Standing with Ferguson

This post was published in print in the Big Picture News insert to Solid Ground’s November 2014 Groundviews newsletter and online on our website.

Gordon McHenry, Jr. with his son Austin in Olympia, WA on MLK Day 2014

Gordon McHenry, Jr. with his son Austin in Olympia, WA on MLK Day 2014

Michael Brown’s death at the hands of a white policeman in Ferguson, MO on August 9, 2014 wasn’t really an unusual event. Black men (and women, adolescents and children) have been subject to violent discriminatory police practices throughout our nation’s history.

Despite the rage and fear felt by participants, the response of the citizens of Ferguson to stand up to this police brutality has been unusual and noteworthy for its display of courage, organizing brilliance, peaceful protests and perseverance.

Solid Ground stands firmly behind the people of Ferguson and those organizing around our country to end police brutality and bring equity to our justice system.

We have a legacy of working in the community and with the Seattle Police Department to deescalate tensions in communities of color. And while we lost funding to continue this work through the JustServe AmeriCorps program a few years ago, we remain focused on the importance of continuing to counter institutional racism playing out in our current policing environment.

For white folks, it might be impossible to imagine how blacks in this country react in the presence of police because of the way we are daily profiled. Even now, as a black man working in a position of leadership and authority – a trained attorney who lives squarely in the privileges of education, class and status – I find myself reacting to the police with a deeply emotional response of apprehension and anxiety. They are a source of conflict or even danger to me and my family, rather than a source of support/resources. This is not a rational response; it wells up from deep inside, buoyed by generational trauma and reinforced by the experience of black people throughout our history.

As a father, I grieve for having to pass this trauma on to my children.

And so, sadly, Michael Brown’s death could almost have been expected. Another day, another black man gunned down. We remember a handful of their names and stories, but just a handful. Remarkably, Michael Brown’s death has outlasted our myopic news cycle and continues to serve as a rallying point for people organizing against police brutality.

It’s important that organizations like Solid Ground continue to shine a light exposing police brutality wherever it occurs.

Ferguson is a place we’re seeing on television, but the reality is Ferguson is a state of mind, and minds can be changed if they’re informed.

October 22 was a National Day of Action Against Police Brutality, which Solid Ground endorsed and participated in. I am hopeful that this kind of public protest can be a catalyst for meaningful change in our community.

Solid Ground stewards a neighborhood of people living in our housing at Sand Point, who are working hard to lift themselves out of homelessness and poverty. The young people there, whether of color or not, are brilliant, compassionate and inspirational. They are the antidote to the prevailing stereotype of black youth and youth of color as “dangerous thugs.”

Solid Ground is committed to understanding and countering racism, because we know that racism is a root cause of poverty.

Undoing racism is a key to unlocking the door to some particular forms and patterns of poverty established during the earliest history of this country when people of specific racial groups were identified as commodities (e.g., African slaves, Chinese railroad workers, Native Americans and others). Our institutions haven’t changed much over the years – and they are still structured in a way that excludes women and people of color.

But equal justice should exclude no one. The people of Ferguson and many other communities are staking their lives on it. People of Seattle: Let us join them!

Advertisements

Aftermath of Ferguson sheds light on racist bias

Clay Smith

Clay Smith

Editor’s Note: The shooting of an unarmed black teen, Michael Brown, by a white police officer in Ferguson, MO – and the reactions that racist act generated across the county – have been the subject of important conversations among Solid Ground staff and others committed to calling out and undoing institutional racism. Here Clay Smith, Case Manager at our Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney Place, weighs in on how racist perceptions of black youth are barriers to justice. Please post your thoughts in the comments section that follows.

I was awake early this morning and came across this article on the Huffington Post: Grand Jury In Ferguson Shooting Investigated For Misconduct. It started me thinking about the discussions I’ve been having with white friends of mine, and about perceptions of minorities generally. Here’s the tweet that’s causing some real concern that “justice” is once more going to be denied:

Screen shoot of tweets

Screen shoot of tweets

Some people I’ve had some rather heated discussions about this case with seem oblivious to the idea that shooting an unarmed teen should be scrutinized to the highest degree. It’s as if they can’t see every person should be given the benefit of the doubt before deadly force is used. I’d almost term this as a racial “blind spot,” where perfectly reasonable people suspend all logic to excuse terrible policing. This idea that because the police act, that somehow they must have been justified regardless of how ludicrous the situation may be. It started me thinking about how our young men and boys are perceived by some non-blacks: Black Boys Viewed as Older, Less Innocent Than Whites, Research Finds. From the article:

Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection. Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent.” ~Phillip Atiba Goff, PhD, University of California, Los Angeles

I think it’s more than probable that some of the white jurors in this grand jury stand very firmly with Officer Wilson. Also from the article:

Researchers tested 176 police officers, mostly white males, average age 37, in large urban areas, to determine their levels of two distinct types of bias – prejudice and unconscious dehumanization of black people by comparing them to apes. To test for prejudice, researchers had officers complete a widely used psychological questionnaire with statements such as ‘It is likely that blacks will bring violence to neighborhoods when they move in.’ To determine officers’ dehumanization of blacks, the researchers gave them a psychological task in which they paired blacks and whites with large cats, such as lions, or with apes. Researchers reviewed police officers’ personnel records to determine use of force while on duty and found that those who dehumanized blacks were more likely to have used force against a black child in custody than officers who did not dehumanize blacks. The study described use of force as takedown or wrist lock; kicking or punching; striking with a blunt object; using a police dog, restraints or hobbling; or using tear gas, electric shock or killing. Only dehumanization and not police officers’ prejudice against blacks – conscious or not – was linked to violent encounters with black children in custody, according to the study.”

I shudder to think that there are armed officers out there that see blacks as something less than human, therefore react accordingly. But I think we are coming to a point where people can no longer excuse these types of behaviors because they are patently lacking empathy and understanding of the community. The exception: The Story Behind A Shocking Dash Cam Video That Landed An Officer In Jail.

When the decision is made to send a white cop into a neighborhood he or she is not part of with little to no training on the population, incidents like the one in Ferguson will continue to happen. It’s just very bad policing to send people into situations that will put them and the population they serve at risk. But in the end, I don’t think the grand jury will be able to see Michael Brown as a human being; that isn’t a leap some are prepared to make.

Just sayin’….

Clay

‘It’s a broken system that’s not working’: Proposed new youth jail will increase incarceration of youth of color

In 2012, King County, WA voters passed a levy initiative to fund the construction of a new Children and Family Justice Center. Given the fact that 100% of taxpayer money will be used for the construction of the facility – not for maintaining or creating services – it’s hard to think of this facility as anything other than a reinforcement of the school-to-prison pipeline, a widespread pattern in the US of pushing students, especially those already at a disadvantage, out of school and into our criminal justice system.

In King County, African-American and white youth commit crime at the same rates, yet about 40% of detained youth are African American, and they are twice as likely to be arrested and referred to court as white youth. Incarcerating youth without providing diversion or reintegration programs increases the chances of recidivism, thus continuing the revolving door of our criminal justice system – statewide and nationally.

“It’s by design to start that process off early,” says Ardell Shaw, intern for Solid Ground’s Statewide Poverty Action Network. He describes how this affects kids later in life: “A person has a felony on their record. Now they may repeat this cycle, and when they get out, they have huge amounts of fines to pay. The system creates enough stress where they perpetuate recidivism and keep that cycle going.”

New Youth Jail, King County, institutional racism, african american incarceration, king county juvenile infographic

Infographic created by Solid Ground

Now that we’ve gone over some statistics, imagine how these numbers will change after the jail is built. The county is going to have to justify spending a quarter of a billion dollars on this project somehow. Their justification will come in the form of incarcerating more youth, especially targeting youth of color.

“The purpose for building it isn’t about the renovations, it’s to put more bodies in it. Particularly African-American bodies,” says Ardell. “When it first came out they tried to glamorize it as a ‘family center’ instead of calling it what it actually was.” A youth jail.

What can you do about it?

1)     “Make calls. Support us when we have meetings.” Ardell is referring to the No New Youth Jail campaign, which is strongly backed by Youth Undoing Institutional Racism, The People’s Institute Northwest, and the Black Prisoners’ Caucus among other organizations, including Solid Ground.

2)     Call King County and City of Seattle council members Bruce Harrell, Mike O’Brien, Kathy Lambert and Dow Constantine to say you support the demands to defer this money elsewhere.

3)     Also, Ardell encourages us to talk about it. “Make people aware that it is a waste of taxpayers’ money. That money could be spent other ways. The juvenile system is broken and they DON’T fix problems in the current system.”

“You have to deal with what the issue is, why they got into trouble in the first place,” explains Ardell. “They’re not just committing crimes to commit crimes. There are other factors … So if we can get to the base root of what that is, then we stand a better chance. Then we let the kids know there is a possibility. They need to find a way to correct their system and really offer these kids help. Not just probation, but help.”

New jail not best way to address youth crime

NoNewYouthJail_webSolid Ground is joining a broad coalition of community groups led by End the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) and Youth Undoing Institutional Racism (YUIR) campaigning for community-based alternatives to building a new mega-sized youth jail in Seattle-King County.

While we recognize the need to renovate or replace the existing youth jail, we support the No New Youth Jail Campaign’s efforts to slow down the process and bring community leadership into prominence as we chart better ways to address youth crime. We believe the $210 million allocated for building a new youth jail could be invested with more impact through a modest facility upgrade, community-based prevention and diversion strategies, as well as the use of restorative justice practices for youth.

Youth crime is down in King County and the current facility is often not at full capacity. Therefore, we question the wisdom of building a larger jail, which would only reinforce criminalization as a strategy to deal with troubled youth. As an active member in the Equity in Education Coalition in Washington State, we are concerned about failings in our education system that disproportionately impact students of color and funnel kids into the school-to-prison pipeline.

We know from 40 years of experience as a service provider that disadvantaged families and youth need access to a broad range of wraparound services to overcome structural barriers to their success. These interventions and resources are more successful when offered before people get into trouble, not when they are already in jail.

Solid Ground is committed to undoing racism and other oppressions by examining institutional practices and policies that trap people in poverty and hold communities back. Investing $210 million in a mega-jail for youth would clearly reinforce institutional practices and policies that have wreaked havoc on communities of color and people living on low incomes. We look forward to supporting efforts to develop more proactive approaches to reducing crime and supporting youth in creating meaningful roles in our community.

More on the campaign is available on the No New Youth Jail blog.

Genesis of anti-racism work at Solid Ground

Because racism is a root cause of poverty, Solid Ground works to undo institutional racism both internally at Solid Ground and in the broader community. In this brief video, former Executive Director Cheryl Cobbs Murphy tells the story of how this nonprofit human services agency became committed to anti-racism social change organizing.

Cheryl Cobbs Murphy 2007

Cheryl Cobbs Murphy with Ron Chisom at the 2007 Seattle Human Services Coalition’s awards ceremony

Solid Ground committed to this work in 2001, and over the last 13 years we have:

  • Trained staff in Undoing Institutional Racism and cultural competency.
  • Formed a multi-racial, staff-driven Anti-Racism Committee (ARC) to organize internally and identify and prioritize anti-racism actions to better serve our clients.
  • Engaged staff and community members to recognize and take action against racism in our own lives and communities.

In 2007, the Seattle Human Services Coalition recognized Solid Ground’s anti-racism work, presenting Executive Director Cheryl Cobbs Murphy the inaugural Ron Chisom Anti-Racism Award.

May Day march brings community & action to the streets

SolidGroundBannerEditedThe first day of May is one when we feel relief knowing that our harsh winter weather is over and we eagerly await beautiful blooms in spring and (hopefully) bountiful harvests in summer. Traditionally in the past, a “May Day Basket” filled with Easter-like treats and flowers may have been left at a neighbor’s doorstep; a gesture meant to deepen community ties by sharing the celebration of spring and its promise of new beginnings. However, this ritual is slowly fading.

The promise of spring also informs the century-old International Workers’ Day, May 1st is also a day in which activists demand social change, especially as they pertain to immigrants’ rights. The origins of this day trace back to the late 19th century when thousands of workers in Chicago organized, demanding an eight-hour work day, fair wages and safe working conditions. A bomb was thrown into the crowd of picketers (the culprit is still unknown) which spurred a shooting frenzy with police, killing over a dozen people and wounding dozens more. This tragedy became known as the Haymarket Massacre, one that propelled the first day of May forward to unite those in solidarity, never forgetting those that lost their lives in Chicago over 100 years ago.

While violence has marred recent Seattle May Days, this year’s events started peacefully with a rally at Judkins Park, where thousands congregated, assembling signs and conversing with familiar faces. Shortly after 3pm, we were off on our 2.5-mile trek to downtown Seattle, during which temperatures reached up to the mid-80s. Thousands more joined the march as the crowd proceeded down Jackson to Boren Street.

People held signs that read “Health Care is a Human Right” supporting a single payer national health program and “¡Sí se puede!” (“Yes, we can!”), observing the United Farm Workers’ rallying cry so many years ago. Chants like, “Obama! Escucha! Estamos en la lucha!” (Obama! Listen! We are in the fight!) – calling upon the President to curb the over 2 million record deportations that have occurred under his administration – and “What do we want? 15! When do we want it? Now!”— demanding a livable wage of $15 per hour in Seattle proper (and eventually across America) – were heard throughout the march.

But the message seemed disjointed and all over the place, like too many options on the social justice menu. An all-encompassing rally demanding justice for all facets of inequality? Could the statements be confused for a chaotic and unfocused purpose?

“It was an important day of coming together around issues that affect everyone,” says Leah Grupp-Williams, Food Resources Program Assistant at Solid Ground. In the past, Leah has helped organize the May Day March with the May 1 Action Coalition. This year she planned a group from Solid Ground to attend the march. When asked why this march is so important to her, she replied, “Our current immigration policy is an example of how racism thrives in this country. And it’s important for Solid Ground to continue to have a presence in grass roots struggles.”

Another member of the Solid Ground team who attended the march offered his personal connection to the rally. Gordon Pun, Facilities Manager at Solid Ground, states, “I am an immigrant who wanted to be in the U.S. I wanted a better future and freedom in the U.S. …an opportunity to grow.” As he recounts his own experiences, he also relates his story to current immigration issues. “I see the struggle that immigrants have to [endure]. I see why immigrants have to cross the border. I feel bad that the families have to break up. That’s really sad.”

Even though he has a direct affinity with those cries for comprehensive and inclusive immigration reform, Gordon still agrees with the notion that there may be a community sentiment after all. “Everyone has their own reasons for being at the march,” he says.

And isn’t it true? That we all have our own reasons for all-encompassing advocacy? Whether your family is threatened with deportation every day of your life, a friend is living at poverty level because they make minimum wage, or your coworker just filed for bankruptcy because they couldn’t pay their medical bills, we all know someone. We might even be living it. But whether the former or the latter are the case, one has to feel a sense of unity and collective emotion to witness so much participation in a movement that is focused on helping out fellow Americans who are, in essence, strangers. To see them in good health. To prosper and live without fear of separation from their families.

Knowing these issues still plague our people, how can such things that anger and outrage us at times also make us happy in some ways? Happy that thousands came together for the same altruistic purpose. Happy that destructive behavior and obscenities were largely absent among thousands of people within the cramped streets of Seattle. Happy that that feeling of community, which is few and far between for some, showed its face on that warm, sunny, first day of May.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Solid Ground Stands Against Racism

2014StandAgainstRacism-cropped

 

On the last Friday of April, Solid Ground participated in the YWCA’s annual Stand Against Racism event. We joined other social justice organizations to gather as a community, to take the time to reflect on the serious challenge of our work to end racism, and to celebrate the richness of our diversity. We took a stand against racism at the same time that many pundits assert that the United States has evolved into a “post-racial” society – based on having elected an African-American president. We know that race still matters and continues to be leveraged by those with power and privilege. We must continue our work to undo the adverse impacts of racism and oppression in order to shape a more equitable and just tomorrow.

Some actively try to turn back the clock of progress, including Cliven Bundy, an anti-federal government property rights activist in rural Nevada, who has become a darling of conservatives precisely because of his anti-federal government principles. Just days prior to the Stand Against Racism, he offered his opinions on “the problem of the Negro” by stating: “…they abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

And on the day after our Stand Against Racism event, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, a professional basketball team with over 70% African-American players, told his mistress “…don’t bring blacks to my games.” When she pointed out that he is the owner of a team that is mostly black, he stated “…I support them, I give them food and clothes and homes…”

One hundred fifty-one years after slavery was abolished, we still have persons with power and privilege who not only have a slave owner’s mentality but also the audacity to publicly promote their racist views. These misguided and dangerous people are not only comfortable living in our sordid past – they seem to feel the need to advocate turning back the clock.

At our Stand Against Racism event, the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us that:

…the ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”

Taking a Stand Against Racism is the voice of good people committed to undoing the negative and wrongful impacts of racism and oppression.

Visit our Anti-Racism Initiative (ARI) webpage for more information on how Solid Ground strives to stand against racism every day of the year.

 

%d bloggers like this: