Tag Archives: Police

Policing and Race in the Black Humanities: Syllabus

Below is the description and reading schedule from the syllabus for a class I designed and am teaching during Summer Session 2015 at UC Davis, through the Humanities Program.

Humanities 002B: American Humanities Forum: Justice or “Just Us”: Policing and Race in the Black Humanities, from Slavery to the Present

Course Description and Objectives:

Protests that began in the summer and fall of 2014 (and that continue) over the killing of black men Michael Brown and Eric Garner by white police officers in Ferguson, MO and Staten Island, NY have made the intersecting issues of police conduct and race relations highly visible. But the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter does not announce a new problem or movement—indeed, it follows a much longer history of anti-black racial discrimination by law enforcement that ranges from disrespectful misunderstanding to brutality and homicide. And current activism follows a much longer history of protest and resistance to racially discriminatory law enforcement.

Continue reading Policing and Race in the Black Humanities: Syllabus

1 Year Later, Same Shit: Oscar and Trayvon and Mike and…

July 2013 after George Zimmerman was acquitted in for the murder of Trayvon Martin I wrote this and read it on the air for the KQED Perspectives segment. 2014, same shit. The original with audio is here.

“The Weight of Race”

One of the tragedies of racism is that many Americans, most of them white, talk about it as an issue facing African Americans exclusively-and sometimes other ethnic groups — but not white Americans. In the wake of the Trayvon Martin case, I have heard it said again and again that “African-Americans are angry;” “African-Americans are fearful for their safety;” “African-Americans are disheartened by what this says about the value of their lives in this country.” This phrasing, again and again: that this case matters only to African-Americans.

I am a white American man and I say this is an American issue, an American injustice. Many Americans like me are unhappy with this verdict. In a just world people do not judge someone based on skin color and dress; in a just world people are held responsible when they take the life of another; in a just world the victim is not turned into the assailant and the killer the victim of an “assault with the deadly use of a sidewalk.”

But more than this, I feel the way I do because young black men like Trayvon Martin are people I love. The deaths of Oscar Grant and now Trayvon Martin have shown clearly the value of young black men’s lives. And so I have been shown the safety and value of my best friends’ lives, men I grew up with. And the value and safety of their sons’ lives, boys I am watching grow up. As a friend to these men and play-uncle to their boys I cannot be ignorant of the danger. I cannot take my son and their sons to the park without this awareness. Young black men are our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our friends, our neighbors, our students and teachers, our patients, our doctors, our co-workers.

When I leave the house this morning, I do so white and free from the weight of the sensation, felt by African-Americans like my friends, that “it could have been me.” But I do leave the house with the weight of knowing that “it could have been someone I love.” And that is an American weight. And I pray that it is a weight heavy enough to guide us toward justice.

With a Perspective, I’m Simon Abramowitsch.

5 Years Later, Same Shit: From Gaza to Ferguson

[I posted this on my first blog on January 26, 2009, not long after Oscar Grant’s death. 2014: same old shit, Ferguson to Gaza. And go look at the map of where Boeing Defense Space and Security is located–they work with Israel Aerospace Industries on missile defense systems .]

“Nazi Zombies from East Oakland to Gaza”

Because of the stretch in time and space between the deed and the result, between the work and the product, it is not only usually impossible for the worker to know the consumer; or the investor, the source of his profit, but also it is often made impossible by law to inquire into the facts. Moral judgment of the industrial process is therefore difficult, and the crime is more often a matter of ignorance rather than of deliberate murder and theft; but ignorance is a colossal crime in itself. When a culture consents to any economic result, no matter how monstrous its cause, rather than demand the facts concerning work, wages, and the conditions of life whose results make the life of the consumer comfortable, pleasant, and even luxurious, it is an indication of a collapsing civilization.

Here for instance is a lovely British [or American] home, with green lawns, appropriate furnishings and a retinue of well-trained servants. Within is a young woman, well trained and well dressed, intelligent and high-minded. She is fingering the ivory keys of a grand piano and pondering the problem of her summer vacation, whether in Switzerland or among the Italian lakes; her family is not wealthy, but it has sufficient ‘independent’ income from investments to enjoy life without hard work. How far is such a person responsible for the crimes of colonialism?

It will in all probability not occur to her that she has any responsibility whatsoever, and that may well be true. Equally, it may be true that her income is the result of starvation, theft, and murder; that it involves ignorance, disease, and crime on the part of thousands; that the system which sustains the security, leisure, and comfort she enjoys is based on the suppression, exploitation, and slavery of the majority of mankind. Yet just because she does not know this, just because she could get the facts only after research and investigation—made difficult by laws that forbid the revealing of ownership of property, source of income, and methods of business—she is content to remain in ignorance of the source of her wealth and its cost in human toil and suffering.

The frightful paradox that is the indictment of modern civilization and the cause of its moral collapse is that a blameless, cultured, beautiful young woman in a London suburb may be the foundation on which is built the poverty and degradation of the world. For this someone is guilty as hell. Who?

This is the modern paradox of Sin before which the Puritan stands open-mouthed and mute. A group, a nation, or a race commits murder and rape, steals and destroys, yet no individual is guilty, no one is to blame, no one can be punished!

-W.E.B. Du Bois, “White Masters of the World,” The World and Africa, 1946, p. 41-42.


Recently I played a video game. I don’t usually play video games. At the laundromat they have Ms. Pac Man, which I sometimes plunk quarters into. “Call of Duty: World at War”; this game is based on World War II, and some 50 years later, when most veterans have passed away or are fading, you can move thumbs, press plastic buttons, kill Germans, Japanese, Americans even, participate in a war that seemed to mean something. There are smaller games within the game—situations set up for multiple players and without narrative. We played one: “Nazi Zombies.” Continue reading 5 Years Later, Same Shit: From Gaza to Ferguson

Town Cartography: Chinaka Hodge’s Chasing Mehserle

“Blood on the leaves and blood at the root/ Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern [Western] breeze.”

-Billie Holiday (performer) and Abel Meeropol (writer), “Strange Fruit” (1939)

“It’s my brother, my sister./ At the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean there’s a railroad made of human bones./ Black ivory/ Black ivory”

-Amiri Baraka, from “Wise, Why’s, Y’z” (1995)

“7. We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people.”

-Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, “Black Panther Party for Self-Defense Ten-Point Platform and Program” (1966)

Chinaka Hodge‘s recent work, Chasing Mehserle, first at the Intersection for the Arts (and then for another few performances at Z Space), ends at the beginning. Or at the ending. It ends in the ocean. With ancestors lost, found, never lost, never found. The ocean is for O–the ocean is for O-s-c-a-r: Oscar Grant.

Our guide, in charge of this chase, this hunt, is  Watts Trustscott (played by Michael Wayne Turner III); he announces himself to be a cartographer: he introduces the Town–the town that you know is THE Town if you are in, from, of the Bay (the name of this blog and my hometown is/needs the “B”). He runs down neighborhood names while projected images of Oakland  street maps swirl and float in the background. But Hodge is the real mapmaker here, a surveyor not only of space but time, drawing lines that connect, that show us the topography of Oakland after Oscar Grant–more accurately, the topography of Oakland after Johannes Mehserle. In this Town, Watts, unable to set foot off his front steps, watches as blond white girls whizz through West Oakland on bikes, heading… home?–heading to the buildings they now inhabit on blocks that Watts knows well, the cartographer he is, and yet is afraid to venture onto.

Continue reading Town Cartography: Chinaka Hodge’s Chasing Mehserle