Category Archives: violence

For Racial Justice– towards an honest, internal look

What a week. I am listening to Beyonce’s Lemonade album all the way through for the umpteenth time, feeling in-love, excited, melancholic, and nostalgic. And that’s just on a personal level, not even considering our current, painful political climate. Of course I have been thinking and feeling, as most if us have about the murders of Black people and people of color in our country. These concerns have been intensified by international attacks in France to Turkey to Baghdad and the ongoingU.S. violence abroad. It has been a rough two weeks to be an empathetic human being in general, and even more so if one is black, queer/trans, woman, working-class, migrant, and other oppressed identities. As I hurl into my future and think about my various roles, I think of my parents’ adage– look at yourself first. Look internally, they would say. To diagnose the problem and think of solutions, we need to look internally. Even on the national level, we do not have to go too far to consider what we need to do for healing and justice. At least a part of what this means is to look at ourselves honestly as a country. Will the people (particularly officials) be upfront about the racist policies we have created, carried out, and continue enabling?

A few days ago, I returned to Michelle Alexander’s amazing book The New Jim Crow, after needing an emotional and intellectual break from it. Her research and the narrative she weaves is horrifying, illuminating, and so necessary. And I ask again, are we all ready to be honest and brave enough to acknowledge it? Only then can we dismantle these systems of injustice and create something different.

Will we acknowledge that the War on Drugs was stimulated to attack communities of color? Alexander writes, many studies have found that during the War on Drugs, law enforcement and media used a “predictable ‘us against them’ frame[…], with ‘us’ being white, suburban America, and ‘them’ being black Americans and a few corrupted whites” (Alexander, 105).

Will we acknowledge and critique that the Supreme Court has essentially legalized implicit bias? In the case of McCleskey v. Kemp, clear and well-researched evidence of discriminatory sentencing  in Georgia was not enough for the Supreme Court to consider the state’s practices unlawful. Alexander explains, “The court accepted the statistical evidence as valid but insisted that evidence of conscious, racial bias in McCleskey’s individual case was necessary to prove unlawful discrimination” (110). In other words, even if the prosecutors applied the death penalties in clearly racist patterns, it cannot be used as evidence of racism unless someone explicitly used race as part of the reasoning. And in today’s U.S. society, who is going to sentence someone and– for example– include a racial slur? What’s more, the McCleskey case evidence was so strong, it questioned the validity of the entire criminal justice system, to the point that the Supreme Court wrote, “Taken to its logical conclusion, [Warren McCleskey’s claim] throws into serious question the principles that underlie our criminal justice system… [I]f we accepted McCleskey’s claim that racial bias has impermissibly tainted the capital sentencing decision, we could soon be faced with similar claims as to other types of penalty” (Alexander, 111). The Court openly worries about claims of bias would weaken the criminal justice system. Their ruling that implicit bias could not be used as evidence of racism then could be read as an example of the corrupted system trying to save itself.

Finally, will we acknowledge and critique that the Supreme Court has essentially legalized the use of race-based discrimination? The “Supreme Court has indicated that in policing, race can be used as a factor in discretionary decision making. In United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, the Court concluded it was permissible under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment for the police to use race as a factor in making decisions about which motorists to stop and search” (Alexander, 131).

These disgusting facts keep coming in The New Jim Crow, and I deeply hope these points are brought up more often in the national conversation. While recent events are about the murders of individual men, it is well-researched that racist policies enable and exacerbate these interpersonal encounters with police. Sometimes in our hashtags and comments, we do not raise just exactly how deeply rotten is our criminal justice system (and government). When the President invites people for meetings about police brutality, are government officials able to admit to this level of wrong-doing? I believe we need these conversations, and I hope some emotional vulnerability and rigorous analysis is happening from all parties.

That said, we are emotional beings and need to bring our honest and vulnerable selves  to see and to be seen by others. We need support to to do so, in personal ways and in systemic ways. I believe we must engage as a country in a truth and reconciliation process to begin to heal wounds and have space to continue systemic changes. National discussions would lead to a washing of deep wounds and hopefully bring us to some shared understandings. Without heart and historical clarity, any progress made in one generation will be maimed and contorted by the following. I hope we can move towards this as part of the work to end police brutality and the larger efforts for true justice.

There is a deep need to look at ourselves. We need cold, hard objective facts. We need warm, tender, difficult feelings. We need to look at ourselves honestly to create a healthy and just society and planet for ourselves and our loved ones. Finally, because we need uplifting and spirit and the intangible, I want to end by sharing this an amazing video from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater doing their thing with Beyonce and Kendrick as a soundtrack: Alvin Ailey “Freedom” Chereography.

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Filed under blacks, essays, race, violence

Things heard at an Oakland public school*

I appreciate working with young people. They are literally our future and I tremble full of fear for where we are going as a society. I am definitely a disgruntled employee who is following her heart to different work, yet I think you would agree with me still about how frustrating some of these moments are. Sometimes I imagine leaving with a lot of maturity and grace, but moments like these make me want to pack my bags, drop some F-bombs, and drive off to a mental health institution. Like another teacher said, “OUSD is PTSD.”

 

 

Staff: The big copier is out. Note that the copy count was over a million copies!

 

Faculty: I wasn’t getting reimbursed for the art supplies I was buying.

Other faculty: Yea, I buy my own paper.

 

Principal: Mark is our full-time tech volunteer. [Our school now has 600 laptops and no tech staff.]

 

Faculty: …So, how many fights were there today?

 

Student: Yea, where is Mr. H (principal)? I never see him.

 

Me: I don’t have the online supplies request form.

Staff: Honestly, somedays, I have so much to do I forget to look at it and send people their supplies.

 

Me: Why are there 6 copy machines in this room and none of them work?

 

Faculty: They told us to practice the SBAC [online] test. Then they said, “But we’ll give you the laptop carts in January. No, make that April.”

 

Teaching Coach: Yea, see you’re slowly becoming a curriculum writer.

Me: …

 

Principal: Some people are just ready to work 70-80 hour weeks.

 

Principal: This is why I like young teachers.

 

Principal: I really don’t want to be dismissive but I hear you want me to change things. I want to be more solution-oriented.

 

Principal: I had to make a decision about the [curriculum], so I made the call from the top… [two minutes later:] I’m not the boss. I want this to be a collective.

 

Principal: I’m so sorry I missed the restorative justice circle. It was my fault I double-booked myself.

 

Assistant principal, after teachers chose an Asian American student to receive an award: Can we choose someone with a little more color?

 

Me: I think I’m going to buy books on racial formation, Asian American history, gender, and sitting with difficult emotions and place it in these male principals’ mailboxes.

 

 

*Obviously names have been changed for privacy.

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Filed under education, humor, Oakland, prose, race, violence

Parking Regulations? Or Racist, Classist Policing?

On a sunny day this Spring Break, I decided to drive to a BART station to make my way to San Francisco and catch up with a friend. A rare opportunity, especially since—as people who don’t live in the area struggle to understand—the gulf between the City and the Town is much larger than just a bay.

I made my way to West Oakland BART, anticipating spending time on parking either in the parking lot or in the surrounding neighborhood. I thought about how my new resolution in the middle of this year should be to make no more financial contributions to the City of Oakland Parking Citation “Assistance” Center. I recently paid one of the most aggravating tickets because the tail of my car was in red paint. I told myself I would pay those $2/hour parking fees to save what amounted to probably two hundred dollars that I’ve spent most years on tickets.

(On a side-note about my adventure, while I snaked through 6th Street next to the 880 highway, I noticed a bright blue sign about the length of an entire building, which was meant to be read from the freeway as folks commuted. It read something along the lines of “Oakland Police is hiring” and boasted of the great salary and benefits. (And of course this is readable from the freeway, begging the question of why so many of Oakland’s cops are from out of the city.))

When I did finally arrive to the BART station, there were no parking spaces and I was forced to drive in circles through the neighborhood. I noticed the newly renovated Victorians, and I could tell if the occupants were gentrifiers based on the number of succulent plants growing in those beautiful bay windows. Then I noticed more maddening things like how every street had a 2-hour limit sign. If I didn’t move my car in two hours, I would be ticketed. I became hyperaware when I turned onto a street with two police cars flashing lights. I drove between them and a connection formed in my mind: for every car in this neighborhood that plans on parking here like normal people do for more than 2 hours at a time, people must apply for a parking permit with the city. Let me say that again: city parking permits and policing. It makes total sense for a city bent on controlling its “colorful” elements and protecting wealthier, whiter newcomers.

In case you missed these recent and not-so-recent developments, West Oakland is a historically Black neighborhood, and let’s be frank—Oakland is a historically Black town. There are reasons linked to the U.S. military industrial complex and racism that led to this, which I won’t get into now. In the last few years the neighborhood, as well as the city of Oakland overall, has become home increasingly to white renters and homeowners. Check out reports like the great work done by Causa Justa, linking economics, race, and public health. (A nice summary of points can be read here.)

And now, by limiting and ticketing neighbors for parking without permits, the city has another way to track and criminalize people, making it harder to live in West Oakland. (You can find more information about the process here.) Essentially, this means that the city has your residential information, car registration, and driver’s license. Another database for your searchable, personal facts. Another way to pull a dragnet across the areas closest to the BART station, areas that not-so-coincidentally are in the middle- to late-stages of gentrification and displacement of current residents.

Now, some folks might argue that forcing people to register with the city means being able to limit violence with access to information. However, this process makes me wonder about the increased difficulties with attaining such permits so that one’s life can be safe and comfortable. Since getting a permit requires a utility bill or current rental agreement, what challenges are presented to people of color who share living spaces with family and friends? These informal living arrangements provide important communal support in tough, racist and economic times and help people survive. And what happens when struggling families receive parking tickets upwards of $70? If this parking regulation suggests safety, what does it mean for the rest of the city that does not get the supposed benefits of this policy?

What is further frustrating is that the 2-hour limit parking signs labeled streets in the area as far as a 3- to 4- block radius out from the BART station and out from the 8th street strip of stores. It is a rare and rushed trip for any BART user to commute anywhere and be back in 2 hours. The limit does not serve commuters nor the nearby businesses. If anything, these hourly parking limits discourage BART riders from using the station and thus, it limits their shopping at neighborhood stores while passing by. For a city that is so concerned with economic growth, letting people use this station as a commuter-hub may bring more shoppers than stringent rules about parking.

Beyond West Oakland, parking regulation and enforcement in Oakland exhibit an even more racist and classist bent. I recently moved to a middle-to-upper class area by Lake Merritt and was surprised when my landlord mentioned there were no street-sweeping times posted. This is different from my former neighborhood in the Fruitvale where I had to move my car almost everyday. In other words, my current, wealthier neighborhood does not limit parking and so risks of receiving a parking ticket are lower here than in poorer neighborhoods. The lack of parking regulation itself is not a problem, but the obviously inequitable enforcement and unjust impact of parking regulations cannot be excused. (Not to mention how street lights are brighter in this wealthier area and neighbors jump at any sign of mugging or robbery statistics. As if this city wasn’t already bending to their every whim.)

Anyways, you may think I am overly-anxious writer ranting about parking, but that’s not the point. The point is how these subtle regulations contribute to a larger and more nuanced system that makes living as a free and liberated person much more difficult for poor and working-class people of color. These policies that embed themselves into accepted ways of performing our lives in this city have real and lasting impacts. An example of what I mean is, as I walked in San Francisco later that day, I thought about the parallel struggle of the I-Hotel and the burgeoning of the Asian-American movement. Although it was and has been a movement about many intersecting issues, the original campaign was about valuing the poor and elderly Asian members of the community inhabiting the hotel and the rich and white business interests of the proposed parking center for what eventually became the Financial District of San Francisco. Business interests, including parking, changed SF Manilatown–and today threaten to change Chinatown– into the business district of the city. Parking might seem mundane, but therein lays its power to be used to support a wealthy class, to push people out of neighborhoods, and furthermore, to perpetuate racist capitalism.

So what do we do? First there is a big mayoral race in Oakland and we must enter that with open eyes and tough questions about gentrification and development in our Town. Second, the thing no one likes to hear: keep up the long-term struggle to study, act, and reflect. Whether you are a contractor, a bus-rider, a schoolteacher, or a paid organizer, working to gain consciousness and to challenge these structures is lifelong, collective work. All this leads to number three: you tell me. There is surely more involved in the growth and development of Oakland than what I am aware of or can mention in an essay.

What has been your experience with parking and ticketing in Oakland? In your city? Have your noticed any funky, racist discrepancies with parking regulation and enforcement? You tell me.

 

Map of Gentrification Stages from Causa Justa’s report

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Yellow Art

(After Amiri Baraka’s “Black Art”)

 

Yellow art!

Poems are bullshit unless they are

machete or sunshine or rice waiting

on a front stoop. Or yellow-brown men dying

of silence, leaving only after

beating their lovers into pools of beer. Fuck poems

and they are useful, they scream

in their orgasms, love themselves, and

feed those already so full. We want real

words of the deadly world real blood

and guts. Hearts and minds of a people

sparking into flames and action. We want poems

like fists fucking you up in Oakland

protests or like knives to jelly full

corporate bellies. Yellow poems like

traditional weeping songs to end the

American War, whose orange fire-bombs

lick at our cousin’s womb. Assassin poems

pointing at the Beast. Poems that wrestle

cops into alleys, kung-fu their guns out

of reach and send them back to their

suburban homes. Poems that whiiiiirrrrr, whiiiiirrrrr,

whiiiiirrrrr, like mom’s sewing machine that

fed all 7 of us into childhood and

manhood. There’s an yellow engineer sucking

on Silicon Valley’s whiteness. Go get him, poem!

Show ‘em the light! Another bad poem cracking

nunchucks at the corporate overseer

Another yellow woman staggering in her

mad world, invisible silent alone

Poem scream from napalm from leaks in the roof

from absent fathers from nail polish fumes. Poem

scream so you can light your flames

put on black berets and your righteous fists

Do that thing called justice

Let there be no vision poems written

Until we can maintain clearer sight

Truth serve us. Let yellow people know

that they are the lovers and artists

of warriors and artists

of warriors And poems & poets &

all the wonders here in the world.

 

We want a yellow poem. And a

Yellow World.

Let the world be a Yellow Poem

And Let All Yellow People Speak This Poem

Silently

or LOUD

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Filed under asian americans, immigrant, poems, race, violence

Planned Parenthood: Do Not Enter

Every time I go it seems to rain or its dark and stormy.  Every building seems out of the way, not truly accessible by bus or BART.  Unwelcoming.  A beige non-discrete building.  Or down an industrial road of low-laying medical offices.  Or hidden behind white-washed glass, shamefully tucked into a shadowy corner of the  mall.  At these thick, heavy front doors you can be sure to read the words “No solicitors.”  Often staffed by kind, cheery white women, they must buzz you into the examination room.

This is not accessible health care.  Something is wrong when women must walk through metal doors and feel condemned like inmates for trying to take care of their bodies, their babies, their lives.  I’m happy Planned Parenthood exists (for now) yet even the atmosphere in which it serves women is not one where they actively can embrace physical, mental, and emotional health.  It is an atmosphere that obviously denies women’s rights to be healthy and responsible sexual (living) beings.  I should not have to think of shooters or bomb threats in waiting rooms.  It is exhausting to worry from so many angles, exhausting to carry a politicized body. But that is our current state. To be a woman is to be in danger.

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Filed under gender, prose, violence

inspiration: (anti)war songs

Huế, Sài Gòn, Hà Nội, quê hương ơi sao vẫn còn xa

(Hue, Sai Gon, Ha Noi, my homeland why are you still so distant)

Huế, Sài Gòn, Hà Nội, bao nhiêu năm sao vẫn thờ ơ

(Hue, Sai Gon, Ha Noi, how many more years shall you still be indifferent)

Việt Nam ơi, còn bao lâu,

(Viet Nam, how much longer)

những con người ngồi nhớ thương nhau

(will people sit remembering/missing, loving one another)

* * *

My translation of the song, obviously titled “Hue, Sai Gon, Ha Noi,” signifying the unity of the central, southern, and northern regions.  Khanh Ly, considered one of the best singers from Viet Nam, sang the lyrics of Trinh Cong Son, considered one of the best songwriters.  Joan Baez called Son the “Bob Dylan” of Viet Nam.  His anti-war songs were censored by the South.  In Son, my friends and I find one of our few Vietnamese artistic inspirations.  Khanh and Son have been appealing to me at the end of bad bad days.  And I like to sit and look for the lyrics, struggle to bridge the difference between the sentiments and the words of Vietnamese and English.

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Filed under asian americans, immigrant, inspiration, race, viet nam, violence

young students deliver police report after homicide shooting

young students deliver police report after homicide shooting.

 

cars whizzing by at speed of light

whipping down neighborhood streets

round corners

kids get mowed down quicker than lawns

i dodge carcasses and

ghosts on my drive to school

 

andrea- short-haired, scarred face

a beauty with brain

tumor battered eyesight

accident prone and

crackling laughter for days

 

drea and her friend

stare from bus stop

man gun-in-hand enters scene

in a passing sedan

he slows to meet his mark

 

my two black girls

greet sirens and meet policemen

complete homework, return to school

nothing has happened

they say.

***

i learned recently of the form called the american sentence.  17 syllables, haiku-like, ginsberg-inspired. find out more here. the first line is an american sentence, based on a shooting that happened outside my workplace as i was finishing up my work for the day and students were still leaving school.

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Filed under education, poems, race, violence