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By TOM FOREMAN JR. and JIM SUHR -Huff Post Black Voices
FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) — Protesters in Ferguson pressed pause Thursday as the city welcomed Thanksgiving, decorating boarded-up storefronts with some Dr. Seuss inspiration and gathering for church services — a stark contrast to previous days of outrage over the grand jury decision in the Michael Brown case.
No police officers or Missouri National Guard members stood sentry outside the Ferguson police station, which has been a nexus for protesters since Monday night’s announcement that Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who is white, wouldn’t be indicted for fatally shooting the unarmed black 18-year-old in August.
On that downtown street, beneath a lighted “Season’s Greetings” garland, three children used paintbrushes to decorate the plywood covering many storefront windows that was put up to foil potential vandals. One quoted from “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”
Since the grand jury’s decision, protests have taken place across the country. Most have been peaceful. But at least 130 demonstrators who refused to disperse during a Los Angeles protest were arrested Wednesday night, while 35 people were detained in Oakland following a march that deteriorated into unrest and vandalism, according to police officials.
Back in Ferguson, Greater St. Mark Family Church sits blocks from where several stores went up in flames after the grand jury announcement. A handful of people listened to the Rev. Tommie Pierson preach Thursday that the destruction and chaos was by “a small group of out-of-control people out there.”
“They don’t represent the community, they don’t represent the mood nor the feelings of the community,” Pierson said. “I would imagine if you talked to them, they probably don’t even live here. So, we don’t want to be defined by what they did.”
In downtown St. Louis, a group gathered near Busch Stadium for what organizer Paul Byrd called a “pro-community” car rally meant to be peaceful and counter the recent Ferguson violence he suggested has tarnished the region’s image.
Byrd, a 45-year-old construction worker from Imperial, Missouri, declined to say whether he supported Wilson but noted, “I totally support police officers.” The cruise was escorted by a city police vehicle; no protesters showed up.
Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri came as no shock to the hundreds of Americans of color who have lost loved ones in officer-involved shootings. Below, some of these people discuss their experiences and share their thoughts on the grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who fatally shot an unarmed Brown this summer.
Nicholas Heyward Jr.
Thirteen-year-old Nicholas Heyward Jr. was playing “cops and robbers” in the stairwell of a Brooklyn housing project in 1994 when NYPD Officer Brian George mistook the teen’s toy rifle for a real weapon. George fired one shot into Nicholas’ stomach, killing him.
Then-Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes declined to convene a grand jury in the case, or to directly press charges against George. The shooting was ruled a justifiable homicide.
Twenty years later, Nicholas’ father, Nicholas Heyward Sr., is still fighting to keep the memory of his son alive. He’s distraught by both the recent death of Akai Gurley — another unarmed black male shot and killed by a police officer in the stairwell of a Brooklyn housing project — and the grand jury’s decision in Ferguson. Heyward spoke to The Huffington Post by phone this week. It was clear from his voice that he was close to weeping.
HEYWARD: Honestly speaking, whenever I hear of an innocent victim being killed by the police, I’m in tears. It hurts me so much. I know the officers aren’t going to ever be held accountable.
Here’s what I would say to [Michael Brown’s] family: “Just continue to speak out and expose the truth.”
My son was an outstanding student, an outstanding child, very helpful around the house. When my son was alive, in this community, he’d be talking to senior citizens on a bench out here. He was always willing to suck in knowledge from the adults. I remember when I went up to open house at school one night, when we both walked through the door, the principal pointed to my son and said “He’s always in my office,” and I was like, “What you been up to?!”
But then principal said, “No, he helps me out. He’s an outstanding student.” I was so overwhelmed by that. He was an amazing kid. I don’t just say that because he’s my son, but what others have told me about my son also.
My experience has been to organize with those who can identify my pain. You have to talk about that pain, because it’s never gonna go away. As the years go on, it gets worse, because you see that it’s constantly, constantly happening. You don’t want another family to experience the pain and hurt.
That’s why I’m still out here 20 years later. They’re murdering our kids and they’re getting away with it too much. I haven’t done enough out here because they’re still killing our children. And until that stops, I won’t stop.
This Tuesday marked eight years since Sean Bell, 23, was killed by a hail of NYPD bullets in Queens. He was unarmed. Later that day, he was supposed to get married.
The three officers who faced charges were eventually acquitted. On Monday night, Bell’s mother Valerie watched the announcement of the Ferguson grand jury decision. She shared her thoughts with HuffPost the following day.
BELL: Yes, I watched it. And I really had no words at the time. All I could say was “wow.”
I texted Michael Brown’s mother before the decision. I said, “Keep your head up no matter what the decision is, because you gotta be the voice for your son.”
[Tuesday] is the anniversary of my son’s death. It’s like it’s happening all over again. Seeing [Michael Brown’s family], I’m reliving it again with somebody else. Even though they did indict [the officers who killed] my son, the officers still get off. It’s a never-ending story.
I’d tell the Brown family this: You’re never gonna forget it. If I was at work today, I’d be at my desk, crying.
You have to try to help make change. These police officers need to be held accountable. They need to go to jail. If we did the same thing as them, we’d go to jail for life.
Oscar Grant III, an unarmed 22-year-old, was shot and killed in Oakland, California, by BART Officer Johannes Mehserle in 2009. Mehserle said he thought he was using his Taser when he shot Grant point-blank in the back with a handgun.
Multiple witnesses recorded the incident on their phones, and the tragedy was later the subject of an acclaimed movie, 2013’s “Fruitvale Station,” named for the BART station where the shooting occurred. Mehserle was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in 2010.
Grant’s mother, Wanda Johnson, spoke to HuffPost by phone.
JOHNSON: When the [Ferguson] verdict was rendered, it brought back a lot of memories of going through trial and court for my son’s case.
I don’t think I’m ever going to have that closure. But I believe that Oscar died for a purpose, and one of those purposes was to bring light to the injustice that African-American and brown young men face.
And so with that, every day is an opening for me, because I’m still always talking about Oscar, always sharing the experience that I went through, that my family went through, and working to try to let people know that stereotypes still exist.
People expect you to just get over it in a certain amount of time. One of the things that helped me to cope is being able to help other mothers or families who have lost their children to gun violence. It’s an everyday struggle. I go through the transition of not having their child with them, encouraging them. It’s a very hard process to deal with. It’s very hard.
People are fed up. We have a new generation coming up and they see the injustice taking place in our society. They looked at what happened all the way from Rodney King to my son Oscar Grant and now Michael Brown.
[Brown’s family] hasn’t had the time to sit down and come to grips with how their family is forever changed. They won’t get to smell the roses that their son brings home. They won’t get to see his smiling face. They won’t get to hear his laugh. They won’t get to hear him say “I love you.” They won’t get to feel his hugs and his touch.
One of the things that they will probably have to do is get away to themselves, for awhile, to really process this, and really just come to grips with Michael not being here anymore.
Errol Shaw was 39 years old when Detroit police Officer David Krupinski fatally shot him at his home on Aug. 29, 2000. Shaw could not hear or speak, and his family said he couldn’t understand police orders to put down the rake he was holding. Shortly after Shaw’s death, Detroit’s mayor asked for a federal review of the police department and police-involved shootings, resulting in a Department of Justice monitoring program that only ended this year.
Krupinski was charged with manslaughter, but was later acquitted.
Shaw’s niece, Katina Crumpton, was there when her uncle was killed. She told HuffPost that the deaths of both Michael Brown and her uncle, along with the lack of a criminal conviction for either shooter, prove that our justice system needs an “overhaul.”
CRUMPTON: I was very hurt for [Michael Brown’s] family. I can understand the agony, the pain, the sorrow. I understand it all because we’ve been there.
There’s still not a sense of normalcy when it comes to what transpired with my uncle. Each day it’s a struggle for his mom, my grandmother.
When I got out of my car, as I was walking towards the police officers, I was kind of stating to them, “He’s deaf, he’s deaf, he can’t hear you.” They were telling him to drop his rake, but he was actually going to do yardwork. They told me to stop coming. And then one officer pointed the gun at me and told me to stay right where I was. Otherwise, they probably would have killed me, too.
Now, when I see a police officer, I literally cringe. I get nervous. It’s been that way with my entire family and people who know about our case. We have no trust in our judicial system. We have no trust in police officers anymore. It’s very, very difficult as a community to move forward if we can’t even trust the police to protect and serve.
It’s like the judicial system is dehumanizing us as a people. Like we are not a concern. Like we are just not human beings. It’s utterly ridiculous how these officers are getting away with these senseless murders.
O’Shaine Evans, 26, was fatally shot by San Francisco police Officer David Goff on Oct. 7. Goff reportedly suspected that Evans was part of a group of men who’d just burglarized an SUV near AT&T Park. He approached Evans, who was sitting in a parked car, and asked him to show his hands, according to police. Evans allegedly pointed a gun at Goff, who fired into the car, striking Evans twice. Goff is currently on paid leave while the shooting is under review.
Evans’ family doubts that Goff properly identified himself, and police admit that Goff’s uniform was partially covered.
The decision in Ferguson was exactly what Evans’ sister, Cadine Williams, 34, expected to happen.
WILLIAMS: [Evans] was born in Jamaica, moved here in ’92. You know the story. We came here because of poverty. He was trying to be a boxer when they killed him.
Every day I dream about it. I haven’t gone back to work. I’m scared in my own house. We grew up together.
I didn’t expect anything different to come out of [Ferguson]. It was not surprising to me. For them to charge Wilson with murder, that would have been justice.
[The violent protests] should happen. Burn it down. That’s the only way they’re going to listen to us, to see we mean business, that we’re standing up for [Brown]. I was not [active] until [Evans died]. I wish I had gotten out there before this. It’s an eye-opener. It’s a lesson learned.
I’m so sorry for [Michael Brown’s family’s] loss, and that they have to relive the whole nightmare all over again. I feel it for them, because I know what they’re going through. It’s close to what happened to my brother.
In February 2012, NYPD Officer Richard Haste spotted 18-year-old Ramarley Graham outside a Bronx bodega and reportedly thought he had a gun. Haste and another officer followed Graham back to his apartment.
The officers broke inside without a warrant, and Haste shot Graham once in the chest, killing him. Graham was unarmed, and police say he was trying to flush a bag of marijuana down the toilet. His grandmother and his 6-year-old brother watched him get shot.
Haste was indicted later that year, but the indictment was tossed out on a technicality in 2013. A second grand jury declined to indict him. Graham’s mother, Constance Malcolm, talked to HuffPost during a protest in New York City Monday night.
MALCOLM: I got an indictment in Ramarley’s case and I’m right back to square one. It’s sad that [the Brown family] didn’t get the indictment.
If it was us, we’d get indicted right away — before we even got to the precinct.
We’re black, and they don’t think our lives matter. But we’re showing them that they do matter. It’s a lot of black youth out here, and it makes a big difference. We’re showing that we are somebody. We’ll stand strong, be united as one and never be defeated.
If a cop can kick your door down and murder you, what kind of country are we living in? We can’t keep burying our kids. It’s just too much for a mother.
Remarks have been edited for length and clarity.
By Associated Press via Huff Post Black Voices
ST. LOUIS (AP) — The weeks of anxious waiting and hours of deliberating ended Monday, but the grand jury’s decision not to indict a white Ferguson, Missouri, police officer in the fatal shooting of black 18-year-old Michael Brown will likely reverberate throughout the community and nation for days to come.
THE LATEST: Some businesses were little more than charred husks along a stretch of West Florissant Avenue where protests turned violent overnight in the north St. Louis suburb. Other businesses had items strewn about and numerous windows broken Tuesday morning. Authorities said 14 people had protest-related injuries. Sixty-one people were arrested in Ferguson, many for burglary and trespassing, and protests in the Shaw neighborhood of St. Louis led to 21 arrests.
THE BEGINNING: Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Brown, who was unarmed, shortly after noon Aug. 9 in the middle of the street after a scuffle. Brown’s body lay there for hours as police investigated and an angry crowd of onlookers gathered. Several days of tense protests in the predominantly black community followed, prompting Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to call in the National Guard. St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch decided to present the case to a grand jury.
THE ANNOUNCEMENT: Made up of nine white people and three black people, the grand jury met 25 days over three months, and heard more than 70 hours of testimony from 60 witnesses. McCulloch held a prime-time news conference Monday to reveal the decision, and described inconsistent witness accounts. He never mentioned that Brown was unarmed when he was killed.
THE PUBLIC RESPONSE: Thousands waited in the streets of Ferguson and in other major U.S. cities on Monday, and responded with shouts of anger. In Ferguson, some began throwing objects at police, who had been told to handle the situation as if it were a baseball game. But protesters soon began to smash windows and set fire to businesses and cars, and authorities lobbed tear gas to disperse the crowd. When daylight broke, about a dozen businesses had been severely damaged or destroyed.
THE DOCUMENTS: More than 1,000 pages of grand jury documents were released Monday, including Wilson’s full testimony in which he described the scuffle in his patrol car and recognizing the cigars in Brown’s hand as possibly being connected to a report of a convenience store robbery. Wilson also said that Brown approached him: “And when he gets about … 8 to 10 feet away … all I see is his head and that’s what I shot.”
THE FINAL SAY? The U.S. Justice Department has its own investigation into possible civil rights violations that could result in federal charges for Wilson, but investigators would need to satisfy a rigorous standard of proof. The department also has launched a broad probe into the Ferguson Police Department.
WHAT’S NEXT: Michael Brown’s family, who called for peaceful protests after the grand jury decision was announced, is scheduled to speak at Tuesday morning. St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson has scheduled at 5 p.m. Votive Mass for Peace and Justice.
CLAYTON, Mo. — A grand jury has decided not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson for killing 18-year-old Michael Brown, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch announced Monday.
McCulloch said members of the jury met for 25 days and heard over 70 hours of testimony from over 60 witnesses before reaching their decision. He confirmed Wilson had fired 12 shots at Brown, who was unarmed.
Brown’s Aug. 9 death sparked massive demonstrations in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson and a national conversation on race and law enforcement. Activists had predicted a new wave of demonstrations if Wilson was not indicted — not only in Ferguson, but in the greater St. Louis region and in other cities across the country.
“We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions,” Brown’s family said in a statement. “While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen.”
McCulloch said he would release full transcripts of the grand jury proceedings Monday night. His office took an unusual approach to the grand jury process by simply presenting the panel with all the evidence but not recommending any specific charges against Wilson.
“From the onset, we have maintained and the grand jury agreed that Officer Wilson’s actions on August 9 were in accordance with the laws and regulations that govern the procedures of an officer,” Wilson’s lawyers said in a statement. “Law enforcement personnel must frequently make split-second and difficult decisions. Officer Wilson followed his training and followed the law.”
Witnesses to Brown’s shooting who have publicly spoken about their recollections largely told the same story about the events that led to his death.
It is well established that Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson were walking in the middle of a quiet residential street near the home of Brown’s grandmother when Wilson confronted them shortly after noon on Saturday, Aug. 9. The witnesses who spoke publicly said there was an initial confrontation between Brown and Wilson through the window of his police SUV — some said they thought Wilson was trying to pull Brown in, while Wilson has reportedly said that Brown reached for his weapon.
Wilson reportedly fired one shot out the window, and witnesses claim that Brown took off running. Wilson emerged from the vehicle, and Brown at some point turned around. Many witnesses who have spoken publicly said that Brown looked like he was trying to surrender and put his hands in the air as Wilson shot the final fatal rounds. Wilson reportedly contends that Brown was headed back toward him.
The Washington Post, meanwhile, reported that seven or eight witnesses largely backed up Wilson’s account of the shooting in testimony before the grand jury. Those witnesses, like most of the people in Ferguson, are African-American.
When Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson released Wilson’s name on Aug. 15, the police department simultaneously released a video that appeared to show Brown stealing cigarillos from a convenience store not long before the shooting and shoving a clerk when he was confronted. Jackson has since said that Wilson was not aware that Brown had been involved in any alleged robbery when the officer spotted him on the street.
The family attorneys of slain teenager Michael Brown held a live news conference Thursday morning to discuss new developments in Ferguson, Missouri related to the grand jury decision on Brown’s death, which is expected to come as soon as this weekend.
Attorneys Benjamin Crump and Anthony Gray also shared the latest information from a private autopsy performed on Brown’s body by Dr. Michael Baden, who testified before the grand jury Thursday.
“The only thing that Dr. Baden had wished to express to [Brown’s] parents is that in his preliminary autopsy, he had not been able to determine the shots to the chest — whether they were re-entry or entry wounds,” Crump said at the news conference.
“He was [now] able to confirm that there was an additional entry wound into his chest and that it was not a re-entry wound,” Crump added.
Crump declined to share additional information or say what, if anything, Baden’s findings implied, saying that the pathologist had expressed a wish for the substance of his testimony not to be discussed.
As for the attorneys’ assessment on the fatal shooting of Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, both Crump and Gray — along with Brown’s family and many members of the community — believe that there is enough probable cause to charge Wilson in killing the unarmed teenager.
A grand jury is currently reviewing the case and is expected to announce a decision in a matter of days on whether Wilson will face criminal charges.
However, the Brown family’s attorneys said that because of the opaque nature of the grand jury, which meets in secret, there are some doubts in the community about whether the trial is proceeding fairly.
“There’s a great concern that because of this secret proceeding, that people will not be so accepting of whatever decision the grand jury will make,” said Gray.
The fatal shooting took place on Aug. 9 and immediately sparked a long series of protests in Ferguson, some of which turned violent and prompted the arrival of the National Guard.
On Tuesday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) said the National Guard will be on standby in case of any further violent protests.
However, Brown’s parents and family attorneys encouraged protesters to remain peaceful while practicing their First Amendment rights.
“The Brown family sends a passionate plea this morning to law enforcement and to those that support justice for Mike Brown Jr. to allow cooler heads to prevail in times of adversity,” Gray said on Thursday.
“Regardless of the decision of the grand jury, it will be a defining moment in the history of Missouri.”
The parents of Michael Brown addressed members of the United Nations on Tuesday on a mission to bring further international awareness to the shooting death of their unarmed 18-year-old son by Ferguson, Mo. police officer Darren Wilson.
Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr. traveled to Geneva, Switzerland as part of a delegation of human rights advocates and spoke before a U.N. Committee against Torture. They made a statement against police brutality and voiced their concerns over the latest ongoing events in Ferguson.
“We need the world to know what’s going on in Ferguson and we need justice,” McSpadden told CNN. “We need answers and we need action. And we have to bring it to the U.N. so they can expose it to the rest of the world, what’s going on in small town Ferguson.”
Family and community members are bracing for the decision of a grand jury that will determine whether Wilson, 28, will be indicted on charges for the death of Brown. The results of their deliberations are expected to be announced this week.
However, Brown’s parents say Wilson got away with murder and called for his immediate arrest in their testimony before members of the committee.
But while local residents are stocking up on guns and ammunition in anticipation of any potential protests, McSpadden made a plea for peace asking residents and community members to pause, plan and prepare in response to the grand jury decision.
“We don’t want anyone acting irrational or acting before thinking,” McFadden said. “Because it wouldn’t be serving us any purpose, it wouldn’t be doing us any good. We’re trying to get a message across.”
Brown’s parents relayed this message to members of the U.N. committee and urged them to bring an end to racially-biased policing tactics and the practice of racial-profiling by officers in Ferguson.
Along with these recommendations, Brown and McSpadden requested a nationwide investigation examining “systematic police brutality and harassment in black and brown communities, and youth in particular. Methodology and findings of this investigation must be made publicly available,” they said according to CNN.
Brown’s death is one of the latest incidents in a string of shootings of unarmed black teenagers and his parents are not the only ones who have shared their loss before the U.N.
The parents of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, two slain unarmed 17-year-old boys from Florida, also shared their concerns on race and discrimination at a convention earlier this year in Switzerland. They testified before the U.N.’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which strives to uphold human and civil rights standards around the world.
“I … wanted the committee to know that [Trayvon] was killed by a person [who] is of non-African-American descent and that the person was 28 years old so that they can understand that this was a 17-year-old child, by U.S. standards, against a 28-year-old adult male, and that Trayvon was considered a threat only because of the color of his skin,” Sybrina Fulton told the committee in August, discussing the death of her son who was killed by former neighborhood watch guard George Zimmerman.
Fulton’s testimony to the U.N. was supported by Ron Davis, the father of Jordan Davis — a black teenager from Florida who was shot to death in an altercation over loud music. The shooter, Michael Dunn, a white 47-year-old software engineer, was eventually found guilty and charged with three counts of second-degree attempted murder.
“My son, 17-year-old Jordan Davis… was killed at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida, for no other reason other than the color of his skin and also that he was playing loud music,” Davis said.
Meanwhile, McFadden and Brown Sr. join the parents of Martin and Davis in battling the loss of their relatives while remaining strong in their mission to fight for justice.
“It’s a situation where I’m surprised we haven’t even lost our mind yet over this,” Brown’s father told CNN. “But we’re being strong. Hopefully, justice will prevail.”
By JUAN A. LOZANO of Associated Press via Huff Post Sports
CONROE, Texas (AP) — Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson avoided jail time on Tuesday in a plea agreement reached with prosecutors to resolve his child abuse case.
Peterson pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of reckless assault under the deal that Montgomery County state District Judge Kelly Case approved during a court hearing. A no contest plea isn’t an admission of guilt but is treated as such for sentencing.
The All-Pro running back was indicted in September on a felony charge of injury to a child for using a wooden switch to discipline his 4-year-old son earlier this year in suburban Houston. The case revived a debate about corporal punishment, which is on the decline in the U.S. but still widely practiced in homes and schools.
“I truly regret this incident. I take full responsibility for my actions,” Peterson told reporters after accepting the plea deal. “I’m just glad this is over and I can put this behind me.” While the case was pending, he was not allowed to have contact with his son. Peterson and his attorney said he is looking forward to getting back to having a relationship with the boy.
“Adrian wants to get on with his life, have a relationship with his son and get back to playing football,” Peterson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, said. Peterson has been on paid leave from the Vikings under a special exemption from the NFL commissioner to take care of his legal problems. It was not immediately clear how the plea deal would affect his playing status.
“We will review the matter, including the court record, and then make a determination on his status,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. “We cannot provide a timetable.” Peterson has said he never intended to harm his son and was disciplining him in the same way he had been as a child growing up in East Texas. The boy suffered cuts, marks and bruising to his thighs, back and on one of his testicles, according to court records. Peterson had tentatively been set to go on trial Dec. 1.
If convicted of felony child abuse, Peterson could have faced up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Instead, he received what is essentially probation, was fined $4,000 and must complete parenting classes and perform 80 hours of community service. Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon said this was the best resolution of the case and that Peterson did not get any special treatment because he’s a professional athlete.
Last month, a visiting judge denied a request by prosecutors to remove Case as judge in the case. Prosecutors had accused Case of being biased against them and wanted a new judge appointed. The plea deal made moot a pending motion by prosecutors to revoke Peterson’s $15,000 bond for alleged marijuana use. Corporal punishment is legal in every state. The Texas Attorney General’s Office notes that belts and brushes “are accepted by many as legitimate disciplinary ‘tools,'” but “electrical or phone cords, boards, yardsticks, ropes, shoes, and wires are likely to be considered instruments of abuse.” Texas law says the use of non-deadly force against someone younger than 18 is justified if a parent or guardian “reasonably believes the force is necessary to discipline the child or to safeguard or promote his welfare.”
___ AP Pro Football Writer Howard Fendrich contributed to this report.
Jeff Chang, author of Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, has taken on some massive subjects in his latest book: race, and the way America sees itself.
Who We Be: The Colorization Of America follows the rise of the idea of multiculturalism — and the backlash that followed it — from the Civil Rights movement through to Obama’s election, the fight over the DREAM Act, and Trayvon Martin’s death.
The book explores how race has figured in American visual culture since the 60s, and the rhetorical imagery that’s driven American politics. “We can all agree that race is not a question of biology,” Chang writes. “Instead it is a question of culture and it begins as a visual problem, one of vision and visuality. Race happens in the gap between appearance and the perception of difference. It is about what we see and what we think we see and what we think about when we see. In that sense, it’s bigger than personal affinities, preferences, tastes and bonds.”
Chang sat down with HuffPost to talk about how the culture wars are still with us today, what it means that we’re headed toward becoming a “majority-minority” society in 2042, and why America still hasn’t had the kind of “national conversation about race” that it really needs. (This interview has been edited and condensed).
What does “colorization” mean?
“Colorization of America” is a way of talking about the demographic shifts that have happened in the last five decades, and the cultural shifts that come along with that.
The civil rights revolution put into place a lot of policies that took down the framework of legal segregation. So with the Civil Rights Act and The Voting Rights Act, you saw the mainstreaming into American life of people of color. And with the Immigration And Nationality Act you saw the end of racist quotas against people from non-European countries, immigrants of color.
In the 70s and the 80s, the culture begins to shift drastically because of those changes. And this is something that has really thrown parts of the Right into huge paroxysms of fear.
But I was interested in looking beyond that and getting into what were the ideas then that people, that artists in particular, started to put out in order to describe these shifts — and that sort of prophetically looked at what could happen if America was made more inclusive.
That’s what colorization is really about, and obviously the narrative is that the end point would be 2042, when the U.S. becomes a “majority-minority country.” So it’s not just looking backwards, but anticipating the questions that get raised as we look toward 2042.
How is it different from the “browning of America?”
There’s the numerical, demographic shifts that occur, but I’m interested in the kinds of cultural exchanges that happen and the art that gets created and the kinds of sparks that fly when you get all of these different people from different backgrounds together. So I was really interested in the multiculturalism movement in the 70s. There’s scenes that are happening in New York and LA and around the country, Chicago as well, but the Bay Area is really where they start putting a name to it.
You see folks coming out of the feminist movements and the third world liberation movements who are all starting to hang out together and think about things, and then you have Ishmael Reed kind of plucking this word down out of the ether, the multiculture.
It’s weird and not particularly groundbreaking to think about the multiculture now, but at the time it was radical because there was only one way that people could see America being, that there was American culture, there wasn’t American cultures with a plural, and that you had to assimilate into a WASP kind of ideal in order to realize the American dream. So there are all kinds of cultural, political implications that came out of that.
When people talk just about the browning of America, we’ve gotten comfortable with describing every new generation that’s arriving as being the most diverse generation yet. But it lacks the context of all of the shifts that have happened and the point that we’re at now where we’ve kind of achieved, to a certain extent, cultural desegregation in our popular culture, coupled with the fact that racial resegregation, the wealth gap, the income gap, the housing gap, the education gaps are all on the rise. We have a very complicated picture of what this so-called browning is that doesn’t really get to the nuts and bolts of what’s actually happening here.
I was hoping to do something that was broader, a set of narratives that would be broader and ask some of those questions.
You approach the issue of race through visual culture and the metaphor of sight. What made you fix on that as your entry point?
You could argue that after the Civil Rights revolution, seeing becomes a much more important metaphor for the way we understand the world, and in that sense the visual — and certainly the explosion of the visual culture in the last 40, 50 years — that it would be kind of important to understand how we see race now. What do we see, what are we still blind to. So I think I knew implicitly that I was going to have to take a deep dive into the visual culture when I started writing the book.
It started literally with a neighbor of mine, the late great Morrie Turner. What happens after the Civil Rights revolution is you’ve begun to dismantle the infrastructures of legal segregation, but people still have to imagine how they’re going to live together, and that’s where the artists kind of step in. So he has this comic strip called “Wee Pals” which is a multicultural, multiracial “Peanuts” that launches in early ’65, right at the peak of all of this activity around pushing through these pieces of legislation. And in it he has kids literally figuring out how to play together. And so it was by coincidence and wonderful accident that I ended up moving in a couple doors down from where Morrie spent all of his teen years that influenced him in creating this comic strip. And I ended up spending a lot of Tuesdays with Morrie, a lot of Wednesdays with Morrie, a lot of Thursdays and Fridays and Saturdays with Morrie, and that ended up becoming the first story that I dove into when I started actually researching and writing the book in earnest.
Based on your research, what do you think are some of the biggest things that go wrong when we talk about race?
An MTV/David Binder study that came out earlier this year looked at so-called millennials and whether they talk about race. It found that only 1 in 5 felt even remotely comfortable broaching a conversation with someone else about racial bias. 1 in 5. We’re not even talking about discrimination or inequality or inequity — we’re just talking about racial bias.
There’s a study that was done several years ago that found that, overwhelmingly, white parents don’t talk to their young children about race. I think a lot of that comes from good will. They look at how race has been used in the past and think “well if we don’t talk about it then we’ll be OK.”
And that’s been reinforced, of course, by conservative politics that have been trying to undo racial justice policies for decades — that say under the law we should not look at race at all. This has been used to undo policies meant to specifically address racial discrimination and racial inequity and cultural inequity. At the same time that that’s happening, parents of kids of color are much likelier to talk in their households about race. There’s a gap not just in wealth and income and housing and education, there’s a gap in how we even talk about it or don’t talk about it.
When you break it down it really comes to the question of, in each generation, do you remake the conditions that led to the racial injustice in the first place, or do you begin to have conversations that lead to larger conversations about how to address these types of issues once and for all? And the book, of course, just leaves more questions than answers on that, but certainly I feel like the kinds of conversations that we need to be having aren’t happening.
Even in the wake of Ferguson, there was a CBS-New York Times poll that asked two really interesting questions: one was, do you think the events in Ferguson raise the question of race and should lead us to having deeper conversations about this? And the other question was, do you think that the events in Ferguson have led to too much attention paid toward race? And what you find is a huge split. Blacks say overwhelmingly this raises issues we have to talk about. Let’s talk about race, folks! On the other hand, a plurality — not a majority, but a plurality of whites say, oh now we’re focusing too much attention on race. So one person’s invitation to a race conversation is another’s opportunity to leave the room. It shows these are moments of massive polarization.
What would a productive national conversation about race look like?
I think it would get to the question of racial resegregation, despite the fact that we have cultural desegregation. It would lead to questions about why it is that our schools, our communities are becoming much more segregated, that we’re reaching levels of segregation in schools that we saw pre-Brown v. Board of Education. It would get to the question of not just income inequality and wealth inequality — this gap that’s yawned particularly over the last 3 decades — but would also deal with the racial wealth gap.
So we have to have those kinds of conversations, and these are the kinds of conversations that can’t be broached right now because people don’t necessarily even believe that these are issues.
I mean this kind of tongue-in-cheek, but: how can the “white community” deal with its tendency to see conversations about race as an assault?
I don’t know, you’d have to ask them! (laughs)
It’s hard because there’s this idea that equality for you means less shit for me, and that’s the success that the Right had in the 80s when they were rebuilding the Southern Strategy — I write about this in the book.
I think race comedy is actually really good, and maybe it’s the only weapon we actually have right now for progressives. Because it’s one of the few places where people can have these discussions and laugh about it. Now whether laughing about inequality — a joke about how a white person won’t get stopped and frisked but a man of color might — if I can laugh at that joke, does it mean I’ll be more likely to support the roll back of stop and frisk? I don’t know. I don’t know, but maybe that’s the start of a conversation about it.
There were several moments in the book where the Right co-opts the language and tactics of the Left. What’s the takeaway for you from seeing that dynamic play out over and over?
It’s part of the larger stop-and-go process of change in the U.S. In the 80s, the Right is co-opting the language of the Civil Rights movement. If we’d stayed where the Right was at, we’d still be using segregated bathrooms. But in the 80s, they make themselves out to be civil rights champions. By the end of the 90s, the Right is saying we’re all multiculturalists now — Nathan Glazer comes out with a book called We Are All Multiculturalists Now. George W. Bush appoints Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice and makes an attempt to “peel off” the Latino vote.
The boundaries of civility are reset, so they have to argue within that reset language. They have to use those terms to make themselves heard within the debate. And this is a point in which — and you see it in the art that’s happening now, in the discussions people are having within grassroots movements — there’s a need for new language now about how we’re going to define ourselves moving up to 2042 and beyond.
But all that reactionaries have to do is preserve the status quo, so they’re going to re-appropriate progressive language to preserve that and be heard. Those of us who are interested in change have to continually change the language and re-inscribe and re-instill new visions, new imaginations of what change can look like.
That’s partly why I was so interested in pursuing what it was that the artists were thinking, all the way through, because in a lot of ways these are folks who are working at the outer fringe of social acceptability and are able to see things that folks who are trying to work in policy and that kind of thing aren’t necessarily able to articulate.
How did you choose the title, and what did it mean?
I wish people would ask me that, actually, people haven’t really. It’s just sort of assumed, like, “oh yeah, ‘Who We Be,’ sure.” (laughs) I’m like, dude, this is DMX we’re talking about! And it’s straight up, anybody who knows me would know. A good friend of mine was like, “Oh yeah, Jeff’s the only dude who might be able to try to get away with making DMX sound intellectual.”
But in the heat of the culture wars, in the late 80s and early 90s, the big question was “Who are we?” Samuel Huntington wrote a book called “Who Are We?” in the mid 90s, this big, huge-ass polemic against immigration. And this question is related to the Pat Buchanan question: “What happened to the America we all grew up in?” Like, who are all these people, who are we now anyway??
For me, it just happened. Like, they don’t know who we be. Of course they don’t know who we be! They’re still asking “who are we?” And it just made perfect sense. So when I brought that up — I actually had the title before I had the book proposal — I said I want to do this book about mutliculturalism, it’ll be called “Who We Be.” My editor and my agent all go “Ohhhh that’s a good title!” (laughs)
And it’s interesting because it’s raised questions among linguists, particularly linguists of color. Like, why select this particular title? Is it an appropriation? And I explained to them the whole story I just explained to you, about how I wanted to do this book about multiculturalism and how it raised these questions of “who are we?” And I said, look, I completely understand how this could be read — there’s a certain politics of respectability that’s at work here.
But the ebonics debate was huge in the culture wars. If you look at that as a marking point for this fear of demographic and cultural change, then it’s a different way to understand what we’ve been through through the last three decades.
We approach these conversations on race, a lot of times, with a lack of history, with a kind of wipe-the-slate-clean kind of racial innocence. Because it’s an incredibly traumatic history, both for personal reasons for a lot of us as well as for national historical reasons. So in order to kind of get back to having the kind of conversations that matter, we have to be able to dive into that.
One of the challenges of multiculturalism seems to be conflicts between people of color, but that doesn’t really figure in Who We Be. Why was that?
It did in Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop — I think that was the heart of the book, actually. In the way that Morrie Turner was the starting point for this book, the starting point for Can’t Stop Won’t Stop was the section on the riots, in particular the debate that Ice Cube caused, with Death Certificate and Black Korea.
In this particular case, I was in a sense going back to my own days coming of age as an activist, as a student when these culture wars were raging during the late 80s and early 90s. And that was all about the legacies of the 60s, and Third Worldism, and the work of feminists of color and that kind of thing. It was idealistic, it was utopian. It was, by 1991, completely outmoded and by May 4 of 1992 in need of a sore rethinking. But I think the generation of us who came through the riots, a lot of us went into explicitly anti-racist but also coalitional type work, both organizing-wise and culturally.
And so it’s interesting at this particular point to kind of revisit that, because now that the discussion is around the question of 2042, when we’re all supposed to be minorities, the question becomes: if we’re all going to be minorities, how do you form a new majority? And I think that that’s the sort of central question of my students’ generation. They’re all 18 to 22 now, they’re going to be my age by the time 2042 rolls around. If they haven’t figured out even provisional answers to that question, they’re going to be in pretty tough shape.
There are so many things happening in the news this week that related to your book, I wanted to get your reaction to some of them.
Jesus Christ, I know!
So through the lens of Who We Be, what do you make of Annie Lennox choosing to cover “Strange Fruit?”
See, there’s an Annie Lennox fan in me that just wants to be like, “she just had a bad day and she was low on blood sugar and she didn’t know what she was saying.” But on the other hand — and I think this is the part that a lot of folks have pointed out — how could you not know what the history of this song is, and not honor it? Maybe there’s the British defense: “well I’m British, I don’t live in this kind of stuff day to day” or whatever. But come on, dude, look at the list of people you’ve worked with over the years. And to take it away from the context of lynching and racial terror — if she meant to do it, it was pretty fucking arrogant, let’s just say that.
Miami Heat players released a photograph of themselves wearing hoodies after Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager wearing a hooded sweat shirt, was shot to death on Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford, Fla. by a neighborhood crime-watch volunteer.
The other thing that brought your book to mind was the report saying the great majority of artists who make a living off of their art are white.
I’d looked at a study as a setup for the chapter on Artists Space, [a nonprofit alternative gallery that opened in 1973], and that was the first time the census started to gather information on artists. If I recall correctly, there was no demographic breakdown back then, but I’d imagine the numbers were pretty much exactly the same back then. And it has to do, of course, with the economics of being an artist. It also has to do with the way that the Right has demonized the arts, straight up.
These surveys are people self-describing, so there’s the issue of self-describing as an artist as opposed to self-describing as somebody who is working in the service industry but who’s a beat maker or a painter or a photographer at night. So the Right began in the 80s to define artists as folks who were comfortably entitled and able to support themselves and make a living and all this kind of stuff, who then at the same time stick their fingers in the silent majority’s eyes with the kind of sexually explicit, horrifying, divisive art they were making. And they used that as a way to kind of create this frame around the artists so that they could defund the arts and erode and destroy cultural policy.
I really loved when you talked about “the opposite of a micro-aggression,” that kind of moment of recognition between two people — the “I see you” moment. I thought that could be a hopeful note to end on.
(Laughs) I think that that’s what we’re trying to achieve — we talk a lot about empathy, and of course empathy should lead to recognition. I’m recognizing your struggle, I’m recognizing who you are. I’m not being blind to who you are. And I think that that’s ultimately where we all want to get. That should be the product of whatever kind of conversation we’re trying to have.
There was an article on Medium this week about “the nod” — I remember in college I would hang out with a lot of black activists and I would notice that every time they passed another black student on campus they’d nod, and I’d go, “Oh, do you know them? Who’s that? I see them around all the time.” And they’d go, “I actually don’t know.” I’d ask “So why do you do that?” and they’d say “Well, you do. You just do it.” Or when someone is on stage and they’re performing and someone in the audience goes “I see you!” I’d always think about those kinds of cultural practices as being critical to solidarity-building.
By Carey Gillam and Kenny Bahr
ST LOUIS, Mo. Oct 9 (Reuters) – Police clashed with protesters in St. Louis on Thursday for a second night after an officer killed a black teenager, ahead of a weekend of planned rallies in the area over the August killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.
Throughout the night, as many as 400 demonstrators spread out across several city blocks in south St. Louis, angrily shouting and chanting at rows of police officers, many of whom were clad in riot gear.
Dozens of protesters had met earlier at the site in the Shaw neighborhood where 18-year-old Vonderrit Myers Jr. was shot dead on Wednesday by an off-duty white officer working for a private security firm in what police described as a firefight.
But demonstrations grew increasingly chaotic. At one point early on Friday morning, a line of police pushed towards a group of several dozen protesters who jeered and cursed at them, pepper-spraying those who refused to disperse.
St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson told local television station Fox 2 that at one point during the tense protest, someone behind the massive crowd threw a knife that struck an officer’s body vest at the shoulder.
He added that a police car and several businesses and residences had been damaged and that U.S. flags were burned. Two people had been arrested by midnight local time, Dotson said, during which one officer suffered minor injuries.
The St. Louis area is bracing for further unrest over the killing of Brown by a white police officer two months ago, with Myers’ death on Wednesday expected to add fuel to the fire.
Several civil rights organizations and protest groups, including Hands Up United, planned to mark the weekend with marches and rallies in St. Louis and the suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, where Brown was killed.
The groups are demanding the arrest of the officer who killed Brown, and want to draw attention to police treatment of black Americans. Protest organizers said they are planning only peaceful activities, but fear that Wednesday’s killing of the black teen might trigger violent outbursts.
“We never advocate violence … But I do know that people were angry last night and they will be out this weekend,” said Tory Russell, a leader of Hands Up United. “I don’t know what they are going to do.”
At least 6,000 have registered on an organizing website for the “weekend of resistance” events in and around Ferguson, which kick off on Friday with a “Justice Now” march to the office of St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch.
The weekend is to be capped with actions of “civil disobedience” on Monday.
Organizers said they are also planning to create a “memory altar” to victims of police violence and to hold a candlelight march carrying a coffin to the Ferguson Police Department.
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles said law enforcement officers throughout the area are planning for large crowds and possible violence.
“There are a lot of people coming into town,” said Knowles. “We are going to be prepared. There is intel out there that there are people wanting to do bad things. And people who want to cause a problem are going to use that (the shooting on Wednesday) as a rallying cry,” he said.
The police department would not identify the 32-year-old officer who shot Myers. Police said Myers fired multiple times at the officer, before the officer returned 17 shots and fatally wounded him.
The officer was not hurt and was placed on administrative leave as the shooting is investigated, police said.
Relatives of Myers said he did not have a gun, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
The shooting sparked protests that raged until dawn on Thursday. One person was arrested and several police vehicles were damaged in the unrest, police officials said. (Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City, Mo.; Editing by Catherine Evans).