Many people in black, brown, red and yellow communities across the U.S. know the feeling of being occupied.
Some have compared it to a state of siege. We know what it is to be beleaguered. We experience our land being occupied; we view police as an occupying force; we live daily with the experience of being stopped and frisked, of our cars being pulled over, of the War on Drugs essentially being a war on us; and we are certainly the majority occupants of jail and prison cells.
As such, it is important to examine the current status of the Occupy Movement in relationship to the participation of people of color and its ability to address our issues. Depending on the location, there has been limited success, racial tension, and/or open criticism as well as concerted efforts to be inclusive.
I would like to raise some of the issues here, cite those raised by others, and look at some of the evolving solutions.
Black cultural theorist and writer Greg Tate recently wrote Top 10 Reasons Why So Few Black Folk Appear Down To Occupy Wall Street in the Village Voice in his inimitable style and evoked a twitterstorm of responses. Though he writes with snark and sharp black humor, his last four points on the list are worth considering:
8. THE NIGGAS ARE SCARED OR BORED OF REVOLUTION THEORY Say whut? Since when? When it comes to showing radical heart, we damn sure got nothing to prove. Protest history shows our folk couldn't be turned around by deputized terrorists armed with dynamite, firebombs, C4, tanks, AKs, machine guns, fixed bayonets, billy clubs, K-9 corps, truncheons, or water hoses. Stop-and-frisk has prepped most brothers to anticipate a cell block visit just for being Slewfoot While Black. We ain't never been skeered of fighting the good fight. We love a good dust-up on pay-per-view or in the street just on GP! Out there on the street, though, all we need is to feel like you got our backs like we got yours. Herein might lie the rub. People fresh to daily struggle may need to earn our trust more. Clearly we're in no hurry to make loads of new friends spanking new to police brutality.
7. THE OWS BEST GO GET A LATE-PASS THEORY The sudden realization by OWS-ers that American elites never signed the social contract and will sell the people out for a fat cat's dime—hey, no news flash over here. Black folk got wise to the game back in 1865 when we realized neither 40 acres nor a mule would be forthcoming. Also, as one sharp strapping ready for whatever you got youngblood recently put it, "I ain't about to go get arrested with some muhfuhkuhs who just figured out yesterday that this shit ain't right."
REASONS WHY WE SHOULD RECONSIDER BEFRIENDING NU PEOPLE VIRGIN TO DAILY NYPD ASSWHUPPINGS Repeatedly finding oneself on the business end of a NYPD nightstick and expecting the same result is either a sign of madness or a sign of virtual blacknuss. Either way, even your most hardened Pan-Afrikanist should now be open to giving the OWS-ers a hug of solidarity. Maybe if organized, this form of outreach could function as the larger community's first olive branch. (Air kisses and arms length for some snooty African noses still, I know).
6. THE PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX CRICKETS THEORY The predominant age range of OWS's paler male participants is roughly 18-29. This age group among African American cats accounts for 40 percent of the country's prison population—a national crisis which predates the bailout by several decades. This disgraceful disparity could likely continue after every OWS-er has been gainfully reabsorbed into the American workforce. Although Wall Street profits from our brothers' massive enslavement by incarceration, so does Main Street. Perhaps OWS should ponder putting prison abolition on their unformulated list of demands. Until then, some black progressives, though duly sympathetic, might not hear a roar coming from Zuccotti but simply crickets.
All humor aside, the crisis of the stop-and-frisk occupation in New York is not funny if you are one of the daily victims. Look at these data from the New York Civil Liberties Union:
Stop and Frisk Practices
The NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices raise serious concerns over racial profiling, illegal stops and privacy rights. The Department’s own reports on its stop-and-frisk activity confirm what many people in communities of color across the city have long known: The police are stopping hundreds of thousands of law abiding New Yorkers every year, and the vast majority are black and Latino.
An analysis by the NYCLU revealed that about 3 million innocent New Yorkers were subjected to police stops and street interrogations from 2004 through 2010, and that black and Latino communities continue to be the overwhelming target of these tactics. Nearly nine out of 10 stopped-and-frisked New Yorkers have been completely innocent, according to the NYPD’s own reports:
In 2004, 315,483 New Yorkers were stopped by the police.
279,754 were totally innocent (89 percent)
156,056 were black (50 percent)
90,468 were Latino (29 percent)
29,000 were white (9 percent)
In 2005, 399,043 New Yorkers were stopped by the police.
351, 842 were totally innocent (88 percent)
196,977 were black (49 percent)
115, 395 were Latino (29 percent)
40,837 were white (10 percent)
In 2006, 508,540 New Yorkers were stopped by the police.
458,104 were totally innocent (90 percent)
268,610 were black (53 percent)
148,364 were Latino (29 percent)
53,793 were white (11 percent)
In 2007, 468,732 New Yorkers were stopped by the police.
407,923 were totally innocent (87 percent)
242,373 were black (52 percent)
142,903 were Latino (31 percent)
52,715 were white (11 percent)
In 2008, 531,159 New Yorkers were stopped by the police.
465,413 were totally innocent (88 percent)
271,602 were black (51 percent)
167,111 were Latino (32 percent)
57,407 were white (11 percent)
In 2009, 575,304 New Yorkers were stopped by the police.
504,594 were totally innocent (88 percent)
308,941 were black (54 percent)
179,576 were Latino (31 percent)
53,466 were white (9 percent)
In 2010, 601,055 New Yorkers were stopped by the police.
517,458 were totally innocent (86 percent)
317,642 were black (53 percent)
190,491 were Latino (32 percent)
55,083 were white (9 percent)
During the first six months of 2011, 362,150 New Yorkers were stopped by the police.
317,376 were totally innocent (88 percent)
184,186 were black (51 percent)
119,853 were Latino (33 percent)
33,805 were white (9 percent)
The prison industrial complex is also one of the key issues undermining the stability of communities of color, and we are more likely to be focused on Attica or San Quentin than Wall Street, unless the linkages are made. Occupiers must pay attention to occupants.
The Sentencing Project details the status of this segment of the 99 percent:
Nationally, an estimated 5.3 million Americans are denied the right to vote because of laws that prohibit voting by people with felony convictions. Felony disenfranchisement is an obstacle to participation in democratic life which is exacerbated by racial disparities in the criminal justice system, resulting in an estimated 13% of Black men unable to vote.
More than 60% of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities. For Black males in their twenties, 1 in every 8 is in prison or jail on any given day. These trends have been intensified by the disproportionate impact of the "war on drugs," in which three-fourths of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color.
Rarely noted is the disproportionate incarceration of Native Americans:
There are approximately 26,000 Native Americans in US jails and prisons who have been sent there at a rate 38 percent higher than the general population. However, if Blacks, who constitute about half of all prisoners are excluded from the calculation, it is clear that this disproportion is far more egregious, when compared to non-Black ethnicities. In Alaska, for instance, if Natives do not already form a plurality in prison, they soon will, as Native incarceration rates are rising rapidly while white and Hispanic rates have remained relatively flat, and the incarceration of Black people has actually dropped in recent years. Natives are only 16 percent of the general population in that state, though they make up 40 percent of adult inmates. Between 1996 and 2000 in Alaska, the total of incarcerated white males rose just 6 percent, while the total number of Native males rose 23 percent. White female totals went up by 26 percent, but Native female inmates skyrocketed by 41 percent in just those four years. An examination of state-by-state totals shows remarkable disproportion in ethnic representation. In Arizona, where many reservations are policed by tribal authorities and hearings held in tribal courts, the rate of Indian incarceration appears not significantly higher than non-Natives.
In other states, however, such is clearly not the case. In South Dakota, where 10 percent of the state population is Indian, male and female Natives make up 23 percent and 35 percent respectively, of all inmates. In Wyoming, Indians make up 2 percent of the state population but 7 percent of prisoners. In Montana, though only 6.8 percent of residents are Native, they are 18.8 percent of men and 29.6 percent of women prisoners. Still more worrisome is the fact that in the last decade, the general prison population there less than doubled, but total numbers of Indian women went up from 17 to 81, an increase of 376 percent.
Many of us who come from assorted "hoods" are in lock-up, and will never make it down to an Occupy protest location. Or we may be stopped, frisked asked for papers and incarcerated on the way.
These crucial civil and human rights issues were raised at the Occupy Wall Street General Assembly in New York, and out of that, Occupy Harlem protests were born. It is not a coincidence that those protests targeted "stop and frisk" and police brutality.
Occupy Harlem: 'Occupy Wall Street Is Not A White Thing'
The Occupy Wall Street movement went Uptown on Friday night, as more than 100 people filled the second-floor sanctuary at St. Philip's Church in Harlem for the first general meeting of Occupy Harlem. Unlike their downtown comrades, those in attendance were mostly black and Latino, save for a handful of whites who sat and listened intently, a few lifting their fists to shouts of "Power to the People."
This was a group of veteran activists and young turks alike, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement. And it was a moment decades in the making for veteran Harlem activists, like Nellie Hester Bailey, who have fought and protested and rallied for fair wages, tenants' rights and against police brutality here for years.
"Occupy Wall Street is not a quote-unquote white thing. It is a white thing that the 1 percent and the bankers are representing white oligarchy and white plutocrats for the most part," Bailey said. "But this is an organic movement from the bottom up. Now we have to take advantage, seize the time and the moment ... and it is time that we become part of this landscape so we can begin to highlight our issues."