Tag Archives: racism

Tonight: Surplus Population, Race, and Contemporary Struggles

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Solidarity Breaks Chains – against the Democratic co-optation of #Charlottesville

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This is the body of a flyer (PDF: Charlottesville text) distributed at yesterday’s vigil, called by Indivisible Bloomington (a front for the Democratic Party).  The organizers of the vigil hoped to recuperate the tragedy of Heather Heyer’s murder into votes for the Democratic Party.  Much of the crowd openly found this distasteful, leading many to leave early, while others called for a breakaway demonstration towards the end of the evening.

We find this text to be a potent criticism of Indivisible’s craven politicking:

We cannot separate yesterday’s murder from the structure of white-supremacist power in the United States. The police, the judges, the politicians have for the entirety of this nation’s history grounded their political base in the violent suppression and exploitation of people of color. Only now, when it has become politically opportune, have the Democrats and reformers made any effort to express their supposed opposition to alt-right and neo-nazi mobilization. But where was their outrage when the Traditionalist Youth Network was forming itself right here in Bloomington? Where were they when motorists were threatening and on numerous actions attempting to drive through peaceful demonstrations on these very streets?

Refining laws and electing politicians cannot dismantle white supremacy. The way to Honor Heather Heyer is to live as she died, fighting. It’s easier to attend SURJ meetings, finally cut your dreadlocks, and check off your daily call-a-congressman, than to struggle to materially, actually dismantle a centuries-old system of white power. With neo-nazis now openly marching and murdering leftists, let’s not get distracted with individual gestures of allyship, attending vigils to express abstract “solidarity”, or with electing one more Democrat, Republican, or “independent” who professionally pretends to solve the problem for us.

The truth is that the terrorist violence in Charlottesville did not magically appear out of nowhere. Fascists like the neo-nazis marching in Charlottesville, or the back-to-the-land white supremacists down in Paoli (that the Herald Times so enthusiastically promoted), do not appear out of nowhere. They are a paramilitary force, working on the same project of white power as Trump and the Fraternal Order of Police that endorsed him. You don’t have to look as far as Charlottesville to see the violence of white supremacy in action. To be fair, focus is hard. It’s difficult to train your eye on what’s important in life, especially when there are distracting, easy answers at hand.

Politicians and their local “organizer” allies know this, and their game (of thrones) is one of redirection. But if we take the question of fighting white supremacy seriously enough to take the time to refocus, it’s clear that there is plenty of work to be done right here, at our fingertips.

The Bloomington Police Department plays their PR game carefully. But even then, it’s a very thin veil over their classist and racist violence. It’s not a coincidence that the largest anti-racist movement in recent history, the Black Lives Matter movement, focused on dismantling the power of the police. It’s not a coincidence that it was a police officer in an unmarked car who was most recently threatened a peaceful Bloomington demonstration outside the jail (in defense of recently arrested homeless neighbors and friends). The BPD and Monroe County Jail have a recent and decades-old history of violence against people of color and the socio-economically excluded in Bloomington. It’s time to look at the whole system which perpetuates white supremacy, which includes BPD, and fight back.  

Taking on Murray

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Received and posted:

In the early afternoon on April 11th, 2017, students chalked outside of Franklin Hall: “Pseudo-science advances one racist at a time.” Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve, would arrive at Indiana University that evening to present an invited lecture. At 4PM, the Indiana University Police Department (IUPD) began to set up gates around Franklin Hall in preparation. A crowd gathered as police lugged in large bags with riot gear: gas masks, helmets and face shields, combat gloves, batons.

Murray’s academic work has been pivotal in reawakening and legitimizing the pseudoscience of race. Rather than a critique of race rooted in a history of Western European colonialism and oppression, Murray offers us an account of intelligence and class structure that rests on a flimsy and ahistorical conceptualization of race. His book The Bell Curve argues that people of color and women are all inherently less intelligent than affluent white men. Murray weaves this claim into a framework of economic class, arguing that intellectual inferiority accounts for the economic class structure in which affluent white men dominate. Murray’s argument allows for intelligent women and people of color only as exceptions to the rule, intellectual elites on the peripheries of their respective demographics. Since the book’s publication in 1994, Murray has stood strong by the racist implications of his work in The Bell Curve, decrying Affirmative Action and other social welfare programs that seek to alleviate some of the struggles of poverty and working-class life. He has continued to publish white-supremacist and patriarchal works, such as his 2005 essay “Where are the female Einsteins?”.

Two hours after the fences were erected, President’s Hall — a cathedral-ceiling lecture hall in Franklin reserved for administrative meetings and esteemed guest speakers — became a platform for white supremacy, thinly-veiled in the rhetoric of science. The brick footpath under Indiana University’s iconic Sample Gates became a scene of police intimidation and, later, brutality. Hundreds of students, faculty, staff, and community members arrived to reject Murray’s academic work and his commitment to white supremacy, all disavowing the invitation he received to speak at IU.

Meanwhile, officers surveyed and photographed the crowd from the rooftop of the adjacent building. Another two cops, then three, hawkishly followed a person in black bloc.

Charles Murray’s lecture comes less than a week after dozens of students marched down Indiana Avenue to deliver a modest demand to the office of IU Provost Lauren Robel: provide social justice education and hire more faculty of color. Students have sworn to escalate the situation if these demands are not met in one week. The demand cites a resolution passed by the Bloomington Faculty Council (BFC), the University’s governing faculty body, exactly one year prior. The BFC resolved to hire more underrepresented faculty and to admit more students who receive Pell Grants. A year later, the BFC and Office of the Provost have provided only empty words, a slew of diversity statements and a buzz-word ridden responses to Donald Trump’s immigration ban. Their resolution to affect substantive, material change in the lives of marginalized students and faculty remains unfulfilled — to no one’s surprise.

The University administration’s apathy toward modest student demands made the silence surrounding Murray’s lecture all the more deafening. The talk remained unannounced, even to professors, staff, and students who would find their classes and labs on lockdown, until just a few days prior. On April 10th, the Media School and Political Science Department were notified for the first time that the IUPD would ticket and police the event, and that Franklin Hall would be heavily restricted and surveilled. 

A few days after the event, the organizers and funding sources behind Murray’s lecture are still largely unknown. The Political Science Department’s Tocqueville Program, directed by tenured professor Aurelian Craiutu, hosted and moderated the lecture, claiming some responsibility for inviting Murray. News sources (WFHB, WTHR, IndyStar) shifted a large share of the responsibility for Murray’s invitation to a student chapter of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, the AEI Executive Council. Yet, there is no AEI student organization registered with Indiana University, and unregistered student groups lack the ability to reserve on-campus spaces or fund university events.

As word of the lecture spread, the University responded by cloaking Murray’s invitation in free speech rhetoric, justifying the lecture under the need for a platform that respects all views. This justification, which manifested largely through a standardized response to criticism on Twitter, demonstrated the University’s willingness to adapt their liberal values to reproduce systems of oppression.

And yet, as of a week before the talk, Craiutu said in an interview that he was not sure whether they would even offer a Q&A session at the end of the talk. Students who attended the talk in dissent noted that there was a heavily-moderated Q&A; Craiutu and Murray took questions written on slips of paper and selected the ones they would answer.

Standing on a raised flower bed outside Franklin Hall, students from Students Against State Violence, the English Grad Student Solidarity group, Young Democratic Socialists, and UndocuHoosiers Bloomington addressed the crowd. They condemned the University’s student newspaper, the Indiana Daily Student (IDS), for repeatedly framing student protests as violent and unruly, in need of police to maintain order. These students asked their peers to look at the police, who came prepared with riot gear and zip ties and batons to protect Murray. They asked their peers to consider the destruction that Murray’s claims have wrought on marginalized students and communities, and they asked “Where is the violence really coming from?”

Students cheered, bearing signs that said “IU Betrayed Us”, “Decolonize IU”, and “IU, No Platform for White Supremacy”.

And then a dance party and noise demo broke out.

Students wheeled around a speaker on a small cart, passing out glow-stick bracelets and necklaces. Another brought a blonde wig, a cardboard cut-out of a Pepsi can, and a sign that read “Kendall Jenner Photo Booth”. Someone handed an officer a Pepsi. It erupted in a volcano of carbonated fizz, and the officer stormed off.

When a student inside reported that Murray moved to the far corner of the lecture hall away from the noise, the party moved seamlessly to that corner.

A little over an hour after it began, Murray’s lecture ended. Students crowded around the building’s exits, inserting their engagement with the guest speaker where the University, IUPD, Bloomington PD, and the Indiana State Police had denied it previously. Students flooded a small parking lot of police escort vehicles with their bodies. Others rallied around the southeast entrance, the northwest entrance, the east and west.  

On the northwest side, one IU staffer laid down in front of a car, blocking the only exit for nearly a dozen police vehicles. IUPD Lieutenant Andy Stephenson jeered at her: “When it gets crazy, all of your friends are going to leave you here alone.”

She knew better.

Another officer at the northwest exit told them that “Murray is long gone.” Students demanded proof, sending two students  and one staff member into Franklin Hall to see the “tunnels” he supposedly left through (there were none). Outside, students blocked the police motorcade, locking arms at the entrance to the lot, not letting any vehicle leave without all of its windows down. One student representative checked each car to make sure Charles Murray was not in the vehicle before letting it through the student barrier.

Moments later on the southeast side, a sleek black car crept off of Indiana Avenue onto the footpath that runs between the University’s iconic Sample Gates. Without warning, an officer violently shoved one young woman aside. She crumbled into hard ground, sustaining injuries to her hip and leg. The car crept forward, and Murray appeared through the front door of the building. He slithered into the car.

Police assaulted two more students to prevent any possibility of engagement with Murray, destabilizing students’ footing, throwing their bodies back into IU’s unforgiving red brick path. One student was shoved down three times without pause, not allowed to regain his balance until the falls made him light-headed. He would later report minor injuries to his ankles and wrists. But each student bounced back up and confronted police, shouting at them.

Officers detained another student, Eight O’Clock, who had been walking ahead of the car on the footpath, not engaging with officers or with the car. They held her for half an hour without providing a reason for her detainment. Escorted by police, she disappeared into Franklin Hall.

Murray disappeared, too, the black car speeding down the footpath, into campus.

In the moments that followed, students rallied to release their peer from police custody.  They shook the fence that police had set up hours prior, and they moved through its gaps, shouting “Let her go! Let her go!” At one point, students locked arms and advanced on police. The police retreated to the top steps of Franklin Hall.

Hours into protest and long after Murray left, the crowd continued to grow in support of Eight O’Clock. Students challenged the role of the police, their preparedness and willingness to assault students who showed up in dissent, their ability to unthinkingly protect a white supremacist.

Then Eight O’Clock appeared through Sample Gates; she was immediately encircled by her peers.

After rallies and disruptions and police assaults on students, dissonant stories poured out from the University and IDS, drawing their conclusions from police records and the administration’s rhetorical weapons of choice. The student experience had been lost: “no injuries” said the IDS, “a victory for free speech” said Provost Lauren Robel.

SASV on Monday’s BLM Demo

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Students Against State Violence on the BLM Demonstration,  Monday, October 10, 2016

Students Against State Violence (SASV) and the IU Black Student Union hosted a Black Lives Matter Rally Monday, 10/10, at the Sample Gates, beginning at 6:30pm.The rally and the march that followed were carried out to protest the series of murders of Black people by police around the country during the month of September, as well as to pressure the BPD to cooperate with the family of Joseph Smedley, an IU student who went missing and then was found dead last Fall under suspicious circumstances.

The demonstration on Monday was an opportunity for us all to express our grief and anger about the constant police violence against Black people. This September was a particularly fatal month: On September 14, 13-year-old Tyre King was shot by Columbus, OH police while in possession of a BB gun. On September 16, 40-year-old Terrence Crutcher, an unarmed man, was shot and killed by Tulsa, OK police. On September 20, 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott, who suffered from a traumatic brain injury, was killed by Charlotte, NC police. 23-year-old Korryn Gaines was killed by Baltimore, MD police after they invaded her home in response to a traffic violation from 5 months earlier. Her 5-year-old child was also shot during the incident, and on September 21 it was announced that the officers involved will not be facing charges. On September 27, 38-year-old Alfred Olango, an unarmed Ugandan immigrant, was killed by El Cajon, CA police, after his sister called emergency services because he was suffering from seizures.

SASV wants to make it clear that we think it is very important to not only focus on male, cis-gendered, or “innocent” victims of police violence. It is necessary for us to research the cases and know the names of Black women and trans people who have suffered at the hands of the police and other forms of state violence, and to defend those who the media and politicians ignore or portray as undeserving of sympathy or defense.

To bring attention to these murders, we heard speeches from Leah Humphrey and Kyra Harvey from Indy10 Black Lives Matter and Kealia Hollingsworth, President of the IU Black Student Union. Leah and Kyra spoke on the leadership role of Black women in the movement, and the need to lift up the stories of Black women who have been killed by the police, who are too often forgotten and ignored. Kealia focused on the experience of Black students on campus here at IU. Members of the theatre troupe for the upcoming play Resilience: Indiana’s Untold Story, about the legacy of Black people in Indiana, provided 200 balloons with the names of victims of police violence on them, which were released at the end of the rally.

Angaza Iman Bahar and OBAM, founding members of IDOC Watch (Indiana Department of Corrections) who are currently incarcerated at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, called in to the rally to express their support for the Black Lives Matter movement and to inform us about the struggle against prison slavery here in Indiana. Angaza is 41 years old and has been incarcerated for the past 23 years, convicted of the crime of attempted murder of a police officer when he was 18yrs old. He is due to be released in the next 2-3yrs and hopes to return to society and use the consciousness he has gained to add another voice to the movement for justice and social change. His writings can be read here. OBAM is 49 years old, serving a 75 year sentence with 17 more to do. He is a devout vegetarian, and in his words, “a politically conscious brotha” who is working diligently to get his time reduced. In the meantime, he seeks to form quality relationships and network with those on the outside with similar interests.

Then we heard a speech about institutionalized racism in the university context from Yassmin Fashir and a speech by Bella Chavez of GlobeMed, whose uncle Miguel was murdered by police in Oklahoma City in June of 2016. Finally, Stanley Njuguna, of Students for a Democratic Society, delivered an inspirational speech, and we released our balloons, before we took to the streets in protest.

We marched down Kirkwood to College Avenue, and then back east on 3rd street, blocking the whole road, and chanting “Black Lives Matter!”, Whose streets? Our streets!” and “USA, KKK, how many kids did you kill today?” as we marched. We blocked the intersection of 3rd and Lincoln, by the headquarters of the Bloomington Police Department (BPD), in protest of the department’s ongoing refusal to cooperate with the family of Joseph Smedley, a Black student whose body was found in Griffy Lake last Fall under suspicious circumstances. He had been missing for days without any indication being given by IU that a student was missing before his body was found, and his death was pronounced a suicide without sufficient investigation. For more information on Joseph Smedley’s case, please find and follow the “Justice for Joseph” page on Facebook.

During the intersection blockade, Indy10 Black Lives Matter led a call and response of the names of people killed by the police. Next, Andrea M. Sterling spoke on the need for active participation and accountability on the part of allies that goes beyond social media activism and one-off events. She called for sustained commitment to transformative change in our daily lives, through “solidarity, love, and support,” between and going further than protests and exciting actions. “Recognize that if you are here, and if you are really in it,” Andrea said, “then you’re not marching for me. You’re not rallying for me. If you’re fighting for freedom you’re fighting for your own as well.”  You can read her speech here. Then, Peter McDonald, who grew up in Columbus, OH, not far from where Tyre King was killed, spoke on the situation in that city and the institutional forces that drive police violence. Before we left the intersection, there was a spontaneous poetry reading. The intersection blockade lasted over twenty minutes. After that, we continued marching down third street, turned left on Indiana Avenue, and ended the demonstration with a blockade and speak-out in the intersection of Indiana and Kirkwood.

The protest was peaceful: An overwhelming majority of vehicles were able to turn around and find other routes, but a few aggressive drivers ignored courteous requests and alternate directions. Any conflict between drivers and protesters resulted from vehicles attempting to drive into the crowd, endangering lives. At least one protester was injured by a particularly aggressive and thoughtless driver, who tried to ram his SUV through the crowd. The Herald Times,’  report on the protest, written by Abby Tonsing, simply parroted back the BPD and IUPD’s statements about Joseph Smedley rather than engaging with any evidence or alternate viewpoints, and their article focused on the one moment where violence broke out, blaming the violence on protesters. The violence enacted by protesters in that moment was clearly in self-defense: watch the video and see for yourself. The majority of the people in the video are white, because throughout the demonstration white and other non-Black allies formed a perimeter in order to protect the more vulnerable bodies of our Black comrades. Better reporting on the demonstration, by the IDS and WFHB, can be read here and here.

It is completely unsurprising that news reports would portray protesters as “violent” and “scary”; like the police, they work for the elite, and they share the goal of keeping people scared to protest, especially against police violence. News outlets are more able to garner greater attention and viewership by appealing to reactionary aggression, as seen in many comments on these articles, rather than by conveying the messages and voices of those standing up and unifying in the face of systemic violence against black and brown bodies. Additionally, reports of the protest on social media have been met with many disturbing, threatening comments, by State Representative Jim Lucas, among others, often calling for violence against the protestors.

The negative reactions to our demonstration on social media bring into sharp focus the normalized disregard for Black lives that pervades society, and further illustrate the need for transformative change through collective struggle.