Archive for May, 2012

On the Front Lines of Our Humanity

Posted on: May 25th, 2012 by Culture Project 1 Comment

On the Front Lines of Our Humanity

On Monday night Culture Project, the Drug Policy Alliance and the Center for Constitutional Rights engaged in a profound conversation about the NYPD’s practice of stop and frisk.

Stop and frisk is a hot issue at the moment. Recently, Cornel West and Jon Dixon were tried along with 18 other activists and found guilty of disorderly conduct for protesting the practice at an action at the Harlem police precinct in October of 2011. NYCLU released a report, which found that 168,126 of the 685,724 people stopped in 2011 were black males between the ages of 14 and 24, which exceeds the city’s total population of 156, 406 of black men in that age category. And on May 16th a federal judge cleared the way for a class-action lawsuit against the NYPD’s highly controversial policy.

This recent installment of Blueprint for Accountability featured Chris Bilal, a writer and advocate for LGBTQ youth of color who have experienced homelessness, policing and criminalization. An admirer of James Baldwin, and Langston Hughes of the Harlem renaissance, Bilal said he came to New York to experience a sense of freedom and acceptance. Since his move to the city he’s been stopped and frisked three times, once for dancing to Beyoncé in a city park with friends.

Chino Hardin, courageously shared her personal story which included a family history of violence. Criticizing Ray Kelly and Mayor Boomberg for criminalizing black and brown communities she called upon those communities to create solutions to their challenges, because she warned if NYPD solves our problems “…it looks like murder, it looks like brutalization.” It’s a policing ethic, she argued, that “takes away all your natural human rights.”

gabriel sayegh of the Drug Policy Alliance framed stop and frisk as part of a larger policing strategy and criminal justice system that is inherently racist. White folks, he argued, must be part of the conversation, and we have to ask what this systemic injustice “means for our humanity.” It means, he challenged, if we do not consent to living in an inherently unjust context then we have to ask ourselves, “what am I going to do to change it?”

Vince Warren of the Center for Constitutional Rights noted that the fight for justice has been going on for the last 200 years and will likely continue for the next 200 years. But, like Fredrick Douglass noted: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.” Our job, he noted, is to continue demanding together for justice.

Rha Goddess, who performed two slam poetry pieces, also configured the issue of stop and frisk in a larger context. She argued that we’ve been conditioned into a state of resignation that leads us believe that people cannot transform. She urged us to stay in uncomfortable conversations even though you think someone might not understand your reality or live in your neighborhood. “I don’t care how far you think the distance is – we’ve got to be willing to walk it with each other… we have to go to the front lines of our humanity and go to work with one another. There’s a process of re-humanizing work that is begging to happen in this country.”

asha bandele, the moderator said that she hoped that we’d opened up the conversation enough that people would continue to engage with each other. asha created an incredible environment for transformative engagement that we hope, and encourage everyone to continue participating in. Please watch the on-demand version if you missed the live event and join the conversation online as well.

“Societies may never know it, but the war of an artist with his society is a lover’s war and he does, at his best, what lovers do, which is to reveal the beloved to himself, and, with that revelation, to make freedom real.” -James Baldwin