Pictured: John Crawford, 22, was shot and killed Aug. 5th by police in the Dayton suburb of Beavercreek, Ohio, while holding a toy rifle in a Walmart. He was remembered today as protesters shutdown an East Oakland Walmart and placed stickers on products reading “WARNING: Persons of color picking up this object may be subject serious injury or death at the hands of Walmart and police”. It has been 163 days since Crawford was gunned down by two police officers, neither of which were indicted.
This action, like several others across the Bay Area this weekend, took place in response to the Anti-Police Terror Project’s call for a weekend of reclaiming MLK’s militant legacy of direct action, a call which came initially from Ferguson Action. The Anti-Police Terror Project is a multi-racial, multi-generational coalition of concerned and committed institutions, organizations and individuals committed to ending state sanctioned murder of Black, Brown & Poor People.
On this day in 1965, a civil rights march took place from Selma to Birmingham, Alabama; it became known as ‘Bloody Sunday’. At this stage, the Civil Rights Movement had been in motion for over a decade and already achieved legislative success with the Civil Rights Act. However the focus of the movement now became making the promise of equal franchise guaranteed in the Fifteenth Amendment a reality. While African-Americans exercised the right to vote in the years after the amendment’s passage in 1870, discriminatory measures like literacy tests, poll taxes, and grandfather clauses were soon implemented across the country to deprive them of the vote. Thus in 1965 civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. made voter registration the core of their efforts, centering the campaign on the particularly discriminatory Selma, AL. On March 7th - 'Bloody Sunday’ - as the six hundred unarmed marchers were crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were descended upon by state troopers who viciously beat the protestors. The violence encountered by these peaceful marchers, which was captured on television and broadcast around the world, led to national outcry and caused President Johnson to publicly call for the passage of his administration’s proposed voting rights bill. After securing the support of federal troops, another march was held on March 21st, and with the protection of soldiers the marchers managed to arrive in Montgomery after three days. The marchers were met in Montgomery - the epicentre of the movement and the site of the 1954 bus boycott - by 50,000 supporters, who were addressed by King. Their efforts were rewarded when, in August of that year, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act that ensured all Americans could vote. This was one of the crowning achievements of the Civil Rights Movement, and the Selma to Montgomery march is commemorated as one of the most important moments of the struggle.
“We are on the move and no wave of racism can stop us. The burning of our churches will not deter us. The bombing of our homes will not dissuade us. We are on the move now…not even the marching of mighty armies can halt us. We are moving to the land of freedom” - King’s 'Address at the Conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery March’ - 25th March, 1965
Jackie Stewart sits outside the principal’s office at her daughter Mariah’s school for the fourth time since school began on August 27. It is only the end of September. A look of annoyance crosses her face as she expresses concern for her child.
“This is ridiculous, Mariah is not a troublemaker. I have never been called to her school in years past for a behavior issue. The only calls I ever got were praising her brilliance. Mariah is an impeccable student, intelligent, active in extracurriculars, I don’t know what is going on this year.” She shakes her head and says to no one in particular. “Let me change that, I know what is going on this year. It’s that teacher. She’s the only one Mariah is having a problem with and the one behind all these suspensions.”
Stewart is speaking about the challenges Mariah has been having in history, a subject she once loved and even considered studying in college. Until this year. This year, her first in high school, Mariah has been dissatisfied with the approach her history teacher has taken to explaining events in Black history.
So far, Mariah has been suspended three times for what the school defined as “disobedient and disruptive behavior.” When asked specifics about Mariah’s actions, Stewart—a history professor at a local college—calmly states, “she challenged her teacher on the tenets of white supremacy.”
Not militant, by her own admission, Stewart, as a scholar of history— specifically African-American history and culture—has spent her entire career and efforts as a parent teaching the past in context. She believes that much of what is deemed as problematic when it comes to educating Black and brown children lies in how negatively their experience is presented to them.
“Our past, as presented, is shrouded in pain,” she says. “They never discuss our triumphs as the the catalyst for change. We are only told that our people are motivated by tragedy and that is just incorrect. Our children are often taught through this distorted lens of history that bends to the myth of complacency among the oppressed. I wanted Mariah to know different, to know the truth of who she was and where she came from. I wanted Mariah to know herself. She does and she is not afraid to speak her truth. For many, particularly white female teachers, that is a scary thing —- a Black woman who knows herself.”
What Mariah challenged was very easily fact-checked in a number of sources. Her teacher allegedly proclaimed Dr. Martin Luther King initiated the modern civil rights movement. Mariah fervently disagreed and informed her teacher and her classmates what she had learned from reading countless books in her home on the subject, that the movement was organic and born out of many catalytic events leading to a groundswell of grassroots activism. Her teacher, Stewart says, like the majority of teachers of Black and brown children was a white, Ivy-league educated female who not only was unappreciative of such a public challenge, she was “unprepared for it.” Mariah was instructed that if she took issue with the lesson as it was being taught should reserve her concern for after class.
Mariah did not not back down.
She openly countered that suggestion by telling her teacher, “but you are giving us misinformation as fact.” This was the statement that got Mariah sent to the principal’s office and suspended for the first time. School had only been in session for a week.
Two similar incidents followed. One was about her teacher refusing to refer to what happened to Native Americans as genocide and challenging the notion that the only remaining Native Americans in the United States were on reservations, a fact Mariah knew to be both untrue and prejudicial. The other was in regard to a discussion on women’s suffrage where Mariah emphatically disagreed that when women were granted the right to vote it included Black women and that the the Voting Rights Acts, which came 45 years later, was made possible by white women and not the deaths of Black children.
The elder Stewart stressed how these virulent exchanges would impact Mariah’s academic future.
“I was warned that one more suspension and Mariah would be removed from that class and put into one where the teacher was better equipped to manage students with behavior issues,” she says. “Mariah doesn’t have behavior issues, she just knows better. They have issues with a Black child who knows more than they do. They don’t know how to teach her so they just try to get rid of her, get rid of the problem.”
Stewart is right.
While most of our attention as a community is focused on the predicament of Black boys in public schools and the “school-to-prison pipeline,” little focus is given to Black girls. While Black women are leading all groups in college enrollment, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, African-American girls are six times more likely to be suspended than their white counterparts for minor infractions such as “disobedient and disruptive behavior,” like Mariah was. This is in direct contrast to Black boys who are who are at least three times more likely to be suspended for these minor infractions than white boys for the same behavior. Such policies designated “zero tolerance” punish children of color severely and criminalize them unnecessarily, setting up this current cycle of pushing children out of school and into the criminal justice system.
For the most part, research has looked specifically at the effect of the school-to-prison pipeline on Black and Latino boys. To remedy the effect of such occurrences, programs like My Brothers Keeper, the various Black Male Engagement programs funded by the Knight Foundation and others find ways in which to demonstrate the assets Black men bring to society and foster nurturing environments through which they can find brotherhood and encouragement to overcome great obstacles. As a whole, these large umbrella programs do not exist for Black girls, yet. There is a slight indication that they may, however, in the very near future.
In his address to the Congressional Black Caucus on September 19, President Obama acknowledged the achievements and determination of Black women like his wife and daughters.
“I want them to know how much we appreciate them, how much we admire them, how much we love them,” he said.
President Obama also acknowledged the lack of policies aimed directly at improving life outcomes for Black women. He declared a need for greater focus on raising the minimum wage to help Black women, who are more likely to be relegated to low-wage jobs, to reduce health disparities, incarceration rates for Black women, and ending what he called the “sinister sexual abuse to prison pipeline.”
President Obama’s desire to close this gap is admirable but comes at a time where his influence will be duly limited. African-American women voted for President Obama at a rate of 70 percent according to theWashington Post. With less than 15 months left in his presidency, some women, like Jackie Stewart and her daughter Mariah, wonder if it is too little too late.
“I am sure his heart is in the right place, but where was the support for girls like Mariah when he pushedMy Brother’s Keeper through?” she asks. “Where was My Sister’s Keeper? Who is looking out for Black girls because they are struggling, too.”
*Jackie and Mariah Stewart’s names have been changed to protect their identity
One of the greatest civil rights leaders of all time “didn’t do anything wrong.” In fact, he did more for the greater good of mankind than most. Yet, he was relentlessly harassed by the government with the aid of surveillance techniques.
“The New York Times has published an unredacted version of the famous “suicide letter” from the FBI to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The letter, recently discovered by historian and professor Beverly Gage, is a disturbing document. But it’s also something that everyone in the United States should read, because it demonstrates exactly what lengths the intelligence community is willing to go to—and what happens when they take the fruits of the surveillance they’ve done and unleash it on a target.
The anonymous letter was the result of the FBI’s comprehensive surveillance and harassment strategy against Dr. King, which included bugging his hotel rooms, photographic surveillance, and physical observation of King’s movements by FBI agents. The agency also attempted to break up his marriage by sending selectively edited “personal moments he shared with friends and women” to his wife…
The implications of these types of strategies in the digital age are chilling. Imagine Facebook chats, porn viewing history, emails, and more made public to discredit a leader who threatens the status quo, or used to blackmail a reluctant target into becoming an FBI informant. These are not far-fetched ideas. They are the reality of what happens when the surveillance state is allowed to grow out of control, and the full King letter, as well as current intelligence community practices illustrate that reality richly.”