A journal dedicated to truth, freedom of speech and radical spiritual consciousness. Our mission is the liberation of men and women from oppression, violence and abuse of any kind, interpersonal, political, religious, economic, psychosexual. We believe as Fidel Castro said, "The weapon of today is not guns but consciousness."
Syrian poet, novelist, professor Mohja Kahf and poet Marvin X. She considers Marvin X the father of Muslim American literature.
Sectarianism has been known to spark
religious violence throughout history. For many years we
saw the ugly head of sectarianism in the struggle
between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, the
constant bombings and killings.
In Africa violence between Muslims
and Christians in Nigeria has approached genocide. Iraq
is the latest hot spot of sectarian violence between
Sunni and Shia Muslims. For decades the Shia had been
oppressed by the Sunni minority, especially during the
regime of Saddam Hussein. When he was overthrown by the
US and the Shia majority took political power, naturally
the Sunnis were resentful, no one likes to lose power and
privilege. Because many Sunnis look upon Shia as
heretics, this justifies their sectarian cleansing, even
though there has been Sunni/Shia harmony, including
marriages throughout the years, but presently there is
migration of Shias from Sunni neighborhoods and towns
and visa versa. Very little of the refugee plight has
Of course the US is the cause when
she installed the Shia majority, even though majority
should rule, we are taught in American Democracy 101.
But the resulting violence was predictable and much of
it could have been prevented if the Americans had not
been the "peacemakers."
Now the violence is being instigated
by the insurgents who are directing their wrath against
the Shia as well as the Americans. And naturally the
Shia are taking revenge since they have political and
military power, including their own militias integrated
into the army and police but loyal to their sect leaders
We must see the Sunni violence
against the Shia in the broader picture of regional
politics. The Sunni regimes in Saudia Arabia, Egypt,
Jordan, Sudan, the Gulf States and elsewhere have no
desire to see a Shia government in Iraq, however loosely
allied it may be with Shia Iran. The Sunni governments
have stated their opposition to a Shia expansion from
the Tigris/Euphrates to the Mediterranean, uniting with
the populations of Shia in Syria and Lebanon where the
Hezbollah fighters are a political and military force
supported by Iran.
Have no doubt that the regional Sunni
regimes support the insurgency in Iraq. These regimes
would rather have their young men leaving their nations
to commit suicide in Iraq rather than be part of the
opposition within their authoritarian regimes. Better
their sons fight the infidel Americans and heretic Shia.
Of course the historical dispute
between the Sunni and Shia began in 632AD upon the death
of prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Thus this Sunni/Shia
conflict is much more outstanding than colonialism,
including the neo-colonial Americans. There is no hatred
like religious hatred. We can see that violence between
Sunnis and Shia has surpassed that between Sunnis and
the Christian Americans, supposedly the enemy of all
Muslims. For sure, Americans were the catalyst, but the
roots of the present sectarian violence began over
succession to the prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
The Sunnis said the successor should
be selected from among the people, Abu Bakr. The Shia
said it should be from the prophet's bloodline, Ali. The
Sunnis won out and labeled the Shia heretics, especially
when they elevated the status of Imam Ali and future
Shia Imams to the level of the Caliphs or rulers after
the prophet, including veneration of their tombs in
various Shia holy cities such as Qum in Iran, Najaf and
Karbala in Iraq. Several Shia imams were assassinated,
including Ali and Hussein.
There are major Shia rituals that
celebrate the martyrdom of their imams. The Shia feeling of lost is similar
to the feeling of lost among Sunni Muslims in America
about Malcolm X allegedly being assassinated by the
Nation of Islam. This feeling of lost is shared by
much of the African American community.
Malcolm's death caused a great
division that has yet to heal and may never heal,
despite the unifying efforts of Farakhan with his
Million Man Marches and other efforts.
Perhaps we can understand the Sunni/Shia
struggle from this perspective. There are some Blacks
who hate other Blacks as a result of the Malcolm X
affair more than they hate the white man for all his
centuries of evil and wickedness against Blacks. For the
US government's role in the Malcolm affair—and
have no doubt about their involvement, they benefited by
divide and conquer, that classic Willie Lynch slave
Sectarian violence in Iraq may
continue unabated, for it is beyond civil war, beyond
American occupation, but deeply rooted in religiosity,
myth and ritual. Even Sunni fear of Shia regional
expansion is rooted in Shia eschatology or end time.
This is evident in pronouncements from the Shia regime
in Iran, boldly determined to pursue a nuclear weapons
future and calling for the destruction of Israel,
motivated by their belief the time has arrived for Shia
geo-political and spiritual domination, and certainly
Iraq will play a role in this Shia myth-ritual drama.
This drama has implications far
beyond any American notion of installing democracy in
Iraq or anywhere else in the region, for people are
motivated by mythology and prophecy, political
aspirations being secondary. It is their spiritual
aspirations that are primary. Shia Iran appears prepared
to commit mass suicide challenging the Americans and
Europeans over nuclear technology, even though the
Iranians have every right to posses the Islamic bomb,
just as we have the Jewish bomb and the Christian bomb.
I say get rid of all the nuclear weapons or level the
playing field as in the wild wild west: let everybody
As per Iraq, it doesn't matter
whether the Americans stay or go, they have opened
Pandora's box and mean spirits are blowing in the desert
winds. Only Allah knows how these issues will be
resolved. Perhaps the Sunnis and Shias shall fight until
they tire of killing, then reconcile in the manner of
Isaiah, "Let us reason together."
Source: Toward Radical Spirituality, Black Bird Press,
2007 (c) 2006 by Marvin X (El Muhajir)
* * * *
Marvin X has given permission to
Harvard University to publish his poem "For El Haji
Rasul Taifa" from Love and War: Poems by Marvin X
(1995). The poem will appear in The Encyclopedia of
Islam in America Volume II, Greenwood Press, edited
by Dr. Jocelyne Cesari of Harvard's Islam in the West
Program. Mr. X is co-editor of the forthcoming anthology
Muslim American Literature, University of
Arkansas Press, edited by Dr. Mojah Khaf. He is also in
the forthcoming Muslim American Drama, Temple
from Chickenbones, posted 19 June 2006
Saturday, September 7, 2013
Two Poems for Syria
by Marvin X and Mohja Kahf
Oh, Mohja how much water can run from rivers to sea how much blood can soak the earth the guns of tyrants know no end a people awakened are bigger than bullets there is no sleep in their eyes no more stunted backs and fear of broken limbs even men, women and children are humble with sacrifice the old the young play their roles with smiles they endure torture chambers with laughs they submit to rape and mutilations there is no victory for oppressors whose days are numbered as the clock ticks as the sun rises let the people continue til victory surely they smell it on their hands taste it on lips believe it in their hearts know it in their minds no more backwardness no fear let there be resistance til victory. --Marvin X/El Muhajir
Syrian poet/professor Dr. Mohja Kahf
Oh Marvin, how much blood can soak the earth?
The angels asked, “will you create a species who will shed blood
and overrun the earth with evil?”
And it turns out “rivers of blood” is no metaphor:
see the stones of narrow alleys in Duma
shiny with blood hissing from humans? Dark
and dazzling, it keeps pouring and pumping
from the inexhaustible soft flesh of Syrians,
and neither regime cluster bombs from the air,
nor rebel car bombs on the ground,
ask them their names before they die.
They are mowed down like wheat harvested by machine,
and every stalk has seven ears, and every ear a hundred grains.
They bleed like irrigation canals into the earth.
Even one little girl in Idlib with a carotid artery cut
becomes a river of blood. Who knew she could be a river
running all the way over the ocean, to you,
draining me of my heart? And God said to the angels,
Michelle Obama's family tree has roots in a Carolina slave plantation
Dahleen Glanton and Stacy St. ClairTribune Reporters
GEORGETOWN, S.C.—Tiny wooden cabins line the dirt road once
known as Slave Street as it winds its way through Friendfield
More than 200 slaves lived in the whitewashed shacks
in the early 1800s, and some of their descendants remained here for more
than a century after the Civil War. The last tenants abandoned the
hovels about three decades ago, and even they would have struggled to
imagine a distant daughter of the plantation one day calling the White House home.
But a historical line can be drawn from these Low Country cabins to Michelle Obama,
charting an American family's improbable journey through slavery,
segregation, the civil rights movement and a historic presidential
Their documented passage begins with Jim Robinson, Obama's
great-great-grandfather, who was born around 1850 and lived as a slave,
at least until the Civil War, on the sprawling rice plantation. Records
show he remained on the estate after the war, working as a sharecropper
and living in the old slave quarters with his wife, Louiser, and their
children. He could neither read nor write, according to the 1880 census.
Robinson would be the last illiterate branch of Michelle Obama's family tree.
records show each generation of Robinsons became more educated than the
last, with Michelle Obama eventually earning degrees from Princeton University and Harvard Law School. Her older brother, Craig, also received an Ivy League education.
campaign hired genealogists to research the family's roots at the onset
of his presidential bid, but aides have largely kept the findings
secret. Genealogists at Lowcountry Africana, a research center at the University of South Florida
in Tampa, scoured documents to put together a 120-page report,
according to project director Toni Carrier. She said the center signed a
confidentiality agreement and is not allowed to disclose the findings
However, in his now-famous speech on race during the primary, Barack Obama stated he was "married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slave owners."
Obama aides declined to discuss the report or allow Michelle Obama
to be interviewed about her ancestry. She has said she knew little
about her family tree before the campaign, but census reports, property
records and other historical documents show that her paternal ancestors
bore witness to one of the most shameful chapters in American history.
Michelle Obama moves into the White House—a mansion built partially by
slaves—she will embark upon a life her great-great-grandfather never
could have envisioned for her. At antebellum estates such as Friendfield
Planation, past sins are being revisited amid the celebration.
Cheston Train, whose family bought the property in the 1930s and
transformed it into a hunting preserve for wealthy Northerners, fights
back tears as she reflects on how far the country has come since
Robinson labored in the mosquito-infested rice fields along the Sampit
River. Though her family never owned slaves, the 82-year-old heiress to
the Drexel family banking fortune recalls the segregation laws that
divided the Georgetown community.
"It's beyond healing," Train
said of the Obamas' success. "What it has given everyone is a sense of
pride that this amazing, intelligent and attractive couple could be
connected to Friendfield."
Little is known about Robinson's life
at the plantation, beyond that he worked in the riverfront rice fields
after the Civil War. Local historians don't know how or when he came to
Friendfield, but census records indicate that both his parents were born
in South Carolina.
A map from the early 1870s, when Robinson was
living on the plantation, shows three parallel rows of slave cabins,
each with 10 to 13 buildings along Slave Street. But by 1911, only 14
were still standing.
Five single cabins remain today. With their
massive fireplaces and wood plank walls, each tells a story about slave
life on the plantation.
The small shacks, only 19 feet deep,
housed several families at once, said Ed Carter, who now oversees the
property. Large, stone fireplaces were used for cooking and heating.
Attic space in the rafters beneath the gable roof offered a place for
extra people to sleep.
The plantation's former owner, Francis
Withers, built a "meeting house" for the slaves on the estate before
1841, and the South Carolina Conference of the Methodist Episcopal
Church assigned a preacher there. A fire destroyed the church in 1940,
but a massive live oak still stands near the old site.
By the time
Withers died in 1847, the family had expanded Friendfield to include
six plantations and more than 500 slaves. At the height of the rice
trade, Friendfield was one of the most lucrative plantations in the
area, producing what was called Carolina Gold on more than 500 acres of
rice fields, Carter said.
In his will, Withers, who was educated at Harvard University,
provided for the care of his slaves, including the upkeep of the church
and a salary for the preacher. He also requested that his slaves be
treated with "great kindness and be fed and clothed." He bequeathed $50 a
year to Charlotte Nelson, described as a "mulatto woman" who had been
freed by his brother, for the rest of her life.
He left $10,000 to
buy more slaves to work the plantation and provided financial
incentives for his surviving relatives to retain his "Friendfield gang
of slaves" as a group and not break up slave families.
plantation's prosperity faded after the Civil War, and the family began
selling off the property in 1879, according to land records. Robinson,
like many former slaves, continued to live on the farm.
It's unclear when Robinson died, but local
historians believe he is buried in an unmarked grave in a slave
cemetery that overlooks the old rice fields on the edges of Whites
Among Robinson's surviving children was Fraser Robinson
Sr., Michelle Obama's great-grandfather. Born in 1884, Fraser Sr. went
to work as a houseboy for a local family before his 16th birthday.
Census records show he was illiterate as a teen but had learned to read
and write by the time he had his own children.
As an adult, Fraser Sr. worked as a lumber mill laborer, shoe
repairman and newspaper salesman. He registered for the draft during World War I but was turned down because he had lost his left arm, military records show.
Sr. married a local woman named Rose Ella Cohen and had at least six
children. Described by a family friend as an intelligent man who wanted
his children to be well-read, Fraser Sr. always brought home his extra
copies of the Palmetto Leader and Grit, a black newspaper that was
popular in rural communities across the country.
"He used to make
his children read those newspapers," said Margretta Dunmore Knox, who
still lives in Georgetown and attended the same church as the Robinsons.
"Maybe that's how they became so smart."
His eldest son, Fraser
Jr., was born in 1912 and graduated from high school. Census records
from 1930 show that 18-year-old Fraser Jr. was living at home and
working at a sawmill after earning his degree.
At the time,
Georgetown, a costal town about an hour's drive north of Charleston and
the state's third-oldest city, was split along racial lines. The basic
human rights that blacks had known after the Reconstruction era
disappeared as the Deep South sank into the Depression and
Train recalls playing with black children at
Friendfield but not being allowed to go with them to the movies or the
beach. She knew her playmates lived in cabins once inhabited by slaves,
but no one ever broached the topic.
"It was a very painful
memory," said Train, who still winters at the hunting preserve and has
written a memoir about the estate titled "A Carolina Plantation
Remembered: In Those Days." "It was not something we ever talked about."
Georgetown's economy crumbled, Fraser Jr. headed north to Chicago in
search of employment. Once there, he met and married LaVaughn Johnson.
Their son Fraser Robinson III—Michelle Obama's father—was born in 1935.
they never attended college, Fraser III and his wife, Marian, made
education a top priority for their two children. Both would later attend
Princeton and earn postgraduate degrees from prestigious universities.
Jr. and LaVaughn Robinson lived on the South Side for part of
Michelle's childhood, before retiring and moving down South. After
returning to Georgetown, the couple joined the Bethel AME Church, which
was founded by freed slaves in 1865 and is the oldest black church in
the city. The couple sang in the choir and built a large circle of
friends, Knox said.
Michelle Obama returned to the same church in January while campaigning for her husband in the South Carolina primary.
a packed audience that included at least 30 descendants of Jim
Robinson, Obama talked about the need for change in the confident voice
of a distant daughter of slavery.
"Things get better when regular
folks take action to make change happen from the bottom up," she said.
"Every major historical moment in our time, it has been made by folks
who said, 'Enough,' and they banded together to move this country
forward—and now is one of those times." email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Gullah and Geechee culture on the Sea Islands of Georgia has retained
ethnic traditions from West Africa since the mid-1700s. Although the
islands along the southeastern U.S. coast harbor the same collective of
West Africans, the name Gullah has come to be the accepted name of the islanders in South Carolina, while Geechee
refers to the islanders of Georgia. Modern-day researchers designate
the region stretching from Sandy Island, South Carolina, to Amelia
Island, Florida, as the Gullah Coast—the locale of the culture that
built some of the richest plantations in the South.
Many traditions of the Gullah and Geechee culture were passed from one generation to the next through language, agriculture,
and spirituality. The culture has been linked to specific West African
ethnic groups who were enslaved on island plantations to grow rice, indigo, and cotton starting in 1750, when antislavery laws ended in the Georgia colony.
Board of Trustees
established Georgia in 1732 with the primary purposes of settling
impoverished British citizens and creating a mercantile system that
would supply England with needed agricultural products. The colony
enacted a 1735 antislavery law, but the prohibition was lifted in 1750.
West Africans, the argument went, were far more able to cope with the
climatic conditions found in the South. And, as the growing wealth of
South Carolina's rice economy demonstrated, slaves were far more profitable than any other form of labor available to the colonists.
Rice plantations fostered Georgia's successful economic
competition with other slave-based rice economies along the eastern
seaboard. Coastal plantations invested primarily in rice, and plantation
owners sought out Africans from the Windward Coast of West Africa
(Senegambia [later Senegal and the Gambia], Sierra Leone, and Liberia),
where rice, indigo, and cotton were indigenous to the region. Over the
ensuing centuries, the isolation of the rice-growing ethnic groups, who
re-created their native cultures and traditions on the coastal Sea
Islands, led to the formation of an identity recognized as
There is no single West African contribution to
Geechee/Gullah culture, although dominant cultural patterns often
correspond to various agricultural investments. For example, Africa's
Windward Coast was later commonly referred to as the Rice Coast in
recognition of the large numbers of Africans enslaved from that area who
worked on rice plantations in America.
anthropologists and historians speculate but have not confirmed that the term Gullah—deemed
the cultural name of the islanders—derived from any one of several
African ethnicities or specific locations in Angola and on the Windward
Coast. Other researchers speculate that Gullah and Geechee
are borrowed words from any number of ethnic groups along the Windward
Coast—such as Gola, Kissi, Mende, Temne, Twi, and Vai—that contributed
to the creolization of the coastal culture in Georgia and South
Gullah is thought to be a shortened form of Angola, the name of the group first imported to the Carolinas during the early colonial period. Geechee,
historically considered a negative word identifying Sea Islanders,
became an acceptable term in light of contemporary evidence linking it
to West Africa. Although the origins of the two words are not
definitive, some enslaved Africans along the coast had names that were
linked to the Kissi group, leading to speculation that the terms may
also derive from that particular culture.
Linguist Lorenzo Dow Turner researched and documented
spoken words on the coast during the 1930s, traced similarities to
ethnic groups in West Africa, then published the Gullah dialect lexicon,
Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect (1949). His research confirms
the evolution of a new language based on West African influences and
English. Many words in the coastal culture could be matched to ethnic
groups in West Africa, thereby linking the Geechee/Gullah people to
their origins. Margaret Washington Creel in A Peculiar People: Slave Religion and Community-Culture among the Gullahs
(1988) identifies cultural and spiritual habits that relate to similar
ethnic groups of West Africans who are linked by language. Her research
on the coastal culture complements Turner's findings that Africans on
the Sea Islands created a new identity despite the tragic conditions of slavery.
Documentation of the developing culture on the Georgia
islands dates to the nineteenth century. By the late twentieth century,
researchers and scholars had confirmed a distinctive group and
identified specific commonalities with locations in West Africa. The
rice growers' cultural retention has been studied through language,
cultural habits, and spirituality. The research of Mary A. Twining and
Keith E. Baird in Sea Island Roots: African Presence in the Carolinas and Georgia (1991) investigates the common links of islanders to specific West African ethnicities.
enslaved rice growers from West Africa brought with them knowledge of
how to make tools needed for rice harvesting, including fanner baskets
for winnowing rice. The sweetgrass baskets found on the coastal islands
were made in the same styles as baskets found in the rice culture of
West Africa. Sweetgrass baskets also were used for carrying laundry and
storing food or firewood. Few present-day members of the Geechee/Gullah
culture remember how to select palmetto, sweetgrass, and pine straw to
create baskets, and the remaining weavers now make baskets as decorative
art, primarily for tourists.
Religious meetings in "praise houses" were the spiritual
outlet for enslaved Africans on the plantation. Fast-paced rhythmic hand
clapping accompanied ring shout (spiritual) songs while participants
moved counterclockwise in a circle, making certain never to cross their
feet. Some aspects of the ring shout are thought to be related to the
communal dances found in many West African traditions. The word shout is thought to be derived from saut, a West African word of Arabic origin that describes an Islamic religious movement performed to exhaustion. Since the Civil War
(1861-65), ring shouts have been held after Sunday church services and
on weeknights in community meeting houses. Few elders familiar with
shout songs and the body movements associated with the spiritual
practice are alive today, but the tradition is kept alive in Georgia
through the McIntosh County Shouters.
In the early 1930s Lorenzo Dow Turner recorded a song
that islander Amelia Dawley had been taught by her mother, Octavia
"Tawba" Shaw, who was born into slavery. Dawley taught the song to her
own daughter, Mary Moran, who became the last person in the United
States to know the song, which would link her to a small village in
Sierra Leone sixty years later. Anthropologist Joseph Opala,
Cynthia Schmidt, and linguist Tazieff Koroma came across Turner's tape
recording in 1989 and began tracing its origin, not only to Moran, who
was living in Harris Neck, Georgia, but also to Bendu Jabati of Senehun
Ngola, Sierra Leone, who was the last person in her village with
knowledge of the song.
In 1997 the two women met in the African village to share
and reenact what was understood as a Mende funeral song, sung only by
the women of Jabati's family lineage, who conducted the funerals of the
village. Evidence suggests that a female member of Moran's family had
been forced into captivity from the village nearly 200 years before. The
return of the song and the visit from the Moran family led to a
countrywide celebration that can be viewed in the documentary The Language You Cry In
(1998). The discovery of the song and subsequent linguistic research
confirmed yet another link between the cultures of West Africa and the
Such corresponding practices as similar names, language structures, folktales,
kinship patterns, and spiritual transference are but a few areas that
suggest a particular link between the southeastern coastal culture of
the United States and Sierra Leone in West Africa.
Thousands of slaves from Georgia and South Carolina who remained loyal to the British at the end of the American Revolution
(1775-83) found safe haven in Nova Scotia in Canada and thus gained
their freedom. Many returned to Sierra Leone in 1791 and the following
year established Freetown, the capital city. Members of that group are
identified today as Krio.
Runaway slaves from the Sea Islands were harbored under Spanish protection in Florida prior to the Second Seminole War
(1835-42). Native American refugees from around the South formed an
alliance with African runaways to create the Seminole Nation. The name Seminole is from the Spanish word cimarrón,
meaning runaway. The 1842 agreement between the United States and
Spain, which ended the Seminole hold on Florida, caused a migration to
Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). Some Seminoles followed Spanish
protectors to Cuba and to Andros Island in the Bahamas.
Aspects of West African heritage have survived at each
stage of the circle of migration, with rice, language, and spirituality
persisting as cultural threads into the twentieth century. The
Geechee/Gullah culture on the Sea Islands of Georgia has retained a
heritage that spans two continents.
the end of the Civil War, lands on the coastal islands were sold to the
newly freed Africans during the Port Royal Experiment, part of the U.S.
government's Reconstruction plan for the recovery of the South after the war.
During the 1900s, land on some of the islands—Cumberland, Jekyll, Ossabaw, Sapelo, and St. Simons
—became resort locations and reserves for natural resources. The
modern-day conflict over resort development on the islands presents yet
another survival test for the Geechee/Gullah culture, the most intact
West African culture in the United States. Efforts to educate the public
by surviving members of the Geechee/Gullah community, including Cornelia Bailey of Sapelo Island and the Georgia Sea Island Singers, help to maintain and protect the culture's unique heritage in the face of such challenges.
Videos of police shootings of African Americans have sparked
protests and calls for reform. But for many black people, these
incidents also feel inescapably personal. Chronicle reporter Hamed
Aleaziz and photographer Leah Millis spoke with several Bay Area
residents – among them a comedian, a college student, a doctor and a
police officer – about their experiences and perspectives on what’s
become a national issue. Here are their stories in their own words.
Dr. Tiffany Chioma Anaebere
The Emeryville resident, 31, is an emergency physician at Highland Hospital in Oakland
“As a physician I watch these videos and I see health care infractions.”
As a physician I watch these videos and I see health care
infractions. These citizens are harmed and then not offered medical care
at the scene. But I also process it as an American and a person of
I don’t feel like it’s happening to an “other.” This could easily
happen to someone I know, regardless of education or economic status,
and it feels very personal.
My parents are from Nigeria. They don’t completely understand all of
the racial interactions that one generationally raised in the U.S. may
understand — but they have learned. I can vividly remember my dad
telling me, “If you interact with police, do not say anything. Don’t
move, do exactly what they tell you, do not argue with them even if they
stop you for an unnecessary reason. Don’t put yourself in a position
where you can get killed.” This is from someone who was not born into
the race-conscious fabric of this country. This was a learned behavior
and an assessment of the American condition.
So now every time something like this happens, my phone is blowing up with my parents saying, “Never you ever talk back.”
I was stopped by a police officer a few weeks ago while driving in
Chicago and the interaction was very pleasant. I was in a fancy dress
driving back from a wedding. He was a white male cop who stopped me
because I forgot to turn on the headlights to my rental car.
What I can tell you is that before he came up to me, I was shaking. I
was scared that this could be that cop, the one interaction that could
change everything. There’s a fear that if you aren’t perfectly polite,
if you move too quickly, if your cell phone is mistaken as a weapon,
something could go horribly wrong.
I know not all police officers are bad police officers. I work with
them every day at the hospital, and many of them do their jobs very
well. But when this happens time and again, as a person of color, as an
American, as a health care professional — there’s no way you can ignore
it. It is a serious public health issue and has to be addressed as such.
W. Kamau Bell
The 43-year-old comedian and Berkeley resident hosts CNN’s “United Shades of America”
“I’m not ready to have the conversation with my daughters.”
A lot of people don’t like to watch the videos, but I watch
them because I think it’s important to see how it happens. The
girlfriend of the man killed in Minnesota, Philando Castile — she knew
she had to be a living witness. She knew she had to broadcast. She
wasn’t allowed to just be there for him. She had to be a witness for the
black community of what is happening.
Every member of the black community has two lives: First, we are
human, and second, we are in some way a spokesperson for the black
community. Not all of us accept that burden, but that’s just the way it
is. You see moms and wives at press conferences who are all so composed.
They’re not allowed to just mourn what happened. It’s a lot of
pressure. It’s too much pressure on a community.
Then once we get through the hot spot, we just want to go back to
whatever “normal” is. But normal for white America is a much more
comfortable place than “normal” for black America or people of color. We
don’t have the same normal. Black America’s normal is that we can be
having a wonderful day and still, through no fault of our own, end up
dead at the hands of someone whose job it is to protect us.
I’m not ready to have the conversation with my daughters, who are 5
years old and 20 months, about how someday you may find out your dad was
killed by a cop. But it will happen. White families, they don’t feel
the need to have that conversation. There’s also a conversation I’ll
have to have where I’ll say, “You’re a child now, but someday you’re
going to be walking through the world by yourself. And at that point
you’ll become a target.”
The Oakland resident, 34, is one of the Bay Area’s most popular rappers
“We’re just a bullet away from being a hashtag.”
It’s definitely a harsh climate being a black man in this world
today. I feel an obligation as a musician, activist and community
leader to be on the front line and let others who struggle, who are
oppressed, understand that we stand in solidarity.
We become frustrated and enraged, and we realize we’re just a bullet
away from being a hashtag. Being a black man in America, I can go out
today and I could be next.
In 2016, we’re still having the same talks we had in the 1930s, ’40s,
’50s — we’re still dealing with that. The same problems that existed in
the ’70s are still going on. The same things Martin Luther King Jr.
talked about and Frederick Douglass wrote about are still going on in
2016. Where is the progression?
Knowing your rights means nothing when we are dealing with people
that don’t respect rights. The judicial system is not set up for us to
win, the rules can be broken on sight, and then the officers who have
broken the rules are protected. We have to understand that it’s not
fair, but we don’t want to give them any other reason to murder us.
The UC Berkeley student, 20, is a campus senator, activist and double major in African American studies and sociology
“My Twitter timeline … was a complete listing of details about deaths.”
After the most recent shootings, I got home from class and
checked my Twitter timeline. It was a complete listing of details about
deaths. It was overwhelming.
Even though the videos kept reappearing on my feed, I remained frozen
in my seat for two hours. I scrolled through and refreshed my social
media sites, thinking: “Why?” and “Not again.” After close to three
hours of trying to make sense of all the deaths, I reminded myself that
if I didn’t get up, I’d be on my laptop until 1 a.m. in the same state
I decided to get up, go for a run, then write about how I was feeling in order to process my emotions.
It has been very painful but rewarding coming to consciousness about
these things. They’ve always been happening, but social media allows us
to magnify what’s happening around us.
Through educating myself about the climate in America and organizing
to affirm the worth of black lives, I’ve learned how to love and
appreciate myself, my culture and my identity more. It’s never just been
political — it’s always been deeply personal as well.
The 22-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department works out of the Bayview Station
“Who likes to be thought of as a criminal right from step one?”
It's extremely sad, because I see a lost opportunity in a
lot of these cases with young black men that for whatever reason no
longer have an opportunity to enjoy their lives and raise their
I can't help but tie in my own experience in law enforcement, so of
course each time I look at the videos I think, "Could this have been
resolved without gunplay? Could this have been just a physical struggle
for control?" I've been in similar scenarios. It can be accomplished. I
do believe a lot more interactions could be resolved without gunfire —
not all, unfortunately — but we could have a better success rate than we
When you're working in a neighborhood that's predominantly African
American and you are African American, people are going to expect things
from you. They're going to expect you to be professional and friendly —
they're expecting more of you.
My family has told me it's time for me to quit. My mother said, "For
safety, you can do something else." My family friends and nieces said,
"Why do you want to do that? This is what you're known for." But I have
some Boy Scout in me — if everyone turned their back on something when
it got a little tough, we would never accomplish anything.
As a civilian, I've had officers pull me over and be blatantly rude,
mistrust me when I tell them I'm really going someplace, expecting me to
be up to no good or mistaking me for a criminal. It's not a pleasant
experience. Who likes to be thought of as a criminal right from step
But it helps me in a way — I've had the experience. I do understand
it. By no means do I try to tell people when they ask me about officers
on the street, "No, this didn't happen" or "These officers didn't do
this." I wish I could tell them that. You may have 80 to 90 percent of
those in the profession doing the right thing, but the percentage that
doesn't can make a huge negative impact.
So that is one of my goals: to always speak to someone with basic respect.
The 48-year-old singer-songwriter, who lives in Oakland, addressed police shootings in his new album, “The Last Days of Oakland”
“Every single time I'm pulled over, I'm thinking: Wow, this could go either way.”
They’re public executions. We know it’s always gone on,
but now people are recording it. We get to see the truth and it’s a
I was raised by a father who always talked to me about police, how
they view us and what we should do when they stop us. I had that really
ingrained into my consciousness as a young person. Now I tell my kids
straight up: “Hey, if the policeman stops you, this is what you do. They
can end your life. Never argue with any police officer. Tell them when
you’re reaching for your license: Is that OK, officer? Call them sir.
They want to have the power. Let them have it. They have a gun. You
don’t have a gun.”
Every single time I’m pulled over, I’m thinking: “Wow, this could go either way.” Every time.
I think about how I look just like the people in the videos. We’re
men and we have the same color of skin, and you just wonder: “Who the
hell are we as a country?” I know the fear of being pulled over by the
police. Fear — this is all fear. When they pull you over, the police are
terrified. How can you do a job or police the people when you’re scared
of them? You’re not part of that community at all. Maybe what we should
do is just have people from the community police the area so they can
understand the people they are policing.
What can I do now? I have a platform — I have a stage, a guitar, a
voice — I can speak on this. I can act on this. That’s what I can do.
John William Templeton
The 61-year-old historian on the African American experience in California co-founded National Black Business Month
“I’m 61 years old, and I have been stopped by police 53 times in my life.”
I’m 61 years old and I have been stopped by police 53 times in
my life. I have never been arrested. My father was a deputy sheriff, I
was a Boy Scout leader for 25 years, I graduated from college with
honors, and I’ve won six national journalism awards. There’s nothing
about me that a reasonable person would think is threatening, but it’s
just a common experience to be stopped. It seems now there’s nothing you
can do with your behavior that’s going to save you.
I had an experience last year at San Francisco International Airport:
The officer came up and asked me what I was doing there. I told him I
was waiting for a tour, and that I’m an official tourism spokesman for
the city of San Francisco. He’s like, “Please, give me a break.”
So I pull out my iPad. But before I did that, I told him, “I am
pulling out my iPad from my briefcase so I can show you.” Then I had to
show a video of a story that Channel 5 had done about me giving a tour.
So the two cops are there, and one says, “Son of a gun, he actually is
who he says he is!” What I’m thinking about is all the guys that don’t
have a video of themselves on their iPad explaining who they are.
Her 22-year-old son, Oscar Grant, was killed on New Year’s Day 2009 in Oakland by a BART police officer
“Hearing my son say to the officer, ‘You shot me,’ it pierced my heart.”
When I look at what’s happening now, it opens up the wound of
my son being killed — but that’s not to say that the wound has ever
closed. It brings back all those emotions that I felt. When I instructed
Oscar to take BART to San Francisco that night, I thought that was the
safest way there. Never did I expect for him to be killed, and
particularly not by a police officer.
When I found out, I was in disbelief. We are raised to respect law
enforcement. So when you receive a call, or someone comes and tells you
your child was shot by the police, you go through that disbelief period.
Then you come to a realization that it really happened. Your emotions
become like a roller coaster, up and down. You feel hurt, confused,
angry. You feel different emotions all at the same time. You don’t know
what to do. When it’s the police, who do you go to for help? Who do you
I didn’t watch the videos of my son being shot at first. I almost had
to be barred from television, because every time I turned on the TV, it
was on. I watched it years later. I watched it because I wanted to see
why and I needed to see it so I could say something and talk about it.
Hearing my son say to the officer, “You shot me,” it pierced my heart.
It has really pierced my heart.
Forever I will never be the same.