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Black Lives Matter Movement – Formation, Struggle & Achievements

Whenever marginalized groups are oppressed in any society, are mercilessly discriminated and are not given due rights, their fits of anger and frustrations reach a boiling point and they refuse to be treated like this, ultimately standing up to claim their rights. Hence, giving birth to civil right movements. The US history is filled with rows between black and white Americans which gave rise to some popular civil rights movements led by leaders like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King that protested the oppression of black Americans.

1-Founding

The latest movement of this series is the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement that was born in 2013 when a 17-year-old black teenager by the name of Trayvon Martin was posthumously placed on trial for his own murder while his murderer, George Zimmerman, was not held responsible for the crime that he committed.

Soon it was formulated as an international activist movement by the Afro-American community and has been campaigning against the violence towards black people since its inception in 2013. The movement began with the use of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on social media and within no time became nationally recognized for its street demonstrations. It gained momentum in 2014 following the deaths of two other African Americans namely Michael Brown and Eric Garner that resulted in massive protest and unrest in Ferguson and New York respectively.

Since the Ferguson protests, participants in the movement have demonstrated against the deaths of numerous other African Americans by police actions or while in police custody. In the summer of 2015, Black Lives Matter began to publicly challenge politicians including the politicians in the 2016 United States Presidential elections to state their positions on the BLM issues. As far as its organizational structure is concerned, overall, the BLM movement is a decentralized network and has no formal hierarchy or structure.

2-Philosophy

According to its founders Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors, the movement draws its inspirations from the following quote by Ella Baker,

“Oppressed people, whatever their level of formal education, have the ability to understand and interpret the world around them, to see the world for what it is, and move to transform it.”

Black Lives Matter is seen as an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.

3-What Does #BlackLivesMatter Mean?

When we say Black Lives Matter, we are broadening the conversation around state violence to include all of the ways in which Black people are intentionally left powerless at the hands of the state. They are talking about the ways in which Black lives are deprived of their basic human rights and dignity. Upon these grounds, the BLM upholds following key agendas:

  • How Black poverty and genocide is state violence?
  • How 2.8 million Black people are locked in cages in this country is state violence.
  • How Black women bearing the burden of a relentless assault on our children and our families is state violence.
  • How Black queer and trans folks bear a unique burden from a hetero-patriarchal society that disposes of us like garbage and simultaneously fetishizes us and profits off of us, and that is state violence.
  • How 500,000 Black people in the US are undocumented immigrants and relegated to the shadows.
  • How Black girls are used as negotiating chips during times of conflict and war.
  • How Black folks living with disabilities and different abilities bear the burden of state-sponsored Darwinian experiments that attempt to squeeze us into boxes of normality defined by white supremacy, and that is state violence.

The BLM’s philosophy revolves around following guiding principles:

  • Diversity

They are committed to acknowledging, respecting and celebrating difference(s) and commonalities.

  • Globalism

They see themselves as a part of the global Black family and are aware of the different ways they are impacted or privileged as Black folk who exist in different parts of the world.

Different syndicates working the very direction are:

Black Women

They are committed to building Black women affirming space free from sexism, misogyny, and male-domination.

Black Villages

They are committed to disrupting the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, and especially “their” children to the degree that mothers, parents and children are comfortable.

Loving Engagement

They are committed to embodying and practice justice, liberation, and peace in their engagements with each another.

Restorative Justice

They are committed to work collectively, lovingly, courageously and vigorously for the freedom and justice for Black people and, by extension all people. As they forge their path, they intentionally build and nurture a beloved community that is bonded through a beautiful struggle which is restorative and not depleting.

Collective Value

They are guided by the fact all Black lives, regardless of actual or perceived sexual identity, gender identity, gender expression, economic status, ability, disability, religious beliefs or disbeliefs, immigration status or location.

Empathy

They are committed to practice empathy by engaging comrades with the intent to learn about and connect with their contexts.

Queer Affirming

They are committed to fostering a queer-affirming network. When they gather, they do so with the intention of freeing themselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking or, rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual unless s/he or they disclose otherwise.

Unapologetically Black

They are unapologetically Black in their positioning. In affirming that Black Lives Matter, they need not qualify their position. To love and desire freedom and justice for themselves is a necessary prerequisite for wanting the same for others.

Transgender-Affirming

They are committed to embrace and making space for transgender brothers and sisters to participate and lead. Since they are committed to being self-reflexive and doing the work required to dismantle cis-gender privilege and uplift Black trans folk, especially Black transgender women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence.

Black Families

They are committed to making their spaces family-friendly and enable parents to fully participate with their children. With a commitment to dismantle the patriarchal practice that requires mothers to work “double shifts” and requires them to mother in private even as they participate in justice work.

Intergenerational

They are committed to foster an inter-generational and communal network free from ageism. As they believe that all people, regardless of age, have an adequate amount of capacity to lead and learn.

4-Achievements

 As of now BLM has hosted numerous national conferences focussing on the issues that are of critical importance to Black people and claim that they are working hard for the liberation of their people.  They further claim that they have connected people across the country and are working to end the various forms of injustice impacting them. In turn creating space for the celebration and humanization of Black lives.

Federal Court Deliberates Relevance of Stop-and-Frisks

Under the administration of New York City Mayor, the number of stop-and-frisks has risen by as much as 600 percent. The meaty discussion about it though focuses more on the disparity of stop-and-frisks conducted between whites and brown-colored people. The huge disparity is being criticized by many as an act to ostracize minorities with the use of separate and unequal police treatment.  Many consider the program a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights.

Though the program’s sole purpose is to curb gun violence, it has evolved into something like a dog running about without a leash. NYPD police officers go around the city racially profiling young males in predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods.

At present the program is put into question and is being argued upon in a federal court. The New York Civil Liberties Union supports the case against the NYPD. The group wants to stop the Trespass Affidavit Program or TAP. The said program allows police officers to stop and question people who are either inside or outside their private property. The plaintiffs argue that the police force “has a widespread practice of making unlawful stops on suspicion of trespass.”

Jaenean Ligon, the lead plaintiff in the case, said that she is against the program because the unjust practice has happened even to her son. She narrated that her 17-year-old son was stopped for no apparent reason while the latter was going out of their apartment building to buy a bottle of ketchup at a nearby store.

This week, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin issued an injunction barring NYPD police officers from conducting stop-and-frisks outside of buildings stated in the TAP. The facts of the case show that police officers on patrol duty never differentiated between potentially dangerous persons to any regular residents. Blacks and Latinos were regularly stopped mainly because they were black or brown.

Other plaintiffs include Charles Bradley, a 51-year-old security guard, who was detained while he visiting his fiancée in the Bronx. Bradley recalled that he was abruptly stopped, frisked, brought to the police station, strip-searched and fingerprinted. While all of these were happening, he was peppered with questions regarding his suspected involvement with guns and drugs.

Another complainant is Abdullah Turner, 24. He said he was also arrested mainly because he was standing outside of his friend’s apartment building in the Bronx. Police officers believed he was about to trespass. In his defense, he questioned the possibility of a trespass when he was outside of the apartment building.

In her injunction order, Scheindlin writes, “While it may be difficult to say where, precisely, to draw the line between constitutional and unconstitutional police encounters, such a line exists, and the NYPD has systematically crossed it.”

The New York Post seemed to be a staunch supporter of stop-and-frisks with their recent scathing editorial challenging the ruling with the question, “How much blood will federal Judge Shira Scheindlin have on her hands when she finishes dismantling the most effective anti-gun-violence program in urban America?”

However, the editorial seemed to ignore a report published by NYCLU. The report revealed that more young African-American men were subjected to stop-and-frisks in comparison to the total number of blacks in the entire city. In response, civil rights groups called for a quick dismantling of the program. However, the demands had fallen on deaf ears as Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly firmly defended the program as an effective measure against gun violence.

Statistics, however, discredits Bloomberg’s and Kelly’s beliefs.

In 2011, only one in ten stops was reported to be related with some “violent criminal activity.” In addition, minorities who made up the 87 percent of all stop-and-frisks in the same year had a weapon for only 1.8 percent of the time.

In reality, whites who were seldom stopped were twice more likely to have a fatal weapon in their possession. 98% of all young African-American and Hispanic youths who were stopped didn’t carry any weapon. And still, the mayor and police commissioner insist that the proliferation of guns is the sole reason why the program must remain.

Commissioner Kelly spoke proudly of the program saying that the program has cause the decline of murder in the city. However when matched with statistics, there seems to be no correlation. During his first year in office in 2002, there were 96,296 stops and the city had recorded 587 homicides. In 2011, the stops rose dramatically to 685,724 stops yet the number of homicides were still at the 500 mark, 532 to be specific. “There is no evidence that stop and frisk is lowering or suppressing the murder rate in New York City,” read a statement issued by the NYCLU.

New York Gov. Mario Cuomo also agrees with the criticism against stop-and-frisks. In addition, he also questions the current marijuana-possession laws. He wants reform in both programs. The racially disparate criminalization of minority youths he said is “…not fair, it’s not right. It must end, and it must end now.”

The injunction ordered by Scheindlin is a good start for many of the critics. Apart from the TAP case, three other similar cases are pending in her court. However, the story is still unfinished. The conclusion with regards to the stop-and-frisks is still vague. One thing is certain, the critics and concerned citizens would continue to be vigilant eagerly waiting for justice to be served.

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Former Armed Serviceman Shares Two Tales of Homeless Veterans

Mohammed Salarbux of the Huffingtonpost shared his experiences as a National Guard and the time he spends on a food pantry. One of his earlier realizations about being in the armed services came from a suicide attempt by a fellow National Guard recruit in a bathroom next to his stall. He said the incident taught him, “Our armed services are just like most of us: haunted by emotions from our past that sometimes morph into actions that can leave our loved ones puzzled.”

Unexpectedly while serving in the food pantry years later, he’d have a few more interesting life stories from other veterans who unluckily ended up homeless and needy. He said that one of the most noteworthy visitors that their soup kitchen had was a veteran they only know of as Steve. It was just last summer when Steve started visiting their pantry, he recalled. During the man’s first visit, he was limping and barely able to walk. The first thing the man did was to find the nearest chair available and rest his battered feet which was unlike other visitors who would come and feed their empty stomachs first. Upon close inspection, Salarbux noticed that the man appears to have walked for miles with nothing but worn-out plastic slippers. When they attended to the man, the man begged for any used pair of shoes.

Fortunately, the pantry has a pair of old shoes which was donated to them. Steve’s eyes welled up in tears upon receiving the shoes followed by relentless thanks and praises. Since then, Steve has been occasionally appearing at the food pantry.

One cold morning around Christmas, Steve arrived at the food pantry wearing several layers of shirts. Salarbux came up to him that day and asked Steve, “How do you keep warm? Do you have a jacket? Do you have at least a blanket?”

In response, Steve pulled up his shirts and said, “All I have is this plastic under my clothes.” That day, Steve got an early Christmas gift of a new winter coat and a new blanket.

Apart from Steve, the food pantry located at second floor of a building in the Pine Hill’s area of Orlando has another veteran guest. The man’s name is Tony, a 15-year veteran, who fell through the cracks due to domestic problems.

Presently, Tony is receiving livelihood training assistance from the Veterans Association. The organization is funding his studies to become an electrician. However in his current state, he finds it difficult to come up with the fare to get to his classes. Momentarily, he has been continually searching for a job in local restaurants or businesses but not one has even given him the chance to face an interview.

“A sad reality of our system today is that, when someone falls through the cracks, there are no safety nets for them, so that his/her life just continues to spiral downward out of control,” Salarbux discussed what Tony’s story tell us about.

He explained that the story he wrote about the lives of this two men do not intend to put into bad light the military or any agencies. He wishes that the story of the two veterans will “touch others and move them to be more conscious about donating to their local food pantry. Most of us could easily go through our closet and realize there are many things we no longer need. Old shoes or clothing sitting around maybe donated to others who will be more than happy to have our discarded clothing.”

He said if no one has donated that old pair of shoes the day that Steve came to the food pantry; the man wouldn’t have walked out of there happy and hopeful.

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Prisons Being A Punishment Rather Than A Place For Punishment

“My mind is free to go where it wants. But my body… has to remain within a 50 mile radius within the area I’m paroled at”, these are the words one ex-prisoner used to describe his feeling after release from prison. Society perceives prison as punishment instead of a place for punishment. This is a judgment in itself. When a person has spent time in prison, the law might vindicate him of the crime eventually but the re-adjustment issues which are to be faced at the hands of society and family do not let the person feel like a free man for a long time. On top of that, the strict parole conditions and mental effort it requires to re-start their lives from where they left, leaves many men incapable of going out of their house to avoid being sent back to prison.

 

Recidivism, which means a person’s inclination to slip back into criminal behavior which eventually results in that person being sent back to prison even after receiving intervention or undergoing correctional measures previous crimes, is said to be a direct result of the prison climate. Prison climate means the various characteristics of a correctional institute as they are perceived by the inmates of the prison. These include social interactions, emotional health while completing a prison sentence, administrative and organizational accessibility and physical health of the inmates. Prison climate is more commonly referred to as ‘prison environment’. Research shows that 1 out of every 5 men return to prison within a year of being released. 70% of these men are sent back due to violation of their parole supervision.

Research indicates that a prison with a ‘bad’ environment is frequently subjected to riots and instability. The inmates feel insecure and unheard. The staff feels overworked and underpaid. Everyone is dissatisfied. There are three most important factors which are necessary for a healthy climate at a facility. These are stability at the bureaucratic level, the dissatisfaction level of the correctional staff and the social environment of the place. Frequently, cases of physical violence are reported at prisons. These are due to a number of reasons which include the lack of privacy or having your personal space intruded by others, mental and physical monotony and sense of uselessness and the sense of being under someone else’s control. These factors visibly affect the social and cognitive environment of the whole place.

A number of evidences show that women experiences differ from men in US prisons. It is due to the fact that their relationship both inside and outside of prison matters in shaping the culture in women’s prisons. Even though men make up the majority of prisons in the US, the annual incarceration for women increased at a rate of 7.5%in 2004 as compared to 5.7% for men. Based on these figures, different studies show that men and women tend to cope differently when it came to form family structures within the prison and differed from the roles they would normally adopt in the society where men tend to isolate themselves from others and showed more aggression towards the other inmates. Another important issue that surfaces in many prisons is the child care and women worry about it when they are incarcerated. According to the statistics, 64% of women were primary guardians for their children prior to being incarcerated. It is quite likely that the life of male children is based on many traumatic events as they grow up in the prisons, but research has shown that female children experienced a higher rate of trauma.

To some extent gender imbalanced prison cells affected the overall climate of the prison in the US. According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, nearly one third of women prisoners are confined in US prison cells which account to almost 8.8% of the total US prison population. Another astonishing aspect is that this trend is on the rise. It all began in 1870s when the authorities in US started housing women in separate facilities. But it came up with one problematic feature as male staff used to operate these cells and they often tried to engage with women in immoral acts.  But with the passage of 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1972 Equal Employment Opportunity Act, a policy shift occurred and as a result females started replacing the male employees and as of 2007 males now serve at restricted positions such as prison guards and make 40% of total post.

However, both the positive and negative experiences of both the male and female inmates matter and help shape the overall climate of that particular prison. What matters to both genders is the respect shown towards them, humanitarian principles being practiced, staff-prisoner relationships, degree of support provided to the prisoners, level of mutual trust, degree of fairness, overall maintenance of law and order, maintaining an appropriate prisoner safety level, well-being opportunities provided for personal development, amount of family contact, use or abuse of power, meaning attached to the penal experience and decency shown to prisoners. Some other measures included the quality of physical environment, different staff services and programs, and personal safety and security. Healthy prison indicators are based on whether prisoners feel safe, are treated with respect are able to and assisted in maintaining meaningful contact with their families. Overall the issue of reliability and validity are of particular importance.

For now the overcrowded prison populations continue to be one of the greatest challenges faced by the US prison system. Not only more strict crime policies and determinate sentencing profoundly increased the numbers of various criminals in prisons and generated extended prison sentences, but overall raised the annual prison population. This overpopulation and heavily relying on system has overburdened the state and has lately resulted into fast depletion of resources. Ultimately weakening the ability to seek to achieve rehabilitation and accomplishing only incapacitation rather greater benefits. Therefore, in order to counter this situation, state took aggressive measures and as a result the prison system in US has evolved a lot till now since its inception in the 16th century. Now most of the prisons in US are being designed, financed, built and operated by private companies. On one hand they take the operational burden off from the government and are more innovative but on the other handsome experts believe them to be flawed both in principle and in practice.

What can be concluded is that the social climate of a prison can influence rehabilitative outcomes. It is, therefore, recommended that the social climate of US prisons is regularly audited such that the changes over time are assessed, standards for improvement are set and targets are achieved. So much so that the need for additional resources or interventions is identified and responded to properly.