The 66 Percent

Posted in Music for Thought, Musings with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 18, 2011 by brucepoinsette

Protesters in the Occupy movement have chanted they are the “99%” but it’s hard to ignore the fact that the majority of protesters are white. Many wonder why more people of color aren’t showing up to the protests, considering the disproportionate effect the financial crisis has had on them.

In the case of Portland, look no further than gentrification and an understanding of history.

Bankers looking on Occupy Portland should consider themselves lucky. The supposed “99%” occupying downtown aren’t doing it nearly as forcefully as a certain 66 percent  have done in Northeast Portland.

Thanks to overzealous police and predatory lenders, many of the same people you might see at Occupy Portland have taken advantage of black people getting pushed out of their homes.

People go to war over their property in other countries. In Portland, people are reluctant to even acknowledge gentrification is happening, much less that there’s something wrong with it.

The businesses that have replaced the black owned establishments stand as monuments to this passive aggression colonization.

For example, what was once a black owned barbecue restaurant, Doris’s, has been replaced by Russell Street Barbecue. Doris’s was one of the many black businesses that couldn’t get a full business loan and had to survive under capital. Not surprisingly, it didn’t last.

Russell Street Barbecue stepped in and gave Doris’s a white, yuppy makeover, complete with cheap, thrift store furniture and drastically smaller portions of all the same food. However, it didn’t even have the decency to pick a logo different from Doris’s. (At least the people that replaced Yam Yams, another black soul spot, had the decency to change it into a Mongolian Grill).

When I went there for the first (and last) time I couldn’t help but feel I was toasting to the white takeover of historically black Portland neighborhoods.

Russell Street Barbecue is just one of many establishments that have taken advantage of racist lending practices and shamelessly appropriated black culture to make more profit than their doomed black predecessors.

This is not to say that they were malicious in their intent. White privilege doesn’t require malice. It’s simply the ability to take advantage of opportunities denied to people of color.

This is what evokes suspicions about Occupy Portland, as well as the Occupy movement as a whole.

Do the people that are participating really care about the welfare of people of color? Where were all these people when it was time to protest ridiculous immigration laws or the prison industrial complex?

What’s stopping them from leaving the people of color they co-opted for their movement hanging out to dry when all is said and done? After all, this has been the motif of history.

Whether it was the Revolutionary War (and every one since) or the 60s counterculture, majority white movements have had a predictable penchant for using people of color to push their agendas without any real commitment to their concerns.

Terms like the “99%” sound nice but to many they sound a lot like “post-racial America”, meaning they take unity for granted without addressing wounds that have yet to be healed.

Being a progressive doesn’t exempt anyone from the legacy of colonization.

The one percent may have cleared people of color out of their communities, but that doesn’t excuse the 66 percent from settling there and appropriating black culture for profit.

Until we can have honest discussions about gentrification, don’t get upset when you don’t see faces like mine at Occupy Portland.

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Black + Math = Revolution

Posted in Musings with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 15, 2011 by brucepoinsette

I like to think I started putting limitations on my dreams when I quit playing basketball before my senior year of high school. Truth be told, I built a ceiling for myself months earlier when I got Ds in both Physics and Pre-Calculus.

I wasn’t necessarily a superstar in math and science but I was a grade ahead in one and got mostly As in the other.

However, when junior year came around I faced an inspiration dilemma.

My Pre-Calculus teacher did everything he could to discourage me but that was no excuse to stop working hard. Likewise, my Physics teacher had a hard time keeping me engaged but that was no reason to think I was above putting effort into his class.

I coasted for the first part of the year and figured it would be a tough phase before I got back to my normal good grades.

After I got Ds, that all changed.

At the time I had no idea how many doors I was closing for myself.

Recently I talked with a professor from Portland Community College and I was surprised to find that specializing in math is one way to get on the fast track to becoming a dean and a six figure salary.

Compared to my prospects as a journalist (especially as one with a soul) that sounded very enticing.

Considering that test scores are going down across the board in the US, there are plenty of openings, especially for people of color who are underrepresented in these areas to begin with, in math and science related fields.

The term “revolution” often evokes thoughts of violence. However, what would be more revolutionary than blacks taking advantage of the gaping holes in math and science.

These fields power everything from health care to energy to war. Mastering them could yield both wealth and significant societal control.

For example, America’s infrastructure is in shambles. We need construction work but if you talk to people in the field, many young, aspiring construction workers aren’t qualified because they aren’t proficient enough in math.

My father always encouraged me to take an interest in construction but I figured my focus on writing was already way more than most expected of me as a black basketball player.

As the saying goes, “Hindsight is 20/20.” If I had known back in high school what I know now, I would never have succumbed to the limitations I put on myself.

Instead of wallowing in what could’ve been, it’s important people like me ask ourselves what we can do to make sure we don’t lose the next generation as well.

My parents didn’t fail for lack of trying. I was just stubborn, like many young adults.

Part of the solution is connecting math and science to history and a sense of self. After all, this is what elevated my love of reading and writing.

The American education system does a poor job of teaching about the African kingdoms before slavery. This history holds the key to relating technical fields to the lives of our people.

Ancient Greeks used to go to Kemet (Africa) to study under men like the “Father of Medicine” Imhotep, a black man, to learn math and science.

These ancient kingdoms produced many new innovations like the step pyramid, which utilized the Pythagorean Theorem formula that Pythagoras would allegedly “discover” thousands of years later.

The knowledge of math and science gave these kingdoms control over civilization because other ancient kingdoms were dependent on their wisdom.

It is much easier to steer black children away from these subjects when they don’t know this history. However, they’re much more likely to take an interest if they can see the footsteps they’re following in.

Not to mention, having considerable influence and control over society is a much more enticing reason to take interest in a subject versus the prospect of simply getting a stable job.

When I was young I wanted to be an engineer. I never really knew why but the history of my people suggests it was something that was always in me.

We must take all measures to reawaken this spirit in our children as well as continue to encourage our aspiring black scientists, mathematicians, engineers, etc. who don’t get nearly enough support from society.

As black people we can overcome all the odds as soon as we stop putting limitations on ourselves.

New Article: Augusta Mann headlines Teaching with Purpose conference

Posted in Journalism with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 14, 2011 by brucepoinsette

 

 

 

 

Check out my new article in the Skanner on the Teaching with Purpose Conference here.

Currency as Religion

Posted in Musings with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 8, 2011 by brucepoinsette

One image that stuck with me from Occupy Portland was a man burning a dollar bill. There couldn’t be a more apt protest technique than destroying the tool which allows bankers to control the people.

It says “In God We Trust” on the dollar (The phrase has been on coins since 1864 and paper money since 1957), which is appropriate since the people who control our currency try to play God.

They use pieces of paper with no real value to dictate our lives. We have no choice but to worship this money because it has given wealthy bankers a monopoly on trade. These people can pick and choose what they want to fund, usually for their own benefit, and tell the majority of people how they should act because they control how our money is spent.

Our monetary system works like a religion in many ways. Both are based on faith. In the case of religion, a person’s acts can be exchanged for faith that he/she will receive God’s grace. This faith based currency has been used to justify everything from charity to war.

Likewise, US currency is based on faith. Once upon a time we used to use the gold standard, which backed our money with something tangible in the form of gold. Now we print money out of thin air. We continue to borrow from countries like China with the understanding that we can be trusted to pay our bills. Although this causes inflation in the global market and makes the dollar virtually worthless in other countries, Americans depend on it.

Our deficit pays for schools, health care and social services. It also pays for our wars and subsidizes things like oil and farms.

As a result, we must continue to believe in the dollar.

Even if you strive to be self made you need sponsorships to fund your business. However, you can only get sponsorships if sponsors approve of your business.

Likewise, if you want to start a community based program you’ll need a grant. The only way you can get a grant is by competing with other programs, resulting in many important initiatives not getting the funding they need.

In a perfect world, our government would use it’s ability to print money out of thin air to fund all the programs that could empower communities, but like most religions, there is a hierarchy that manipulates the image of God to their advantage.

Our currency is controlled by the Federal Reserve, whose largest shareholders are private banks.

They have made a killing during the current economic crisis. When the economy collapsed, they bailed themselves out with taxpayer dollars. Since, they’ve done nothing to alleviate the pain of the people they victimized with schemes like subprime lending.

Judging by history, they have no reason to. The same thing happened during the Great Depression.

Uncertainty is good for stock traders, which is good for bankers. It’s also good for big business because it allows the wealthiest to buy struggling companies for pennies on the dollar.

Thus, the deficit has taken on prominence during the Obama Presidency even though we barely heard about it while Bush was in office. The same self appointed gods who gambled away our money are asking us to practice austerity.

Bankers and big business are using their control of the wealth to push for decreased funding for social services when people need them most.

Just like religion, they use the threat of a judgement day. We are threatened with the idea that countries like China will demand us to pay them back in full even though lending countries depend on our debt just as much as we depend on being able to borrow from them.

The politicians who bankers and big business use to push this message are well aware that a little research can dispel their myths. Thus, they use their money to broadcast their message through the media at a frequency that makes your common sense a victim of blunt force trauma.

We’re taught to acquire wealth so we have the power to fight against these forces on a more level playing field. However, as long as we trade in the bankers’ currency they’ve got us. No matter how much money we attain, the bankers will always have more and most likely we’ll depend on them to build our fortune in the first place.

There’s no way one percent should control the majority of the wealth and resources of the other 99 percent but control of currency allows just that to happen.

The solution is unclear because trading in different currency is not an option for most people. Most can’t go back to a time where we literally worked for food and shelter, rather than money to buy food and shelter.

However, if people were to unify and protest by trading in an alternative, tangible currency it would not just shake Wall Street, it would negate its only advantage over the masses.

In the meantime, we must educate people by destroying the illusion that causes so many to buy into this system.

This is what happened when one protester at Occupy Portland burned a false god for all to see.

The War vs. Us All

Posted in Music for Thought with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 4, 2011 by brucepoinsette

Andy Rooney left “60 Minutes” this past Sunday. The nation is in need of a seasoned journalist to provide a weekly dose of context.

What an opportune time to free award winning journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, the most famous death row inmate in the world.

Abu-Jamal symbolizes the struggle of the under served in this country. His voice is representative of the changing demographics of the US and his wide range of knowledge provides much needed forethought to policy decisions we often overlook.

Abu-Jamal was a member of the Philadelphia Black Panthers and a radio journalist who became the President of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists.

In 1981 he was convicted (by a jury of not of his peers and a well known racist judge) of the murder of a Philadelphia police officer and sentenced to death.

His death sentence was vacated and remanded for a new hearing in 2008. This decision was upheld in April of this year.

After watching the lynching of Troy Davis play out on live television, the fight to end the death penalty has become as urgent as ever. Freeing Abu-Jamal and giving him the opportunity to share his knowledge with the American public would be symbolic of the US beginning to make amends with its racism. It would be a defiant gesture against the death penalty as well as a rare vindication of a black person wronged by the criminal justice system.

As the US gets more diverse and the incarceration rate expands, Abu-Jamal provides a face that the public can relate to.

He was stripped of his human rights not so coincidentally after establishing himself as a prominent activist. His questionable murder case is eerily similar to ones faced by other Panthers including Huey P. Newton and Assata Shakur. All claimed they were shot by police officers and survived, only to be charged with the murder of another officer at the scene.

Many Americans have been affected in some way by the injustice of the prison industrial complex and would be more receptive to Abu-Jamal than people of the past that were conned by COINTELPRO influences in the media.

Instead of dismissing him, these people might appreciate the knowledge he’s been sharing from behind bars.

Although he’s been locked up for nearly three decades, Abu-Jamal has released weekly podcasts providing wisdom and incite on American politics, social movements and influential figures in society. He combines an activist spirit with several libraries worth of knowledge (everything from Nietzsche to Fanon to old English plays).

Abu-Jamal’s ability to synthesize current events and add context from the past serves to both provide forethought and make academia engaging.

His uncanny ability to predict the outcome of government initiatives and policies shows the importance of extensive reading and critical thinking.

For example, on “The War vs. Us All” Abu-Jamal expresses his thoughts on the War in Iraq:

“It is ultimately a War on us all. That’s because the billions and billions that are being spent on this War–the cost of tanks, rocketry, bullets and yes even salaries for the 125,000 plus troops–is money that will never be spent on education, on healthcare, on the reconstruction of crumbling public housing or to train and place the millions of workers who have lost manufacturing jobs in the past three years alone. The War in Iraq is in reality a war against the nations’ workers and the poor, who are getting less and less, while the big Defense industries are making a killing literally.”

With drones in six countries in Africa and the Middle East and so many people out of work here, it’s hard to say he got it wrong.

The American public has an obsession with celebrities so who better to speak to it than a celebrity of the global struggle against imperialism? Abu-Jamal has seen it all and has already proven he can inspire many despite being held in the most repressive conditions.

In a country that loves symbolism, nothing would be more fitting than freeing a black political prisoner and letting him convince the public not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

An Open Letter to B-Murder

Posted in Musings, News Wire with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 1, 2011 by brucepoinsette

Dear President Obama,

I am concerned that your disregard for civil liberties and due process is putting US citizens in danger.

Yesterday you finally succeeded in the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen. You authorized his assassination without charges or concrete evidence. Although al-Awlaki made incendiary Youtube videos and had contact with people who have carried out terrorist attacks or attempted to, you have yet to prove he had any operational role in those terrorist incidents.

It is my understanding that the First Amendment doesn’t permit speech that incites violence. In no way do I condone al-Awlaki’s messages but I also recognize that the Fifth Amendment says no person shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”.

Considering that al-Awlaki was a US citizen and had no proven operational role in Al-Qaeda, there is no reason he couldn’t have been charged and put on trial.

Your policy of killing him, or anyone else on the list, at first sight is troubling because it doesn’t give the alleged terrorists a chance to turn themselves in. Perhaps these people have valuable intelligence to share that might end this “war” (I use that term loosely). Maybe they have just been misunderstood. In al-Awlaki’s case, we’ll never know because you had him killed before we could get any semblance of the other side of the story.

Also, when you kill a person you just create more enemies amongst his friends and family. Someone will step into al-Awlaki’s alleged role in Al-Qaeda and the violence will continue (Was there any peace after we assassinated Osama bin Laden?) so what did you accomplish besides creating more enemies and justification for more war?

This is also troubling because it bears an eery resemblance to COINTELPRO, which combined a media smear campaign, illegal surveillance and assassination to target dissenting groups within the US such as the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement.

Some infamous COINTELPRO incidents include the murder of Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in his sleep by police and the slaying of California Panthers “Bunchy” Carter and John Huggins by informants within the United Slaves organization.

Public approval played a major role in these killings because the media (with help from FBI informants in its ranks) portrayed the Panthers as terrorists.

I noticed you pulled a similar tactic with al-Awlaki. Last year CNN broadcast a special about him called “The New bin Laden”.  Although al-Awlaki’s biggest threat was his use of propaganda, the reports managed to scare the public into believing killing him on sight was a rational and legal response.

If you can get the public to cosign anything you do as long as you say, “terrorist,” then what is stopping you or future Presidents from assassinating anyone that publicly disagrees with your policies?

You’ve already normalized government assassination through the use of drones (There were more drone strikes in your first two years than Bush authorized in eight) as well as continued Bush’s policies of detention without due process and entrapment of US citizens.

What gives us the moral authority to invade other countries and displace their leaders for the same offenses you are authorizing against the global community and now, your own people?

Do you honestly believe these measures will end terrorism or decrease violence?

Perpetual violence is not moving this country forward. Nor is sewing the seeds of distrust amongst its citizens. Murder only begets more murder.

Mr. President, before you continue to ramp up your assassination program, I pray you consider what kind of precedent you’re setting for your predecessors as well as the American people.

Sincerely,

Bruce Poinsette

Snitch: Informants, Cooperators and the Corruption of Justice

Posted in Bruce Bruce's Books, Musings with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2011 by brucepoinsette

Troy Davis is scheduled to be executed tomorrow at 7 pm. He was denied clemency today in what may go down as yet another case of police corruption.

Davis was convicted for the killing of a police officer but he maintains his innocence. Despite several witnesses recanting their stories, Davis is still set to die. One of the two witnesses who didn’t recant his story is presumed to be the killer by many with knowledge of the incident.

This would strike many as shady. However, it might be another case of the corrupt police policy to coddle informants, even potentially dangerous ones.

Ethan Brown breaks down this phenomenon in his book “Snitch: Informants, Cooperators and the Corruption of Justice”.

According to Brown, prosecutors are allowed to reduce sentences on criminals if they are willing to cooperate with law enforcement under Section 5k1.1 of the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Cooperation could include testifying against state targets or going undercover and implicating the targets in crimes.

Even though informants work for the police, they are allowed to participate in illegal activity like drug dealing in order to catch criminals in the act of crimes. Some informants have even been able to get away with murder.

According to Brown, Gary Thomas Rowe, one of former FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover’s informants, beat civil rights workers and attacked them with blackjacks, chains and pistols. He was also present for murders but wasn’t guided to intervene because that wouldn’t make him a “good informant”.

“Snitch” documents numerous cases up until the present of cooperators and informants who have been able to avoid harsh sentences by working with the police. They’ve been let loose on the streets for no other reason than to assist in investigations, often by providing false testimony. These criminals have used 5K motions to continue to commit crimes and “get out of jail free”.

The double game played by these criminals is both detrimental to society and the justice system that created the atmosphere for it.

“Snitch” highlights this corruption with stories of prosecutors relentlessly attempting to implicate innocent men in crimes, and often succeeding, as well as cooperators who never stop committing crimes (One was even implicated in the murder of a prosecutor).

Despite these clear dangers of police cooperation policy, efforts to bring them to light have been stifled, according to Brown.

One of the most infamous of these efforts was the “Stop Snitching” campaign. It started when a barber in Baltimore made a film interviewing people from around his neighborhood, including Carmelo Anthony, about people snitching in the community. The film was filled with threats but it also named names of corrupt police officers and informants.

Media and police tried to demonize the makers of the video for witness intimidation but the “Stop Snitching” movement became a cultural phenomenon anyway (or possibly because of the controversy).

When a policy endangers the public, people have the right to know. What good does it serve society if the police are as dangerous or more so than the criminals they’re assigned to protect us from?

It’s imperative to learn how this system works so more innocent people aren’t killed by it, as Troy Davis is scheduled to be tomorrow.