a collection of readings on Ferguson+racism in the US

When St. Louis County prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, announced that the grand jury would not be indicting officer Darren Wilson for murdering Michael Brown, it was a glaring reminder, or rather, an affirmation, that the justice system is dysfunctional, subjective, and racist.

Map of Nationwide Ferguson Protests

Every time I heard someone whose first reaction is to condemn the rioting, the destruction, and the direct actions that were purposefully disruptive, I’ve made them confront the fact that they’re placing more value on the property that is destroyed over the loss of a human life. No, the loss of hundreds, thousands of lives—black and brown people killed by law enforcement, who get away with it with impunity over and over and over again. Even if rioting is counterproductive, even if it destroys the livelihood of local people, it doesn’t even compare to the atrocity of a system that enables its officials to shoot and kill people and children. It’s a system that discourages and rejects investigations into what happened, who is at fault, and to create a proper remedy that will let families and communities heal and to discourage these murders from happening again.

Our justice system is supposed to be able to resolve conflicts and hold everyone accountable to the same rules, so that people don’t feel the need to take matters into their own hands. When state actors disregard the rules that apply to everyone else, that violates public faith in legal institutions. Which is why cops need to be held accountable more than anyone else—they’re afforded the power to uphold and embody the law. If they don’t even abide by the law themselves, how can the public be expected to respect their authority?

Anyway. I was pretty sick again this week, so I didn’t have the energy to participate in commenting on any of this on Twitter. But I did have the energy to read…and in this past week there has been some of the most thoughtful, heart-wrenching writing and news commentary on racism in America in light of what’s gone down/going down in Ferguson. I’m sure this doesn’t cover it all but I thought I’d compile the ones that helped me, at least, make sense of this all.

Black Lives Matter — Jay Smooth’s New Illipses Video

If there’s one you should read or watch, it’s this one. This is for the people who think that mere destruction of property is remotely as horrifying as people regularly getting murdered by law enforcement. It’s powerfully articulate and gets to the root of the problem of systemic racism. [You can also read a transcript of it]

That unrest we saw Monday night was a byproduct of the injustice that preceded it.
This is not a choice, this is a cause-and-effect relationship. If you’re worried about the effects, you need to be thinking about the cause.
Riots are a thing that human beings do because human beings have limits.
We don’t all have the same limits. For some of us, our human limit is when our favorite team loses a game. For some of us, it’s when our favorite team wins a game.

The people of Ferguson had a different limit than that.


The Parable of the Unjust Judge or: Fear of a Nigger Nation

Black people desperately tried to defend Michael Brown, pointing out that he was a child, that he was gentle, that he never got into any trouble, that he was going to college. If we fail to name the battleground being fought upon, this fight over what narrative to impose on the details of Brown’s life might seem oddly tangential to the argument over the circumstances of his death. So let’s be clear about the stakes of this conflict: we are trying to decide whether or not Michael Brown was a nigger. A dead human being is a tragedy that needs to be investigated and accounted for. A dead nigger doesn’t even need to be mourned, much less its death justified.


NY Times: What Happened in Ferguson?

I still don’t know much about the rules and procedures of grand juries. But it seems that it’s incredibly rare for them to refuse to hand down an indictment. This chart compares a typical grand jury indictment process to the one applied to Darren Wilson’s case.

nytimesindictmentcomparison


Burning Ferguson

Sarah Kendzior, in my opinion, is one of the best journalists out there right now. Her pieces are consistently excellent in teasing out and analyzing the power dynamics of various current events, and she does it again with Ferguson.

These phenomena—white flight, decaying poor neighborhoods, struggles over gentrification—are not unique to St. Louis, but understanding their history has made it especially tragic to watch the black neighborhoods of Ferguson be victimized all over again in recent weeks, losing in many cases, what businesses they did have.
When St. Louis burns, it does not rebuild. All around the region are ruins of what was: rotting homes, shattered windows, empty factories, broken communities. West Florissant’s destruction is not London in 2011 or Seattle in 1999: it is the destruction, possibly permanent, of the resources of the vulnerable.


Today in Tabs: I Will Only Bleed Here

A powerful intro to Bijan Stephens’ piece in This Week in Tabs, his collection of even more powerful commentary on Ferguson.

I am the only black person on the editorial floor at my place of employment. The other ones who look like me work as cleaners or in the mailroom. When we lock eyes I nod, and it is both the easiest and hardest thing in the world. I know nothing of their lives, and yet here we are the same. Today I will do this. We will share a look that encompasses last night’s indignities and acknowledges tomorrow’s. We will keep our heads down and our hearts guarded, and I will only bleed here, in words, on this page.


What white people need to know, and do, after Ferguson

Black communities are ultimately protesting systems of injustice and inequality that structurally help white people while systematically harming black people. Just because you’re white and therefore generally benefit from those systems doesn’t mean you inherently support those systems — or need to defend them. Benefiting from white privilege is automatic. Defending white privilege is a choice.

The Church of Market

we kneel at the Church of Market.
our Holy Purpose is to raise the value of our shares.

faithful are those,
who have sacrificed the earth,
the commons,
our humanity,
at the altar of the Divine Profit.

regulations, are an abomination—

limits on righteous work are the work of the depraved.
they must always be demolished
for the good of the Market.

let us praise the blessed Lords Investors—
which has graced us with the strength to fight such villainy
and let our faith flow through the halls of the State.
one-by-one
we will vanquish these restraints.

let us prevail in this O Divine Profit,
let us prevail.

a spoonful of conference makes my anxieties go down!

Tomorrow, I’m going home to San Francisco. I’ve spent the last four days here in Warsaw, Poland and I came to attend CopyCamp, an internationalconference that brought together advocates, academics, lawyers, and collecting societies to have a multi-sided debate about the state of copyright and its impact on creators and access to knowledge and culture. I gave a talk on Friday about building a transnational peer-to-peer user rights movement, describing my work with the organizations I partner and coordinate with on campaigns on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and others. People really seemed to like it, and it even got voted as one of the top three best talks of the conference out of the more than 70 presentations. 😀

Every time I come to an event like this, where I meet new people working on similar issues, I come away feeling fuzzy, bubbly, and inspired. Cuz the thing is, doing activism can be really disheartening. You’re up against big politically influential entities, and you often can’t see or measure the impact of your daily or even weekly projects. All the time, I question if I’m doing things the right way or the most effectively. I wonder If I’m spending too much time on Twitter, or too little to share current news or conversations. Should I be spending more time studying and learning every legal nuance of copyright policy, or is that counterproductive because it makes me lose sight of the larger discussions, making it harder for me to talk about this stuff in a way that I can get the every day person to understand and to get ’em riled up?

When I meet others in the copyright activism world, it calms me down about my anxieties. Having even a casual conversation with someone can get me inspired to have more faith in my methods, or to even become curious to challenge them. When I hear a story or find out about some other copyright wackiness that I didn’t know about, it makes me determined to read up about it until I’ve properly filled that gap in my knowledge.

But what I’ve also come to realize in the past few years is that I’m not built to be a lawyer, nor an academic. I’m never going to be sufficiently detailed in my policy knowledge, and I’m actually okay with that. I get excited and energized by looking at the policies, how they affect people’s lives, and to examine the powers as play that have led to them. From there, I can construct the overarching narrative, and share that story with people to get them to care about it as much as I do.

I guess I should’ve known this all along, or maybe I did but forgot for some reason along the way. For some reason, it was during this past week that I’ve come to understand my job and the things I can bring to it. On top of the things I’ve learned, the wonderful/cool/awesome people I’ve met, I feel like this one the best things to come out from this trip. So yeah, that’s pretty cool.