Ferguson, Missouri

If you don’t know what’s happened in Ferguson, Missouri, this overview is a really good place to start. In sum: on Saturday, Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot multiple times and killed by a police officer.

There are numerous investigations being launched. According to the police, Brown had reached for the officer’s gun. They said that a scuffle broke out, leading to a gun being fired (in the passive tense). But there is little confusion when looking at witness’ reports on the matter. Dorian Johnson was walking with Brown when the incident began, and saw the whole thing. Here is one video of Johnson’s account, and MSNBC interviewed him later – his testimony there is as extensive as it is unsettling:

The officer demanded that the two “get the f—k on the sidewalk,” Johnson says. “His exact words were get the f—k on the sidewalk.”

After telling the officer that they were almost at their destination, Johnson’s house, the two continued walking. But as they did, Johnson says the officer slammed his brakes and threw his truck in reverse, nearly hitting them.

Now, in line with the officer’s driver’s side door, they could see the officer’s face. They heard him say something to the effect of, “what’d you say?” At the same time, Johnson says the officer attempted to thrust his door open but the door slammed into Brown and bounced closed. Johnson says the officer, with his left hand, grabbed Brown by the neck.

[...]

“I seen the barrel of the gun pointed at my friend,” he said. “He had it pointed at him and said ‘I’ll shoot,’ one more time.”

A second later Johnson said he heard the first shot go off.

[...]

Brown and Johnson took off running together. There were three cars lined up along the side of the street. Johnson says he ducked behind the first car, whose two passengers were screaming. Crouching down a bit, he watched Brown run past.

“Keep running, bro!,” he said Brown yelled. Then Brown yelled it a second time. Those would be the last words Johnson’s friend, “Big Mike,” would ever say to him.

Brown made it past the third car. Then, “blam!” the officer took his second shot, striking Brown in the back. At that point, Johnson says Brown stopped, turned with his hands up and said “I don’t have a gun, stop shooting!”

[...]

By that point, Johnson says the officer and Brown were face-to-face. The officer then fired several more shots. Johnson described watching Brown go from standing with his hands up to crumbling to the ground and curling into a fetal position.

While MSNBC and other news organizations have interviewed Johnson, the police still haven’t, despite his attorney offering to set up an interview.

The current state of the world and the violence meted out is exhausting for me to read about and think about (and fatally dangerous for people like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, and many more to exist in). I feel helpless as my government continues to make war on black and brown bodies. There are bigger things that need doing, but I thought I’d put this blog to use if at all possible. If there’s one thing that this blog does, it’s link people to other thing they should read. With that in mind, read on:

  •  This NYT photo is emblematic of the lopsided police oppression going on in Ferguon (and elsewhere). But this one (of the same instant) gives the viewer a sense of Ferguson’s anger.
  • That anger seeks an outlet, and the two protesters in this video said as much perfectly:

“I believe that it needed to happen. I believe that they’re too much worried about what’s going on to their stores and their commerce, and everything. They’re not worried about the murder. They’re not worried about the senseless death; and that’s what I’m worried about.”

“I just think what happened was necessary, to show the police that – you know – they don’t run everything.”

Weekend Reading

Beginning with links on Gaza.

It’s worth listening carefully when Netanyahu speaks to the Israeli people. What is going on in Palestine today is not really about Hamas. It is not about rockets. It is not about “human shields” or terrorism or tunnels. It is about Israel’s permanent control over Palestinian land and Palestinian lives. That is what Netanyahu is really saying, and that is what he now admits he has “always” talked about. It is about an unswerving, decades-long Israeli policy of denying Palestine self-determination, freedom, and sovereignty.

What Israel is doing in Gaza now is collective punishment. It is punishment for Gaza’s refusal to be a docile ghetto. It is punishment for the gall of Palestinians in unifying, and of Hamas and other factions in responding to Israel’s siege and its provocations with resistance, armed or otherwise, after Israel repeatedly reacted to unarmed protest with crushing force. Despite years of ceasefires and truces, the siege of Gaza has never been lifted.

So, the black communities of 4th and 6th Street continue to be laboratories in which Goffman and other student and faculty researchers at the University of Pennsylvania do field work. With its frisson of “authenticity,” On the Run may have a long and varied life ahead ( mini-series? feature film?) shaping misperception and abetting black narrative and material subjection. I already know that this book will be chosen for First Year common reading programs and that all over the US, historically white colleges and universities with small black undergraduate and faculty populations will read and then reproduce as truth On the Run’s ethics and methods; which is to say its relations and practices of power. In the neoliberal “engaged” university, On the Run is sure to be a primer for how to do immersive “urban” ethnography. And so continues, into the next generation, within and outside of the university, what Sylvia Wynter has called our black narratively condemned status.

Recent Data on the LRA

Hopping back on the blog train to post links to three helpful, informative pieces of data related to research on the LRA. First is some very basic data on LRA activity in Orientale province of the DRC. Timo Mueller recently tweeted a link to this, a spreadsheet with data on LRA activity in the province from 2008 to 2014.

The file includes data on attacks, killings, abducted adults, abducted children, and injuries caused by the LRA by every quarter and every year, with some various breakdowns for the different categories. It’s not incredibly detailed data, but includes enough to be useful in looking at the overall effect that the LRA presence has had in the region over the years.

More recently and more exhaustive, two recent reports have been published about the victims of LRA violence in northeastern DRC. First is the latest report from the Resolve, Healing Their Image: Community perceptions of the UN peacekeeping mission in LRA-affected areas of the Democratic Republic of CongoAs Paul Ronan (of Resolve) tweeted, the report isn’t surprising, rather it highlights common knowledge on the ground – Congolese civilians don’t trust the peacekeepers in their midst.

When I was in Dungu last summer, I struggled with the same thing. People would tell me the perils of having Congolese or Ugandan soldiers in the area, tell me of incidents of abuse, and then they would still favor these over MONUSCO peacekeepers. This survey includes 347 people in five major towns in Haut-Uele district, Orientale province, each host to a UN operating base. The report includes brief sections on MONUSCO’s actual role in the region and the local communities’ other protection mechanisms (from migration to early warning to militia formation) before going into community perceptions of overall security, MONUSCO’s protection efforts, information sharing, defection efforts, and the opinions about the defectors themselves. Some snippets:

Even though they viewed patrols as an important aspect of protection work, the majority of participants responded that MONUSCO patrols were inrequent and ineffective. Participants stated that peacekeepers rarely patrolled near farm fields, along roads connecting communities, or within town. In one community close to Garamba [National Park, where LRA are active], participant stated, “We see them walk in our midst without protecting the population.” Participants spoke of irregular patrols and how the inconsistency made them feel unsafe, a sentiment that likely contributed to negative perceptions of the peacekeepers (11).

And a quote from a group of women:

We see them, but we don’t know why they are here in our area. [We ask] that MONUSCO inform the community, and explain to the population why they are here, to do what, and explain what are their projects. Especially that they heal their image in front of the population, because for us they bring despair, they are against our safety, they protect the LRA against us, [for] what good do they live among us? It’s better that they leave, and leave us in peace (10).

The report has other useful pieces of information, and is fairly short. Worth reading for anyone studying the LRA, MONUSCO, or peacekeeping in general. It can also be paired with Séverine Autesserre’s recent work on peacekeepers’ everyday lives and how they shape their effectiveness on the ground.

Secondly, Conciliation Resources just published a report of their own, A People Dispossessed: The plight of civilians in the areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army. This report focuses on the continued “chronic insecurity” that Congolese in this region face, both from the LRA and from Mbororo cattle herders, and explores the mishandled response so far, highlighting how protection is defined, ill-conceived military strategies, the unwillingness of the government to concern itself with the region, the (missed) potential of civil society, and lack of humanitarian aid. The report summarizes these factors thus:

At the fundamental level of understanding, international actors and the armies leading counter-LRA strategies have conceived protection too narrowly as protection from violence. In addition, by opting for a military strategy based on ‘search and destroy’ tactics, they have failed to deter LRA attacks against civilians. The strategy is ill-suited to the LRA threat as it leaves fighters free to move and attack at will. In Congo, the state has lacked the will and/or capacity to provide economic opportunities or essential social services that
fall within a broader conception of protection. Civil society actors, both local and international, have stepped up to fill some of the gap. They have had considerable impact through advocacy, but work at the community level has not connected with security sector protection activities. Finally, international humanitarian agencies and NGOs provided a burst of immediate relief to affected communities but their long-term impact appears negligible (9-10).

It’s also a report worth reading, especially for its exploration of these factors (more in-depth than I’ve copied here) and for its look at the Mbororo issue, an issue that most reports mention in passing but don’t really delve into.

In sum, a couple of good reports on LRA-affected regions of the DRC just came out last month. Read them.

8/7/14 Edit to add: The good people at Conciliation Resources have informed me that the report above, “A People Dispossessed,” was released alongside another report also on the LRA. I just started reading it, but Back but not Home: supporting the reintegration of former LRA abductees into civilian life in DRC and South Sudan seems promising and on an equally important topic. Reintegration and demobilization are a huge part of the push against the LRA, but it’s easier said than done – this report highlights some of the obstacles that still need to be dealt with.

Weekend Reading

First, The Arizona Republic‘s longform series on the migrant trail through Central America:

“I was four months from graduating from high school, and I had to leave the school because they threatened me,” he said. “I couldn’t go out of the house, I couldn’t meet with friends. It was too dangerous.”

It took more than a year before Briseño felt safe enough to go out into the community again.

He lives in a single, ill-lit room with his father, off a narrow courtyard they share with three other families, along with a common bathroom and large sink. Anyone arriving or leaving carefully locks the outer door, made of thick iron bars. Briseño and his friend, Omar Barrera, 19, both spoke matter-of-factly about why it may be a death sentence for those who try to leave but are caught and sent back.

One friend fled a year and a half ago after he was threatened and gang members murdered his father, a policeman. Their friend was trying to reach his mother in Maryland, but he was stopped in Mexico and returned to San Salvador.

“He was murdered the week after he got back,” Barrera said, shaking his head.

Several staff members at Roger Williams told me, privately, that they felt uncomfortable talking about what their animals felt, especially in front of supervisors, though they were convinced that their animals experienced thoughts and emotions. At its worst, anthropomorphism, the fallacy of attributing human characteristics to nonhumans, leads us to imbue animals with our perceptions and motives, reducing the worldview of another species to a bush-league version of our own.

Yet avoiding anthropomorphism at all costs may be the main cause of the schism between scientists and the public in the debate about animal sentience. “Most reasonable people will be on the side of animals being sentient creatures despite the absence of conclusive evidence,” Jaak Panksepp told me.

In 1954, I was in the first grade at David W. Harlan Elementary School in Wilmington, Delaware. I could buy a hot lunch prepared by cafeteria workers who were employed by the Wilmington Public Schools. I took music lessons for free, using a violin the city schools lent me. We had a school library, chorus, and band. We had art classes three times a week.

Yet schools on Wilmington’s east side got the leftover musical instruments and much less money for books, supplies, and maintaining school facilities like the playground. Harlan was all white, intentionally segregated. Real estate developers and brokers in its attendance zone had homeowners sign racial covenants that prohibited the sale of homes to blacks.

When decrying today’s corporate reform, too many gloss over the second experience and universalize my own, appealing to a past that was always deeply unequal.

Weekend Reading

Sun’s out, reading’s out.

The federal government regulates campus sexual assault adjudications in a variety of ways. Campuses are required, for instance, to inform students of their right to make a complaint to law enforcement, and to use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard in resolving all complaints that are addressed on campus. No federal law or regulation, however, gives students the right to have a lawyer, counselor, or other adviser present during their appearances before such judicial bodies.

At Hobart and William Smith, both Anna and the men in the case were permitted to bring an “adviser” with them when they testified before the committee, but in accordance with college rules those “advisers” were forbidden to speak at any time. As a result, Anna had no one present to assist her when members of the committee misrepresented witness statements to her detriment, asked her inappropriate questions about her behavior on the night in question, or invited her to speculate about events that transpired while she was blacked out due to excessive alcohol consumption.

Weekend Reading

Liberate these links:

[V]iolence against black Americans is rarely called terrorism, while attacks on government or corporate structures (even those resulting in no casualties, like the ELF and ALF arsons in the 1990s and early 2000s) or public gatherings with large groups of white people are. The militia-movement inspired Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, the anti-technology mail bombs of the Unabomber and Eric Rudolph’s attacking the 1996 Atlanta Olympics for “spreading world socialism” were all seen as acts of terrorism. Meanwhile, the targeted shootings and bombings at abortion clinics, gay bars and synagogues throughout the 1980s and ’90s and the attacks on Muslims and mosques more recently are often understood as hate crimes.

And yet even with this racist and reactionary definition of terrorism, school and mass shooters, who often attack affluent white people at random and in public, are never included. Rather, their actions are understood as senseless tragedies. But if the acts are really senseless, why do they keep happening, week after week? And why do the newscasters have to keep telling us, with increasing desperation, that they’re senseless?

The findings of our study largely support Foer’s argument that attitudes about globalization are the key driver of soccer hate. The best predictor of anti-soccer attitudes was not political party, social class, education, nor income. Rather, anti-soccer attitudes were best explained by how respondents felt about whether “American culture is strengthened by values and traditions…[of] new immigrants.”

In a sense, soccer represents a double-threat — it’s European and Hispanic! — to those who feel threatened by the encroachment of cultural globalization. Coulter admits as much when she says, “If more ‘Americans’ are watching soccer today, it’s only because of the demographic switch effected by Teddy Kennedy’s 1965 immigration law.”

Spectators

Four years ago today, a bomb hit the ex-pat-frequented restaurant, Ethiopian Village, in the Kabalagala district of Kampala, Uganda, killing and wounding several people who had gathered to watch the World Cup final. Moments later, two bombs ripped through the Kyodondo Rugby Pitch, killing dozens of spectators and wounding dozens more. The bombings were carried out by al Shabaab, who had threatened Uganda ever since its intervention in their war in Somalia. Pretty much everyone called it an act of terror.

A month ago, gunmen blasted their way through hotels and a police station in Mpeketoni, Kenya, while some guests were watching the World Cup. They proceeded to split up the residents and killed the men.  The U.S. State Department said that “there can be no place for horrific acts of violence such as this in any society.”

Yesterday, a cafe in Gaza was completely destroyed in the early morning by Israeli rockets, killing those who had gathered to break their fast and watch the World Cup match. Israel has been launching a huge operation into Gaza in response to rockets fired by Hamas. There’s less unanimity on the terrorism of blowing up spectators here, as Washington is pretty firm in its support of Israel.

If you’re an insurgent or you’re Muslim, bombs are condemned, but if you’re a state and a U.S. ally, it somehow becomes much murkier.

Weekend Reading

Let reading ring:

A recent survey of more than six thousand self-identified transgender people showed that 41 percent have attempted suicide, a staggering twenty-six times the rate of the general population. This percentage rises even more for self-reported victims of discrimination and violence, to as many as 78 percent for those who have experienced violence in school. Imagine the headlines if close to half of gay people attempt suicide. Yet the most play this statistic gets is in New York Times advice column about how to broach the topic of transgender transition on social media—and has not even been discussed in other national news publications like The Washington Post and USA Today.

Compare this to the media attention surrounding the suicide of Tyler Clementi in 2010, a gay white Rutgers student who committed suicide after his roommate filmed him having sex. This merited front page coverage and 85 related articles in the Times, while trans people are being outed routinely and our suicides generally go unreported. For instance, the transgender writer Donna Ostrowsky, who contributed to the Lambda Literary Award-winning The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard, committed suicide in New York on June 10 last year, and her death remained unreported by any media outlet, including theNew York Times.

The personal is political, the saying goes, but for women, the political is removed from the person, replaced by trite obsessions with clothes, hair, child care choices and exercise routines. The media’s preoccupation with such trivia is no mere relic of an earlier era. Even today, several generations removed from the devastating critique of their triviality that was at the heart of first-wave feminism, Marie Claire and other women’s magazines remain obsessed with the appearance of female public figures, an obsession that still extends far beyond them into leading news publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post. You can take the woman out of the woman’s magazine, but the style of coverage—and it is all about style—remains the same.

ASU May Merge with a Private Business School

Left and right, things that have been funded by, built by, and supported by the government in the name of the public good have been ushered behind the closed doors of private corporations through the privatization of roads, parks, schools, and of course – universities, which does hell on the public good. The opposite of that (nationalization? eminent domain? socialism?) doesn’t happen much in these United States, but it might be happening in Arizona higher education. ASU and the Thunderbird School of Global Management have announced an impending merger.

Now, before we move forwards, I should say that I’m probably jumping the gun in saying this is the opposite of privatization – so let me issue a disclaimer that I am actually highly skeptical, as usual, of the latest move by ASU. Now:

Arizona State University and the Thunderbird School of Global Management have announced that they’re merging, with Thunderbird coming under the control of ASU (and the Arizona Board of Regents). The Glendale business management school has been facing financial woes and even considered a joint venture with a for-profit university, but the deal fell through.

As a result, ASU and Thunderbird will merge and the financial problems will (hopefully) be resolved, Thunderbird will gain more resources from joining a large university, ASU’s business programs will expand to include Thunderbird’s many international executive programs, and Thunderbird’s staff will join ASU. The information that’s lacking so far is how exactly this merger will be carried out, so keep an eye out.

ASU was in the news last year for the opposite of this – that is, privatization – happening at another professional school. As early as 2010, the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU has been playing with the idea of privatization, arguing that state funds have reduced but also arguing “why not?” Here’s an article quoting Paul Berman, Dean of the Law School:

Berman, however, believes higher tuition can be justified.

As his yardstick, he uses what in-state students pay at the Top 40 law schools as rated by “U.S. News and World Report.” ASU is No. 28.

“If you look at all 40 of them, our in-state tuition is lower than all but four,” he said. And even the tuition for those who are not state residents is below the half-way mark.

Berman said the school already has requested that the Board of Regents allow tuition for Arizona residents to go up by $1,500 for next year. “We’re not talking about large increases,” he said. Berman said that, even with that, attending ASU will remain lower than what is being charged at those other Top 40 schools.

And here’s Vice President of Public Affairs Virgil Renzulli:

“It has been shown at other universities that there are certain very popular graduate and professional programs that can do well, even thrive, charging higher rates… The idea is to move to a tuition level that would be more market-driven than state-subsidized.”

The decision to privatize, expand class size, and raise tuition for the hell of it hasn’t moved forwards a ton – but it hasn’t stopped either. ASU will soon be breaking ground on a new downtown campus for the law school, a move which doesn’t necessarily further privatization, but the larger building is within the vision outlined above of increasing admissions. So, with ASU simultaneously privatizing one professional school while using another to take over a private institution, I will continue to say that ASU is a university to watch. You know, in case you weren’t already reading about Starbucks partnerships or police abuse of a WOC professor.

 

Weekend Reading

Every weekend has its readings.

One thing Brookings and New America have in common, besides a conclusion, is a funder. Both have been recently linked to the nonprofit Lumina Foundation, which was founded on $770 million from the sale of student lender USA Group to Sallie Mae in 2000. Lumina, Buzzfeed reports, has given Delisle’s New American Foundation nearly $3 million since 2008. Salon reported earlier this month that Chingos has received $500,000 from Lumina, $300,000 of it granted to him and Akers during the past year. Brookings received more than $1 million from Lumina in 2013 alone. Despite all the coverage for both the Brookings and New America papers, other reporters haven’t bothered to dig into these relationships and ask why a foundation that emerged from Sallie Mae stock options is so interested — now more than $1 billion interested — in making the rapidly expanding student debt crisis look sustainable.

It’s not hard to figure out why lenders want borrowers and policymakers not to panic. When the Obama administration nationalized 85 percent of higher education lending in 2010, executives like the ones who now sit on the Lumina Foundation board were the big losers. Since then, college costs have continued skyrocketing, but the tens of billions in profits have gone to the Department of Education instead of private lenders. If you were them, and you were angling to get back in the game, the first step would be to edge the government out, either by getting the feds to withdraw or by keeping costs rising faster and higher than DoE loan limits. Graduate loans are a great place to start in a divide-and-conquer strategy, so it’s no surprise that Delisle concludes in favor of shrinking the government’s role. Nor is it surprising that Akers and Chingos can’t find a cost crisis, even though theirs is a fringe minority opinion among higher education analysts and investors.

[T]here is nothing theoretical about abortion for one in three women and many trans men and gender queer people. Abortion isn’t a symbol. It isn’t an idea. It’s a medical procedure they chose to undergo. And the sidewalk outside the clinic isn’t a metaphor for the American abortion debate or the polarization of public opinion, but an actual sidewalk through which their actual bodies must cross in the face of actual harassment. To treat it as an abstraction is disrespectful to those who know too well the very real impacts of impeded access — and also betrays the Court’s distance from the on-the-ground dangers it now exacerbates. In McCullen we see the Justices looking down on the sidewalks of America’s clinics from a thousand feet. From this great height, every walk through the crowds looks shorter and every death threat sounds softer. It must feel very safe up there.