Fifty years ago today, assassins killed black power activist Malcolm X during a speech to the Organization for Afro-American Unity at New York City’s Audubon Ballroom. Although they ended the life of one of the 20th century’s most dynamic leaders, they did not kill his impact. His insights into racism and freedom are as necessary today as when he first spoke them. A half-century after his murder, Malcolm X may still be one of our best guides for making sense of American racism, the evil that once again roils the country in unrest.
Malcolm X’s enduring influence owes in part to the truth of his metaphors, his way with words and the relentlessness of his criticism — in particular, his depiction of the United States as a prison. In making the comparison, he gave voice to the confinement he saw in a white supremacy still evident.
“Don’t be shocked when I say I was in prison,” he often told his audiences. “You’re still in prison. That’s what America means — prison…”
To Malcolm X, prison was more than its bricks and mortar. It was a metaphor for racism. Prisons use armed force to deny the mobility, insult the integrity and restrict the civic and political participation of its captives. And for the black audiences who heard Malcolm X speak — men and women who went to underfunded schools, worked dangerous and low-paying jobs where they could find them, faced harassment in employment lines or welfare offices, were forced to live in only certain neighborhoods and in many parts of the country were barred from voting by police and vigilante organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan — the United States did mean prison.
Prison, then, was an exaggerated form of the daily indignities black women and men faced. What made this metaphor ring so true is that black communities — years before the launch of the war on drugs — were already heavily policed and disproportionately incarcerated…
Imprisonment was the price of blackness. It respected neither class nor crime: Black people were incarcerated for protesting racism, engaging in antisocial activity or simply living in a neighborhood subject to pre-emptive policing.
At the time that Malcolm X began to challenge the prison of America in the late 1950s, the United States incarcerated fewer than 200,000 people in prisons and jails. Today, that number has metastasized to more than 2.3 million people, almost half of whom are black. Accounting for a mere 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States has 25 percent of the world’s prison population.
I was lucky to hear, to listen to this wonderful voice calling for freedom. The idiots who rail against Malcolm’s message as intimidating to whites illustrate their own guilt, their fears of being found out. Too ignorant to see that class is as critical as color.
I stood in the middle of hundreds of Black residents of Harlem in the 1950’s. Took the train to New York, to Harlem, to get to Lewis Micheaux’s National Memorial African Bookstore once every month or so. The only white face in a crowd filling an intersection and stopping all traffic from proceeding while a slender giant stood elevated on one corner. He spoke of freedom and justice. And more than once he recognized this class brother willing to stand and say, “Fix it, brother!”
Some of the best early days of my personal awakening.
Stephen Torres was meeting with a client at his law office, in downtown Albuquerque, on April 12, 2011, when he received a call from a neighbor, who told him that police officers were aiming rifles at his house. He left work and drove to his home, in a middle-class suburb with a view of the mountains. There were more than forty police vehicles on his street. Officers wearing camouflage fatigues and bulletproof vests had circled his home, a sand-colored two-story house with a pitched tile roof. Two officers were driving a remote-controlled robot, used for discharging bombs, back and forth on the corner.
Stephen’s wife, Renetta, the director of human resources for the county, arrived a few minutes later, just after three o’clock. A colleague had heard her address repeated on the police radio, so her assistant pulled her out of a meeting. When Renetta saw that the street was cordoned off with police tape, she tried to walk to her house, but an officer told her that she couldn’t enter the “kill zone…”
Renetta knew that the only person at home was the youngest of her three boys, Christopher, who was twenty-seven and had schizophrenia. Two hours earlier, he had stopped by her office for lunch, as he did a few times a week. Then he visited an elderly couple who lived two houses away. He said that he needed to “check up on them”; he often cleaned their pool or drove them to the grocery store. Because he found it overwhelming to spend too much time among people, he tried to do small, social errands, so as not to isolate himself…
At around five-thirty, a female officer stepped out of a mobile crime unit, an R.V. where detectives processed evidence, and waved the family over. “She was so detached,” Renetta said. “All she said was ‘I regret to inform you that your son is deceased.’ ” She did not tell them how their son had died or where they could find his body. The Torreses asked if they could go home, but the officer said that it was still an active crime scene…
It is not clear what the officers thought they were doing at that point. In a report filed later that day, one officer wrote, “Detectives believed another person was inside the house refusing to exit. Supposedly they saw movement in the house.” Another wrote, “There may be three people still inside the residence and all were possibly armed.”
There was no one in the house. Christopher Torres’ body was in the back yard. Shot in the back, point blank, three times. He was dead.
The lies the police told have been contradicted by an eye witness.
Albuquerque TV stations, print media journalists, make a big deal about courageous investigative journalism. Most of it is laughable, useless, cow country comedy. Rachel Aviv – for the NewYorker – knows what she is doing. This is a masterful piece of writing. Detail included you never get in TV news-bites; but, nothing extraneous. Worthy of a Pulitzer Prize.
Mike, one of our regulars, emailed me the link. I sat and read it it and decided I wanted to hold off on posting it till the weekend. This is not something you dash through on your coffee break at work. Read it and reflect.
Albuquerque politicians are stuck into spin and denial. Their sell to the public, after all, is we’re Republicans, we’re going to solve these problems. Trouble is – they weren’t the ones to contact the Department of Justice and ask for an investigation into police killings. Were they, now?
It ain’t just Albuquerque’s problem – it’s America’s problem.
Here are links to the Rolling Stone article on the shooting of James Boyd and a Washington POST article on the Albuquerque PD’s response, their treatment of the DA who dared to indict a couple of their cops for murder.
Marc Piasecki/Getty Images
After the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, the phrase “Je Suis Charlie” — “I am Charlie” — became the unofficial slogan of solidarity with the shooting victims. #JeSuisCharlie trended on Twitter, and people held up signs featuring the phrase at rallies all over the world.
Je Suis Charlie’s message is an important one in the wake of this horrifying crime. But now a new hashtag campaign, #JeSuisAhmed, has arisen to augment it. Its message of tolerance deserves — perhaps needs — to be heard as well.
#JeSuisAhmed honors Ahmed Merabet, the French police officer who was murdered outside the Charlie Hebdo offices by the same gunmen who went on to murder the magazine’s staffers. Merabet, in addition to being a police officer, is believed to have been part of France’s large Muslim community.
Twitter users have rallied to the hashtag to argue that Merabet, like the murdered journalists, should be honored as a defender of free speech — particularly because he died trying to protect a publication that had mocked and derided his own religion.
#JeSuisAhmed does not dispute the sentiment of Je Suis Charlie. Rather, it adds to it, by calling attention to the importance of tolerance as well as solidarity. That is important in its own right, but it’s also an elegant response to those who might respond to the attack with broad hostility towards Islam, or suspicion of Muslims as a group…
The hashtag was also a reminder that the victims of Islamist terrorists are primarily Muslim…
In an update, VOX notes that candyass [my word] sources like the NY TIMES say Merabet’s religion is unconfirmed. While the British press reports that his family says he was Muslim and will be buried in a Muslim cemetery.
Close enough for folk music, folks.
The heart that belonged to Laylah Petersen, the 5-year-old Wisconsin girl shot in the head in her living room last week, will go on beating for another child.
Laylah was killed Thursday as she sat in her grandfather’s lap when an unknown gunman sprayed their Milwaukee home with about a dozen bullets…
“Quite frankly, at this point we’re befuddled as to motive for this crime,” said Capt. Aaron Raap, commander of the Metropolitan Investigations Division. “Normally when we respond to shootings of individuals in most circumstances that victim is the intended target of that shooting.”
“In this case, at this point, we believe that this bullet read ‘to whom it may concern.’ And that concerns all of us and it should concern everybody in our community.”
Still, investigators believe the shooting was targeted because all 12 bullets they believe were fired hit just one house. Police say it’s possible the shooters had the wrong house.
The Milwaukee branch of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said there was a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction.
No word, yet, on a statement from the NRA. We expect something like their usual…”if she was only carrying a Smith & Wesson handgun this never would have happened.”
It’s especially important to mention one of the brands they pimp for.
Gosh – that house looks familiar
A Missouri woman found out that her $810-a-month dream home in Ferguson was actually a nightmare after seeing a documentary about serial killers on the A&E network.
After watching the show, Catrina McGhaw discovered she was living in the home that serial killer Maury Travis used as a torture chamber.
Authorities believe Travis killed between 12 and 20 women and that many of them died in the basement of the home. He hanged himself in jail in 2002.
McGhaw was freaked out by what had happened in the basement and she was even more rattled when she realized the house’s dining room table was the same one seen in crime scene photos.
Perhaps that shouldn’t have been a surprise, because as is turns out, McGhaw’s landlord is the killer’s mother.
“When she showed us the house, she said you can have this table if you want,” McGhaw told KMOV. “This whole basement was his torture chamber and it’s not okay.”
After confronting her landlord about the house’s history, McGhaw will be breaking her lease thanks to some help from the St. Louis Housing Authority.
Eeoough!. Makes for some interesting dreams, eh?
Two teenage sisters have been murdered in Pakistan after they were accused of tarnishing their family’s name by making a video of themselves dancing in the rain.
The girls, aged 15 and 16, are seen running around in traditional dress with two other younger children outside their bungalow in the town of Chilas, in the northern region of Gilgit.
The sisters, named as Noor Basra and Noor Sheza, appear to break into dance and one even flashes a smile at the camera…
Police are investigating whether the attack was arranged by the girls’ step-brother, named as Khutore, who allegedly wanted to ‘restore the family’s honour’…
The sisters’ other brother has filed a case against Khutore and the four other alleged accomplices who are now believed to be on the run.
The girls were shot alongside their mother in their home by five gunmen in the town of Chilas…
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said at least 943 women and girls were murdered in 2011 for allegedly defaming their family’s honour.
Gotta love religious fundamentalism. Yes, they vary according to degree – and point in history. Anyone with a conscience knows that most American lynchings were perpetrated by “Good Christians” – according to their peers.
Meanwhile, I don’t see a whole boatload of reasons for continuing the taxpayer dollars poured into the rathole that is Pakistan’s military and political sewer. Benefits to America’s questionable foreign policy is nil. The fraction that filters through the corrupt bureaucracy is negligible.
A trial date is set for 2nd week in May in a controversial animal cruelty case involving Bastrop pastor Rick Bartlett.
Bartlett was charged with animal cruelty last year after a neighbor’s cat named Moody was found dead on the bank of the Colorado River directly underneath the Hwy 150 bridge in Bastrop…
Bartlett trapped Moody on his property on January 15, 2012. He placed Moody in a cage in the back of his pickup truck. Bartlett later admitted that he left Moody trapped in the cage for two days without any food or water.
On January 17 Bartlett drove the caged cat to the Bastrop County Animal Control office and met with Officer Susan Keys…Bartlett told Keys that he often trapped cats in his yard that he considered feral and brought them to Animal Control…But Moody wasn’t a feral cat. Officer Keys noticed Moody’s collar and name tag and she told Bartlett to return the cat to the Bell family, Moody’s owner (and Bartlett’s neighbor)…
Later that evening Keys was told about a dead cat that was found underneath the Hwy 150 bridge…It was Moody. He had fallen some 50-feet to his death.
A veterinarian later told investigators, “Moody’s injuries were caused from a compressive force caused from falling from a high level.”
When investigators caught up with Bartlett, he stated that Moody had escaped from the cage and he didn’t know what had happened to him…
Bartlett was bounced from his former gig as pastor for the Bastrop Christian Church after his arrest. He knows a good hustle when he sees one and now has set up a new church – out of his home.
None of this helps Moody or his people. Bartlett’s unwillingness to admit any responsibility, care or concern for the pet’s death is unfortunately typical of animal cruelty cases.
Texas hasn’t moved beyond the 19th Century in dealing with animal cruelty cases – and I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise, either. We ain’t much better here next door in New Mexico. It took decades to outlaw cock fighting – just a few years ago.
Meanwhile – you can sign a petition for justice for Moody over here.
UPDATE: Bartlett found guilty.
A 31-year-old woman was arrested on Saturday and charged with second-degree murder as a hate crime in connection with the death of a man who was pushed onto the tracks of an elevated subway station in Queens and crushed by an oncoming train.
The woman, Erika Menendez, selected her victim because she believed him to be a Muslim or a Hindu, Richard A. Brown, the Queens district attorney, said…
In a statement, Mr. Brown quoted Ms. Menendez, “in sum and substance,” as having told the police: “I pushed a Muslim off the train tracks because I hate Hindus and Muslims ever since 2001 when they put down the twin towers I’ve been beating them up.” Ms. Menendez conflated the Muslim and Hindu faiths in her comments to the police and in her target for attack, officials said.
The victim, Sunando Sen, was born in India and, according to a roommate, was raised Hindu.
Mr. Sen “was allegedly shoved from behind and had no chance to defend himself,” Mr. Brown said. “Beyond that, the hateful remarks allegedly made by the defendant and which precipitated the defendant’s actions should never be tolerated by a civilized society.”
No one ever accused Tea Party bigots of being part of a civilized society. They’re still welcomed into the Republican Party with open arms.
Four years back we all witnessed John McCain rejecting this kind of stupidity. But, don’t worry, it won’t happen, again.
Ms. Menendez is expected to be arraigned by Sunday morning. If convicted, she faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. By charging her with murder as a hate crime, the possible minimum sentence she faced would be extended to 20 years from 15 years, according to prosecutors…
The attack occurred around 8 p.m. on Thursday at the 40th Street-Lowery Street station in Sunnyside.
Mr. Sen, 46, was looking out over the tracks when a woman approached him from behind and shoved him onto the tracks, according to the police. Mr. Sen never saw her, the police said.
Mr. Sen, after years of saving money, had opened a small copying business on the Upper West Side this year.
Ar Suman, a Muslim, and one of three roommates who shared a small first-floor apartment with Mr. Sen in Elmhurst, said he and Mr. Sen often discussed religion.
Though they were of different faiths, Mr. Suman said, he admired the respect that Mr. Sen showed for those who saw the world differently than he did. Mr. Suman said he once asked Mr. Sen why he was not more active in his faith and it resulted in a long philosophical discussion.
“He was so gentle,” Mr. Suman said. “He said in this world a lot of people are dying, killing over religious things.”
One is serving life, one is dead, both were dealing drugs
The mother of a Cambridge man fatally shot inside a Harvard University residence hall in 2009 is suing the school and its officials, alleging that Harvard negligently allowed the mastermind of the killing to operate a “criminal enterprise’’ in the dormitory that resulted in the killing.
Denise Cosby filed the wrongful death suit in Middlesex Superior Court last week, saying that the university and its officials failed to protect her son, Justin Cosby, 21…
“She feels that it’s the university’s fault,’’ Peres said. “But for their negligence in allowing this murderer to live and operate a criminal enterprise on campus, her son would be alive today.’’
Harvard spokesman Kevin Galvin said, “We recognize that the Cosby family has suffered a heart-rending loss, but there is no basis in law or fact to hold the university accountable for Justin Cosby’s death.”
Cosby “entered Harvard property that day for the sole purpose of selling a large quantity of marijuana to people unaffiliated with the University, and one of them shot him,’’ Galvin said in a statement. “We will vigorously defend against this lawsuit.’’
The alleged mastermind of the drug robbery, Jabrai Jordan Copney, was convicted in Middlesex Superior Court in April 2011 of first-degree murder after his two codefendants, one of whom took the stand against Copney, cut deals with prosecutors. Copney is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole.
A mother’s anguish over the death of her son doesn’t diminish the fact that he was engaged in a criminal enterprise – one that carries with it the possibility of being killed over a drug deal gone wrong.
You don’t sue the businesses nearby if he’s killed on a street corner. You won’t sue yourself if he’s killed in a deal in his bedroom. You can’t justify suing Harvard because some other crook killed him inside a dorm.