How do we Stop Racist Police Brutality?

This post is written in blood red to represent all the African/Black people who’ve been murdered by law enforcement agents in the United States. 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.
  7. Learn all you can about your rights and how to protect yourself from escalating interactions with police .
  8. Read and study Robert F. Williams!

9. Read Frederick Douglass’ 1857 “West Indian Emancipation speech:

Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages and make no resistance, either moral or physical. Men may not get all they pay for in this world, but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others.

10. Come out to Harlem Liberation School on July 11, 2016

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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 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and lead. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. In 2015, he wrote My Two Cents: Unsolicited Writings on Race, Politics, and Culture. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Currently, Agyei is a member of the Black Power Cypher, five Black Nationalist men with organizing backgrounds, who host a monthly internet show addressing issues and proposing solutions. He runs his own business publishing books, public speaking, and teaching Black people how to organize and fight for empowerment. He is the founder and coordinator of Harlem Liberation School and the YouTube channel Black Liberation University.

 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.

When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong: Militant Speech in the Age of “Domestic Terrorism”

Two events in 2015 should attract the attention of Black social justice and anti-racist organizers/activists throughout the United States. Both involve Black women who used social media platforms to express their militant anger with rampant police brutality. Both ended with arrests, and both demonstrate the limits of free speech when expressed as militant and inflammatory rhetoric in the post-911 period of the U.S. police state.

In April, Georgia resident Ebony Dickens, using the name Tiffany Milan, posted on Facebook:

All Black ppl should rise up and shoot at every white cop in the nation starting NOW.

I condone black on white killings. Hell they condone crimes against us.

I’ve thought about shooting every white cop I see in the head until I’m either caught by the police or killed by them. Ha!!! I think I can pull it off. Might kill at least fifteen tomorrow. I’m plotting now.

The East Point and Atlanta police along with the FBI and federal Homeland Security Department moved swiftly to arrest Ebony the following day. She was eventually charged with “disseminating information related to terrorist acts,” given a $10,000 bond, and banned from using social media.

Latausha Nedd, aka “Eye Empress Sekhmet,” also a Black woman living in Georgia, was arrested by U.S. Marshals and FBI agents on September 24th for comments she made on a YouTube clip in which she allegedly declared war against whites and racist police. At one point, Latausha holds a machete in one hand and a pistol in another, while proclaiming, “It’s open season on a motherfu-king cracker!” The judge later denied her bond, and video of her in court has gone viral.

I’ve heard two primary responses from community folk regarding these incidents:
1. “I don’t condone what they said, but I also don’t think they should’ve been arrested, either.”
2. “They are some got-damned fools, talking reckless like that on Facebook or YouTube! What did they expect to happen?

Depending on your sociopolitical frame of reference and life experiences, both perspectives contain elements of validity. Of course, intelligence and reason dictate that we do not start or end our discussion with these particular incidents. Unlike the sensationalist mainstream (corporate) media, we must dig deeper for meaning and context, to put these incidents into perspective.
The first thing we must consider takes us back to the year 2001 and the tragic loss of life on September 11th. The shocking attacks on the World Trade Center complex in New York City coupled with a similar attack on the Pentagon building in the nation’s capital, created national outrage, fear and waves of paranoia that cut across racial, ethnic, and religious lines.

Conspiracy theorists suggested that the U.S. government itself initiated these attacks in an effort to scapegoat fundamentalist Muslims and justify military invasion of the oil-rich “Middle East.”

Conservative patriots and Islamaphobes argued that the United States must “send a message” to Islamic “terrorists” and their sympathizers in the U.S.: “We are the leader of the free world, and we will NOT tolerate intimidation or coercion from those jealous or resentful of our way of life.”

Whatever the angle or perspective of these pundits, however valid or outrageous their logic, the outcome of their combined views was inevitable. With a fanaticism that rivaled that of the alleged terrorists it sought to guard against, the United States launched an unprecedented series of actions to tighten national security against both external and internal threats. These ranged from the creation of a new federal department (Homeland Security), laws (USA Patriot Act) and government surveillance programs (Prism).

As is customary in times of great national hysteria, “We the Sheeple” waived our privacy and search and seizure rights (or at least did not vigorously protest to uphold them) in exchange for the rather elusive promise of “national safety.”

Section 802 of the 342-page USA Patriot Act broadly defines an act of domestic terrorism as “An act dangerous to human life.” It goes on to specify this as an act that appears to:

  • Intimidate or coerce a civilian population
  • Influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion
  • Affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping

In this context, we understand why it might not be wise to make violent calls of retribution against police officers, particularly in public social media spaces where such proclamations remain documented for people to see and hear long after the fact. Also, it’s near impossible to deny or falsely represent what you said or wrote when paranoid and petty law enforcement agents can easily see the video or read and download the post at their leisure.

When we publicly record our speech or writing, we waive this important right, and what we say or do, will absolutely be used against us in court. Therefore, we must use discretion and observe our Fifth Amendment right NOT TO INCRIMINATE OURSELVES, or be prepared to face the outcome when we do.

I also caution us not to confuse impromptu and angry proclamations with effective movements to effectively challenge injustice and mistreatment. The first stems from frustration and despair; the latter comes from righteous indignation fused with accurate analysis, along with sustained and strategic grassroots organizing. Getting snatched into the enemy’s captivity without having the opportunity to hold a rally, meeting, protest, boycott, fundraiser, community patrol or anything else, is a victory only for the enemy.

And yet, we cannot simply critique our sisters without empathy. We all understand their frustration and despair. We too, tired of rampant acts of police brutality without punishment. We tire of people subtly or indiscreetly mocking or trivializing our “Black lives matter” call by responding that “All lives matter;” We don’t appreciate people calling us oversensitive, impatient, or reverse racist when we address our societal issues from our own perspective and vantage point; We cringe in anger when media personalities attempt to absolve police of guilt by divulging the criminal record of the brother or sister they killed.

Most telling about race and racism in the United States, is that 2 Black women were arrested for allegedly making verbal threats to whites or police officers. But whites and racist police officers assault or kill Black people every 28 hours and rarely get indicted let alone arrested.

That is the point… That we cannot fall victim to the skewed perspective of others or adopt their hypocritical priorities. The media would have us gasp in horror at the actions of sisters Ebony Dickens and Latausha Nedd. They’d like us to condemn and distance ourselves from these “crazy and evil” women.

Did they lack discretion? Yes. Were their actions wise? No. But I for one will believe their actions pale in comparison to the actions of this white supremacist government, its corporations, prison system, miseducation system, and economic system. Our greatest concern should not be with a few frustrated Black people who speak without discretion on social media, but an entire system of oppression that maims, miseducates, murders, and maligns the Black, Brown, and poor in this country with impunity!

At the same time, and in the interest of effective organizing and privacy, we should take measures to secure our phone conversations, emails and texts (there are apps for this) and speak with clarity, conviction and discretion. Those snooping in our calls often fail to differentiate between raving maniacs and legitimate progressive-minded activists. If the enemy wants to lock us up and sabotage our liberation movement, we should make his job difficult, not easier….. and we should support our sisters being persecuted and teach them how to effectively Keep it Real in the age of domestic terrorism….

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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 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and lead. 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.” Currently, Agyei is a member of the Black Power Cypher, five Black Nationalist men with organizing backgrounds, who host a monthly internet show addressing issues and proposing solutions. He runs his own business publishing books, public speaking, and teaching Black people how to organize and fight for empowerment.

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.

Black Suffering and White Reassurance

bow down

As I mentioned in my previous article, Black people currently live in perilous times. Statistics detailing unemployment, education, mass imprisonment, police brutality, mental and physical health, and poverty all bear witness to this fact. As if these societal issues weren’t enough to contend with, some members of our own community take curious positions that enable our oppressors to continue their mischief in good conscience.

For example, I’ve heard the following comments from some Black folk concerning police brutality:

  • “Some Black police officers participate in police brutality and some whites are attacked by police, so police brutality is race-neutral (not based on race).”
  • “Some Black people are just as racist as some whites, so we need to stop being hypocritical.”
  • “Police are just doing their job. Most of the Black people that get harassed by police are committing crime, being rowdy, or dressing like thugs.”

I will not address these misleading claims, as I’ve already done so at length in several of the 200+ articles I’ve written on this blog. However, I am compelled to raise a few important points.

In the name of my ancestors who endured unimaginable and unjustified cruelty while laboring to build this country, I challenge white supremacy, it’s architects, promoters, beneficiaries, and those who collaborate with it. This latter group includes Black folk that are so obsessed with placating/reassuring whites, that they trivialize or dismiss white brutality and Black suffering.  It’s one thing to provide balanced and nuanced commentary. Ignoring centuries of history and contemporary occurrences is another thing altogether. Doing this to soothe and accommodate white guilt and denial is unacceptable, cowardly, and traitorous. Simply put, sparing your white spouse, co-worker, or friend’s feelings does not take precedence over the suffering of Black people for centuries. If you need to lie to keep someone’s friendship or soothe their feelings, that’s a “friendship” you don’t need! Stop buckdancing to win others’ approval. Tell the truth and shame the devil! Or as Mari Evans put it in her poem, “Speak Truth to the People,”

Speak the truth to the people
Talk sense to the people
Free them with honesty
Free the people with Love and Courage for their Being
Spare them the fantasy
Fantasy enslaves
A slave is enslaved
Can be enslaved by unwisdom….

In conclusion, we must understand that the objective of social justice demands truth and accountability. I’d like to leave you with an excerpt of James Baldwin’s penetrating essay, “White Man’s Guilt.” Perhaps it will demonstrate how no amount of defending, apologizing  or otherwise excusing white naivete or brutality will help white folk confront and resolve their fear, guilt or denial. These are things they must do for themselves:

“…I concluded long ago that they found the color of my skin inhibiting. This color seems to operate as a most disagreeable mirror, and a great deal of one’s energy is expended in reassuring white Americans that they do not see what they see.

This is utterly futile, of course, since they do see what they see. And what they see is an appallingly oppressive and bloody history known all over the world. What they see is a disastrous, continuing, present condition which menaces them, and for which they bear an inescapable responsibility. But since in the main they seem to lack the energy to change this condition they would rather not be reminded of it. Does this mean that in their conversation with one another, they merely make reassuring sounds? It scarcely seems possible, and yet, on the other hand, it seems all too likely. In any case, whatever they bring to one another, it is certainly not freedom from guilt. The guilt remains, more deeply rooted, more securely lodged, than the oldest of fears.

And to have to deal with such people can be unutterably exhausting for they, with a really dazzling ingenuity, a tireless agility, are perpetually defending themselves against charges which one, disagreeable mirror though one may be, has not really, for the moment, made. 0ne does not have to make them. The record is there for all to read. It resounds all over the world. It might as well be written in the sky. One wishes that – Americans–white Americans–would read, for their own sakes, this record and stop defending themselves against it. Only then will they be enabled to change their lives.

The fact that they have not yet been able to do this–to face their history to change their lives–hideously menaces this country. Indeed, it menaces the entire world.”

____________________

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 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and protest. 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.

Preparing for Black Survival in a Time of Peril

keep-calm-and-be-prepared-21

“I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Two Towers”

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Many moons ago – during my first two years as an undergraduate student at Syracuse University, I found myself in a dilemma. After stumbling around unfulfilled in the university’s famed school of public communications, I searched feverishly for a major and academic discipline that was a good fit for me. I wasn’t seeking status, material wealth, or to accumulate innumerable gadgets or trinkets. I simply wanted to better understand the societal forces at work which led to injustice and oppression, and to become familiar with ways to challenge and dismantle the above.

I fell madly in love with sociology. Finally, I could delve fully into research, discussions, and study concerning discussions of power relations, racism, activism, imperialism, propaganda, social change and institutions. I found answers to many of my questions, and developed even more queries. Those studies, in addition to my home training, life experiences, and several mentors along the way, formed the foundations of my political theory and activism which guide me today as a middle-aged man.

And yet, one need not have a background in sociology (or college education for that matter) to read the proverbial handwriting on the wall concerning Black people in the United States. All one needs to understand, as Minister Louis Farrakhan would say, “The Time and What Must be Done,” are good powers of observation, an ability to decode news and current events, and some relevant knowledge of history.

I do not exaggerate when I insist that we live in confusing and  perilous times… perilous for reasons I’m about to explain, and confusing because so-called examples of “Black progress,”  interracial pop culture, and certain technological advancements work to camouflage the perils we face.

On the surface, many can argue that Black people have made tremendous progress compared with the sociopolitical landscape that existed prior to 1965. For example:

  • In 1963, there were 1.469 Black elected officials; At last census count, there were 10,500. And of course, we now have a Black president.
  • In 1964, 2.4 million Black people had a high school diploma; By 2012, that number grew 10 times.
  • In that same year, 365,000 Black people earned a college degree; 43 years later that number grew to 5 million.

However, we’ve also experienced key losses over the years:

  • The number of Black-owned banks decreased by nearly 50% between 2001 and 2014. At last count, there are only about 25 such banks, and close to 60% of them are losing money.
  • Over the last decade, Black-owned bookstores decreased 66%; There are approximately 54 remaining in the U.S.
  • The number of Black journalists working for “mainstream” newspapers has declined 40% within the last decade.
  • In recent years, 11 Historically Black College and Universities have permanently closed.
  • The phenomenon of gentrification has displaced tons of Black people and changed the “complexion” of traditionally Black urban neighborhoods, leading to obvious implications in land ownership, homelessness, and political power.
  • According to the NAACP, Black people represent almost 50% of all prisoners in the United States
  • The unemployment rate for Black people has been double that of whites…a statistic that has remained the same for almost 60 years!

With our alleged $1.1 trillion spending power, high-profile millionaires, Black president, and the relentless distraction of sporting events, “reality” shows,  social media,  and various gadgets, we might be tempted to forget that we are living in perilous times.

For their part, most of the old-guard civil rights leadership, clergy, and Black elected officials have failed to come up with adequate solutions for Black people in these perilous times. This is predictable as most of them receive funding from white corporations and are therefore beholden to them. They too, are quick to remind us as we challenge the system, not to be too angry because “A change is gonna come.” “Don’t be irrational,” they say. “God or the universe will work it out,” they say. But what they fail to do is explain this society’s irrationality and mistreatment of us. Hence, as brother Farrakhan reminds us, their time to lead is OVER! Time and time again when calamities hit our community, these compromised leaders come in to help us “suffer peacefully,” but they are challenged!

But there is one thing even the most distracted and shallow among us cannot forget or ignore. There is one issue that exposes the weakness and incompetence of our leadership and the ruthlessness and tenacity of our enemies.  This of course, is the constant assault and murder of unarmed Black people by police officers or white vigilantes (which according to the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, occurs every 28 hours). The list of Black people killed by police since just 1999 is too long for many of us to fathom. This one ruthless act cuts across various Black community lines of division like complexion, religion, gender, educational attainment, income, age, employment status, etc.Whenever we learn of another cop killing a fellow Black person we all correctly think: :”That could’ve been me or someone I love.”

A string of highly-publicized  death-by-cop incidents across the nation – culminating with the killing of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray – slowly gives rise to righteous Black indignation and resentment. These incidents also reveal to Black people just how despised and vulnerable we still are despite any claims of “Black progress”  or improved “race relations” in the United States. We witness to our dismay how the corporate media prioritize the death or injury of white law enforcement agents over our own, forcing us to reassert the now popular slogan, “Black Lives Matter.” (Some of us) cringe at reports of our frustrated brothers and sisters challenging cops, destroying property, setting fires, and looting stores in in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland. We seethe with anger with each reference to our youth as violent thugs by journalists, white citizens and even the POTUS, while debating the merit or intelligence of such actions ourselves. We keenly notice in contrast how those in uniform who kill us are depicted as “heroes,” “patriots” and “honest civil servants” despite their clear misconduct. Even the more tolerant among us are beginning to realize that cops serve a clear sociological function to monitor, intimidate, and brutalize us.

We tire of conventional approaches to this problem; For many of us, marches, candle-light vigils, proposed legislation, or ambiguous speeches by media-sanctioned and compromised Black civil rights leaders are no longer palatable. All of these emotions and occurrences lead to an increasingly hostile scenario for Black folk in this country. Based on my own observations I personally see bad days ahead, which prompted me to post the following on Facebook today. I am no conspiracy theorist, but rather as a good friend describes, an “early warning system.” I do hope those of you reading this take these words in their intended spirit…..VERY SERIOUSLY:

A NYC cop died today from injuries he sustained after a Black man shot him days ago. The New York Daily News article demonstrates a level of empathy and respect for this officer seldom accorded to unarmed Black people killed by police. Nevertheless, we are heading to very dangerous times which will likely include more rebellions, acts of police brutality, and violent retribution by vigilantes on both sides. Following this will be state of emergency declarations across the country and martial law to (“establish order”) which will eliminate civil rights for the public and inflame an already hostile environment. Black or other elected officials that don’t go with the program will be discredited, sabotaged and/or forced to resign. Negro collaborators will receive great media attention and praise. In the worst case scenario, known activists who are very vocal and effective will be arrested and detained on trumped-up charges. Pray/meditate/work for peace and justice, and learn emergency preparation and self-defense immediately. Take this how you want to, but you’ve been warned. Remember the lessons of Hurricane Katrina and the government response or lack thereof). Remember FEMA. Remember Homeland Security and the Patriot Act. Remember unprecedented government surveillance of our phones, emails, social media, etc. I apologize for offending anyone, but neither those who despise and mistreat you nor those collaborating with them will be your salvation!

_____________________

 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 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and protest. 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.

Who are the Real Thugs in Baltimore?

freddie gray casket

The brutal beating of 25-year old Freddie Gray by Baltimore police on April 12th, and his subsequent death from spinal injuries on April 19th, has created a whirlwind of discussion, protest, and rebellion in the port city known for it delicious seafood and sports franchises.

Sadly, Gray’s death is the most recent in a decades’-long line of Black murder by the hands of racist police. In fact, such treatment has occurred for centuries, if we include the horrors of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, enslavement of our ancestors, brutal treatment by organized Southern slave patrols, and lynching by racist white vigilante groups like the Ku Klux Klan, all of which predate what we now term “police brutality.”

Predictably, this incident has Baltimore residents  (and Black people the world over) incensed . Police crushed Gray’s voice box and severed 80% of his spinal cord while “restraining” him. They also failed to provide adequate medical assistance for brother Freddie.

In response, Black residents of Baltimore took to the streets, first with peaceful (though angry) marches.The tide turned when some protesters – mostly youth – became violent and began burning and looting stores, damaging cars and businesses and pelting the police with rocks.

As images and video of these rebellions spread across the nation, a civil war of words ensued among Black folk. Some  (like myself) related to the anger and frustration felt by Blacks in Baltimore and throughout the country, who tire of seeing their people murdered by state agents. This group empathized with the rebellious youth, even if some of us felt their approach was destructive and ineffective.

The other group seized upon the rebels, calling them thugs, animals, fools, and impulsive idiots for burning and looting. Some in this group went on to reveal their class bias, by making references to the rebels destroying property, damaging commercial businesses, and stealing merchandise. As the situation stands, many whites, police officers, bourgeois Black folk, and elected officials (including Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake) perceive these youth as ” thugs.”

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, speaking at her press conference yesterday, said the City of Baltimore was being, “destroyed by thugs who in a very senseless way are trying to tear down what so many have fought for.” She then went on to announce a week-long city-wide curfew from 10pm-5am; She revealed that she called Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and asked him to declare a state of emergency in addition to calling in the Maryland National Guard.

The Mayor of Baltimore in essence agreed with many – including some Black and Latino folk on social media – who view these youth as violent and incorrigible thugs foaming at the mouth with destruction and violence. Fortunately, many of us observing these developments see things differently. And this begs the question, “Who are the real thugs in Baltimore?”

Speaking just weeks before his assassination in 1968, Dr. King answered this question when responding to the occurrence of riots in his time:

It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.

By 1968 when Dr. King issued this statement, the Civil Rights Movement had already lost momentum, affected by broken presidential promises, legislation without teeth, a violent white backlash, disillusioned civil rights workers, and the emergence of a more radical and skeptical Black Power Movement.

Yet King was still largely respected as an international ambassador of nonviolent struggle and peace. Rather than tout the establishment position of degrading Black rebels, calling them thugs, and decrying their “senseless acts of violence,” King courageously and accurately exposed the real thugs: “the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society.” Perhaps then, the real thugs are those individuals and institutions responsible for creating those intolerable conditions. By making this statement, King skillfully voiced disapproval of violent rebellions while empathizing with those involved. He essentially said, “I don’t agree with your method young people, but I understand WHY you do this, and I recognize the unseen societal hand that is responsible.”

 I agree with Dr. King’s sociological analysis. Furthermore, I contend that the real thugs in Baltimore are the media that  criminalizes Black people and the police who repeatedly use unnecessary force in their interactions with us. The real thugs are the architects and managers of Baltimore’s public school system, who receive large salaries, benefits and privileges to educate 84,976 students, 82% of whom are Black and poor. This system chronically struggles with mismanaging resources and issues of academic proficiency. Less than 60% of the city’s high school students graduate. What promising job, career, business, or position of leadership is this educational system preparing Black youth for? None! Their role – like that of public schools everywhere – is to ship our youth off to prisons where they can exploit their labor by paying them 20 cents an hour, or prepare them to be semi-skilled and obedient workers at the bottom of the economic totem pole. Allow me to be more specific about Baltimore’s real thugs…

Freddie-Gray-Baltimore-Police-Killing-3

Baltimore PD officers harassing Freddie Gray before killing him

The real thugs in Baltimore are the police. Just last year the Baltimore City Council met with Police Commissioner Anthony Batts to discuss practices of harassment like handcuffing people before formally arresting them and going through resident’s personal property without warrants, Police misconduct is such an issue with the Baltimore PD that the U.S. Department of Justice  announced plans ( 6 months prior to the Freddie Gray incident) to conduct a ” thorough, independent and objective review of the city police force after hearing more concerns from residents about excessive force and other misconduct by Baltimore officers.” In one four-year period, the city of Baltimore paid $5.7 million dollars to 100 people people due to police brutality litigation and court settlements!

The real thugs in Baltimore are the political and economic systems. Roughly one-quarter of residents live below the Federally established poverty line. A 25-year study conducted by Johns Hopkins University compared the lives of 800 poor white and Black children in Baltimore. The study examined their lives from first grade to about 30 years of age. The study found that poor whites without much education fared better than many educated Blacks; whites with prison records fared better than their Black counterparts; Whites received more high-paying working class jobs than Blacks; Black families were more likely to be displaced by highway construction, railroad construction or other public works projects; Most poor Black children remained poor as they got older, even those with formal education. Black infant mortality is 9 times that of whites.

We need the Mayor of Baltimore and Black folk with similar thoughts to understand the despair and frustration of those youth, and more importantly, to address the larger systemic issues that lead to Black poverty, hopelessness, despair and outrage. Let’s put this into perspective. Cops are attacking and killing people; Notwithstanding the corporate media’s constant replaying of “riot” activity, rather than the attack on Freddie Gray, for the most part, young rebels are attacking -as one friend on Facebook noted – “inanimate property.

Woe to these political attack dogs! It’s shameful that more Black folk today don’t exhibit King’s wisdom and compassion.Too many of them blame the victim and degrade our neglected, forgotten, despised, and criminalized youth, without examining the underlying socioeconomic conditions at play. In doing so, such Black people have betrayed the mandate of the Civil Rights Movement and people like Dr. King, who they claim to respect. When Dr. King fought to desegregate schools, housing, and political structures, he did so thinking we would get into these positions and use our education, influence and skills to advocate for our people, not advocate against them!

The real thugs here are those I cited. They have the resources, education, and networks to address systemic issues (strange how the mayor cited the “thugs,” instituted curfew, called in the National Guard, but didn’t address the issue of police brutality, Freddie Gray’s death, or intentions to resolve the larger problems). Instead they, and many of you have no outrage against the educational, political, or economic system that denies, neglects, and kills so many Black people in slow and agonizing fashion. Interestingly, their “outrage” only appears when poor and unprivileged Black people fight back the only way some know how: by destroying cars, commercial businesses and property, the very THINGS you disconnected bourgeois Negroes love so much.

 These young people we’re so quick to denigrate are victimized by the institutional thuggery of those with power and privilege who refuse to use their resources to remedy societal inequity. These young rebels simply need political consciousness, guidance, and real leaders/organizers who see them and their anger as valuable, even if misdirected.

The videos of Black youth damaging cars, burning CVS, and looting stores will stay in your minds for weeks. But there is no video clip to show you how our youth are killed slowly every day by public policies, school systems, prisons, courts, job markets, and a society that does everything imaginable to crush their spirits and leave them living in abject poverty, dysfunction and disgrace.

If you continue in your pro-establishment, Devil’s advocate thinking, you will expedite the day when these young people stop throwing bottles and rocks, and begin throwing Molotov cocktails and automatic gunfire….and when that day comes, people like YOU, will be their targets along with white cops and other institutional oppressors…..STOP TALKING LIKE YOUR ENEMY AND SIDING WITH HIS THINKING! STOP BRINGING UP FREDDIE’S PRIOR ARREST RECORD TO DIVERT THE ISSUE! IDENTIFY AND ADDRESS THE REAL THUGS IN BALTIMORE! THEY KILL YOUR PEOPLE AND KEEP THEM POOR, POWERLESS, AND UNEDUCATED!

_________________________

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 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and protest. 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.

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.

_______________________

 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

When crisis occurs, 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 move 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 collectively 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 sociopolitical challenges.

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 pull back the curtains of white American psyche and reveal disturbing attitudes, perceptions and instincts that forcefully explain the significance of race in our society.

First, we must understand that police brutality is not a new or modern phenomenon. State-sanctioned and organized violence has always been the “enforcer” or “muscle” behind the edifice of white supremacy.

This relationship began centuries ago when whites first invaded the African continent and snatched Black people to be their non-consensual laborers.

Coercion  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, and language used or time period in question.

Why was military force so crucial to the projects of enslavement, colonialism and imperialism? No one wants to be exploited, enslaved or mistreated. People typically 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 certain important services to non-affluent or melanated citizens. They do intervene in domestic disputes and help to prevent or solve a variety of petty crimes.

This should not surprise us, nor does this fact negate the oppressive role of police. A functional society requires some degree of safety and order (complete chaos and unpredictability 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, including its para-military components. Certainly the police force needs serious reform but even farther, the nation and its police force need to be dismantled and rebuilt with vastly different objectives, values, and methods.

While the corporate media and the police force itself will strongly disadgree, the police force exists to protect white racial and corporate interests and whites for this reason generally are supportive of them.

Some whites do 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 cannot simply asume 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? These are the questions of the hour, and here are some answers to think about:

  • 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 assaults or 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 – the period during which  the “United States” was a collection of British colonies – 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 and defending 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 white 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…..

___________________

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 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and protest. 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.

Lessons From the Ferguson Decision and Repeated Police Brutality

brutality

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.

Racist Police Brutality Part I: History of The American Police State

uncle sam[Because I want to give important elements of this issue the attention they deserve, this will be a two-part series on racist police brutality in the United States. This article will address the history, role and sociopolitical function of American police as they relate to Black people. The second article will explore traditional methods we’ve used to confront police brutality, and offer new or alternative  ideas. ]


With the escalation and reemergence of racist police brutality in the United States, the media, civil rights groups, and concerned Black citizens find themselves discussing and organizing to confront the American terrorist police state. By “police state” I refer to the law enforcement, legal, and political power structure and how they work together to use terror, fear, propaganda, murder and captivity to oppress and control dissent and political organizing among the masses. This agenda reveals itself on American streets, within Congressional legislation, imperialist foreign policy, and within the prison systems of this country.

eric garner chokehold

Members of the NYPD place Eric Garner in a fatal (and illegal chokehold).

The Trayvon Martin murder and Eric Garner’s murder-by-chokehold, along with the unjustifiable slayings of MIchael Brown, Renisha McBride,  and Jonathan Ferrell, (all committed by white men in or out of uniform), bring us back to conversations about racist violence against Black people in the United States.

As Hip Hop legend Jay Z has said, “Men lie and women lie, but numbers don’t.”  Nor do numbers lie concerning Black death by white hands. According to the 2012 “Operation Ghetto Storm” report by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, statistics taken between January and June of that year demonstrated that a “Black person was killed every 36 hours by white police, security guards or self-appointed vigilantes.”

Disturbing data like this compels the intelligent and concerned among us to ponder why Black lives in so-called “post-racial America are still criminalized and devalued. All across this country, Black people seething with righteous indignation are protesting and discussing how to protect ourselves from agents of the American police state (the second part of this series will focus on this issue.)

ghetto storm

2012 report on police murders of Black people by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement

Concerning this question of resolution, I’ve heard and read intelligent and well-meaning Black folk offer the same traditional approaches we always hear regarding police brutality: Marches, demonstrations, rallies, protests, teach-ins, filming police, police sensitivity training, clinics on how to cooperate with and peacefully engage police, and the like. While I am not completely resistant to these strategies, I am admittedly  skeptical. I am inclined to believe that our wholehearted and patriotic devotion to such methods reeks of naivete.

Somehow we have come to believe that murderous and repressive police  are acting outside of their official duties. And this is where we are wrong. The first intelligent step toward ending or at least effectively neutralizing police brutality is to understand the sociopolitical role and function of police in the United States.

Understanding the true role of police in our nation requires that we know the true history of police forces in this country. Mainstream scholars of police history spin the narrative that America inherited its idea of policing from Britain in the form of constables and night watchmen. According to most accounts, early forms of public policing began first in Boston (1636), then New York City (1651), and then Philadelphia (1705). As populations grew and territories became more industrial and based on specialized labor, other cities adopted volunteer and later professional and more organized police departments.

This history is factually accurate, but does not explain the political and sociological function of police in modern society. For this, we must dig a little deeper and examine the development of police institutions in the early South. As you will see, this history helps us understand why police brutality is a mandated, deliberate, and organic part of our society. 

The advent of police departments, if we trace its southern origins, began with slave patrols in the colonies and later states of America. As revealed in the article, “The History of Policing in the United States: Part I,”

Slave patrols had three primary functions: (1) to chase down, apprehend, and return to their owners, runaway slaves; (2) to provide a form of organized terror to deter slave revolts; and, (3) to maintain a form of discipline for slave-workers who were subject to summary justice, outside of the law, if they violated any plantation rules. Following the Civil War, these vigilante-style organizations evolved in modern Southern police departments primarily as a means of controlling freed slaves who were now laborers working in an agricultural caste system, and enforcing “Jim Crow” segregation laws, designed to deny freed slaves equal rights and access to the political system.

Writing in an article for Rebel Press,  Auandaru Nirhani reminds us that:

The US police force was modeled after the British Metropolitan Police structure; however, the modus operandi –especially when policing poor working class, migrant, brown and black neighborhoods- in the present, resembles the procedures of the 18th century Southern slave patrols, which developed from colonial slave codes in slave-holding European settlements in the early 1600s.

Actual slave patrols badges worn by patrolmen during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Actual slave patrol badges worn by patrolmen during the 18th and 19th centuries.

We should add that white vigilantes and their organizations also played a role in “policing” Black people.  In 1865 for example, former Confederate soldiers formed The Ku Klux Klan to intimidate and brutalize newly-freed slaves and derail the political and social progress afforded Black people during the Reconstruction era following the Civil War. Vigilante groups like the Klan, the White League, and the Red Shirts hung Black folk, burned Black churches and Black homes in an effort to deter us from voting, organizing politically, and enjoying the rights of U.S. citizens.

In short, white citizens deeply feared the threat of Black power and Black rule so they aimed to solidify white male control of the United States. Often times, these racist vigilante groups worked closely with established law enforcement agencies and more often than not, counted sheriffs, police officers, elected officials, attorneys, and judges as members.

Not just the legal establishment, but political powers-that-be worked in conjunction with police and vigilantes. In the 18th century, the state of Georgia passed legislation requiring that plantation owner and their white male workers join the Georgia Militia. This militia was required to do monthly patrols of slave plantations looking for weapons among slaves and to repel revolts or escape attempts.

While many of us can cite our Second Amendment rights, we don’t often think about the motives that led to the amendment. The “white founding fathers” of the United States, especially those from the South, were slave owners who lived in constant fear of Black insurrection. It is no surprise then that these men passed the Second Amendment authorizing the right to bear arms for the maintenance of militias. In school we were taught that the second Amendment protects citizens from corrupt government forces (a fact we should strongly consider in any discussion of police brutality!) But never forget that a key role of this amendment and its support of armed militias was to monitor and control slaves, and prevent or repress slave revolts in the the South.

In conclusion, as far as we are concerned, the broken bones, bruises, spilled blood, paralysis and death we suffer in addition to the tear gas, pepper spray, stomping, chokeholds, bullets and billy clubs unleashed on Black bodies throughout contemporary America are nothing but modern-day manifestations of racist slave patrols.  Acknowledging this fact brings us to the logical conclusions that 1. Black people are to a large degree, perceived and treated by state agents as neo-slaves, people whose labor, mobility, and freedom is subject to control. 2. We are therefore seen as physical and political threats by the established order, which both explains why we continue to be unfairly criminalized and subject to physical attack by law enforcement agents (and even white vigilantes) on any given day. 3. While decent and fair-minded police officers of all racial and ethnic origins do exist, the police department is an institution that “serves and protects” certain class and race interests, and their repeated acts of brutality against us are not incidental or arbitrary, but constitute a mandated, deliberate and organic part of the American social order.

The sooner that we understand this, the better we’ll be. Our tactics will also improve, as we discard bourgeoisie notions that speaking properly, dressing better, teaching police officers to be “sensitive” or educating ourselves, will in any way deter the American police state from spilling our blood. WE are not the problem. The racist and belligerent American police state that unfairly criminalizes and murders our people is the problem. Up to this point, Black people have experienced great physical and emotional pain. Perhaps it’s time to physically defend ourselves in an organized fashion.

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* Please sign our petition to honor murder victim Daryl Washington and to raise awareness of gun violence in our communities!

 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.” Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker. Agyei earned his Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree of Professional Studies from the Africana Studies & Research Center at Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree of Afro American Studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst where he is enrolled in a doctorate program.  If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization or school, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.