On Juneteenth, I was able to join my cousin on her YouTube channel last week to discuss the history behind this new federal holiday. We had a wonderous chat about Juneteenth and the importance of Black holidays. It was a joy to join in this livestream – please subscribe to her channel for more content like this!
Right now, everyone wants to defund the police. And in some ways, we should. We should defund them of taxpayer money for wrongful death settlements. There have been hundred of millions in public money spent on wrongful death and civil rights settlements against our police departments. Public money shouldn’t be spent on these settlements. There are other potential areas where these resources should go – like human services – and it is counter-productive for our cities to spend money on racism. We need communities where safety – not fear – produces law and order. So, instead of defunding the police, and removing that money from the public coffers, we need the police to refund monies that can be used to house homeless people; to encourage mental health interventions among our youth; to improve our bus stops, and parks, and libraries; to get counselors – not student resource officers – in our schools. This will bring more safety – and less fear – in our communities than continuing to pay for consent decrees or armored vehicles.
This spring, I began working on a new project about the Valley of the Sun. The American southwest has served as a site for phenomenal population growth in the 20th century. People from all over the globe settled in this region as Sunbelt development attracted human capital. Civic activists helped settle urban areas through their collaboration with elected officials, organization of community members, and protests of racial discrimination. The Black press, due to their nexus between the business-class and community activists, provides insight on how racial minorities navigated the urban Southwest.
This project, specifically, focuses on the how the activism of Black women was represented in the Black press. Civic activism by Black women complicates the concept of settler colonialism to show how marginalized people fought to make the urban Southwest more inclusive while advancing settlement of colonized territories. My primary focus is the Black Dispatch, a newspaper published by Marian J. BeCoates during the 1976 bi-centennial year. In February, we recorded an oral history interview that explored her time in the publishing business, her previous military career, and her experience as an ASU student.
The Black Dispatch was covered by the Arizona Republic during Black History Month, but unfortunately, their coverage overlooked contributions made by women of color like Jesse BeCoates. Thankfully, through collaboration with the Emerge Collective, we were able to recover this valuable history and fill in gaps in the historical record concerning Black women in Black Phoenix newspapers.
Today, Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd. I was asked to give a reporter a quote. I said,
“Last summer’s protests made justice possible for George Floyd, only to recall how Dion Johnson, Breanna Taylor and Trayvon Martin never received the same grace… In many ways this verdict is the exception that proves the rule. It took thousands of protests to get one conviction, but if what happened to Floyd was a criminal act, then law enforcement continues to protect criminals in their ranks without accountability or apology. Hopefully, this verdict lays the legal framework for a more just and peaceful future between the American people and the police officers sworn to protect us.”
It freaked me out to read that in print. I started thinking about what it meant.
When I was a child, there was the Gang Resistance Education and Training (GREAT) camps at our elementary school… which was different from D.A.R.E (which was about drugs… not gangs). Basically, they told us gangs were bad, and that people joined them because they didn’t care about their family, and basically discouraged us from joining any gangs. Meanwhile, when I moved to my unified school district, there was a blanket dress code designed to prevent gang apparel from appearing on campus. No backwards hats, no wave caps, nothing that was associated (in their mind) with gang culture. Now, this was traumatic for me, because it represented an erasure of my cultural practices. But during this period, gangs were seen as a public crisis, and Black students did not organize to protest these restrictions.
But lo and behold, when I get to middle school, I come to find that there are two “gangs” in my eighth grade class. The Pinecones and the Honeycombs… something like that. Lord knows they weren’t taking it seriously – except some of my classmates really did have family affiliated with gangs. I didn’t know this back then, but when one of my friends joined their fun, I looked at him horrified, like, “But don’t you love your family?” Because, I had G.R.E.A.T. in my elementary school district, which was transitioning to serving communities of color, while we had D.A.R.E. in my predominately-white unified district. We talked a lot about drugs, but very little about gangs, and the values that had been jammed down my little throat were no where to be found among my white counterparts. They missed out on that indoctrination.
I thought about the murder of Star Johnson. He was a Black officer killed in the line of duty, back in the forties, when he was murdered by a white officer. These articles by Jon Talton do a wonderful job of explaining, but essentially, Johnson was killed while writing a traffic ticket to an off-duty detective. “Frenchy” Navarre claimed that he shot Johnson after the beat officer cursed him and started to pull his revolver, and his daughter would later allege Johnson had been hired to murder her father. Still, this death had to go before a jury trial, because Navarre shot Johnson five times downtown during lunch hour, and the prosecution was able to produce eight witnesses to support a guilty verdict. Talton finds that these witnesses faced threats and intimidation on their way to trial, and since several of them were people of color, their assertions broke a white supremacist taboo. African-Americans could not testify in court against white defendants in much of the United States, and due to this civil inequality, often failed to gain convictions when killed by white perpetrators. True to form, Navarre was acquitted and returned to his job at the police department.
From here, however, history moves forward. When Navarre returns to work, he is killed by Joe Davis, who had been Johnson’s beat partner. Upon shooting Navarre, Davis holed up in the city jail and refused surrender to anyone other than the Police Chief. Talton claims that Davis openly shared his plan to murder Navarre if “the courts” didn’t deliver the correct verdict. Many of the downtown merchants felt sympathetic toward Davis, as he allegedly argued that he shot Frenchy in self-defense, but he was eventually convicted of manslaughter. Talton finds that these actions reflected complaints arising from nearby Black soldiers after a racial uprising against alleged police brutality two years prior.
But, pertinent to our time, the Navarre estate argues that this was little more than a cartel dispute. But the ambiguity that arises out of this claim lays clear how law enforcement served as a haven for white criminality. Navarre either was murdered due to a hit put out by organized crime, or he got away with killing a black officer in a community already reeling from a racial uprising. These contradictory truths both suggest that our police forces were corrupted. Why would we believe that a similar conundrum could not be at play today?
Moreover, there is ample evidence that law enforcement has been providing cover for illicit and illegal activities. There is sufficient evidence out here that corruption widespread without casting blame on a single officer or department. We are facing a systemic conundrum – how do we trust that there are “good” cops when we see officers escape punishment under a judicial system that has shown rank indifference toward the value of Black life. This is a critical crisis of confidence and allows for more grandiose speculation to occur.
So, when I think of the officer who killed Dion Johnson, with multiple use of force allegations yet never having to face the public that claims abuse, it leads me to conclude that there must be more criminals within law enforcement. Not even because we have evidence of organized activities, but because we have evidence of a willful disregard for humanity that – when unchecked – proves ripe for criminal infiltration. Moreover, as we saw with the Chauvin trial, it is possible for a jury to decide that an officer commits a violent crime against civilians, which few officers have had to face dur to protection by their peers. While convictions are rare, we are seeing how law enforcement – while well trained – make anodyne mistakes like many civilians. But the protection of this entire class from similar scrutiny faced by civilians during these encounters creates a power disparity that can monetize violence. Our law enforcement is so powerful that they inspire fear due to their ability to elude justice. That is the exact reputation necessary a successful criminal syndicate.
When I have to engage with law enforcement, I put my hands up and state that I am unarmed. I usually am unarmed when dealing with law enforcement. I want all of us to make it out of that encounter safely. I do not think that they are planning me harm… I’d like to believe people I encounter do not practice that type of evil… but my safety is not guaranteed in these interactions. In a moment, a spark, a flash, a bang, and it becomes his word against mine. What Navarre believed, and his trial shows, is that white officers were not held accountable for police violence that targeted communities of color. The testimony of an officer carried more weight than any other witness, and as the conviction of Davis showed, this status conferred white officers with privileges that black officers did not have. This continues into our time, as shown by whistleblower cases where Black officers are expelled from the force for confronting internal corruption, and reflects a systemic bias that could – possibly – be unintentional but is better explained as good ol’ fashioned white supremacy. This system sustains power inequalities that breed corruption, and civilians have not been able to decide if much of this behavior is criminal or not.
So, I don’t think that I’m off in my assessment. If anything, I would want to hear from Black officers about what we, as civilians, can do to help root out corruption in law enforcement. We need a way to determine who the good cops are at this point, and one way of doing that is by removing bad cops from the force, and determining “bad” on the basis of community input. If officers are to serve our community, we can’t live in fear of them, because distrust creates too many opportunities for exploitation and abuse, so we need officers to promote peace (not compliance) when engaging with civilian populations. That requires a radically different approach to policing – one that reduces violent outcomes during casual encounters between civilians and law enforcement. But, lacking this mechanism, we live in a system where many civilians are terrified of the people sworn to protect them. The onus for change is not on the part of the citizen, but instead, it is on our law enforcement agencies to expel agents that do not equitably encourage peaceful resolutions between civilians and the state.
Our children deserve a more just and equitable world that the one we have inherited. I hope that we can reconsider how violence operates in our society.
March, as Women’s History Month, is a wonderful time to celebrate Black women emerging as mainstream arts leaders in Phoenix. The Emerge News Collective hosted Chanel Bragg, Seretta Presswood, and Danayshia Smith in a conversation on the role of Black Women in our Arizona Arts and Culture scene.
“The use of violence in our struggle is both impractical and immoral. Therefore I would strongly urge… a cessation of the violence and lawlessness presently existing and recognize the power of nonviolent resistance.”
–Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the wake of the 1964 Rochester Rebellion
We were hoping that this discussion would be election wrap-up but it looks like it will be more like ongoing analysis. Anyway, if you have time this evening, check it out. I’ll be providing historical analysis on how Arizona became a battleground state.
What: Yi-Fu Lecture on Civic Colonialism: Race, Gender, and the Politics of Municipal Annexation in Arizona
When: Friday, March 6th, 2020 3:30pm
Where: Science Hall Room 180
University of Wisconsin
Madison WI 53706-1404,
Scholars have overlooked how urban annexation drove the development of the metropolitan Sunbelt in the American Southwest after World War II. A case study on civic life in 20th century Phoenix shows how Anglo elites utilized municipal annexation to maintain colonial relationships with racialized communities in the surrounding agricultural hinterland. Working-class Anglo settlers, along with racial minorities and non-white immigrants, were largely excluded from participation in civic activities as Anglo elites fought to remove these residents to the metropolitan periphery.
Still, civic elites could only extend their political control as far as the city borders, so after Phoenix voters approved major postwar municipal bonds, civic elites annexed surrounding areas so that Charter (the municipal political machine) could dictate development along the metropolitan periphery. While metropolitan Phoenix enticed affluent homeowners with modern amenities and tolerable taxes, city officials engaged in ruthless chicanery to convert, cajole, or coerce consent for annexation petitions from right-wing populists.
In contrast, Charter disenfranchised racialized residents to reduce resistance to annexation in segregated communities. By 1960, just as in dozens of other Sunbelt cities across the nation, municipal annexation allowed civic elites to amalgamate the metropolitan periphery into their municipality. Metropolitan Phoenix, along with the broader American Sunbelt, exists due to municipal annexation. This talk shows how this policy should be understood as a facet within a longer a historical continuum of settler colonialism in the U.S./Mexico Borderlands.
For those who enjoy a good, free read may soon have books available closer than before.
Glendale parks and recreation staff is looking into the cost and feasibility of adding Little Free Libraries to some city parks or community centers.
Little Free Libraries are small, mailbox-like wooden boxes where free books are left for passers-by to take home with no check-out process. The libraries operate on “an honor-system ‘take it, bring it back’ type program” said Glendale Recreation Administrator Paul King.
Glendale’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission gave staff unanimous approval to investigate the cost and feasibility of the libraries to see if the commission would like have some installed. If pursued, the commission would likely start with two or three Little Free Library locations and consider expanding the program after that.
Any such program would likely include the city partnering with a nonprofit that could potentially sponsor the small libraries.
Staff and the commission would also need to decide what to call the libraries, as Little Free Library is the name of an organization that helps install the libraries around the world.
The idea was brought to the commission by Glendale resident Anthony Pratcher II, who
installed a Little Free Library in his neighborhood
in Arrowhead Ranch, near Dos Lagos Park at Utopia Road and 63rd Avenue.
Mr. Pratcher’s suggestions for new libraries were one at Desert Garden Park, at 71st Avenue and Ocotillo Road, and at least on in north Glendale, at Chapparal Park 57th and Grovers avenues and/or at Utopia Park, at 75th Avenue and Utopia Road.
Mr. Pratcher said the libraries are an amenity that benefits any type of neighborhood.
“Little Free Libraries, they do two things,” he said. “One: They’re supposed to help promote literacy, right? So, that’s there benefit for lower-income neighborhoods. Two: You’ll often see them in upper-income neighborhoods. So, to me at least, there’s a correlation between Little Free Libraries and property values. I don’t know how tight that (correlation) is, but places that have the highest property values seem to have Little Free Libraries.”
Staff is investigating funding sources for creation and installation of the wooden boxes as well as for an ongoing maintenance, repair and replacement program.
Mr. King said staff will strategically look for locations that are in both well-populated areas and in spots that would be less likely for the library to be vandalized, such as a well-lit area of a park or other public grounds or inside a public building such as a community center.
The Glendale Public Library system would assist in the creation of its smaller sister program, donating any books it could no longer hold to the Little Free Libraries.
“They don’t like to throw anything out,” said Jim Burke, director of Public Facilities, Recreation and Special Events. “When they get to the point where books might get to that level (of wear), they’d rather donate them to this and let it be part of it. But it’s not going to be an ongoing donation and replacement. It will just be a little seed money, little seed books, to get started.”
Mr. Pratcher worked with Southwest Human Development on the box he installed in his neighborhood, a group he suggested as an option for the city to work with on the project. He also suggested Habitat for Humanity as another option. It cost Southwest Human Development $100 to create the box for the library, Mr. Pratcher said. He said he made a donation of $500 to the nonprofit which covered the cost of the labor. It took two hours to install the library, he said.
Mr. Pratcher is a professor at at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in the University’s Center for African-American Urban Studies and the Economy in the Department of History who spends half the year in Glendale. He said Little Free Libraries are a great way to promote reading and literacy, especially in neighborhoods where books might not be as common.
“At the very least having a little free library in the neighborhood has put this sort of avenue for literacy in everyone’s path,” Mr. Pratcher said. “And you can see it as kids are walking to the park with their parents or as students are going to school, walking down the street, they can just look real quick and see if there’s anything in there that’s interesting to them. Maybe, maybe not.”
In addition to giving people access to books they might not normally have access to, the libraries allow readers to share some of their favorite books with the community, Mr. Pratcher said, by adding it to the library for others to pick up.
Mr. Pratcher told the commission that the library he helped install near Dos Lagos Park has not had any issues with vandalism nor anyone leaving inappropriate books, such as obscene or pornographic material. There had been no books even really politically charged at that library, he said, but there had been some religious texts left.
The libraries had a way of self-policing any inappropriate material that shouldn’t be there, Mr. Pratcher said.
“Every time someone opens it, if they see something they think is inappropriate, then they kind of have that onus on that to decide whether to remove it or not. I think it does a good job of that,” he said.
The library at Dos Lagos Park is not the only Little Free Library in town. Others include one near Greenbriar Park near 69th Avenue and Bell Road and one at the Velma Teague Library in Murphy Park downtown, installed by Girl Scout Troop 2402 and the Little Free Library organization in 2017.
So, it’s Black History Month, and it feels time to revisit some ideas from my time at EMCC.
The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense is most famous of the black radical groups that emerged during the sixties. The Panthers “patrolled the police” to ensure that Oakland PD (which has had a longstanding reputation for odious community-law enforcement relations) did not trample the rights of citizens in their interactions with black residents.
Huey Newton, one of the group founders, left us with an interesting revolutionary ideology. He publicly exercised his 2nd amendment rights and argued for armed self-defense against state agents who victimized the black community. Maoism (a third-world variation of socialism) influenced the Panthers’ politics and they successfully related civil concerns of Black Americans with the North Vietnamese fighting American imperialism.
Our library was limited, and I did not want to burden students with book expenses, so we used underground resources to learn about the Black Panthers. These sources are no longer accessible, as seen in these dead links below. This fifteen-minute clip is from “Eyes on the Prize” but PBS blocked it on copyright grounds:
We used a copy of Revolutionary Suicide from an anti-imperialism website published in American prisons. That being said, it also has been taken down due to copyright.
I leave these dead links here not to disdain intellectual property, but show what barriers make it difficult to teach radical history in marginalized communities. My students were young, colored, or both, so I wanted to impress that the Black Panthers were just like them. I asked my students to focus on the 10-point plan and discuss these ten points in depth and ask questions like: why these issues; why this language; is it feasible, etc? But I also focused on how education played a role in the formation of the Panthers. We used these materials because it was what our community could afford to provide. Similarly, the Panthers created a liberatory praxis with the tools their community could provide. Our ingenuity to learn reflects their ingenuity to develop revolutionary resistance.