WHY CAN’T WE SUE THE POLICE?

Constantly, we see news articles of members of the police force doing illegal acts and committing crimes, yet they are never persecuted and charged. This is because of Qualified Immunity. Qualified Immunity is a legal doctrine that makes it difficult and almost impossible to hold police officers accountable for crimes.

So, what does it do?

“Qualified Immunity is a judicially created doctrine that shields government officials from being held personally liable for constitutional violations-like the right to be free from excessive police force- for money damages under federal law so long as the officials did not violate “clearly established” law. To determine if the law was “clearly established,” the court turns to an already existing judicial decision with similar facts. As a result, says Julian Sanchez, during the first time around, “the right violated won’t be ‘clearly established,’ and the official that was responsible will have qualified immunity. This means that the initial person will not have any say because of qualified immunity and that the officer will only be charged if that instance would happen again. HOWEVER, during courts, one can allege any sort of difference between the current case and the past case. One of the differences that was used in court was the numeric distance between the police officer and the victim. Another was the location of the crime. Therefore, since there hadn’t been a “clearly established” law, the police officer would be protected by qualified immunity.

The Supreme Court invented qualified immunity in 1967. They described it as a modest exception for public officials who acted in “good faith” and believed that their conduct was authorized by law. So, in the case of a court, if the police officer can convince the judge that he had been acting with “good intentions,” he or she would not suffer any consequences.

An example of a case of qualified immunity took place during April 2013. “Police officers in Texas responded to a dispatch describing a Black man in a brown shirt, who was firing his gun at mailboxes in a residential neighborhood. When the officers arrived, the man fired his gun in their direction and then hid himself from view. The officers set up a defensive position behind three vehicles and began ordering the man to put his gun down. A few minutes later, the officers saw Gabriel Winzer, a mentally impaired 25-year-old riding a bicycle, wearing a blue shirt, and carrying a toy gun in his belt. Within six seconds of spotting him, the officers shot at Winzer 17 times, chased him down, and tased him. He died at the scene. The officers later claimed that they shot Winzer because they feared for their lives.

As in Brooks’s case, a federal appeals court concluded that the officers violated Winzer’s constitutional rights by using deadly force against him when he posed no threat to anyone. But nonetheless, according to the court, the officers were entitled to qualified immunity. To support that conclusion, the court offered one meager sentence of analysis: “We cannot conclude that Gabriel’s right to be free from excessive force was clearly established here.””

For more information about qualified immunity, I will be attaching some links and a helpful video. To help abolish qualified immunity, please sign this petition. Additionally, please support the Ending Qualified Immunity Act, proposed by Justin Amash (L-Michigan) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts). When Amash announced the bill, he explained:

“This week, I am introducing the Ending Qualified Immunity Act to eliminate qualified immunity and restore Americans’ ability to obtain relief when police officers violate their constitutionally secured rights. The brutal killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police is merely the latest in a long line of incidents of egregious police misconduct. This pattern continues because police are legally, politically, and culturally insulated from consequences for violating the rights of the people whom they have sworn to serve. That must change so that these incidents of brutality stop happening.”

LINKS:

https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-police-immunity-scotus/

Originally published July 15

WHAT THE FOURTH OF JULY MEANS TO OTHERS

Today is the Fourth of July, a federal holiday in the United States meant to represent the birth of American Independence as on the same day in 1776, the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. At this time, I’ve been more and more reluctant to even celebrate today. On July 4th, 1776, Black Americans were still enslaved and Native Americans were being subjugated. Furthermore, women were still struggling to gain any sliver of authority and voice. Why should we be celebrating a day where all Americans weren’t free? Why should we be calling this day, Independence Day? Should we be celebrating Independence Day when the majority of people living within the United States are not free? There are people locked up in cages because of ICE. They are not free. The USA has the most incarcerated people in the entire world. This is America. Why should we be saying that we are free and independent if all we’ve done is replaced one oppressive structure for another?

Now, I shall share the words of Frederick Douglass from his speech: “What, to the American Slave, is your 4th of July?”

“What, to the ⁣American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hallow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.”

Originally published July 4

WHAT IS THE SCHOOL-TO-PRISON PIPELINE?

In my small community, I believed that the police were good guys. When I needed them, they came. I wasn’t scared. Then, I thought that they were going to protect me and help my family out. Now, this is the privilege that I have as I am not a black person. Through videos, I have seen the precautions that black people have to take in the face of the police. Imagine being a member of the black community and having to see the police every day at your school. Living every day in fear and on edge as you go to and from school and mind your own business. After the Columbine High School massacre and the numerous school shootings that have happened since, police officers have become more and more common on school grounds.

Police in schools fuel the school-to-prison pipeline and take away valuable funding for educational resources. The school-to-prison pipeline is the phenomenon where schools funnel Black and brown students, and students with disabilities, into the criminal justice. This phenomenon can start as early as preschool where minorities (specifically Black and children with disabilities) are more likely to be suspended or expelled than white students. According to the Education Department’s office for Civil Rights, Black students are three times more likely to be expelled than white students. In general, students disciplined by police in schools are more likely to end up in the criminal justice system.

Some of the components of the school-to-prison pipeline are zero-tolerance policies – strict policies that criminalize minor infractions and increase the number of suspensions and expulsions – and School Resource Officers (SROs) – police officers stationed in schools who can make in-school arrests and provide disciplinary action on behalf of administrators. THIS IS NOT THE WAY TO HELP KIDS! Based on studies, zero-tolerance policies have often been ineffective in preventing crime and violence, and SROs are seen criminalizing and policing students instead of protecting them. So, why is the government spending its money on the police and prisons and not schools? Instead, we should filter the money from the police to education! Students should not be scared and criminalized at schools! They should be supported by guidance counselors and the staff!

So, how can we help?

  1. Demand your local school district end contracts with police departments
  2. Demand that your mayor and city council defund the police and invest in schools, especially in poor communities of color
  3. Demand that your state and federal representatives end discriminatory zero-tolerance policies.
  4. VOTE for candidates that prioritize vulnerable students and have explicit plans for investing in and supporting underfunded schools

Here are some facts:

  • 1.7 million students are in schools with cops, but no counselors.
  • 3 million students are in schools with cops, but no nurses.
  • 6 million students are in schools with cops, but no school psychologists.
  • 10 million students are in schools with cops, but no social workers.

FUND EDUCATION NOT THE POLICE

Originally published July 3

WHAT IS BLACKFACE?

Recently, a lot of celebrities and other people of power have been called out for their use of cultural appropriation, specifically blackface or, in the case of Bon Appetit’s ex-editor-in-chief, brownface. Cultural appropriation, sometimes called cultural misappropriation, is the “adoption or co-opting, usually without acknowledgment, of cultural identity markers associated with or originating in minority communities by people or communities with a relatively privileged status.” In media and mainstream culture, it seems that cultural appropriation runs rampant especially in the trends that we see. For example, the large hoop earrings seen on celebrities had been adopted from African culture. In the case of blackface, white people paint their faces black to “dress up” as black people. This had started nearly 200 years ago when white people painted their faces to mock enslaved Africans in minstrel shows (like a comic skit). It didn’t stop there. White performers would put on tattered clothes (to symbolize the poor-ness of black people) and exaggerated their features to look stereotypically “black.” This included using burnt cork and grease paint or shoe polish to darken their skin and red or white makeup to exaggerate their lips. They would also wear wooly wigs. In the shows, they would depict the enslaved Africans as lazy, ignorant, and cowardly. These performances were not only demeaning and hurtful to the black community, but also perpetuated inaccurate stereotypes of the black community.

The most popular blackface character was “Jim Crow.” The character was created by a white entertainer, and he would perform a song and dance act that was supposedly taught to him by a slave. Most might recognize the name “Jim Crow” because of its association with the laws that segregated, demeaned, and denied blacks basic human rights primarily from the 1870s to the 1960s (90 years!). Through these laws, it solidified the racial hierarchy throughout the USA as it ensured that the black community was forever on the bottom. These laws included segregating schools, redlining, segregating public facilities (black people would have to use the worse facilities where it was not well-kept, smaller, and older), segregating the bus, etc. Furthermore, intermarriage was prohibited.

The influence of the minstrel shows extended its way into media like movies where everyday American actors like Judy Garland, Shirley Temple, and Fred Astaire put on blackface in movies. Even black performers put on blackface, as they said it was the only way the could work. White audiences weren’t interested in watching black actors do anything but act foolish on stage, perpetuating the stereotype further. Furthermore, the only depiction of black life that white audiences saw was in minstrel shows. Therefore, by presenting enslaved Africans as the butt of jokes, it desensitized white Americans to the horrors of slavery.

Nowadays, as people are accused of blackface, they blame it on their own ignorance. However, with access to technology and information, we cannot blame things on our own ignorance and must own up to our mistakes. I encourage all of my readers to CALL PEOPLE OUT IF THEY’RE ARE DOING BLACKFACE OR ANYTHING DEMEANING TO ANOTHER RACE. RACISM IS NEVER OKAY!

While I’m uncomfortable with posting this image on my site, I think it serves as a way to further educate my readers as it shows how the media had portrayed the minstrel shows and blackface. As you can see, they have exaggerated the person’s features using makeup to signify a “stereotypical black man.”

Turkey in the Straw Sheet Music
A poster used to advertise a minstrel show

Originally published July 3

MESSAGING REPRESENTATIVES

This is a letter I had received in response to a letter that I wrote to my representative. Due to privacy reasons, I will not be disclosing who it is, but I hope this encourages someone to reach out to their representative and demand a change in the system, whether it be defunding the police, reforming the police, and passing laws to making sure that police should be arrested for their acts against innocent/guilty persons. We have a voice, and it is up to us to use it.

Dear {retracted}

Thank you for contacting me regarding the need for police accountability and reform.  I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue.

The murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks have exposed the institutional racism that exists in our society and criminal justice system.  Tragically, these stories follow what we have witnessed in other instances of police violence for many years, across the country and in {retracted}.  We are in the midst of the latest chapter in what is a long, American story of racial injustices that have taken far too many black lives.  The pain people are expressing with peaceful protests is real.  I see it, and I hear the calls for change.  It is clear that we must do a great deal more to address longstanding and systemic racial injustices in our country. 

An important first step is to change the culture of policing in America and build trust between law enforcement and our communities.  That is why I joined Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) in introducing the Justice in Policing Act to fix and improve police training and practices, hold law enforcement accountable and help address systemic racism and bias to help save lives.  This legislation prohibits federal, state and local law enforcement from racial, religious and discriminatory profiling.  The bill also bans the use of chokeholds, mandates the use of dashboard cameras and body cameras, and establishes a National Police Misconduct Registry to prevent problematic officers who are fired or leave one agency from moving to another jurisdiction without any accountability.  Furthermore, this federal reform legislation incentivizes states to adopt laws mandating independent investigation and prosecution of officer-involved deaths, and when law enforcement violates an individual’s constitutional rights, police would no longer be given “qualified immunity” from being held responsible for their actions.  You can read more about all the reforms included within the Justice in Policing Act here: {retracted}

Of note, policies that govern law enforcement are also made at the state and local level.  If you wish to further express your views on these policies, I strongly encourage you to also reach out to your local and state officials.  You can determine who all your elected officials are online at https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials

I believe that America has been awoken with the pain of carrying the wounds of racism for too long.  But we have also awoken with hope.  I see it with the diversity, both racially and generationally, of those peacefully protesting against racial injustice.  Please know I am inspired to do my part to bring about the racial justice we need in our country so that one day we may truly have liberty and justice for all.

Once again, thank you for contacting my office.  It is important for me to hear from the people of {retracted} on the issues, thoughts and concerns that matter most to you. If I can be of further assistance, please visit my website at {retracted} for information on how to contact my office.

Originally published June 19

WHAT IS JUNETEENTH?

Today, June 19th, 2020, marks the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth. You might ask, “What is Juneteenth?” To be honest, I had never heard of the holiday until I questioned why it was in my calendar. And that right there is an act of privilege that I have, to be able to be unaware about Juneteenth which celebrates the liberation and end of slavery in the United States when I am a United States citizen. But, I am educating myself and it is a process that will never be finished

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. It dates back to June 19th, 1865 when Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free, two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863). General Granger read to the people of Texas General Order Number 3:

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”

In response to this news, people were shocked but also jubilant. Though many stayed to see how the new employer to employee relationship unfolded, many set off North or to neighboring states to see family. Then, the Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying, and for gathering remaining family members. Now, many former slaves and descendants make an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this date. There are a range of activities that you can do today to celebrate Juneteenth. However, I would like to caution all of you to not do anything rash because of the pandemic still around. So, here are some ways to celebrate Black Joy on Juneteenth:

  1. Buy artwork from a Black artist. This could come in the form of tapestries, clothing, or music.
  2. Read and discuss articles from The Root’s Black Excellence column
  3. Order takeout from a Black owned restaurant
  4. Venmo individual Black people doing good work in their community
  5. Listen to playlists and podcasts featured in Spotify’s ‘Black History is Now’ campaign
  6. Read a book by a Black author that’s main subject area is not racism.
  7. Watch a show or movie that has Black Joy. Some shows/movies on Netflix are #BlackAF, About The Washingtons, All American, Cheer, Dear White People, and many more.

Over the years, Juneteenth celebrations have declined which was a consequence of economic and cultural forces. Textbooks and classroom education didn’t cover the topic of slavery in detail and proclaimed that the Emancipation Proclamation was the only thing that signaled the ending of slavery. However, Juneteenth saw a resurgence of celebrations during the Civil Rights Movement. Today, we must continue in stride and celebrate Juneteenth and with it, African American freedom and achievement.

Originally published June 19

RACISM IS A PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS

The coronavirus has impacted every one of us. COVID-19 does not discriminate between races as it affects everyone. However, it is affecting some races more than others. As of right now, the Navajo Nation has the highest per capita COVID-19 infection rate in the USA, surpassing New York which had been thought of as the epicenter of the pandemic. The Navajo Nation is the largest Native American tribe in the U.S. Its infection rate is 3.3% as the nation has a population of 173,667 people and has had 5,533 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 248 deaths. Its infection rate surpasses New York’s by roughly 1.0%.

American indigenous family aware of the dangers of the Covid19 pandemic stands 6 feet apart from one another

Coronavirus impacts minority groups differently than peoples in urban/major cities across America. These individuals are often of a lower income bracket and are frequently working in jobs that are deemed essential. Thus, they face a higher risk of infection than others. Also, Tyrone Whitehorse, a member of the Diné Nation from Lechee, Arizona, wrote that “it’s hard to follow public health guidelines when the reservation is facing “systemic disparities,” like limited access to healthcare, minimal running water, and a lack of protective supplies. Nearly 1/3 of families on the reservation don’t have access to running water or electricity, let alone a clinic or a hospital nearby. In addition, on the Navajo reservation, there are only 13 grocery stores to serve an area the size of West Virginia. Therefore, when people were rushing to grocery stores across the nation, it caused members of the Navajo reservation to hit the dirt roads and drive an hour or more to the nearest grocery store. However, when they got there, much of the supplies they needed were gone already. Also, the small number of grocery stores result in food scarcity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that “current data suggests a disproportionate burden of illness and death among racial and ethnic minority groups.” Additionally, COVID-19 death rates for Black and Hispanic/Latino individuals “were substantially higher than that of white or Asian person” for cities across the country noted the CDC.

As you may know, when European settlers came to America, they brought diseases that left Native Americans ravaged and afraid of what can happen when there is no immunity in a population against foreign infections. With the rise of COVID-19, anxiety and fear threatened the people once again. Throughout the Navajo reservation, signs can be seen reading “Please stay away, we are trying to keep grandma safe” on homes. In Native American culture, stories and history are told orally, meaning that they typically don’t write out the stories, instead passing them down by speaking. The elders, who are knowledge keepers, culture bearers, storytellers, matriarchs, leaders, language teachers, are being disproportionally affected by the virus. When an elder dies, it is as if a library is burned down.

Please help the Navajo Nation by donating to any of the organizations listed below

To learn more, check out this action doc by Changing Womxn Collective: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1IG9uNbKF_xxdNWXB667YxBuRbnnRUDOnf6PcPGGECeI/edit

Originally published June 9

We The People

This is an essay that my friend Rachel wrote that talks about the events that are going on in America. If you want to hear more from Rachel, check out her blog!

We the People

We are all human. Humans have evolved throughout time and have become complex creatures of the earth. We have shaped the earth in correspondence to how this world shaped us. How can we shape a world that is incomprehensible to us? The answer to that question remains a mystery, but all humans on this earth have done it and are continuing to do it. Let this empowering statement inspire you to do more regardless of your race. Not only black history, but human history is now. 

Growing up as a white female in a small town has sheltered me and caused a lack of diversity in my life. Over time I have been exposed to the history of the world and the people that have impacted these changes. Much of this history regards the civil rights movement. I was repeatedly reminded of the terrible things that people have endured simply because of their skin color, and that became ingrained in my head. Although that should never be forgotten, I wish I had learned more about the revolution these people single handedly started and the strength and courage they had. This should be a more widely spread lesson to people of all races because it really shows that anything is possible with perseverance. I am continually amazed at how much the times have changed, and ever since the year 2020 started, I have begun to realize that the times have not stopped changing. 

Racism is not genetic, it is taught. It has and continues to be taught to the younger generation by adults who are supposed to be mature. If we have truly been educated correctly on this topic, then why do these injustices keep recurring? This lack of maturity is exemplified in a video of a black man being physically abused and killed by a cop who is supposed to be protecting ALL American citizens. The fact that it has taken not only this black man, George Floyd, but multiple black people unjustly being killed to call attention to the injustice and corruption in our society today is despicable. This is why I find this movement so important. It is an opportunity for everyone to come together peacefully as one and provoke much needed change. Doing this will spread love in order to heal and grow together in the present and future. 

America is the home of the brave, and to me, the bravest people are the black people in this country. Not only have they had the courage to stand up for what they believe in, but they are the ones constantly fighting for the American dream to be a reality. They have not stopped fighting for their freedom and equality. This is the most inspiring thing to me, and always will be. It shows me that my generation can be the one to change the next and not teach ignorance and fear of expression, but rather accentuate the lesson to be a big person without making others feel small. My goal is to celebrate black history and stand proud together simply as humans. I want the next generation and all the generations after that to see how determined, courageous, and brave black people are. They have defied what white people thought of them in the past and we have them to thank for so many things in our everyday lives. I don’t want to only hope, but I want to be involved in the change that needs to happen. My generation was being taught to live in the shadows and simply go through the motions to achieve the American dream, but that will not make America great again. We the people must come together to create the change that has been long awaited. Instead of fearing the diversity in our world, we must appreciate, respect, and celebrate our differences. Human rights apply to every beautifully unique human. History is not done and neither is the fight to end injustice. 

Take time to remember all of the black lives that have been wrongfully persecuted, recognize your own value and capability as a person, educate yourself and learn from the past in order to grow, and most importantly, stand by one another with love. 

WHO IS CHRISTIAN COOPER?

Christian Cooper, a black man and an avid bird-watcher, was out birding in the Ramble – a section of Central Park full of winding paths and thick greenery – when he sees a dog off its leash. This goes against the Ramble’s rules, so Christian Cooper started to tell the owner (Amy Cooper) off for having her dog off-leash. He told CNN, “that’s important to us birders because we know that dogs won’t be off-leash at all, and we can go there to see the ground-dwelling birds. People spend a lot of money and time planting in those areas as well. Nothing grows in a dog run for a reason.” After the two continued to quarrel, Christian Cooper started filming Amy Cooper.

In the video, Amy Cooper tells Christian Cooper that she is going to call the police. “I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life,” she says. Then she tells the police, “There’s a man, African American, he has a bicycle helmet. He is recording me and threatening me and my dog.” While she is saying this, her dog appears to be straining and trying to get free while she tries to restrain it.

After the video was posted, Amy Cooper defended herself by saying “I’m not a racist. I did not mean to harm that man in any way.” Also, Christian Cooper accepted her apology saying, “I think her apology is sincere. I’m not sure that in the apology she recognizes that while she may not be or consider herself a racist, that particular act was definitely racist.”

My take: I do not think that she should be forgiven for her act, to be honest. After this event, she has been fired from her job, and she reports that “her entire life is being destroyed right now.” She was in the wrong and Christian Cooper had not been physical and was not demanding. She should have abided by the park’s rules and had her dog on a leash. If the officers had been similar to other officers who had murdered black people because of false accusations by white people, then Christian Cooper would be murdered. She should not be excused from her act just because of a simple mistake. Without the post going viral, would she have not realized her mistake and kept doing them? She took advantage of a toxic and deadly racial stereotype for an ephemeral gain. She knew what she was doing, as she had forewarned Christian Cooper of her intention, just how dangerous the possible outcome of her lie could have been. I’m going to open the floor for others to respond with their take on this event.

Originally published June 7

RECOGNIZING PRIVILEGE PT. 2

View this post on Instagram

I have privilege as a white person because I can do all of these things without thinking twice: I can go birding (#ChristianCooper) I can go jogging (#AmaudArbery) I can relax in the comfort of my own home (#BothemSean and #AtatianaJefferson and #BreonnaTaylor) I can ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and #RenishaMcBride) I can have a cellphone (StephonClark) I can leave a party to get to safety (JordanEdwards) I can play loud music (JordanDavis) I can sell CDs (AltonSterling) I can sleep (AiyanaJones) I can walk from the corner store (MikeBrown) I can play cops and robbers (TamirRice) I can go to church (Charleston9) I can walk home with Skittles (TrayvonMartin) I can hold a hair brush while leaving my own bachelor party (SeanBell) I can party on New Years (OscarGrant) I can get a normal traffic ticket (SandraBland) I can lawfully carry a weapon (PhilandoCastile) I can break down on a public road with car problems (CoreyJones) I can shop at Walmart (JohnCrawford) I can have a disabled vehicle (TerrenceCrutcher) I can read a book in my own car (KeithScott) I can be a 10yr old walking with our grandfather (#CliffordGlover) I can decorate for a party (#ClaudeReese) I can ask a cop a question (#RandyEvans) I can cash a check in peace (#YvonneSmallwood) I can take out my wallet (#AmadouDiallo) I can run (#WalterScott) I can breathe (#EricGarner) I can live (#FreddieGray) I CAN BE ARRESTED WITHOUT THE FEAR OF BEING MURDERED (#GeorgeFloyd) White privilege is real. Take a minute to consider a Black person’s experience today. #BlackLivesMatter *I copied and pasted this; please do the same.* We must fight for justice. NOW. Reposted from @tyfrench ❤️

A post shared by Aspyn Ovard Ferris (@aspynovard) on