ARE MONTHLY MEDIA

CRIMINAL JUSTICE & POLICE BRUTALITY | AUGUST 2020

Theme Reflection by A’Zhariya Ellis | Content Leader 

     For the month of August, we decided to address and discuss the theme of “Criminal Justice & Police Brutality”, which serves to make our participants think critically of political and criminal justice systems across the world when it comes to Black people. Since we covered a lot of more current sources of media for the how to be actively anti-racist topic, I wanted to take the time to continue working our way backwards through time with this month’s topic by focusing on the 1970’s to early 1990’s within as well as outside the U.S. so we can broaden the perspectives we discuss during our meetings! I believe that in order for more people to educate themselves on anti-racism, we need a plethora of vastly different resources/ works in circulation from different eras to create an understanding that goes well below the surface.

Highlight: Collaboration 

   This month, we are working with AfriWare Books in Maywood, Illinois. AfriWare Books was founded in 1993 by Nzingha Nommo, and she still owns and operates the bookstore today. AfriWare Books works to “provide a platform to showcase authors, artists and advocates who infuse us with a sense of cultural pride” (AfriWare Books Website). Please order the book Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson online from AfriWare Books by clicking here

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Guiding Group Questions 

After discussing with your group, what do you feel is the most striking issue about police brutality/criminal justice - not just in the US but worldwide? 

What can an individual do to further the BLM Movement against police brutality and criminal justice? 

After viewing (reading, etc) your media, do you believe that current legislative action efforts to curb police brutality has been enough? Why or why not? 

Were you surprised by what police brutality was shown to be, compared to what you've heard about in recent media? Why may your perception may be different to your media's depiction? 

FILM: Detroit

​​Rated R | physical violence | gun violence | strong language| partial nudity

By: Amari Parker

Synopsis

     This film depicts the civil unrest that occurred in Detroit, Michigan in July 1967, however, it mainly focuses on the Algiers Motel Incident. This incident led to the murder of 3 unarmed men and the injuring of 9 other people after reports of gunshots caused the Michigan State Police, the Detroit Police, and the Michigan Army National Guard to search and seize an annex of the Algiers Motel and violently attempt to elicit a confession out of the ten men and two women who were residing there. 

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think the Sergeant allowed the officer to go back out after he shot and killed the man who had looted the grocery store even though he said he was recommending murder charges? What problems did this cause and how do we see similar situations like this today?

  • Why was it so easy for the police officers to try to pin things on Officer Bismukes, the security guard from the grocery store?

  • How does what the police did in the film to avoid having witnesses compare to how police react/respond to when people start recording interactions today?

Personal Reflection

     This film evokes extremely powerful emotions: fury, despair, disgust, and so many more. It does an amazing job at forming parallels between that time and ours, while also showing how much our world has changed since then. It allows you to see the effects of implicit biases and institutionalized racism, and causes you to do some introspection into your own implicit biases and how you’re hurt or how you benefit from this system. This was an extremely powerful and vital watch that was really able to contribute to my knowledge about a widely unknown event and how it mirrors what’s happening today.

     The director and the major producers of this film are white. Majority of the cast is black and the production did not in any way try to humanize the police officers committing police brutality in this film. Critics have said that the production did a poor job of chronicling what else was happening in the city during this 5 day period of civil unrest and that because of it maybe the name should be changed to Algiers Motel or something else. 

Notes

BOOK: “Just Mercy" BY BRYAN STEVENSON

Trigger Warning: racial violence, racial discrimination, police brutality

By: Mai Ly Hagan & Allegra Walker

Personal Reflection

     Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson is the kind of book that, once you’ve read it, you will never forget. Bryan Stevenson—truly a modern-day American hero—writes an astonishing story that explores the very lowest and highest points of humanity. Stevenson creates a compelling narrative by interweaving the story of Walter McMillian, a death row prisoner he worked with in the late 1980’s, with the history of criminal justice in the United States. In addition to that, he works in anecdotes from his own life and descriptions of other cases that he took as a young lawyer. When all these elements come together, the result is a memorable story of love, fear, justice, and mercy. Reading this book, I was often shocked and horrified by the extreme injustices and brutalities that exist in our criminal justice system. However, I was also inspired by Stevenson’s persistence and determination to right these wrongs. All in all, he—and his clients—are living reminders of why it’s so important to fight for equality and love.

     Bryan Stevenson is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit organization based in Alabama which represents marginalized groups who receive unfair sentences. He was born in Delaware, where from youth he encountered racial discrimination. He has spent his life critiquing the systems of racism and racial justice in the United States. He is a strong activist, and has led a successful career as a lawyer, director, speaker, and professor.

Notes

Synopsis

     Just Mercy is a memoir by Bryan Stevenson following his career as a lawyer. Stevenson is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization which advocates for wrongly convicted or harshly sentenced marginalized groups. While the book tells the story of encounters during Stevenson’s career, it focuses primarily on the trial of Walter McMillan, who was a black man from Alabama sentenced to death. Stevenson reflects on these encounters, and his philosophies on the American justice system.

Discussion Questions

  • How did you feel after finishing this book?

  • What stood out to you most about Walter’s story?

  • In what ways did Mr. Stevenson himself experience prejudice?

  • What are some of our state laws about incarceration?  How can we find these out?

  • What can we do personally to make a difference?

  • How does Mr. Stevenson’s race impact your reading (and his writing) of this book?  How would it have been different if it had been written by a white man or woman?

  • Discuss some of the most memorable stories from each of the groups mentioned throughout the book: African American men, women, children, mentally ill, disabled, drug convicts.

By: Allegra Walker

POETRY:

“A Brief History of Murder” by Simone John and “Power” by Audre Lorde

Trigger Warning: gore, blood, mentions of rape, police brutality/killing

By: Aliza Baker, Hannah Kim, & Seren Lurie

Synopsis

“A Brief History of Murder"

  • Simone John acts as the speaker in this poem as she writes about the nameless black boys and girls killed from the time of white presence in Africa to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and finally into modern-day. She uses repetition to emphasize the cyclical nature of the killing of black folk from death to eventually be forgotten after the next black boy is killed. There is an emphasis on the inevitability and chaos of police killings and the reality that the next name to become a hashtag could be one of your loved ones or your own.

"Power"

  • This poem vividly depicts criminal injustice and an abuse of power as well as the stark difference between the powerlessness of the black people and the superiority of the white. Through discussing the power dynamics of racial inequality, Lorde highlights the ability of a white cop to commit an unjust crime yet be excused by a group of white men who believe that justice has been served. 

Personal Reflection

“ A Brief History…”

  • I found this poem incredibly moving especially with how it describes victims of police killings, calling them boys and girls instead of men and women. It reifies the innocence of victims and brings not only the people killed to the forefront but their loved ones as well. The poem brings a sense of sorrow and dread at the unpredictability of when the next black child is killed and how they are included in a never-ending cycle​

“Power” 

  • While reading “Power” by Audre Lorde, I was able to understand and feel the frustration and pain that was felt by those who were unfairly treated because of their skin color. Forced to accept justification of something they were victim to made not only the author but the reader feel a sense of helplessness.

By: Aliza Baker

By: Hannah Kim

Discussion Questions

  • What is the importance of the repetition of “the next black boy they’ll kill”?

  • Why do you think there is an emphasis on motherhood and black women in the poem?

  • What can we take away from this poem about intergenerational trauma and the role of white supremacy over the last 400 years?

  • What do you think Lorde means when she says “And/there are tapes to prove that, too.”?

  • What is “the difference between poetry and rhetoric”? What are the benefits and drawbacks to both?

  • How does Lorde intertwine the ideas of power, violence, and destruction in this poem? What do you think she is saying it means to be able to use one’s power effectively?

Miscellaneous Website: 

Lynching in America

By: Emre Güler

Trigger Warning: mentions of violence, torture, murder; viewer discresion is heavily advised 

Synopsis + Commentary

    Lynching in America is an interactive educational website aiming to present the content of the report Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror—the most comprehensive work done on lynching to date.

  • Believing that the narrative about race in America needs to be changed in order to advance the collective goal of equal justice for all, the Equal Rights Initiative extensively researched the period between the Civil War and the World War II and reported the various kinds of lynching to which over 4000 Black Americans were subjected, exclusive of the numerous unreported occasions.

  • The interactive content of the website includes the full original report, audio stories from the the victims and their descendants, films, interactive maps on the demographics of lynching, and up to date efforts on fighting against lynching and how to help.

  • EJI's goal with this project is to ignite the sparks of reconciliation by keeping these experiences from being forgotten and keeping the conversation going.

Personal Reflection

   As people at the ARE Project, it is our utmost objective to keep the conversation going and create a safe space for an honest atmosphere for reflection and education on the racial injustice, and the content on this website could be a helpful instrument for understanding and evaluating long periods of systematic racism.

Notes

    The goal of the project Lynching in America, as well as the accompanying report, is to be an elaborative source of and shed light on America’s shameful history of public acts of racial terrorism. As such, both the website and the report discuss topics and examples of social oppression, violence, torture, murder—which many Black communities were subjected to for years—with great detail, which might be emotionally distressing and/or triggering for sensitive viewers or minors. Viewer discretion is advised.

Discussion Questions

  • “It was a modern-day lynching. This man was lying helplessly on the ground. He’s subdued. There’s the cop kneeling on his neck. This man is pleading for his life. To me, that is the ultimate display of power of one human being over another. Historically, you could be lynched for anything.” —Arica Coleman

  • Arica Coleman, an historian, cultural critic, and author, defined the brutal killing of George Floyd on May 2020 as “a modern-day lynching.” From 1877 to 1950, more than 4,400 Black men, women, and children were lynched by White mobs, according to the Equal Justice Initiative. Black people were shot, skinned, burned alive, bludgeoned, and hanged from trees. In what ways do you think that many instances of police brutality and systemic discrimination in today’s America, where “breathing while Black” is a crime, can be linked to the history of lynching of Black Americans? What parallels can be drawn?

  •  “There is a depth of hatred in the bone marrow of this country that supports the killing of the black body.” —CeLillianne Green

  • Many of the Black people lynched were never formally accused of crimes. Some were lynched simply for addressing a White person in a way the White person deemed inappropriate. Others were killed after being accused of bumping into a White woman, looking a White person directly in the eye or drinking from a White family’s well. To what extent are motives of White supremacy, many of which still are imminent in today’s America, can be tied to recent instances of police brutality and violence that we did or did not see on the news?

By: Ania Ocasio

ARTICLE:

"Special Report: Black & Blue" 

Trigger: Minor mentions of deaths

by Dan Saint, Craig R. McCoy, Tommy Rowan, and Valerie Russ

Synopsis

      The Black and Blue is an article written by journalists Dan Saint, Craig R. McCoy, Tommy Rowan, and Valerie Russ that presents an informative and interactive overview of the history of police brutality in Philadelphia as well as the problems that still arise today. This article highlights significant moments in early Philadelphia history where police brutality is just as prevalent as modern day, often in the same ways. With a clear visual timeline, this article presents the horrific decisions of police brutality in both the past and present. 

Discussion Questions

  • Have police changed in any way since they have been established?

  • In which ways are police over-relied on?

  • Why do police get away with abusing their power?

Personal Reflection

Beliefs should always be formed on pure truth and fact. This article puts together a clear timeline of the history of police brutality in Philadelphia, and allows for any reader to genuinely delve into the history so often glazed over in school.

Having a clear sequence of events presented in front of you is a critical step in understanding the full history of racism towards Black American citizens. The history of the civil rights movement has always been brushed off in most of my history textbooks and courses, and this article filled in the gaps of my understanding of the history of police brutality.

I strongly recommend this article as a tool to broaden your knowledge of police brutality, as well as an opportunity to compare it to the problems we see unfold today.

PODCAST: “American Police” by NPR Throughline

Trigger Warning: This episode contains  graphic violence & other heavy content description of systemic racism and violence against people of color

podcast augist npr.png

* Also Available on Apple and Spotify podcast services 

By: Sophie Wilcox & Crystal Widado

Synopsis

   This episode of NPR’s Throughline podcast runs through the divisive history of the US police from the time of slavery to the recent murdering of George Floyd. Black Americans being victimized and killed by the police is an epidemic, but this is not just a recent phenomenon. The podcast episode this month dives deep into the origins of American policing, and how these origins put violent control of BIPOC at the heart of the system.

   This episode aims to examine history to better understand current events; Khalil Gibran Muhammad speaks about the history of racist policing in the United States. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, author and professor, explains how racial tensions between Blacks and law enforcement has lasted for almost the entirety of America's history. After experiencing his own unfair and unjust encounter with the police in college, Professor Muhammad has dedicated his life to studying African American and African diaspora studies and Black culture. He outlines everything from the emergence of police in both the North and South to the tension between Black and Whites once a small amount of equity is given to Blacks. Professor Muhammad highlights the shocking lack of change in policing along with the continuation of anti-Blackness and violence against Black people.

 

   Policing, inherently, is a corrupt system that is rooted heavily into slavery and pure racism. Many movements at the moment speak about defunding and abolishing the police because of these core values that policing holds. While listening to this episode, it's helpful to think about how one's idea of policing has changed over the past month and reflect on one's privilege as well!

Personal Reflection

   Growing up in a higher-class city and as an Asian American, I was taught that the police were supposed to protect us. This lasted throughout my childhood until I first learned that the police might have been protecting "us", but had a history of continually brutalizing and murdering Black people. Listening to this podcast dramatically changed my perspective of how I viewed police and policing as a system. It's obvious to see that current policing has its major flaws, but this podcast takes it a step further to explain where these flaws originated from. I definitely recommend listening to this podcast while taking notes about new things you learn about the history of policing and law enforcement in the US!

Discussion Questions

  • In the murder of Elijah McClain, many activists have brought up how we shouldn't only feel empathy for murdered Black Americans who were completely innocent. The police who arrested Khalil Gibran Muhammad for peacefully protesting seemed to be frustrated that Khalil's background was clean. How does society seem to view the murder/brutality of completely innocent Black individuals vs Black individuals who were being arrested or have committed crimes in the past? Why does society only jump to defend the completely innocent murdered Blacks?

  • After listening to this detailed outline of the history of policing in America, what was something that stood out to you the most about its connection to anti-Blackness? What surprised you the most? 

  • American "copaganda" is everywhere, which can lead to many families and people believing that cops are the good guys in movies and shows and therefore, the good guys in real life. What were your perceptions of cops as a child and how have they changed since the BLM protests of 2020? 

  • Besides the fact that they were created to enforce slavery, the police have always sided against Black and colored people throughout history. What are some forms of this we see today?

  • Mr. Muhammad compares gang violence to police violence in the context of history. He describes police as gangs, but with guns. How are the two similar, in the context of the podcast? 

  • The historic professionalization of police has led to Black people being targeted as the generic "criminal". How does this relate to the US' past of slavery and how does this relate to the demands that are being made to local and state law enforcement today?  

  • Looking back at history, it seems like the police have only made small incremental changes for the better. But for the most party, the American police system is still inherently racist. How can we avoid having the same conversation about police brutality every couple of years?

A.R.E. NEWSLETTER

August 2020

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