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Open Letter to Occupy Wall Street #OWS

Earlier this week, Elon James tweeted this:

“Oh? The NYPD are treating you badly? Violent for no reason? Weird.” – Black People

You can buy the T-shirt here.

You might think this is snark but it’s not. I spent some time tonight looking at police brutality in the pre-Occupy Wall Street days. You know. The stuff that doesn’t make the national news because it’s sort of icky and ugly and people don’t really want to know that in this day and age, police are still brutal. That pepper-spraying children as young as 9, killing 7-year olds in police raids, and beating special needs students in the school hallway with no provocation still happens in this country. It does, and I’m hearing a whole lot of stories about it because the outrage doesn’t ever seem to begin until, well…it’s not black or hispanic people in front of the billy clubs.

At the end of this post, there is an open letter from my friend Black Canseco. It’s a little bit angry. It’s a little bit sarcastic. It’s a little bit harsh. And it’s completely true. He’s right. Police brutality is an issue, but then, it’s always been an issue, and it should definitely be a part of this national conversation we’re having about inequality. Handcuffs, rubber bullets, pepper spray and clubs are routine for people of color. Routine. So he and others have a point when they ask why it’s only an issue now. Whether you agree or disagree with Black Canseco, I think there are points of agreement about the militarization of police. They’ve perfected those arts in neighborhoods where many would never go.

Here is only one story. Jordan Miles. Honor Student. Viola player. Never in trouble. Beaten to a pulp one day. The District Attorney refused any investigation of the officers who did this and is fully uncooperative with the family’s civil suit. That means the officers who beat the stuffing out of Jordan Miles are still on the payroll, still out on the beat.  This story is only one of many. Try a search on YouTube for police brutality while filtering out OWS, Occupy, and UC Davis. For every video (and there are thousands) on YouTube, there are thousands more that go unrecorded.

“Oh, so NOW Police Brutality matters?!”

Dear  Occupy Wall Street:

Police brutality in America did not begin with you. It’s older than you, older than your encampments and older than your sudden awareness of it.

As one of the 99% you claim to champion, I for example, have seen police brutality firsthand throughout my childhood and my adult life right on to this day. As an African American male I have seen what happens when you occupy black skin in the presence of a police officer. I’ve buried friends who were shot by police despite having broken no laws. I’ve seen police batons and fists, backs of squad cars and squad carhoods used as weapons—not because I or my fellow African Americans were protesting or making any public statements, but simply because we were breathing and existing outside our homes.

As one of the 99% you claim to champion it’s my belief that Occupy Wall Street’s best hope of addressing police brutality is to first understand that police brutality did not begin with any occupation movement nor has it ever been limited to the parks, college campuses and gatherings where you are.

For every OWS encampment there have been hundreds of unarmed black men have been shot by police, sometimes in the back for occupying little more than their own skin. For every OWS participant that has been pepper-sprayed there have been hundreds upon hundreds of African American who have been beaten by police often within their own neighborhoods. For every OWS participant that’s been zip-tied and carted off to jail legions of African Americans and Latinos have been unfairly prosecuted and excessively sentenced by local, state and even federal courts.

But until Police Brutality was visited up on OWS protestors it was a complete and total non-issue for the Occupy Movement. There was no outrage from current OWS supporters when even the most famous of police injustices occurred.  Unfortunately it has taken the faces of victims of police brutality to become Whiter, seemingly more educated, seemingly more “mainstream” for police brutality and injustice to even register as blips on OWS’s radar. (And don’t think that this obvious and observable fact has been lost on the millions of people of color who have yet to join the occupy movement.)

In the days and weeks since many of the police vs. OWS skirmishes I’m not surprised by the lack of calls to “#OccupyTheCops”, “#OccupyTheCourts” or “#OccupyThePrisons” as policing issues most OWS participants must deal with in their communities or daily lives beyond their OWS protest activites.

But let’s be clear: There’s no greater injustice than being so selfishly blind as to selectively claim suffering or fight suffering only when doing so benefits your agenda while willfully ignoring that very same suffering as it festers elsewhere around you. Police injustice is not something any one or any community should be subjected to. But there’s something distasteful and alienating about seeing folk scream about something that we normally have to beg them to even passingly acknowledge.

To that end, I strongly encourage those in the Occupy Movement to take a long hard look at the issues of Police brutality not just as it relates to OWS, but as it continues to impact the 99% you so proudly fight for.

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