Giving thanks

Image of migrant workers from Diego Rivera murals at San Francisco's Coit Tower.

Image of migrant workers from Diego Rivera murals at San Francisco’s Coit Tower

So tomorrow we pause. We give thanks for the blessings in our lives.

It is a tradition that popular story says started in this country with the Pilgrims. They were a band of vulnerable immigrants who survived a harrowing first winter only through the help of the native people who shared their food and taught them to farm and to fish. Our nascent nation would have vanished without the advice of Squanto and other Wampanoags. Ironically, that expression of thanks turned into oppression, as the immigrants took over native land and massacred native peoples, cultures and customs.

Sadly, as a nation, we continue to struggle with immigration, apparently forgetting that with the exception of our native and first peoples, we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants. We give thanks that this month, President Obama ended the threat of deportation for nearly five million of our neighbors, undocumented immigrants with deep connections in our communities and vital roles to play in making them healthy. And we hope that our nation will once again embrace the values of compassion, equity and justice for all, not just those with privilege and power.

We honor the dreamers, the hardworking believers in a United States of America that can be better than the one we currently have. We give thanks to those who work for equity and fairness in public and private life, and those unafraid to point out our society’s failings and eager to help overcome them, including our allies in Ferguson, MO and the many other communities resisting institutional oppression and injustice.

Often at Thanksgiving, we give thanks for the freedoms and privileges we enjoy, whether we were born to them or gained them through struggle. While it is accelerating in the Northwest, ours has always been a nation of haves and have nots. And so in offering thanks for our bounty, we must not lose sight of the inequities that have given some of us so much and many of us so little.

We honor the people who build our homes and grow our food, regardless of where they were born. And we thank the landlords who accept Section 8s, the readers who tutor, the case managers who provide support and advice, the accountants who keep us on track, the donors who channel their money through their hearts and souls. We honor the community that welcomes and supports, in the spirit of that storybook first Thanksgiving, whoever it is that arrives at our table.

So tomorrow we pause. We give thanks…

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

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