It makes perfect sense that the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense chose the large cat as its symbol. African Americans are inextricably linked to a diaspora of African peoples who, like the genus Panthera, inhabit the continents of Africa, Asia, North and South America. The panther is, in this sense, not only a symbol of strength, but perhaps more importantly, one of belonging.
The Party, born in Oakland, responded to police brutality by stating and demonstrating equal ownership of the streets leading to work, church, home, markets, places of learning, and the seats of power, not just of the private spaces where finite belongings were stored. It was not appropriate, for example, for so-called peace officers to utilize violence to repress residents, under the guise that community members were threats to themselves or others. Cops, sheriffs, etc., were, outsiders, who did not deserve to find themselves welcome in the community until they abandoned their white supremacist practices.
The Party’s Ten Point Plan offered in 1966, does not need to be edited in 2013:
- We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our black and oppressed communities.
- We want full employment for our people.
- We want an end to the robbery by the capitalists of our black and oppressed communities.
- We want decent housing, fit for the shelter of human beings.
- We want decent education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history, and our role in the present-day society.
- We want completely free healthcare for all black and oppressed people.
- We want an immediate end to police brutality and murder of black people, other people of color; all oppressed people inside the United States.
- We want an immediate end to all wars of aggression.
- We want freedom for all black and oppressed people now held in US federal, state, county, city, and military prisons and jails. We want trials by a jury of peers for all persons charged with so-called crimes under the laws of this country.
- We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, peace, and people’s community control of modern technology.
To be clear, the parallels between the 1960s and today are undeniable. Lawmakers need to produce urgent legislation to fix the broken systems in place. But the people of the United States must relentlessly criticize and stand up to the decisions being made in our name that we find offensive and harmful.
As Theresa Runstedtler wrote in the Feminist Wire, “Standing policies, largely supported by both parties, continue to sanction the violent policing and mass incarceration of black and brown youth, the mass deportation of ‘illegal aliens,’ the drone strikes that wound and kill people of color abroad, the hamstringing of public and private sector unions, and the disinvestment from social services designed to help those in crisis.”
This is to say that it is not the apathy and indifference of the institutions of government and their representatives that deserve reproach. It is the policies and practices they have put in place, and the ways in which they are imposing them that are generating harm.
Tanya Maria Golash-Boza illustrates an example of this in Racism Review:
“If you walk into an immigration detention center today—where an average of about 34,000 non-citizens are held as they wait on immigration hearings and for their deportation to happen—you will find that nearly ass detainees are black and brown men. This is remarkable, because not all immigrants are men, and not all immigrants are from Latin America and the Caribbean… So, how is this happening? Why are most detainees and deportees Latin American and Caribbean men? The answer to this question lies in racial profiling. As immigration law enforcement increasingly is being carried out by criminal law enforcement agents, the effects of racial profiling in criminal law enforcement have spillover effects into immigration law enforcement… When I spoke to Dominican and Jamaican deportees, very few of them reported having been arrested by immigration agents along the border. Nearly all of the Jamaicans and Dominicans I interviewed had arrived in New York City via airplane… The Border Patrol is only authorized to work in US border areas. And ICE, only has 20,000 employees overall, only a fraction of whom are officers engaged in raiding homes and worksites arresting illegally present immigrants. ICE does not have the staff or resources to patrol the country. Instead, ICE works closely with criminal law enforcement agencies to apprehend immigrants.”
It is time to stop pretending as though incarceration and deportation are reasonable consequences that individuals must bear as a result of their poor choices. A ceteris paribus state is not, and has never been conferred. We are not born into the similar circumstances, or offered comparable opportunities throughout life. The decision to cross a desert where thousands have died, or traverse a sea (knowing it might mean you’re leaving everyone and everything you know forever behind) is not arrived at by impulse.
By the same token, a young man or woman growing up in an area of few educational and employment opportunities is left with very few options when it is time to pay the utilities, rent, and grocery bill. The notion that we live in a welfare state where the poor lavish comfortably in taxpayer-subsidized luxury is fiction. Human beings do what they have to do in order to survive. Yet the laws we have in place criminalize some, but not all. And the methods and resources allocated to the enforcement of these unevenly designed laws, makes them all the more uneven, still.
Michelle Alexander bears witness to this phenomenon in the justice system in her seminal text, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. In the immigration world, no such definitive text exists to expose the evils of “attrition through enforcement,” but a number of critiques of it have popped up in recent years, especially when 2012 Republican Presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, took the advice of notorious anti-immigrant hatemonger, Kris Kobach, and advocated a policy of “self-deportation.” Mother Jones’ Adam Serwer wrote, “It’s a real thing, and it isn’t pretty.” The Tomas Rivera Policy Institute demonstrated that real world data disproved the claims of its proponents. And America’s Voice did not equivocate, calling attrition through enforcement, “just another name for mass deportation.”
Today, however, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense’s Ten Point Plan should be advanced not by a large cat, but by a butterfly. Images of the Monarch, nicknamed “the wanderer,” have been employed for years by immigrants and their allies to get viewers to understand that migration is natural: It factually predates the boundaries demarcating today’s globe, and it will continue to be natural, regardless of what takes place along borders in the world to come. Butterflies from the Nymphalidae family inhabit Britain, continental Europe, the Canary Islands, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, as well as North and South America. And it is this universality that validates their belonging regardless of how much time or distance has been traversed in the course of their life’s journey. The fact that the largest migration of Monarchs continues, uninterrupted, despite the construction of a “border fence,” whose tall metallic posts serve the same purpose as the bars on a jail cell, speaks directly to the undeniable humanity inherent in the longing for freedom.
It is not only those who are undocumented who strain their wings constantly over the course of a finite life. It is everyone who has ever been stopped because of skin color, or sentenced more harshly because of it—including the 4 million stopped and frisked under New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg. It is not simply the 11 million US residents who lack documentation and deserve a path to citizenship. It is the 4.8 million US residents who are on probation or parole. It is not only the 4.5 million children living in mixed status families who fear every authority figure and unexpected knock on the door. It is the 7 million juveniles and adults currently under correctional supervision. It is not simply the 2 million human beings ripped from their homes and families by deportations under President Barack Obama, alone. It is the 2 million kids who are alone because they have a parent behind bars.
In her historical novel about the Mirabal sisters, and their legendary stand against Rafael Trujillo’s three-decade long dictatorship in the Dominican Republic, In the Time of the Butterflies, Julia Alvarez writes, “That’s when it struck me. This devil might seem powerful, but finally I had a power stronger than his. So I used it.”
This power was demonstrated on August 22 when undocumented families organized by the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition and United We DREAM stopped a massive bus, filled with individuals shackled in chains, being transported against their will, away from the place they call home, and toward another country. One of those who was threatened with pepper spray and arrested for impeding the path of the bus, is Jose Patino, the DREAMer with a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Arizona, profiled in the Davis Guggenheim film, The Dream is Now. After his release, he returned to the frontlines, calling for an end to deportations.
This power was demonstrated when three members of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance crossed the US-Mexico border and returned with six youth who were forced to leave the United States before the establishment of deferred action (DACA). All nine crossed the border and were immediately placed in the Eloy detention center in Arizona, where they remained for weeks, much of the time in isolated confinement. The popularity of an online petition in support of the Dream 9, prompted 34 members of Congress signed on to a letter asking for their release. And they were released. By winning the right to remain in the US in court, they hope to make it possible for those President Obama has deported to come home.
This power was demonstrated when DREAMers traveled from far away places like Orlando, Florida, and Seattle, Washington, to Nogales, Arizona to stand on the other side of closely spaced steel beams, 20 to 30 feet in height, planted deeply in concrete from their deported family members, after six full years of separation. The moment when child and parent came as close as they possibly could through the jail bars that line the border was forever immortalized on the cover of the New York Times.
These actions have already communicated so much more than any of the speeches given on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington ever could. A lot of people throw around the word “movement.” But most of them have diminished or deviated from its true definition. A movement does not belong to one election, or piece of legislation. A movement is a spiritual conversion. A movement is an expression of the undeniable power, not only to overcome barriers, but also to level them. A movement restores purpose, strength, and sustenance to the hopeless, downtrodden, and plagued with inanition. If anyone asks you to explain what a “movement” looks like in the 21st Century, direct them to these three actions shown in the video clips.
And if anyone asks you how to join this movement, please tell him or her to strap on a pair of butterfly wings and to connect the dots. Imprisonment is nothing less than exile from freedom, loved ones, citizenship rights, and full human dignity. And deportation is a jail sentence handed out to 1,000 human beings each and every day.
To quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “We have come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now… Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy… Now is the time to make justice a reality… [This] is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hoped [we would] blow off steam and will now be content, will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest, nor tranquility in America… The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.”
Sunday, 25 August 2013