Culture, Liberation, and #BlackLivesMatter

During the early 70s, Amilcar Cabral wrote extensively on the theme of liberation and the collective persona of subjugated people expressed as culture. His libratory praxis offered a context to dialectically engage notions of freedom and strategies for its attainment. Forty years later, Cabral’s ruminations hold relevance for contemporary social movements.

As of the end of June, police had killed 542 U.S. citizens. Blacks were twice as likely as whites to be killed; the majority were unarmed. In June, 9 church members were massacred by a young white supremacist and a month later, a young Black woman died suspiciously in a Texas jail. The violence of policing and policies creates precarious living situations, trickling down into communities and homes. Resource scarcity, high unemployment, failing schools, vanishing social safety nets, and the criminalization of poverty eventuating in high incarceration rates imperil Black lives.

In 2013, the murder of an unarmed, 17 year-old Black male by a neighborhood watchman who was later acquitted catalyzed a new social movement, #BlackLivesMatter. The act and its aftermath were reminders of colonial laws codifying race, place, and freedom and Missouri Chief Justice Taney’s declaration that U.S. Blacks had no rights whites were bound to respect.

Two years on, Blacks and their allies across the globe are attempting to reaffirm that #BlackLivesMatter. In a July 7 article, Benjamin Woods, doctoral candidate at Howard University, suggested there were six lessons #BlackLivesMatter could learn from Cabral. Although all six have merit, I’ll focus on two ideas: Culture and Ideology and Returning to the Source.

Cabral suggested that as long as a segment of a group maintained its culture, total domination couldn’t be assured. American culture is heteropatriarchal, based on the logic of white supremacy and monopoly capitalism, characterized by individualism, rationality, competition, and consumerism. Despite the system of slavery, people of African descent brought with them and retained ancestral memories evidenced in family structures, spiritual traditions, aesthetic practices, and worldviews that centered collectivism and spirituality. Subjugation of Africans by Europeans resulted in a clash of cultures. Developing in such adverse conditions, African American culture is one of resistance as well as selective and forced assimilation. It can be imagined that an authentic African American culture is what is left when the artifacts of European cultural hegemony are stripped away. An exploration of the Gullah-Geechee people, a semi-maroon group found along the southeastern seaboard, might offer meaningful insights into how a “return to the source” for Black America would look.

Cabral cautioned that a return to the source didn’t mean an uncritical acceptance of (African) traditions or cultural determinism, but rather the rejection of the idea that European culture was superior to Black culture. Woods suggested that re-Africanization was necessary in the current moment of #BlackLivesMatter as was the case in the 60s and 70s when African Americans exercised resistance by reclaiming cultural identities and weaponizing protest art in liberatory struggle.

A “return to the source” required the Black petit-bourgeoisie to commit “class suicide” and act in solidarity with the masses. Recently, Cornel West charged that the Black elite or the “lumpen-bourgeoisie” often acted indifferent to the suffering masses of Blacks and even antithetical to their plight. A recent Gallup poll found that 52% of Blacks thought police treated minorities fairly, with some even calling for increased policing. Given the diversity within African America, one can question if there is a collective Black culture and agreed upon notions of freedom.

Art, education, and politics are elements of culture, as are language and spirituality. Activist-artists, activist-scholars, and people of faith are mobilizing the masses for radical social change using their platforms to raise critical consciousness and putting their bodies on the front line. Hip hop artists are reclaiming the tradition of the Djeli/Griot. Singer Janelle Monae gave BLM an anthem, “Hell You Talmbout,” calling the names of those murdered by policing forces. The religious community is invoking spirit and burning sage. Erykah Badu produced a free mixed tape for healing the Chronic Traumatic Stress Syndrome caused by near daily outrages against Black life. Scholars are theorizing, painters are painting, writers are writing, conscious Black women are rejecting the white aesthetic and wearing their race in their hair and styles of adornment. Our symbols, images, iconography, and stories are galvanizing a new generation in the fight to reclaim Black dignity.

Despite intragroup divisions, I’m convinced that culture still serves as a launching space for libratory struggle. Yesterday, I was approached by a young man, 18 years old, drawn by the Sankofa bird tattoo on my shoulder. He liked its meaning: “Go back and fetch what has been lost.” He shared with me his quest for cultural knowledge and identity as a means to uplift those who come behind him and to engage in dialog with people like me. He gave me hope.

Amira Davis





Amira Davis is a mother, grandmother, activist-artist, and independent scholar. Her interests are Black women’s gender theories and popular education.

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This Black Life Matters

Michael Brown was killed a year ago. They used to say, “It’s been a long, hot summer” but it’s been another long, hot, horror-filled year in the US; every single day another Michael Brown.

This is someone I know.

In high school, Kadeem was a force in the middle of the soccer field. He owned his space. If you came at him with the ball, you would lose it, and he would streak away from you with it. Medium height, fast feet, big smile, a fierce light of concentration in his eyes.

Kadeem was determined to play after graduation. That’s all he wanted. His family of musicians, teachers, activists, sighed. Kadeem just wanted to play. Anywhere, for anybody; maybe one day in Europe where the feet are faster and the balls bounce higher. He tried out for the biggest local professional club, in Chicago, and was put on their development team – a feat in itself. That didn’t quite work out and the next thing we heard, he was playing at a junior college in Boston.

Then we heard he was back in town.

Kadeem had a friend whose family had moved here from Egypt, that he’d grown up with. They went to mosque together. The friend graduated from our local university, and got a good job in Chicago. He rented a car to drive up to the city to look at apartments in parts of town where the rents wouldn’t be quite so high. Since he was about to get a good job with a good salary, he rented a nice sporty car. He asked Kadeem to come with him, so they could have a summer’s drive, a fun day in the city, looking at a promising future.

The road to Chicago from here is a straight shot north. The road bends neither east nor west, running straight through mile after mile of cornfields and soybean fields, and through little towns where people talk about corn and soybeans. Then you finally get to Chicago, passing its big skyline off to the right, on the way to Waukegan, now a lakeside suburb that used to be an industrial town. In the long hot summer of 1966, the anger in its African-American community boiled over, as it did in Watts, Cleveland, Omaha, Dayton, Benton Harbor, Milwaukee, Brooklyn. In 1966, the mayor of Waukegan had declared that rioting folks were “scum, hoodlums, bums and animals.” Forty-nine years later, Kadeem and his friend stopped to fill up the sporty car’s tank. Kadeem was at the wheel. A white man wearing a police uniform and a gun, driving an ordinary truck, came over to them. He showed no ID.

He said Kadeem had put on his indicators on too slowly when he changed lanes. He looked at Kadeem, fast feet, big smile, concentration in his eyes and said, “You look like a drug dealer to me.”

“No,” said Kadeem, “I’m not.”

“You look like a drug dealer. Where did you get this car? If I look in the car, will I find cocaine?”

“No,” said Kadeem, “You won’t find anything.”

“But you sure look like a drug dealer.”

The guy frisked Kadeem. Then he rummaged through the car. He didn’t find any drugs – of course, since there weren’t any. Kadeem had been taught, drilled over and over by the musicians, the teachers and the activists: stay cool, don’t challenge them, don’t even think about losing your temper, don’t talk back to them.

And finally the guy let Kadeem and his friend go on their way. The Egyptian friend had never quite believed the stories that African-Americans get stopped for “driving while black.” But he believes them now. All the joy went out of their day. Kadeem said, “He made me feel like nothing.”

Kadeem has had eight or nine traffic stops in our town. He’s got a big smile, fast feet, and a fierce light of concentration in his eyes. He’s found a coach in Canada who believes in him. Canada, light of the north star. Kadeem’s life matters. After 350 years, after this long hot mortally wounded year, we have to wonder: for how much longer?

This article was originally published online at ThoughtLeader and is reprinted with permission.

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Thank You, Mr. Walton

Bill WaltonOn June 23rd, longtime homeless man Bill Walton passed away at age 69. He spent many of his last days on the steps on the Independent Media Center.

Upon thinking of the passing of Bill this week, one of Bill’s great contributions to our community was that he stood patiently in all kinds of weather to be a reality check. Bill’s daily presence was a constant reminder that there are those in this world who are less fortunate than most of us. From day one in front of Busey Bank in the 80’s, it seemed Bill needed help. Or it always looked that way.

The sight of Bill either opened up your mind to the idea of compassion, or offended your work-ethic sensibilities. Either way, you were grateful for your own situation. Living on the sidewalk day after day had to be sometimes miserable.

Looking at Bill, your priorities were challenged. Questions about your government, the effects of war, the economy, homeless people, what Jesus said about the poor, property rights, welfare, poverty, unemployment, your sense of decency, healthcare, and mental illness were inspired by his chaotic sight, day after day.

Bill could alter your sense of reality. Not everybody was having a nice day. Bill forced you to decide how you would react to that.

There were many days Bill seemed in mental anguish about something. We have to admit, hardly any of us took the time to find out. Bill, often favoring a military jacket, could be intimidating at first. It was a relief to discover, if you took the time, Bill was a nice man.

Most of us assessed Bill’s plight as a financial one. Turns out, money was not Bill’s problem.

So why did he sit outside all that time? We can throw some psychology-sounding labels at him and blame his faulty brain that caused his vigil. Sounds reasonable to us and less incriminating.

Anyone who ever interacted with Bill Walton can honestly say, Bill was always polite, cogent, and as patient as anyone could be under the extraordinary circumstances of being outside all hours. His only vice seemed to be chain smoking.

And yet, he did it. He stood or sat in the most prominent places in town in front of everybody and didn’t give a damn what you thought about it or what he looked like; and at the same time, he somehow tolerated doing nothing all day.

A sign of mental illness perhaps?

Bill’s behavior was fairly mild mannered, fairly consistent. Bill graduated from high school, played in the high school band, joined the Army, and went to the University of Montana to study Biology. Like most children and young adults he loved his parents, his siblings, and had friends. This was a very capable person who, for unknown reasons, completely dropped out, and sat waiting and not much else.

And just about all of us walked around it and let it be.

This article originally appeared at Smile Politely and is reprinted with permission.


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Non-Tenure Faculty Coalition Local #6546: Why a Union?

A little over a year ago, a majority of the non-tenure-track (NTT) faculty on the UIUC campus authorized the formation of a union, the first certified faculty union on our campus. You might not know it, though, as our union, the Non-Tenure Faculty Coalition, has seen quite a bit of push-back since its formation, and our profile has thus far remained fairly low.

The University administration immediately fought the certification of the NTT union, challenging the ruling of the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB), losing, then appealing the ruling again in Appellate Court. Losing again, they appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court, which declined their appeal, leaving the union’s certification unchallenged. These losses, however, haven’t prompted much movement on the University’s part.

Or, you might not know about any of this because the last year or so at the University of Illinois has been dominated by the remaining fallout from the James Kilgore affair, the “unhiring” of Steven Salaita and its aftermath, the rise of the prospective College of Medicine, accusations of discrimination within our athletics program, withheld emails, and now the resignation-firing-resignation of Chancellor Phyllis Wise. Couple all of those events with the standoff between the University and the state over the school’s budget, and it’s been easy to overlook the ways that unions such as ours are treated on the UIUC campus.

NTT UIUC Square Color

Make no mistake, however, the Non-Tenure Faculty Coalition (NTFC) has been fighting to improve and stabilize the working lives of the NTT faculty it represents. We have been in bargaining for nearly a year, and presented our administration counterparts with a full contract proposal in March of this year, including a responsible economic platform. To date, the administration has yet to return a full set of counter-proposals, and has not even begun to address economic issues such as salaries and raises at the bargaining table. This is not unusual, as such delays are typical of bargaining union contracts at the University of Illinois.

This pattern of problematic bargaining isn’t confined to our union. Our brothers and sisters in other unions on campus—including AFSCME and SEIU—face similar problems, including laughable wage programs, regressive plans to change benefits including health insurance, and deliberately slowed bargaining, which occupies the time of union members and is designed to diminish union support and interest.

And settling a fair contract, which should be the goal of both sides in contract negotiations seems to be a challenge at the University of Illinois. Graduate employees on the UIUC campus had to strike in 2009 to finalize a contract, and came close to strike during their next go-around. When the tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty on the Chicago campus unionized, they were forced to strike to win their first contract. And now that the tenure-track faculty on the Springfield campus have unionized, they may face a similar path. This seems to reveal a pattern of bargaining that privileges testing union resolve and challenging the choices of those who have decided to unionize over responsible or fair bargaining.

The Non-Tenure Faculty Coalition exists to help ease these anxieties, to stabilize the positions that our faculty members hold, and to fight for a fair contract for those we represent. The other forces on our campus—the distracting politics, the scandals, the administrative over-reach, the legal teams the school hires—will not get us there. Only fair contract negotiations at the bargaining table can get us there. And those negotiations require respect for the union our NTT faculty have chosen to form, and the issues they believe are worth fighting for. There may be progress for non-tenure-track faculty that comes from other sources, but only the union can fight for the core principle underlying it all, and without which nothing else of substance will occur: respect.

2015 08 18 Shawn Gilmore

Shawn Gilmore is a Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and President of the Non-Tenure Faculty Coalition (NTFC) Local #6546, a union representing nearly 500 non-tenure-track faculty at the University of Illinois, affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT), and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

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Man Sentenced to Prison by Fired Former Judge Has Sentence Reduced

On August 13, Bidemi Ajobiewe, a Nigerian national who had been given six years in prison for an fatal accident on I-74 had his sentence reduced from six years in prison to 24 months of parole and time already served. Mr. Ajobiewe has spent six months in the county jail waiting for this reconsideration of his sentencing.

I have previously written two articles in the Public i about the exceedingly harsh sentences handed down by Judge Richard Klaus in the DUI court before he was recently dismissed from the court by superior judges. One of the cases I have dealt with in those articles is that of Mr. Ajobiewe.

The agreement that he accepted consisted of his pleading guilty to reckless homicide. He was driving a furniture delivery truck on I-74. The road was slick and his truck skidded on the ice, sending it into the oncoming lane. There was a head-on collision in which the other driver was killed. When he was tested after the crash, there were traces of marijuana in his system. He admitted that he had smoked marijuana, but that it was a week or more before the accident. It was on the basis of those marijuana traces, or metabolites, that Judge Klaus gave him the six years in prison. In the new plea agreement, Mr. Ajobiewe had to admit driving without a commercial driver’s license and too fast for road conditions. While these matters were not raised in this court session, it would seem to be significant that Mr. Ajobiewe comes from a country where there is no snow or ice, and that his employer should have seen to it that he had a commercial license before putting him behind the wheel of the truck.

There were two other factors worthy of note in this new court proceeding. The sister of the deceased driver gave an impact statement supportive of Mr. Ajobiewe. She said that while she had initially been very hurt and angry, she now realized that it was an accident; that he did not mean to harm anyone; and that he was just trying to make a living. She accepted his apology and forgave him, and said that she knew her deceased sister would forgive him and would want her to forgive him as well. She and Mrs. Ajobiewe were both crying and embraced each other as they left the courtroom. It was the most touching scene I have ever witnessed in a courtroom.

The second factor was that the marijuana traces were subjected to further lab testing and were found to be totally inactive. From that Judge Difanis drew the conclusion that they had nothing whatsoever to do with the accident. And he, in a admittedly uncharacteristic move after a proceeding’s conclusion, went on to comment from the bench that the present marijuana statutes do not make any sense and that the legislature will have to come to the realization that people like marijuana.

It should be noted that there have since been modifications in the law, which stipulate that there has to be a certain level of activity of the marijuana metabolites, or THC, before it can be assumed to be a factor in an accident. But they have not yet gone into effect.

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Police Lying

Burge victimDo Police Lie?

The answer is that some police officers do indeed lie. The major conditions under which police lie are three: to frame a suspect, to protect themselves or fellow officers from detection or punishment of misdeed, and to secure information or a confession when interrogating suspects. In Frazier v. Cupp (1969) the Supreme Court ruled that this third instance of lying is legal.  But it is especially problematic when officers falsely tell juveniles that if they just sign felony convictions they can go home to their families. The first two are obviously not legal.

What is the Frequency of Police Lying?

In the Wall Street Journal of February 1, 2009, Amir Efrati writes: “a survey of prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges in Chicago said that they thought that, on average, perjury by police occurs 20% of the time in which defendants claim evidence was illegally seized.” Michele Alexander, in a February 2, 2013 article in the International New York Times quotes Peter Keane, a former San Francisco Police Commissioner: “Police officer perjury in court to justify illegal dope searches is commonplace. One of the dirty little not-so-secret secrets of the criminal justice system is undercover narcotics officers intentionally lying under oath. It is a perversion of the American justice system that strikes directly at the rule of law. Yet it is the routine way of doing business in courtrooms everywhere in America.” Writing in the New York Times of May 15, 2015, David Goodman reports that in 2004 New York City Civilian Review Board “found 26 instances where they believed an officer gave a false statement to investigators, a total equal to the previous four years combined.” In the same article, the chair of the board stated that “It is more likely now than ever that the officers’ lack of truthfulness is going to be captured, documented, and that is a function of video.”

Indeed, we have seen this very recently in the April 2015 video showing North Charleton, South Carolina Officer Michael Slager dropping a taser next to the body of Walter Scott, undoubtedly so that he could justify the fatal shooting of Mr. Scott in the back by saying that Scott had grabbed the officer’s taser and was about to use it on him. We saw it again  in July in the video where University of Cincinnati Police Officer Ray Tensing fatally shoots Samuel Dubose, an African American like Mr. Scott, and falsely claimed that he had been dragged by Mr. Dubose’s car.

There have been some cases in the past, when there were no monitoring cameras, that have more recently come to light. Perhaps the most notorious among them is the case of Jon Burge, the Chicago police commander who tortured convictions out of approximately 200 African Americans between 1972 and 1991. He was later convicted in federal court only of perjury as the Illinois statue of limitations had run out on aggravated assault or torture.  Also of note is the now retired New York Detective Louis Scarcella who has been scrutinized for repeatedly lying and physically coercing many confessions that led to long sentences for murder.  Another New York officer of note is Justin Volpe who sodomized Haitian Abner Louima with a broken broomstick in a Brooklyn police station. Officer Volpe received a 30-year sentence for the damaging of Louima’s internal organs, while three other police officers who were in the station and tired to cover-up the crime for Volpe were convicted of perjury. But such prosecutions and convictions are extremely rare.

Why Do Police Lie?

In Michelle Alexander’s 2013 article referred to above, she gives five reasons for police officers lying. The first is that they can do it because they know that judges (and I would add juries) will take their word over that of a defendant. The second is that such defendants are typically poor, uneducated, and members of a racial minority. The third is that there are federal drug programs that offer cash awards based upon numbers of arrests which can lead to lying or planting of drugs, as in the 1999 notorious case of Tulia, Texas where police framed 43 people, of whom 40 were black, on drug charges. The fourth is “get tough” philosophies and practices of policing, sometimes including arrest quotas, that put additional pressure on to show “productivity.” The fifth is that there is a human propensity to lie, especially if it will enhance one’s reputation or standing in a group.

I would add some other reasons.  The first is that some officers act out of anger, a desire to “stick it to”  someone whom the officer finds offensive.  A second is racial bigotry, where the officer is already predisposed to find the person offensive and deserving of harsh punishment. While we would hope that the object of “peace officers” would be to deescalate a situation, an officer who cannot control his or her temper or who is racially prejudiced is a menace to society and is more likely to lie to commit and try to cover up a misdeed. Third, there is the strong sense of fraternity among police officers, which makes them reluctant to inform on a fellow officer or to not back him or her up in a lie. Especially in larger urban areas, this sense of fraternity is often fortified by a sense that they are under attack by a critical outside world that does not appreciate the job they do, a job that sometimes requires them to not play by the rules. The institutional manifestation of that fraternity is the powerful Fraternal Order of the Police (FOP), which forcefully defends officers regardless of their actions. Writing in the New York Times on June 26, 2015, Law School Professor Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor, argues that the FOP-backed “Police Officer’s Bills of Rights” in 14 states, including Illinois, offers police officers more rights protections than are offered to any other suspected citizen, or for that matter public employee, making holding police accountable much more difficult .

Finally, and most shocking to me, is that police have historically been taught that deviation from the rules and law is legitimate. In his 1995 book, Edge of the Knife, John Jay School of Criminal Justice Professor Paul Chevigny found that not only do police officers regularly lie when they charge civilians with whom they have had face-to-face encounters or chased in a car, but that in New York City such lying has actually been taught in the police academy as a way to “cover your ass.” He also shows that police departments have scant regard for the millions of dollars that larger cities have to pay out in civil suits to individuals and families who have been victimized by police violence and lying, and that the most violent officers have been rewarded rather than punished.

The Consequences of Police Lying

The most serious consequence is that innocent people go to prison or die without any accountability of officers who fabricate. Secondly, the entire system of justice is compromised. People, especially African American people and poor people who cannot afford high-powered lawyers and investigators, have no reason to believe that they are equal before the law. Because the police officer is an agent of the state, an officer’s lie is much more socially destructive than that of an individual’s. Yet individuals who lie to the police are the ones who are held criminally accountable, not the other way around.

Writing about police lying in the July 15, 2015 issue of The Police Chief, the professional review of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Attorney and Professor Elliot Spector concludes his article by saying that “the best way to encourage honesty is to have a clear code of conduct stating that officers who are untruthful will be subject to termination for a first offense and to implement this code standard in a consistent manner.” I would add that if the officers lie on arrest reports or other official papers, to investigators, or in courts, they should also be criminally prosecuted by special prosecutors who do not work with the departments in question on a day-to-day basis. And there should be no statutes of limitation on police lying or brutality. Without these measures, it is difficult to see how confidence that there is integrity and equality in U.S. law enforcement can be restored.



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First Class Justice vs. “the Cattle Call”

By a Courtwatcher

Courtwatch is a group of citizens who volunteer to attend criminal proceedings by request of the defendant or a family member of a jailed defendant. We are there as witnesses to criminal justice in Champaign County, to figure out how it actually works, and we are learning more about our local system all the time.

Recently, Courtwatch discovered that there are two separate courtroom procedures in Champaign County. One is for those who can scrape together the money for a private attorney and the other is for those who cannot. This takes place in the stage known as “pre-trial hearings.”

We thought we knew all about them. They are known among lawyers as “the cattle call.” It is occasionally hard to get in the courtroom because it is so full of people with cases, mostly people of color (maybe two thirds). While awaiting the judge, who is generally ten minutes late, we all are free to talk to each other or watch the lawyers across the Bar that separates us, talking to one another, a mix of business and social chat:

“Did you get the psychiatric evaluation back yet on our guy?

“Not yet. Heard you were in Florida. Did you enjoy yourself?”

The judge enters and we are all asked to rise and be silent. The business at hand is the roster of 30 to 50 people who have to have new dates for next month’s pre-trial hearings; a few of that number, two to five, will be declared “ready for trial,” and a more meaningful date set. Each time a new case file and name is declared from the Bench, that individual must stand up in the courtroom, unless s/he is in the jail, in which case the lawyer for the Defense says, “In custody, Your Honor.” When the judge sees no one stand up and hears no one say, “In custody,” the gavel comes down and the word from the judge is this:

“Warrant for the arrest of so-and-so. Bond forfeiture hearing will be (a date in the near future).” This means that whenever this person is served with the warrant, he goes directly to jail with an additional charge, “violation of bond.” This means also that whoever supplied the money to bail our guy out of jail in the first instance has lost all that money permanently (anywhere from $200 to upwards of $25,000, as ten percent of whatever bond amount was determined in arraignment court). The latest cattle call we attended there were six of these warrants issued.

This was what we thought we knew about the way it worked. Then came a day this Spring when three of us were seated on the front row of one of these pre-trial sessions and we heard this:

“Your Honor, my client was just released last night from the Residential Treatment Center and left for Chicago.”

Judge: “Well, why didn’t he come back from Chicago?”

Lawyer: “He didn’t have the money.”

Judge: “Okay. Well, how about May 13 then?”

Two cases later, the Prosecuting Attorney announced, “Your Honor, that person is out of the country at the present time.”

Judge: “Okay, how about May 13 for her?”

One courtwatcher turned to another and whispered, “Must be white people.” At that moment, one of them turned to look over his shoulder and whispered, “This whole courtroom is full of white people!” (This was a slight exaggeration because there was one pair of Black men, a lawyer and his client).

“How could that possibly be?” whispered the other one. They had been to countless pre-trials and the courtrooms seemed to be two-thirds to three quarters people of color. This was beyond random, and yet how could it be purposely designed?

As the court emptied out, including the judge, and one of the cases in custody, for whom we were watching, had not been called, a courtwatcher went up to the bailiff, to enquire about the missing case. The bailiff replied, “Well, does he have a private lawyer or a public defender? because this last session was all private lawyers.”

“And if he had a public defender?”

“Oh, the cattle call was at 9:00. You missed it.”

What a relief for us. We were not crazy after all.

So this whiteness was simply a side effect: Private lawyers cost money. Public defenders are free for the defendant.

Yet the solution to this puzzle, brought up other questions. Why had we courtwatchers never noticed this fact of court process – one pre-trial session for cases with public defenders and another for cases with private defense lawyers? Surely, it must be an innovation, so we began inquiries of a few attorneys.

The conversations went something like this – “is this a new separation into two types of pre-trials – private and public?”

Attorney: “Why No, it has been done that way since anyone can recall.”

Courtwatcher: “But why?”

“Well, it is merely for the convenience of the private lawyers so they don’t have to hang around in court for so long. Their time is valuable. The rosters are much shorter than they are in the public defenders pre-trials. That’s all.”

“But there is a difference in what the judges do in these two kinds of pre-trial sessions!”

“Really? Like what?”

“Like issuing warrants in the cattle calls and not at all in the private sessions. The lawyer can come up with the lamest excuse and it works.”

Attorney: “Oh, I did not know that.”

“So why would the judges do that?”

“I suppose it goes back to the judges and the lawyers wanting to encourage everyone to get paid lawyers. If the free legal help was as good as the paid legal help, there would be no incentive.”

“How deep does this preferential treatment go? Does it go to the plea deal offer where the State’s Attorney’s office would make better offers to private attorneys than to public defenders?”

“Some do and some don’t. Impossible to determine really.”

“So how come we never noticed a session that was all public defenders?”

“Because there are always a couple, to four or five private lawyers present because they are taking over cases from the public defenders. Some people have the public defender for months till they can get the money together from various sources to pay for a private attorney just in time for trial or plea, and often these defendants would be African-Americans.”

Thus, the puzzle of own perceptual blindness was somewhat explained, but what about the attorneys’ perception that this division is simply a matter of convenience for them, that their time is literally more valuable than the public defenders’ time since the latter are on salary. The judges are a puzzle too. Do their daily workaday habits obscure the pattern: their structured preference for/deference to the Green (paid lawyers) turns into a benefit for the White (clients)?

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Work Day: Lament for Darius Graves

Darius GravesThe below poem was written by Ryan Collins for the project Lament for the Dead (, an online community poetry project which marks the death of every person killed by police this summer, and every police officer who loses life in the line of duty, with a poem.

Darius Graves was killed by Champaign police in Rantoul, IL on August 4, 2015. He lived in Jackson, Tennessee. He was the 693rd person killed this year by police in the United States according to the Guardian.

“Work Day”

We wake up some mornings & never fell
Asleep. We sleep for days sometimes
Without a dream.

Summer sweats out all the salts
December makes us forget we need.

We need so much & more always
Needed from us. Do more
With less. More hours in a day.

Too many days without dreaming & how
To know if we’re asleep.

We have & half & have to give more
Than our hunger allows.

We hunger only for restful sleep,
Only to dream & wake up
Without fearing what the day will ask.

The day asks more than it needs, more
Than anyone we know can

Deliver. We try to sleep through lunch
But the hunger wakes us. We do

What we can & the day seems to care
Less how much of ourselves

We give. Smoke them if you have them,
The day says. Sleep when
You’re dead. We are awake & trying

To take more out of our dreams to give
Our waking lives. None of it is

Enough. More & more, the day says.
Do more with less. So many

Nights & no sleep, no dreams to steel
Ourselves, hungry at work.
Never enough. The day always more

Hungry than we can allow
Ourselves to be. No matter how much

We take from our dreams, the day
Waits outside the door,
Hungry to take away more than

Anyone can afford in
One life, more than we can suffer to give.

Ryan Collins is the author of A New American Field Guide & Song Book (H_NGM_N Books, 2015), and the curator of the SPECTRA Poetry reading Series in Rock Island, IL, where he lives.

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‘You Have a Choice': Veterans Call On Drone Operators to Refuse Orders

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Drone operators at Balad Camp Anaconda, Iraq, August 2007. (Photo: Air Force/public domain)

Dozens of U.S. military veterans released an open letter this week urging drone operators to “refuse to fly missions” or support them in any way—and letting them know that if they say “no” to surveillance and assassination orders, there is a whole community rooting for them.

“At least 6,000 peoples’ lives have been unjustly taken by United States drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, the Philippines, Libya and Syria,” states the letter, which was organized by the education and advocacy organization
“Those involved in United States drone operations who refuse to participate in drone missions will be acting within accordance of Principle IV of the Principles of International Law Recognized in the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal and the Judgment of the Tribunal, The United Nations 1950,” states the letter. “So, yes, you do have a choice—and liability under the law. Choose the moral one. Choose the legal one.”

The letter’s 45 signatories include retired U.S. Army Colonel Ann Wright, who stepped down from her State Department position in 2003 to protest the U.S.-led war on Iraq.
Numerous veterans of the so-called “War on Terror” also signed the letter, including Aaron Hughes, Iraq veteran and organizer with Iraq Veterans Against the War. Hughes told Common Dreams that he backed the initiative because he thinks it is “extremely important for those who are flying those vehicles or doing logistics to know that there is a whole community out there that supports them in saying no.”

Nick Mottern, coordinator of, echoed this point in a press statement released this week: “The people signing this letter know that they are asking drone operators to take a heavy step, but we feel it is perfectly legitimate to advise military people to stop taking part in illegal activity that has killed thousands without due process, is terrorizing thousands more and is wracking their own ranks with moral injury and PTSD.”

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The Air Force recently revealed that, due to “stressors” of the job, the military is losing drone pilots and being forced to cut back flights. And in a Government Accountability Office report released in April 2014, the agency warned that drone pilots are quitting far more quickly than they are being recruited.

In an article published this March in TomDispatch, writer Pratap Chatterjee asked, “Are pilots deserting Washington’s Remote-Control War?” He continued, “Could it be that the feeling is even shared by drone pilots themselves, that a sense of dishonor in fighting from behind a screen thousands of miles from harm’s way is having an unexpected impact of a kind psychologists have never before witnessed?”

Former drone operators, including Heather Linebaugh, have testified to the horrors inflicted by the remotely operated lethal weapons. This reality is confirmed by civilians and reporters, including the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which tracks the high number of civilian drone killings in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, and Afghanistan.
“When our country unjustly inflicts violence on civilian populations it is our duty to resist,” Maggie Martin, Iraq veteran and organizer with Iraq Veterans Against the War, told Common Dreams. “Whether at home or abroad we have to take action to stand in solidarity with those facing state violence.”

This article is reprinted from Common Dreams June 19, 2015 by permission

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for Common Dreams and an independent journalist whose work has been featured in The Nation, Al Jazeera, TomDispatch, Yes! Magazine, and more. She is also an anti-militarist organizer interested in building people-powered global movements for justice and dignity.

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Oct. 4: New Art Film Festival

NAFFThe New Art Film Festival takes place October 4 at the Art Theater Co-op in downtown Champaign.

The festival treats its audiences to a mix of shorts, features, and live presentations, all drawn from a homegrown film culture that has been on the rise in Champaign-Urbana and other nearby cities.

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