“At this time, we have not heard anything from the Portland Police department,” said Fonte Gladen, twin brother of Andre Cartel Gladen, 36, who lost his life on Sunday, January 6, 2019 in South Portland on 96 Avenue and Southeast Market Street at the home of Desmond Pescaia.
It is difficult to process the death of a loved one, especially the one who looks just like you. Their memory stares directly in your face every morning when you look in the mirror. To endure this emotional pain with almost no information is really hard. To say Fonte, is dealing with unique challenges nine days following Andre’s death is an understatement.
And, as the Black Lives Matter movement sheds light upon, it’s an even greater challenge to grieve and seek justice – that may never come. It is that fear – like Sacramento’s Stephon Clark or Oakland’s Nia Wilson – animating the Gladen family’s demand for more information.
“His [Andre’s] death has been covered by a few news channels,” Fonte said, “who continue to twist and manipulate the story, as they always do. So, we [the Gladen family] have discontinued communication with them [news channels who have covered the story so far], and are looking into more independent media outlets.”
This method is producing more satisfying results. “Black Portland and Don’t Shoot Portland social media/ social justice communities have really stepped up and are doing all they can to assist my family in our time of loss,” he said.
On Saturday, January 12, 2019 Fonte’s father viewed his brother’s body. He asked for the coroner report, which the family was told is forthcoming.
Here is what is currently known and being used for the public conversation.
On Thursday, Maxine Bernstein, published an article with the Oregonian/OregonLive news outlet. She quotes Fonte extensively.
On Saturday, January 5, at 10:30 pm Andre spoke, in person, with his cousin, Diamond Randolph. At 31, while standing his ground against a neighborhood drug dealer, Andre survived a shotgun to the face. As a result, he lost vision in his left eye and only saw shadows and silhouettes out of his right eye.
“He couldn’t see. To use his cellphone, he had to put the screen up to his nose,” Fonte said, trying to explain how “legally blind” his brother was.
Saturday night Andre was scared, after experiencing Portland’s nightlife. He lived in Sacramento, with his mother on disability. He started visiting Randolph in December. That night, he expressed experiencing enough fear to entertain defending himself.
Andre seemed himself the next morning, Sunday, and left Randolph’s presence fully clothed and wearing white Nikes.
Everything which happens next is under great dispute. So much so, Bernstein reported the Gladen family is seeking to sue the Portland Police Department. It begins with one of Andre’s cousin, Victoria Flores, calling mental hospitals in Portland and learning Andre was admitted to Adventist Hospital on 10123 SE Market Street.
Fonte has questions. First, if Andre was admitted into the hospital, why was he allowed to leave the hospital after such a short time? Second, what condition was Andre allowed to leave in?
While Andre drank alcohol and smoked weed, he was not on any prescription drugs; no mental illness medication. Third, Was Andre given medication by Adventist staff? Fourth, where did Andre’s clothes disappear too?
“I am not currently aware of the conditions of the mental health services in Portland. I recently found out about Project Respond Cascadia Behavioral Health, who deal with these types of crises. Instead of the police department taking advantage of these agencies, they deal with it themselves: having no experience with these situations people, end up dead. This is an issue that needs to be talked about between the community, law enforcement and the mental health agencies,” Fonte said.
At 1 pm, the last moments of Andre’s life occur in front of Desmond Pescaia, who wanted no parts of Andre. Andre was pounding on the door, reeking from using the bathroom on himself, was thin, and had no shoes on. Using a blanket to keep himself warm, Andre was acting erratic, too erratic for Pescaia’s tastes.
Andre made repeated requests to enter Pescaia’s house to escape a man in a white hoodie carrying a gun. Andre feared for his life. Andre said Ernest told him to knock on Pescaia’s door for help.
Fonte is thinking that Andre was referring to Ernest, a dead cousin.
Guevarra and Wilson reported: Polina Krivoruk, [Andre] Gladen’s ex-wife, knew him for more than 20 years and reiterated what other family members said, that Gladen suffered from schizophrenia but she had never known him to be violent. “I know when he has those [mental breakdowns] he feels like people are out to get him,” Krivoruk said. “But he wouldn’t be able to hurt you physically because he can’t see until you’re right in front of his face. It couldn’t have been any threat unless they were face to face.”
Pescaia refused Andre entry, offering him a glass of water, instead. Then, he closed the door. Andre, becoming more agitated, knocked on the door repeatedly, informing Pescaia that he was legally blind and fearing for his life. Pescaia offered Andre $10 to get on the MAX and purchase some food. Andre refused the money, choosing to wrap himself in the blanket and fall asleep on Pescaia’s porch. Pescaia did not know what to do.
All of that happened in one hour. Pescaia called his landlord; then, the two of them decided to call the police at 2 pm.
Bernstein reported, “Why would he fall asleep at someone’s front door?’’ Fonte Gladen said. “This dude wasn’t looking to hurt anybody.”
Guevarra and Wilson report, “Portland Police came under scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Justice after a 2012 review found the agency engaged in a pattern and practice of excessive use of force against people suffering from mental health problems.”
This is when the story gets really disputed. East Precinct Officer Consider Vosu answered the call. When Andre sees the officer, he panics and – somehow – “runs inside of Pescaia’s house.”
Fonte asks, “How did my brother get inside that guy’s house?”
Did Pescaia open the door? If he opened the door, why did he open the door? Was he watching Officer Vosu work?
How Andre gets into the living room and how Office Vosu gets into the rear bedroom are unanswered questions.
“The officer said that my brother fell stomach first into the house. And, then, he got on top of my brother trying to handcuff him.” Fonte recalls. “How does he [Andre] kick the officer off of him, if the officer is on his back and Andre is on his stomach?
Bernstein reports that Andre runs into Pescaia’s rear bedroom.
Inside the bedroom, Officer Vosu fired a taser at Andre. Both Vosu and Pescaia say the taser appeared to have no effect on Andre. He remain agitated, falling down from the effects of being tased, but getting back up. Officer Vosu demanded Andre “get back.”
Bernstein reports that Andre pulled a knife at this point and Officer Vosu fired his weapon.
Guevarra and Wilson report: “Officers said they recovered a knife at the scene. Pescaia, the witness, said he did not see a knife until after Gladen was shot.”
“Did you read that article? They said my brother had a $100 knife with a special handle. My brother wouldn’t spent $100 on a knife,” Fonte said.
“I would like for the news to tell the whole story and to stop sharing snippets of what has been shared with them,” Fonte said. “I would like the police chief, or someone the represents the department, to at least reach out to my family with answers as to what happened, though we know that will never happen without being mixed with a bunch of bs. I would like to see social justices’ organizations respond to these problems with aim, purpose and passion until justice has been served.”
His reaction was exaggerated; choosing to play to the crowd gathered to document their experience with hatred in Southern Oregon. Keith Michael Erickson, a self-identified National Socialist, turned to me, the only Black person in the room, whom he purposely chose to sit behind, and said, “Wow! Talk about hate! Did you see that?” His eyes were big and shock played across his face.
I had. A rotund Jewish-looking grandfather, obviously triggered by someone who publicly denies six million of his tribal members were killed by World War II-Germany, approached Erickson and his friend, Greg, with two short sentences.
“I hate you. You are a Nazi!”
Erickson shuffled through his papers and produced a handmade sign from a quarter sheet of 8 by 11 xerox copy paper. The message read: Nazi is the new nigger. The racial slur was written in capital letters, in contrast to the rest of the words.
“Perhaps your hate towards me is because of your Jewish heritage?” Erickson retorted. “Calling me a nazi is label lynching.”
Organizers of the event moved towards the Jewish man, who choose to distance himself from Erickson. The National Socialists mumbled among themselves words of encouragement, asking how hate can measure into crime; a crime is an act, not an emotion, Greg argued.
What Exactly Is a Hate Crime
The Rural Organizing Project circulated an email on Friday, January 11, detailing the rapid response the Cave Junction community made to a questionable hate crime earlier this month.
As soon as folks saw the spraypainting, several community members reached out to homes and businesses, offering details of what happened and help covering up the symbols. People gathered donations on social media and in town to pay for paint. Shortly after, teams of volunteers got to work painting!
When a community is shaken by brazen acts of white supremacy, we demonstrate our power together through our response, no matter how simple it may seem. Folks in Cave Junction joined together to show that they are a community of love who will show up when their neighbors are targeted with hate. City leadership also delivered an immediate and powerful response in solidarity with the community, denouncing the hateful message and taking community concerns seriously. Together, community members and elected officials responded in a unified voice to declare that hate has no place in Cave Junction. Let us be in the light!”
The email cited a local news source, this is about as grassroots as news gets in America. Despite the letters KKK appearing on several other structures in the immediate area, Cave Junction police do not classify the incident as a hate crime. Perhaps vandalism? The suspect is in custody, yet basic information, like his name and age, remain unreleased.
Thankfully, the State Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum understands the Oregonian mind. She noted the lack of a uniform reporting system for hate crimes. She and several taskforce members occupied the Medford Library Community room, filling it with almost one hundred citizens on Wednesday, January 9.
In her opening statement, Rosenblum rattled off a battery of statistics meant to justify the reason for the task force she is leading. According to the FBI, there were 104 hate crimes reported to them in 2016 and 146 reported in 2017.
It is not a question of whether hate crimes are happening, the question is how to effectively address them. Or, what actually counts as a hate crime and deserves a special response.
Hate crimes in Oregon are defined as: “Under Oregon Law, a hate crime is offensive physical contact, threatening or inflicting physical injury, threatening or causing property of damage towards a person or persons because perception of their race, color, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender identity or national origin. These also include the desecration of places of worship or religious objects, and may also include a family member, for instance threats against a family member who comes out as LGBTQ.” [Source: Basic Rights Oregon]
The current emphasis is on imminent threat to self, not a threat or violation of property. The crime is against the person. Under that definition, neither Cave Junction or the verbal exchange between Erickson and the Jewish grandfather are considered hate crimes.
The Lonely Man Speaks
Event organizers turned their cellphones on and began recording Erickson when he picked up the microphone and addressed the task force panel. They were prepared for him. He began by defining himself as a national socialist and inviting anyone in the room to sit down and discuss what a national socialist is. Then, he said, “Nazi is the new nigger.”
Erickson affirmed the second amendment rights of a Jewish queer woman, who had testified earlier, to purchase a gun for self-defense and a feeling of protection. The statement landed as a veiled threat.
He admitted to showing up to a Jewish synagogue last month, as Rabbi Zaslow taught on the rise of anti-semitism in the local area and nationwide. To demonstrate how serious the threat is, armed guards were hired for the December 13 meeting. They were needed to prevent Erickson from entering the packed meeting. February two years ago a utility box near the synagogue was defaced with the words: Anne Frank Oven. It sent a message to the community.
Erickson testified he felt unfairly targeted by the presentation. It had his face displayed in a slideshow. He complained about being presented in the local newspapers as a nazi, repeating the racial slur two more times.
Standing in the back of the room, in direct eye sight of Erickson, I said loud enough for everyone in the room to digest, “How many times you going to use that word, man?”
The event organizers stepped forward, with their cameras focused on Erickson. He first looked at the cellphone cameras and then turned to look at me.
Erickson returned to speaking into the microphone stating that due to the atmosphere in the Rogue Valley towards him and the “historical understandings” that he shares in the community, he doesn’t feel safe. His efforts to reach out and have civil discussions keep falling on deaf ears. He then left the microphone and was followed by his friend, Greg.
Greg did not contribute anything to Erickson’s argument, other to state publicly that hate is an emotion and cannot be legally regulated.
Do Not Punch the Nazis
The meeting ended with Virginia Camperos, Unite Oregon’s regional field director, reiterating the mission of Unite Oregon and affirming that White persons are not the recipients of racial animus in Oregon.
The national socialists protested this claim, stating that it is racist to believe White persons cannot be discriminated against.
On Facebook, in response to the Mail Tribune article detailing the interaction, several persons echoed the popular saying, “Punch a Nazi.” I am a strong believer in non-violent responses towards White Nationalism.
Lile the personalities promoted on the national level, Erickson leverages the number of businesses and locations he is barred from as social capital in white nationalist spaces. On social media he vents his frustration.
Julie Gillis, wrote: “Those two men wanted everyone to get upset and to attack them and so I think there needs to be new active ways to intervene that are surprising interventions. I cannot tell anyone not to ‘punch a Nazi’ and clearly there are instances where physical interventions are needed.
I’m of two minds here, and one is that it would feel very satisfying to punch a Nazi, I think. But, the other is that we train de escalation teams not to support the Nazi, but to keep the rest of the group safe. To literally be aware of the situation and try to reduce harm to the community. In some cases, that means keeping the person in question engaged – as one of our de-escalators did for about an hour, so that he wouldn’t talk to or confront any of the people who testified.
She didn’t placate him, in fact she did challenge his beliefs, but she didn’t engage physically with him. She kept him occupied so that the task force could talk to the people there. She engaged in tremendous emotional labor to keep him and the other man from engaging the community.
That’s just my observation as someone on the de-escalation team. I would try to practice non-violence as much as possible and insert myself into a fray only to keep others safe.
I’m aware I’m saying this from a place of privilege, but I see that it can be easy to take righteous anger into a charged experience which can affect an entire group or community. It’s in reaction to something very toxic and dangerous-the hate speech. And ignoring it is not the answer. And driving someone to the next town is not the answer. I am interested and engaged in finding those other strategies and tactics to protect community, to protect those oppressed, and to avoid violence whenever I can. “
As someone who proudly identifies himself as a Black nationalist, I struggle with the social perception that I am equal to the violent (white) racists who opposed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement. The mis-perception is that I do not agree with Dr. King’s popular high ideal that all of humanity is one. Or, that the solution to racism in America is to close the door to the past and begin anew, treating each other as Brothers and Sisters.
While it is agreed that injustice still agitates America’s social fabric – for example, it’s hard to deny the reality of police brutality in America after a five years of cellphone videos making it viscerally plain – public opinion believes that this injustice is against the will of the average “White” citizen. By and large, “White” Americans do not view themselves as the oppressors of “Black” America, especially as interracial coupling and biracial children provide ample demonstration that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is correct, on a personal level “White” Americans are not racist.
Towards a View of Shared Oppression
Following the explosive event of Officer Darren Wilson killing unarmed teenager, Mike Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, Abdul-Jabbar wrote, “Many white people think that these cries of outrage over racism by African Americans are directed at them, which makes them frightened, defensive and equally outraged. They feel like they are being blamed for a problem that’s been going on for many decades, even centuries. They feel they are being singled out because of the color of their skin rather than any actions they’ve taken. They are angry at the injustice. And rightfully so. Why should they be attacked and blamed for something they didn’t do?”
To public opinion, Black nationalism, in the form of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, appears to deny the fact that White America has changed since the Civil Rights Movement and is no longer individually racist. White America desperately argues that it knows “Black lives matter,” so why say it? Why not agree with Dr. King and connect instead to a greater, more unifying narrative expressed as: “All lives matter;” so that White people do not feel excluded from the process of healing the injustice? The phrase, “Black Lives Matter,” sounds divisive, implying that the average White person is responsible to address the injustice he or she knows his or her individual hands are not producing.
That paradox, that the individual “White” person is born into a system dripping with the blood of the genocidal act against Native Americans and the enslavement of African persons, yet he or she feels absolutely powerless to reform, or correct, that fundamental injustice in real time, is the trap White Supremacy creates for White people. It is the dark side of “privilege” – a privilege most (poor) White Americans are completely oblivious too. In many ways, White people feel just as oppressed by White Supremacy as “Black” people do.
The white anti-racist activist – and borderline abolitionist – named Tim Wise, despite brilliant delivery, is no more effective in communicating racial realities in America to White audiences than a Black nationalist such as Minister Louis Farrakhan is.
In response to Ferguson, Wise wrote: “I think this, more than anything, is the source of our trouble when it comes to racial division in this country. The inability of white people to hear black reality—to not even know that there is one and that it differs from our own—makes it nearly impossible to move forward. . . .The history of law enforcement in America, with regard to black folks, has been one of unremitting oppression. That is neither hyperbole nor opinion, but incontrovertible fact. From slave patrols to overseers to the Black Codes to lynching, it is a fact. From dozens of white-on-black riots that marked the first half of the 20th century (in which cops participated actively) to Watts to Rodney King to Abner Louima to Amadou Diallo to the railroading of the Central Park 5, it is a fact. From the New Orleans Police Department’s killings of Adolph Archie to Henry Glover to the Danziger Bridge shootings there in the wake of Katrina to stop-and-frisk in places like New York, it’s a fact. And the fact that white people don’t know this history, have never been required to learn it, and can be considered even remotely informed citizens without knowing it, explains a lot about what’s wrong with America. Black people have to learn everything about white people just to stay alive. They especially and quite obviously have to know what scares us, what triggers the reptilian part of our brains and convinces us that they intend to do us harm. Meanwhile, we need know nothing whatsoever about them. We don’t have to know their history, their experiences, their hopes and dreams, or their fears. And we can go right on being oblivious to all that without consequence.”
The current racial tension is a lose-lose situation. It doesn’t seem to matter how much love the individual White person exhibits towards individual Black people, each act of injustice, on the national level, paints that loving White person as an oppressor.
The Threat of People of Color Safe Zones
On Friday, October 9, 2015, I did not rest my head on a Washington, D. C. hotel pillow. I am a graduate of the original Million Man March. With friendships in all walks of life, I connected with another Alaskan, Drew Cason, and crashed at his apartment.
I last saw Cason, who is White, at the Hip Hop Summit, conducted by Global Block Alaska. He’s a tremendously compassionate person who has spent the last two years inside the national capital learning the ins and out of America’s governance process.
Over a few drinks, Cason and I discussed the effect of the Pope’s visit to D. C. and ran up and down the annuals of American history exploring solutions to most of our current problems. I grew hungry, and asked if anything was open at 1:30 am. Cason assured me that Washington D.C. nightlight guaranteed it.
Within minutes, we faced 14th Street, a fork in the road. Towards our left was darkness. No street lamps were on. Men and women disappeared into what I assumed were bars. A few silhouettes lingered before stoops, animated in laughter and conversation.
“That’s the Black section,” Cason said. “We can go down there but I’m not really welcomed.”
We had no other response other than laughter to the paradox that social dynamics are such, as a White person, Cason is essentially separated from many he would perceive as fellow human beings.
“I just left that section about five blocks that way,” I said.
Cason and I turned towards the right and walked into more familiar territory, with a diversity of Americans interacting with each in unity under fully lit street lamps.
My Attendance at The Holy Day of Atonement
Surrounded by two million versions of myself, the Million Man March on Monday, October 16, 1995 radicalized me. The memory of that day is positive, like the feeling of a family reunion. The emotion of love was thick in the air. It was one of the high spiritual moments of this lifetime for me. So positive is the memory, that the controversy surrounding the moment is almost minimized.
The Million Man March was controversial because the Nation of Islam, the premier Black nationalistic institution, organized it and White people were not invited.
Due to the trauma-based bond established under slavery, from Black America’s cultural perspective, nationalism is the philosophy that the only solution to the racial problem in America is for Black people to separate from White people into a territory within the United States. Any attempt at integration is vain and condemned to failure. Several generations of living apart are needed for each side to heal from the trauma-based bond which birthed the nation.
This view is not without credence within white thought, and was championed by President Abraham Lincoln following the Civil War, right before his assassination. He met with leaders from the formerly enslaved and suggested governmental funds for a relocation program. This program became Liberia.
The idea of separation is problematic, because it solidifies White people, individually and collectively, in the undesired role of oppressor. Black people who adhere to separation as a solution are perceived as deniers of White people’s basic humanity. The position is considered racist. The idea that Black people who desire to separate are in the position of the abused wife who wants a house of their own, not rent an apartment owned by their Father-in-Law, being blamed for breaking up a good family, instead of seeking an end to the abuse, is a difficult concept to translate to White America.
In 2000, James H. Cone III and Joseph L. White, wrote in a book entitled, Black Man Emerging: Facing the Past and Seizing a Future in America: “The Black/White perceptual gap, compounded by generations of suspicion and hostility, interferes with the mutual understanding and communication that is essential for effective biracial problem solving. Black and White Americans are like two people who have a bad marriage but for complex reasons have decided not to divorce or even establish separate households. A divorce would cost too much in alimony and involve splitting up the assets, so they are faced with the dilemma of trying to get along on a day-to-day basis.”
For most of Black history, a people of color safe zone, or space where White people could not come, was illegal. Being human, Southern Whites knew Black people did not like enslavement. “Stealing away” to find a space where the psychological pain of being enslaved could be released was precious to Black people. It kept many from going insane or committing suicide. The existence of that psychological pain also terrified White people because it reminded Southern Whites that Black people did view them as oppressors, despite the psychological programming.
Out of these safe zones, Black culture developed to help its practitioners navigate the tumultuous waters of our American experience. We endure the paradox of suffering from those who do not view themselves as the cause of that suffering.
The Radicalization of “Black” America
In the face of current events, it is hard as a Black person to look at this request as anything other than insanity. Against her will, my friend Iman Josey, who recently moved to Texas has to explain this paradox to her two sons. On the Friday I connected to Cason, in unity, a video surfaced showing a Black high school student being slammed to the ground by a white police officer. The incident happened in the city, Iman and her children recently moved too. To complicate the situation, a second white police officer is present and does not stop the first officer from violently detaining the Black teenager. White teachers appear who ask students to stand back.
Iman’s sons are smart enough to see exactly what you and I see when we watch the video. This is a clear act of oppression, in the form of physical violence. It looks racially-motivated.
The idea that neither the teachers, nor the police officers, would claim personal responsibility for creating an outcome classified by those who watch the incident as oppressive, silently gives credence to the Black nationalistic perspective that separation is the only answer.
Black culture is designed to absorb the excuses of the cop and still see the humanity of those making the excuses. I am trained to look at the incident from the perspective of the officers and teacher and make their case for them.
Like Darren Wilson, the two officers standing there are just doing their jobs. The high school student is supposed to comply. If he does not comply, it is socially acceptable in a monstrous system to use violence to force compliance, even if that compliance is unjust. I can imagine the teachers arguing they are doing their best to act out of compassion by asking the other children to stand back. The child on the ground is already a victim. The compassionate teacher’s new goal is to prevent the other children from becoming victims of the monstrous system the teacher feels she has no power to stop. A cop has a gun. The teacher is not prepared to risk her life to correct the injustice happening before her. The system, being monstrous, would act against her, making her one of its victims.
The officers and teachers are forced, by societal forces, to enforce what they know is fundamentally criminal injustice.
And, it is that very paradox that radicalizes Iman’s sons. No Dr. King sermon of humanity’s inherent oneness is going to stop the message that it is socially acceptable to limit the arc of their lives, even under the presence of a twice elected Black President.
Neither can I. As I approached the National Mall, walking onto to it accompanied by Black men and women from across the country, I noticed my phone stopped working. Others noticed it too. Word quickly spread that a media blackout was happening. MSNBC, Fox News and CNN were nowhere to be found. Nor, was BET, or Black Entertainment Television, broadcasting the March live, like it did 20 years ago.
Perceiving the exclusion of White people from the March, the monstrous system responded in the only manner it could. It didn’t matter that President Obama, could perceive this act as oppressive, or that individual anchors, such as a liberal like Rachel Maddow, could perceive the blackout as an act of oppression, both do not possess the power to reverse, or protest, those orders. Their silence is radicalizing.
Just like in 1995, attendees estimate a million Black people came together and because such gatherings – although historically illegal – are built on the principle of justice, the outcome was peace. Not one act of violence occurred within the gathering. In addition to that, the men of the NOI cleaned up after the people, posting the pictures after the March. If that those outcomes are perceived as a threat, worthy of a media blackout, the reaction within “Black” America is a radicalization.
“Black” Twitter became furious at BET’s collusion. The fact that Viacom now owns BET, instead of a “Black” man named Robert Johnson, was not lost. In response, a boycott was announced over social media of the BET Hip Hop Awards show the following Saturday night. The action was honored and ratings fell from 3 million in 2014 to 1.8 million in 2015.
The Daily Show, using comedy, communicated how random White people heard retaliatory violence in the March’s slogan, “Justice, Or Else.” The correspondent, Roy Woods, Jr., remarked, “No wonder white people write all the horror movies.” When the organizers of the March were asked what the “Or Else” meant, Student Minister Nuri Muhammad answered, a boycott of the last business quarter.
I have not had much conversation with White Americans about what the boycott means to them, so I cannot speak on it. It appears to be threatening because it is an act of unity against the injustice that is American society for Black people. By asking Black people to specifically redirect their economic activity towards Black businesses, I can see how it appears racist, because it is not in alignment with Dr. King’s promoted dream of American unity. The boycott is a public act of revolution – of separation.
Putting Meaning the Slogan: Justice or Else
To move forward, I feel it is needed. It is isn’t until the individual White American begins articulating that he or she feels anguish over the injustice being experienced by Black America in their lifetime, not 500 years ago or even 50 years ago, but today, in 2015, that a solution to racism in America is going to happen. The tension is becoming so great that White Americans can no longer effectively shy away from the existence of racism and say, “My hands are not doing it.” The abuse is real. Ignoring the abuse is not going to make the abuse go away.
If there is any lesson the “Justice, Or Else” movement begun on October 10, 2015 has to give America it is this: Black people have endured slavery, segregation and are now being asked to endure mass incarceration. It is too much. We do not wish to continue living in a society that requests we endure injustice without a viable program to end it in sight. White Americans arguing that “all lives matter” as a means of absolving themselves individually of personal responsibility for addressing racism or using the tactic of silence because one is clueless as to the solution is radicalizing “Black” youth, who are actively suffering the abuse.
We are heading towards a new civil war – and I don’t see any Black people who view themselves responsible for it. If White America wants to avoid a splintering of the Union, White people have to address racism among White people, whether they feel personally responsible for racism or not.
Failure to effectively address racism in America will result in Black people choosing to create a way out of America, or else watch ourselves be crushed by our friends and family members who deny a holocaust happening right before their eyes.
The last time I had to say a name it was because an Alaskan State Trooper killed a Native man. Say his name: Eric Hash. The trooper is Black. Far as I know, he did not receive any behavior redirection training. Instead, he was reassigned somewhere else in the country.
Before that I said the name: Nia Wilson.
After five years of Black Lives Matter seeking to amplify the voices of those suffering from overt racism in America, it sometimes feels like the campaign is a failure. The tangible results of seeing White allies join in justice rallies hasn’t happened. Nor are we hearing stories of aggressive affirmation of justice-based boundaries in everyday situations.
Instead, national headlines are coming closer to home. In Portland, a DoubleTree hotel incident became national news, because of race. Not because of class. Or, we do not have evidence of class being a factor. The Black man involved was able to eat the cost of the hotel refusing a refund and book another room before the night was over. I guess that demonstrates some economic strength.
I am happy to report that something is getting through to the hearts and minds of Rogue Valley residents. The tactic of taking Black pain and making it known through national broadcasts is working.
“I was born in 1977,” Elise Anderson wrote in response to Jazmine Barnes’ murder. “[I] moved to Ashland when I was 10. I attended Ashland High School in the 1990s.”
For Southern Oregon, Anderson is the perfect profile. She is “from here,” if that means something. Since 1987, her life has impacted the four Rogue Valley communities.
“As a white woman raised in Ashland and deeply called to be part of this conversation, education, and to opening my eyes and ears wider than ever, I am truly perplexed and confused at times.
Last night, [January 2] I was in shocked emotional upheaval over the murder of a little girl, Jazmine; thinking of the little girls I know and LOVE that look like that little girl with terror in my heart for them; and rage for the hatred that caused a twisted human to do that. As that emotion flowed, a post popped up from a Black woman – educator/writer/ activist/mother and person I listen to – that was telling me: I am not capable of feeling what I was feeling because I’m a white woman. When I heard this idea I felt my heart break . . . further.
I felt like screaming that we – Black women and White women – should be holding each other as mothers and fighting together on the same side.
But she doesn’t want my heart, my voice, my tears.
I felt myself pull away, I felt myself understand ‘othering’ on yet another level. I felt compassion, judgment, devastation, and isolation. I felt my privilege of trust being shaken down.
The paradox is so much to hold and the fear of speaking is real in my nervous system. I can hardly see what I write here through tears, and then I look towards how my emotions might be seen and boxed.
I am capable of sitting in it. I am strong.
But I want to keep my vulnerability, caring, and growing awareness intact.
I am scared of the walls I feel being built in myself despite my desire to dismantle. I see my exposed self on a pedestal for all to judge and label however they see fit without knowing me at all. I’m feeling into that and the ways that it could relate to how people of color might feel at any given moment in my town. It’s uncomfortable. I’m stretching in my skin.
I have three biological sons and one stepson. This one pictured is the youngest, he is 11. The others are 17, 21 and 24.”
And, this is all that is asked a first step: to identify; to make the effort to look at the experience from another perspective. It is through shared perspectives we are able to build a bridge of understanding. It starts with, “I can see how you feel that way.”
Who are you teaching? And, how is your teaching benefiting our community?
Let me tell you a story to illustrate what I mean.
It was at the end of the day, 8:30 pm. I knocked on 100 doors that day near the Ashland High School. This was a couple of weeks ago, when I conducted the one week Dollar Campaign for the Jackson County Fuel Committee (JCFC). A local business woman named, Necia Zuck, donated $50 and challenged me to find 50 persons to match her donation at $1.
I am a community organizer, so I met that challenge. I don’t think I left the three square blocks that I live in, around Lincoln. The campaign generated $109 and a sense of familiarity within me concerning my immediate surroundings which did not exist before the campaign.
In an apartment complex on Garfield, right behind the park, I met three young men sharing an upstairs space. The are white “migrant” workers quashing the forest fires. By young, I mean, college-age.
I saw sparks of intelligence in them when I knocked on their door earlier. These boys were big. They told me they were not from Ashland and were spending the summer following the fires. There is something magnetic about those willing to leave everything they know to go on an adventure and learn something. So, sitting on their porch, I asked the 18 year old what he planned to do with his firefighting experience. Was he going to become an arborist?
18 year old (standing): I don’t know what that means? Me: Tree doctor. 18 year old: Oh. (Friend steps onto the porch from the apartment and sits down in the only other available seat. There is now no more room on the porch.) Me: So, what do you want to do? Do you know, yet? 18 year old: Yes. I want to be an EMT. I am here making money for school. Me: Wow. Are you going to be an EMT here in Ashland? 18 year old: No, I am going back home. (I forget where he said he was from.) Me: How many people live there? 18 year old: 9000. (He laughs after admitting this and blushes like he is embarrassed to be from a small town.) Me: You can get a job as an EMT in a town of 9000 people? 18 year old: YES! $15 per hour. Me: (Giggling) You said that with enthusiasm. 18 year old: That’s good money. (His eyes are aglow with potential and possibility.) Me: What is? 18 year old: $15 per hour. Me: Can I pimp you? (This comment inspired laughter from his friends.) I mean, let me see if I get this straight. You want to be an EMT, right? 18 year old: Yes. (A look of confuse played across his face.) Me: EMTs resuscitate people from the dead! Right? 18 year old: Basically. Me: That’s one heaven of a service. Grandpa is having a heartache, lying there on the floor, unresponsive; you come in and bring him back. I don’t think just anybody can do that kind of work. And, you are going to just put that on the market at $15 per hour. Here’s want I am going to do. You take my name and number. Call me when you graduate. I will only charge you 35% to go door to door in your town of 9000 persons and find 100 of them sons and daughters of grandmothers and grandfathers willing to pay you $300 per month to keep you on retainer. I think you can get to any house in that 9000 person town faster than the ambulance. I would treat you like insurance.
His friends turned to him. I watched as understanding entered his mind and it expanded.
Me: You don’t have to treat yourself like an employee. You can treat yourself like a business or corporation and access this American economy. 18 year old: What’s your name?
“My name is Opportunity. I live here with you in America. I am all around if you choose to look for me.”
Who are you choosing to teach? And, how is your teaching benefiting our community?
Words by Kokayi Nosakhere, who chooses to spend the majority of his time in search of magnificent minds. If you are one of them, please choose to reach out at email@example.com
On December 1 – how ironic – once again, evidence of how deeply embedded the concepts of race and racism are in American society surfaced. I do not know if you are paying attention to the latest Black Twitter hashtag. By now, I find it difficult to keep track. For those who are up to date, I would like to offer the idea: #BankingWhileBlack is a teachable moment.
This is the second teachable moment we have received this year.
The incident symbolizes the moral crisis point this current generation is facing. I think the details of this incident do a better job of explaining systemic racism, and our collective socialization towards race, than the Starbucks incident did earlier this year. The brothers at the center of the Starbucks incident, by implementing a solution in harmony with status quo thinking, let America off the hook and did not force the quality of conversation that is needed.
First, let us outline what happened.
Second, let us explain what the nature of the crisis is.
Third, let us point toward a solution.
Studying – obsessing over – the details of what happened to the Cleveland, Ohio resident and citizen named Paul McCowns on December 1 is what you and I are socialized to do. We want to consume the details. Or, better, we are conditioned to consume the details. Consuming the details is American culture. We think by getting the details all right and the sequence of events correctly we have done significant work towards finding the solution. Yet, a solution is never identified, nor implemented. Why? There is always more details to examine.
I think we engage in this intellectual work because it is the work we feel we can do without risking our wellbeing. To actually find a solution means accepting some really dark aspects of our neighbors and neighborhoods. It means potentially looking at how I, the individual, show up and contribute directly to the inequality and injustice I find so shocking.
At the present moment, this is what we know, the obstacles McCowns overcame to cash a $1000 check are the following.
McCowns does not have a regular banking account. I come to this conclusion because on Dec. 2, the day after this incident, he successfully cashed his check at another Huntington branch – the name of the financial institution.
Being among the unbanked of America, McCowns knew what to bring to receive banking services. I imagine he spoke to the women in his life. Black women are geniuses at navigating business and nonprofit processes. The check was third party, meaning written by hand off of a small business account. (I come to this conclusion due to how the check was received by the manager.)
McCowns walked into a Huntington branch in the Brooklyn suburb. He produced the required two forms of ID. Then, the systemic nature of American racism kicked in.
Let me go slow.
All intellectual argument is going to lead us to conclude the teller in front of McCowns is/was innocent. He/She is an employee. It doesn’t matter what race she is. She is going to act like an employee. The average American can view himself or herself in the position of the teller. The average person knows he or she is not personally racist.
Because many of us take jobs we hate and do things on those jobs contrary to our own moral worldview, capitalistic culture teaches us to resist judging someone for the unjust outcomes associated with their employment. Workers are innocent; just trying to make rent.
The mystery we have to solve is why, all things being equal, the outcome of this encounter is/was racism. Mechanically, the outcome should not exist. There are laws in place, a socially acceptable agreement to treat customers to a certain standard. Society has progressed to the point where outcomes like this do not happen – unless done on purpose.
Yet, if we speak to each and every employee associated with this transaction, we will find each and every one of them views themselves as innocent.
Because you and I were not there, we can conclude the check’s amount did not fit the bias inside the mind of the teller, nor the rest of the branch staff. In a brilliant display of “group think,” the staff agreed to question the check and demand greater verification.
McCowns’ employer was called. The employer did not pick up. The manager put up resistance to cashing the check without contacting the employer and verifying that it was a real employment check.
It is difficult to assign blame to this decision and associate it with racism. Why? The public does not have access to the manager’s thoughts or dialogue during the incident. We can assume he or she justified his or her demands on branch policy and procedures.
The news has yet to give us the details of how McCowns conducted himself inside the branch. I imagine he was polite because when the police are called, the reason given did not relate to violence.
At some point, McCowns decided to leave the branch.
That’s when the manager called the police. Line cops responded as McCowns reached his vehicle outside of the branch. Again, the news has not released the exact details of how McCowns conducted himself, but he did not go to jail. Nor was he killed. I imagine, he was very polite to the police, however, I don’t think he enjoyed the experience.
This is what we know. Why Paul McCowns, a Black man in America, had this experience is what consumes social media comment threads.
The Nature of the Crisis
The “why” is really not in question. What is in question is how to inspire the branch staff that just produced a racist outcome their handling of the situation was racist without making them, as individuals, feel we are calling them racist. (Remember, racist means someone who cannot be fixed.)
The culture of individualism doesn’t help the conversation. By the nature of the idea, one-on-one confrontation is incredible force. The individual is not the system. That argument is valid and always available to the individual who feels under attack and has to defend themselves against the potential charge of being racist. The term cannot be made to stick with consequences.
To their credit, the majority of White Americans (60%?) recoil in shock and horror at such news of overt racist outcomes like #BankingWhileBlack. Unfortunately, American socialization doesn’t give allies many other options than the expression of outrage. Sharing in the emotion of the psychological hurt McCowns endured throughout such treatment is what we can do. It’s safe. It’s too safe. It is action the system can absorb without change. Law and order is maintained.
Joining in the emotional outrage also doesn’t prevent another incident. Each member of Black America remains just as vulnerable to racism. No learning happens leading to behavior change inside the individual and collective society. Few of us feel something more effective than expressing outrage can be done – not within the bounds of the current legal structure.
Of course, McCown can sue the Huntington Bank. Unfortunately, economic pain isn’t preventive medicine, nor is appealing to the justice system a guarantee of changed systematic behavior. If that worked, changing the laws would have eliminated racist outcomes by now. Somewhere in America another racist outcome will grind itself upon another Black person, against all of our collective wills and impassioned intellectual discourse.
It is this impotency those of us in this teachable moment which forments this crisis. It is a moral crisis. We know “it” – racism – is happening – how to address “it” – without each individual feeling as if the change is going to individually crush them – is both mystery and challenge.
The way Americans argue about race and class, we want the effects of both on society to go away without us who individually make up the society making it go away. It is considered injustice to ask the innocent to clean up the mess of the guilty.
In reality, the bank teller who served McCowen isn’t as innocent as she believes herself to be. The manager who called the police is more steeped in anti-blackness than he or she will ever confess to being. The police who responded aren’t as innocent as we want them to be. The police are used, against their will, to enforce the status quo. The teller, the manger, the police all individually do good and seek to do good inside of a monstrous system. The apology the bank issued isn’t enough. Nor is our shrugged acceptance of the bank’s apology. None of this is enough because none of it will stop the next racist outcome of this monstrous social system.
Towards a Solution
Growing up, my fifth and sixth grade principal, Ms. Foster, taught me what I label: The Rosa Parks Rule.
Principal Foster taught me on that day, the only person who was acting like an America is/was Rosa Parks. The bus driver’s job was driving the bus, not enforcing segregation law. The police officer who responded to the call, could have refused. All the persons on the bus could have told the bus driver to drive them home. In short, a lot of average people contributed to maintaining segregation, it wasn’t just the elite White business persons and history-making political personalities.
The Rosa Parks Rule teaches us that we, the individual, have a choice. We can innocently contribute to social inequality or we can boldly choose to contribute our time, talent and energy to freedom, justice and equality. We do not have to ball our fists and fight. All we have to do is practice justice from the limited space we occupy.
In other words, all of us are responsible for any moment/incident in America. If the outcome is racist, it is because our hands made the outcome racist. Our challenge is to accept responsibility and change the outcomes ourselves.
In the case of Paul McCowns, application of the Rosa Parks Rule would prevent the racist outcome. How? The manager would access his or her humanity, choose to accept the consequences, if any arise, and just follow regular business practices. Against his or her socialized bias, they would approve the check and cash it as is, without questioning if McCowns had a right to possess a $1000 check. Under the Rosa Parks Rule, in his or her eyes, McCowns is a citizen of America.
This is a teachable moment. This incident is an opportunity to move someone from a question of innocence, “Do I do that?” to a question of realization, “When do I do that?”
It is then, and only then, that a new space is created where we can have the conversation that is the paradigm-shift on race and racism in America.
There is no other, there is only us. The pathway to freedom, justice and equality is for us to actually act like we the people have the power.
Nowadays, at 28 years old, he is an established local poet, with a monthly open mic for his fellow wordsmiths called the Rogue Valley Speak Easy. His material is the substance of this life; the highs and lows, the ins and outs. Being so erudite, when asked what specific life conditions contributed four years ago to a period of food insecurity when he first arrived in Ashland, Blaine Alexander Lindsey was not at a loss for words.
“Being a young, over-worked, under-payed, malnourished kid with no money for college (for higher wages),” he answered. “[The] high cost-of-living and no experience in how to manage money properly, or how to nourish yourself properly – [this] should be taught in high school.”
Inside the conservative political worldview, deprivation is a prerequiste to growth in the individual. What else generates the necessary inner desire to act to change one’s condition? Society cannot use force, especially in Dr. King’s America, where nonviolence is the definition of civilization. The only way society can inspire an individual to change his/her behavior is through giving and withholding resources.
Capitalism is designed for individuals to create their own opportunity. Find a need and fill it. If the person is creative and finds alternative resource streams, good for them. That person can continue living whatever lifestyle he or she wanted. If not, then, to gain access to resources, conformity to the social contract is the expectation.
Lindsey responded accordingly, choosing to grow through the experience, rather than wallow in pity.
“Adversity inspired me to learn and experience new things,” he said. “At low points I chose to steal food from grocery stores to survive that day or week. I began researching food, diet nutrition and permaculture. I began seeing the countless problems in our local and national food web, looking in to what systemic issues cause such problems.”
What Lindsey is describing is popularly called dumpster diving. It is based on the actual fact American business wastes a tremendous amount of prepared foods. Over forty years ago, when food banking began, it was discovered grocery stores must discard “old” food products. A certain time is allotted per food safety standards. Yet, few who are hungry fail to see value in a four hour old pizza? Or a two hour hamburger? What about a 30 minute salad?
Fortunately, there exist those who do not agree with the conservative world view and believe a social safety is existential for the social contract to work. Some business owners might interpret dumpster diving as theft. After all, their dollars paid for the discarded merchandise. Why should someone be rewarded for choosing to boycott the business?
The anti-hunger community exists somewhere in the tension of those in need, food handling requirements and customer-driven policy decisions. A quick google search reveals several Ashland options – Ashland Food Angels, Ashland Emergency Food Bank,Ashland Food Project, Uncle Food’s Diner and the Community Peace Meal – to access food outside the commercial food network, as grocery store chains are called, inside the anti-hunger community.
Blaine learned about the Food Angels and Pamala Joy’s work addressing food insecurity through his relationship web.
“A roommate was a volunteer in a household of five (students, non-students, elders) that all were food insecure,” Lindsey said. “He was moving out and I was curious as to how he always brought home salvaged produce to help feed himself. So, I asked and went and volunteered [at Ashland Food Angels] myself. I found not only a way to help my own food insecurity – volunteers receive food in trade for work – but I found a wonderful way to be pro-active on the issue and help other hungry people every day!
Food insecurity ultimately was what propelled me into spiritual awakening; opening my eyes more to the world around me; determining which diets I would adopt and what situations I would put myself into. This led to boycotting all non-organic or animal foods for many years, which brings more food insecurity, because feeding yourself [organic food] becomes more expensive and less available. This can be addressed by growing our own foods, wild harvesting and preserving food through drying and fermenting, also by shopping frugally and sharing meals with friends.” Best Practice Suggestions There are many ways to be pro-active in our community about food insecurity!
Organize potlucks or share home-cooked meals with friends.
Waste less food in your own life and redistribute it before it goes bad.
Say “yes” with your dollars in ways that align with your core values. Buy local and organic. Donate money to Pamela Joy & The Ashland Food Angels, our Ashland Food Bank, Jason and Vannesa Houk at The Community Peace Meal, Maren Faye at the Uncle Foods Tuesdays meal!
Donate your time and energy as a volunteer! It can be a very enriching experience to your life and to all the people you impact through your service! All of these organizations are full of kind and authentic people who’d love to hear from interested neighbors!
This was written in pencil, which, I am taught, is what she has access too.
Peace. Proper education always corrects errors.
Dear Little Sister,
My name is Kokayi Nosakhere. I hope my letter reaches you, along with thousands of others. I shared your mailing address on my Facebook timeline. I watched it get shared. Floow through is always questionable, however, I think enough support for you exists for you to lean that we are paying attention.
I read about your case for several years. I was hoping the justice system actually worked; it disappointed me again. Inertia among human beings is difficult to change. We, who are organizers, are working on it.
Please do not choose to give up hope. You are still here. This is year 13 for you. I can only imagine how weary you are of the conditions around you.
Included is one of my Love Letters. I’ve been circulating them since 2016. I hope this one brings you some comfort.
Thank you for choosing to open this fundraising email. I seek your financial assistance to amplify the voices of People of Color in Southern Oregon. Right now, I am doing my best to provide this service using a 10-months old relationship web. My name is Kokayi Nosakhere. I am a recently transplanted Alaskan journalist.
Why I am Knocking on Your Door
I know what it is like to be the only PoC in a newsroom. I cut my teeth in journalism, building Alaska Commons from a start up into a full-fledged, award-winning media outlet. In the course of our five year career (Spring 2012 to Spring 2017), I earned two Alaska Press Awards.
Because I like to implement solutions, not just report the problem, in late 2016, I turned my attention away from child hunger to anti-violence measures. For my efforts throughout 2017 in the most diverse neighborhoods in America, the Alaska chapter of the FBI gave me their 2018 Community Leadership Award.
Since February 2018, I have resided in Ashland, Oregon. I see a need. The voices of People of Color are absent from many valuable discussions here in the Rogue Valley. Last Friday’s Ashland Daily Tidings editorial is evidence towards this idea. It is my goal to develop a media outlet which amplifies the voices of People of Color in Southern Oregon.
Right now, Readership is rapidly expanding – December 2018 is the best month so far, outstripping the stats from October and November within 1o days. This is due directly to coverage of APD’s wrongful arrest of a young Black man on November 26.
I am beginning where I reside here in Ashland, however, I am open to traveling reporting where the stories are.
On Thursday, December 6, 2018, at 12:32 pm, as a part of an investigation by the Ashland Police Department, I, Melchisedek El Shalom, age 20, sent a written statement. I declined an in-person interview due to my distrust of the Ashland Police Department. This is my account of what happened on November 26, 2018 shortly after 7 pm.
Excerpt from Submitted Written Statement
“On November 26, 2018 at about 7:00pm, I left home on Clay Creek Way in Ashland, OR for a walk downtown and to stop at Safeway for my [D]ad. I was chatting on the phone with my sister in Philadelphia.
As I reached Ashland High School, an Ashland Police car swooped in front of me. As I walked around the car, an officer jumped from the car and pushed me back. Initially, I thought they were approaching me for speaking loudly on my phone.
The officer told me that I had just committed a crime at a nearby dispensary. Afraid for my safety, I started a Facebook live feed on my phone.
At that point, two other police cars arrive on the scene, three policemen in total. They repeatedly told me that I’d been harassing a woman at a dispensary nearby. They stated that they had been doing an investigation and they knew it was me.
I vehemently denied the charge. I have never stepped foot into the dispensary.
I asked an officer if I was under arrest, he said no…
I asked if I could leave and he said no.
They asked my name and I told them. Knowing that I have a black wallet, I was afraid to pull out my ID and asked that they retrieve it from my pocket. I informed them repeatedly that I am on probation, underage, and that I had not been to a dispensary. I suggested that we go to the dispensary and check the footage to clear me of the charge.
I called them racist and that stated that they were harassing me because I am Black. I stated that I feared for my life because a person was just killed by police in a nearby town. That infuriated Officer Bibby, he frisked me, slammed me on the hood of his car and cuffed me as I repeatedly stated that I was not resisting arrest.
The older officer agreed, saying “Yes, you are not resisting arrest.”
They searched my bag, only to find my crystals and my money. Officer Bibby then stated that he knew I probably didn’t do it, but insisted on taking me to jail anyway, stating that it was because I was not cooperating. The older Officer questioned his taking me in, suggesting that he let me go, however, Officer Bibby insisted that I would go to jail.
At that point I was put into the back of Officer Bibby’s car.
The drive to Medford was terrifying as the Officer took back roads and blasted Heavy Metal Music. I screamed from the back[,] “Officer you never told me your name!” He never responded.
I continuously stated that my parents would be looking for me. I asked why I wasn’t being taking to the Ashland jail. I honestly feared for my life. One moment I was walking past the High School that I graduated from and the next I was in a car on a dark back road with an aggressive policeman blasting [sic metal] music.
Request for Copy of the Report
On Monday, December 10, 2018, I visited the Ashland Police Department seeking a complaint file, or the investigative report findings. I was given a standard, one-page complaint form.
I am demanding to see the investigative report and I want it released to the public.