Tuesday, July 26, 2016

love poem to the black lives matter movement

the fire next time
he said
the fire next time

mother of the movement we see you
hold this federal fallacy of ferguson's
feet to the flame
on the names of your slain babies
we see you

baton rouge we see you
political prisons to cut off
the breath of your fire
we see you

south africa to dublin we see you
we all one black
struggling to get the scars off our back
we see you

florida we see you
breaking guns off
in autism's guardian
back down hands up in the fire
we see you

trans folk we see you
first one to the gun
last song sung
and if flames couldn't help it
we see you

oakland we see you
one blood strong
you shut it down
let it burn to the ground
we see you
breaker of police chiefs
suffer all mayors
we see you
vanguard of the (r)evolution
gentrifyer wet dream we see you

san francisco we see you
shirtless warrior women we see you

philly we see you
in the rubble of the MOVE of Africa we see you
in the wrist burns
of mumia we see you
in the talons of rizzo we see you
you quake the roots of justice
you shot bells of freedom
libate our ancestors ms. sanchez
libate sankofa
we see you

detroit we see you
from ford corrupted lands
we see you
through leaden waters
we see you
through riot smoke
a voice broke
grace lee boggs leading to (r)evolution
don't die
we see you

mother emanuel we see you
on slave floors in charleston we see you
hiding from fires like the
good girl grandma raised
we see you

black lives matter movement we see you
burning all reserves on picket lines
we see you
multicolored movement we see you
rageful love we see you
come back alive
we see you
don't lose one more
we see you

7th generation we see you
sold off in fraudulent bids
we see you
down enemy scopes we see you
our last and only hope we see you
drink the milk and run
we'll take their bullets
we see you

my people we see you
from the burning prairie
lawrence, fiery kansas
we see you

Friday, July 22, 2016

My Fight To Save America #blacklivesmatter: Police, Moral Injury and Activism

I am one voice in a movement to make Black Lives Matter beyond rhetoric and platitudes. I am a Black father who doesn’t want his daughter to grow up in a world where she has to fear for the safety of her body because of the color of her skin. I am an educator who has walked through the worst neighborhoods of Oakland with fear in my heart, not for myself, but for the children I taught. Fear that they will be the next body in a forced prostitution ring, rampant on International Boulevard and exposed within the Oakland Police Department. Fear that they will catch the next stray bullet from a dispute between neighbors and police. Fear that not only will they find no protection from the police, but that the police might actually be the ones they need protection from. I am a minister, who has held the hands of a crying mother, asking me to help get justice for her son, Alan Blueford, shot and killed by the police in his senior year of high school in Oakland, California. His last words, “I didn’t do anything,” will forever ring in my ears. I am a Black man, who wonders, every single time he is in a crowd, where all the other Black men are, and remembers, every single time he wonders, just how many of them are prisons and morgues unjustly. This burden I carry is not a new one, it is not even unique to me. I believe that everyone whose ancestors were held in chattel slavery carries some version of this burden to varying degrees. This is why I am one voice in the Black Lives Matter movement, who wants to see true change, and wonders what that will look like.

I believe that the anger that I have towards institutionalized racism is justified. I believe that action is required to change the conditions of marginalized and targeted communities in America, and that nothing changes without action. I have studied with activists like the 100 year old Chinese American Grace Lee Boggs and the Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, I believe that marches and protests are necessary but not enough to bring about change. And because I implore a strategy of Kingian Nonviolence, I believe that our enemies are not individuals but systems of oppression. We have a right, as a people, to express our anger and grief publicly. We also have a responsibility to not continue to perpetuate the same systems of oppression.

When I was a pastor in Oakland I was asked to take a training on a condition called Moral Injury for veterans. Similar to PTSD, moral injury causes psychological and emotional distress, but unlike PTSD, moral injury must include the participation and/or witnessing of actions that transgress one’s conscience or personal morals. In treating and ministering to veterans then, it was seen as imperative to understand whether or not they feel like they participated in an inhumane or unjust act, and to help them see how their current actions may be affected by their belief in diminished values because of these acts. Unfortunately, while we live in a world where it is acknowledged that those who have experienced extreme trauma may have after effects from that trauma that cause them to hurt themselves or others, there is very little acknowledgement of how participation in causing trauma and harm to others might have a similar effect on their actions.

The other day, listening to a podcast interviewing Thich Nhat Hanh and remembering how he has aided Vietnam Veterans, I was reminded both of how disgracefully veterans were treated in our country after they returned, and how wounded our police officers are. It’s like this, it has been shown that the leading cause of death for our police officers is not Black men shooting them or wrecking during high speed chases, it’s suicide. That’s the same leading cause of death for U.S. veterans. We need to talk about this in our communities, on our blogs, and in our protests. The cops are not my enemy, they are tools of my enemy, one tool, in a huge assortment of tools to oppress and suppress. But unlike systemic tools, cops are human beings, and thus they get the full brunt of damage from being used as tools. They witness the most horrific murders and accidents, they are forced to contain and participate in domestic abuse, and they are required to be soldiers in the war on the poor. What’s more, often times if they speak out against injustice, or simply state the obvious, that they need help with their own psychological problems, they are ostracized and crucified by their own departments. And finally, within the general population, cops are demonized and treated as if they caused the very conditions that they are forced to uphold. Because of this, cops are the perpetrators and also the victims of unspeakable acts of violence.

Now I’m not in Oakland anymore, I’m in Lawrence, Kansas, not too far from Wichita. Trust me when I say I am not advocating for a barbecue, as if everything is good between the police and the people. The truth is, no cop has ever tried to make friends with me, so I don’t believe that community policing is something I have very much experience with. I know that part of the reason that I am viewed as a threat to the police is because of racism, but I also know that another reason is because police have experienced actual threats, and that they are trained to perceive everyone as a potential threat. That’s the problem right there. Why are we training our police to perceive others as threats and not as community members?

I remember being in Oakland when Oscar Grant was murdered on a train station, without a weapon, in front of friends and bystanders, by Oakland PD, leaving behind his precious baby girl. I remember hearing the cries to lock up Johannes Mehserle, the cop who shot him, and wondering, will that work? And then the entire city erupted after the non-indictment, and I wondered again, will that work? And now fast forward 7 years and we’re still marching and police are still shooting us. So I have to ask again, is it working? Is the best approach a hard stance towards the police or a compassionate stance or a mixture of both?

What I believe is this, until police officers can sit down and listen to the pain and anger of people of color, of transgender and Queer folk, of immigrants, of sexual assault victims, then no laws will ever change. But until US civilians ask police to start sharing their emotional and psychological wounds, the laws may change, but the police never will. And that’s my word. Peace.

#blacklivesmatter #restorativejustice #ftp #moralinjury #ptsd #thichnhathanh #thay #cherimaples #posttraumaticslavesyndrome #vietnamveterans #charleskinsey #justice4alanblueford #counterrevolutionary #staywoke #restinpower #graceleeboggs

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Why #blacklivesmatter Is About Making ALL LIVES SAFER

It seems like every day there is some new tragedy on the news. Today's tragedy hit close to home. A cop in Overland Park, just a 30 minute drive from where I live in Lawrence, Kansas, posted a veiled threat on a 5 year old black girl in Dallas on her mother's facebook page (http://www.kctv5.com/story/32401238/overland-park-police-department-fires-officer-following-facebook-post). This makes me physically nauseous as I'm sure it would make anyone feel psychological pain, whether or not they are a parent. But when I look at my 5 month old Black and multiracial daughter, it is all I can do not to let fear overtake my thinking. This is the very definition of terrorism.

I want to pause for a moment and say that I recognize that being a police officer is the most dangerous job in America (after being a sex worker), but I am also aware that being a Black man in America is far more dangerous. If you don't believe me, then I don't know how much more evidence you need. But this recent tragedy has got me thinking about two things, first, what is actually the bigger tragedy, that another Black man, Philando Castile #sayhisname, was executed publicly, or that his 4 year old daughter had witness his murder? The second thing it's got me thinking about, is just how far reaching this whole #blacklivesmatter Movement really is.

You see, my daughter's mother is White. But today, when she looked at me after reading about this little girl in Dallas, she had the fear in her eyes that I have lived with since I could conceive that I was Black. She realized in that moment, that someone might want to take our little girl away because of the color of her and my skin, and presumably because she was a "race traitor." And I could see all of that fear begin to overtake her, that fear that Black people struggle with every. single. second. of. every. single. day. And I knew that I had to do something. Speaking out like this, this is doing something. But I also had to intervene in that moment. I held her close and I told her, no, this doesn't mean that we can find haven in some other country, because White Supremacy is everywhere. And no, this doesn't mean that we should never go to another vigil, because there is no safety in silence. And no this doesn't mean that we should live in constant fear. Because that is not living.

I learned a long time ago, as all Black people do, that our lives are fragile, as are all marginalized lives in America. It only takes one bullet, one racist, homophobe, sexist, out of the many. But I also learned that this why every moment should be precious, why I hold my daughter tight when she laughs and I'm dying inside, why I want to have a nice dinner when the Klan waits outside my door. I've also learned that the fear is transformable into courage.

I used to work in East Oakland, where guns are a dime a dozen, pimps and crackheads crowd the streets, and the cops are the scariest gang in the hood. I worked with elementary school children, and it was there that I learned that I have to be the one who stands in front of them, does not let them be harmed by those streets. Was I afraid? Yeah. But that fear was my shield against those streets, and I knew that fear would push me to lay down my life for those children.

That's what #blacklivesmatter means to me. Not that my life matters more because I'm a Black man. But that because I'm a Black man who has to convince myself every single day that police murdering me with absolution doesn't mean that I am not worthy of life, then I know that every life matters. And if you can't bring yourself to say it, right now, that Black Lives Matter, no matter what color you are, then what you don't get is this. If my life gets snuffed out, it's not me who suffers, it's you, it's my daughter's, it's my White partner's and all of her White family. We are not separate.

Tragedy is going to happen tomorrow, that's why we love today. If not, the terrorists win.


Tai Amri