On Power and the Police

There doesn’t seem to be anyone in the United States without an opinion on the recent events involving police violence against black men. But I have growing concerns with the emerging narrative which paints the police as innocent (and powerless) victims of undue societal backlash. It is critical we understand that this is not, nor has ever been, the dynamic between the police and the general population, and it certainly has never been the dynamic between the police and people of color.

Often when the police are accused of misconduct, any investigation into the matter is the shrouded in mystery, with discipline and reprimand happening behind the closed doors of precinct offices and within police department hierarchies. This means that people die at the hands of the police, and we are left with doubts about whether or not those deaths were justified. But one thing is clear: In the conflicts that ensue between police and citizens (some unarmed), the police are the ones with both the guns, the trust of the public, and the preference of the law on their side. Here is an excerpt from the NYT article about the Darren Wilson case that makes this point: (more…)


The Civil Tube: Strange Fruit

In light of the many thousands of protesters across the country marching, demonstrating, chanting, and singing for justice, we here at the Civil Word thought it only right to take it way back to one of our nations most iconic songs about American oppression and the destruction of black lives.

Strange Fruit was written by Abel Meeropol – a Jewish ally of black rights and a school teacher in New York. Meeropol wrote the song after seeing a picture of a southern lynching. The image haunted him and pushed Meeropol to write Strange Fruit. The lyrics eventually fell into the hands of Billie Holiday who swirls them beautifully with a mesmerizing tone. The rest is history. Video below. The lyrics are below the fold.

To hear more about Meeropol check out this NPR article.


Friday News #Roundup

Here’s what’s happening in our neck of the woods:


Kajieme Powell Shot and Killed by St. Louis Police, Miles from Shooting of Michael Brown

On Tuesday August 19th, Kajieme Powell was shot and killed by two police officers in St. Louis. As reported by the Huffington post, the St. Louis police department stated that officers fired on Powell “when he came within a three or four feet of them holding a knife ‘in an overhand grip.”

But video since released of the incident muddies that account. Powell — visibly disturbed in the moments leading up to the shooting — does approach the officers while screaming ‘shoot me now.’ But the video also reveals that police began to fire at a distance that seems much greater than 3-4 feet and continued to shoot Powell even after he had fallen to the ground. The footage is too far away to determine whether Powell is in fact holding a knife.

The shooting took place only a few miles from where Michael Brown was killed and adds another layer of tragedy to an already frustrating situation. Sadly, Powell joins a list of black people killed by police officers that grows at a rate of at least two a week according to a conservative FBI estimate.  

Watch the video of the shooting below. [WARNING: video includes graphic content.]

Black Menace and The Importance of the #iftheygunnedmedown Hashtag

The Mike Brown tragedy has brought to surface a number of systemic failures that contribute to the oppression of Black Americans. From political disenfranchisement which allows a city two-thirds black to be represented by a city council that’s 80 percent white to the militaristic police-state response used to control and limit the agency of black people (also, everyone), systemic racism and prejudice pervade every aspect of American life.

Particularly fascinating is our collective and pervasive fetish with portraying black victims as menacing. In the case of Mike Brown, the image most widely shared has him standing stoically on a porch, the camera angle such that Brown — already 6’4″ — looms even larger over the viewer. He’s wearing a red Nike tank that reveals beefy muscular arms — one of which is raised chest level with his hand contorted into a peace (gang?) sign. He is not smiling. Brown looks much older than his eighteen years.

Needless to say, one look at this image and a lot of folks think they know exactly what happened between Mike Brown and the police officer that shot him dead. A picture is worth a thousand words and the story some get from this one is that Mike Brown had it coming. (more…)