresponsible policing in our communities, this sentiment is valid.

This is one of those posts that really disturbs me. It disturbs me to write this post simply because I shouldn’t have to write it. It disturbs me that many fellow Black people will call me a “fanatic” or “irresponsible militant” for drawing conclusions and making suggestions that are logical,  effective, and drawn from a keen analysis of history. The fact that I must STILL address the issue of anti-Black police brutality says so many unfortunate things about Black people, Black leadership, and the future of Black people in urban areas managed by the occupying force we refer to as “The Police.”

I addressed this issue at length in an earlier article, but the recent news of a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict Mike Brown’s killer, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson, and our shocked reaction to this news, indicates I must revisit the issue. You might want to view the press conference remarks by St. Louis’ prosecuting attorney, Bob McCullouch, below:

You might also want to view the understandable reaction of angry Black folk in Ferguson, Missouri as they realize that yet another white police officer was not held accountable for unfairly taking Black life:

If police murders of unarmed Black people rarely occurred in the United States, we might understand. If police officers were routinely punished for murdering us, we might be more tolerant. If the Ferguson grand jury was not composed of 9 whites and only 3 Black people, we might understand. To make matters worse, the Black President that 96% of Black people voted for in 2008, responded to this disturbing no-indictment decision by ironically and insultingly stating, “We are a nation of law,” by speaking to all the “racial progress” the U.S. has experienced, or spending more time addressing the violence of righteously indignant protesters, than he did the violence of Mike Brown’s murderer or the other acts of police brutality across the nation. See his remarks below:

Despite the president’s diplomatic, sanitized and somewhat ambiguous remarks, none of us who are reasonable are prone to be to very understanding or tolerant as we witness another example of how Black life in this country is devalued, and how that devaluation is justified by government agents.

For the love of God, Black people, and for the sake of our current and future safety, Please read and absorb the following words:

  1. Several decades of police brutality in our neighborhoods strongly suggest that police sensitivity training, candlelight vigils, marches, and “knowing our rights,” simply do not prevent police officers from murdering our people. In fact, such acts have escalated over time.
  2. The reason such tactics or strategies do not work is because they assume that the police exist to promote peace and safety in our communities. This is a false and dangerous assumption. As my previous article on this subject demonstrates, the racist and belligerent police forces that currently exist have their roots in early slave patrols in this country. The objectives of slave patrols were to prevent Black revolt and insurrection against the white privileged class, intimidate enslaved Blacks into submission, and monitor for any activity or sentiment that might lead to rebellion. The officers we see today are the ideological and political descendants of these slave patrol officers, and their objectives where poor and so-called “minority” people are concerned, remain the same. The police as an institution therefore, play a deliberate and conscious role in assaulting, intimidating, detaining, and even murdering our people to quell Black dissent or resistance in a country which by the way, STILL sees us as a cheap and docile labor force.
  3. Since all the approaches I mentioned clearly don’t work (and will NEVER work, for the reasons I just suggested),  we will continue to endure physical and psychological terror at the hands of police forces in this nation, just like our people across the Diaspora do at the hands of U.S. military forces throughout the world.
  4. Mainstream Black leadership in this county makes its living by teaching us to accommodate to our pain and suffering or use means they KNOW don’t work to give us the feeling of protesting or blowing off steam, without actually solving our problems (Brother Malcolm referred to this as learning to “suffer peacefully”). Most of these leaders are far too invested in their expense accounts, jobs, and status to commit to the organizing and sacrifice that is needed to end police brutality.
  5. As former NYC Mayor Rudolph Guiliani harshly reminded us, the persistent violence Black people perpetrate on ourselves compromises our ability to focus squarely on racist violence. While he argued that point from a racist and conservative angle, the point has validity. As we confront police brutality, we must also confront Black fratricide.
  6. No amount of education, candle-lighting, legal representation, knowing your rights, lawsuits, boycotting, marches, or scholarly debates have ended police brutality, or will end it. The only way to end police brutality….is to end police brutality! The only way you save your life when an enemy has a gun pointed at you or has you in a choke-hold, is to disarm that person and render them physically unable to hunt you down afterwards. As I’ve posted before, the Nation of Islam successfully did this, and we can also draw from Robert F. Williams’ example. No one’s life is more important than another’s nor is anyone’s family and community more important. The corrupt and malicious police forces of this country, will at some point push Black people to a position of what I call “irreconcilable discontent.” And when that happens, injuries and casualties will occur on both sides. Every creature in existence has a system for defending itself. When we begin to say “enough is enough, when we understand the nature and objectives of the police, courts, and government agencies, begin to value our lives, and cease hiding behind misinterpreted and revised scriptures, along with our fear of death and prison, I suspect the issue of police brutality will cease in frequency and importance.

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Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.