October 25, 2015

POOR | The Lost Voices Of #FergusonOctober

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Just over a year ago, a group of peaceful activists demonstrated outside of a St. Louis Rams game. Among the protesters, Tonja Bulley and her teenage daughter Brandy held an upside down American flag and called for justice for Michael Brown — the black high school graduate who was shot to death by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. The anguish and fury sparked by his murder mobilized racial justice advocates against the long-established discrimination and violence underpinning state control in Ferguson (and across the nation). Outside the Rams game in mid October, the Bulley women represented an activist group called Lost Voices, a local collective connected to the countrywide network of #BlackLivesMatter organizers through a shared commitment to subverting white supremacy and its legacy of racial stereotyping, subjugation of people of color and criminalizing black lives.

The aftermath of the Lost Voices protest typifies a micro-distillation of racial hegemony in the United States. Fans exiting the football game met the protest with disdain and hostility; in a later interview, Tonja Bulley recounts palpable rancor in onlookers’ disparaging commentary regarding the demonstration. The climate of intolerant reactions to anti-racism activism had heightened in the months following Michael Brown’s murder; just one week prior, 49 protesters had been arrested in a citywide demonstration that took place, in part, at the Rams stadium. The Bulley family and fellow activists stood staunchly despite the vitriolic retorts from white football fans; however, the peaceful protest escalated when a white man spat into Brandy Bulley’s face. Her mother later reported, “She was just saying ‘no justice, no peace,’ and he hog-[spat] and then smacked my baby. At that time ,there was no more being peaceful.” As Tonja rushed to defend her daughter, other football fans dashed to the defense of the white aggressor — hitting, punching, knocking down and throwing drinks on the Bulleys. Moments later, the police arrived and arrested both Tonja and Brandy. No other (read: white) people involved in the clash were arrested.

The criminalization of two nonviolent black activists, forced to defend themselves against unsought bellicosity, characterizes racial stereotyping and white supremacist violence — the very racist institutions that prompted the Bulleys to protest in the first place. As the officers arrested the black women outside the Rams stadium, they epitomized the institutionalization of racial profiling — a facet of the systemic racism that undergirds the nation’s historical and present-day power structures, perpetuates race-based police violence and facilitates the incarceration of nearly one million black Americans. None of the white instigators were taken into police custody; the police officers’ association of delinquency with the black women’s self-defense flagrantly contrasts the white spectators’ apparent freedom to perpetrate violence.

As history affirms, athletics offer a potent platform to advocate for social change. The widespread visibility and idolatry of athletes afford players unique positions through which to promote social justice causes. In the Rams’ stadium alone, five players stood in solidarity with racial justice activists through a demonstration of the “Hands up, don’t shoot” rallying cry while running on to the field and voiced support for the Ferguson protesters and Black Lives Matter movement in following interviews. Activists unfurled large banners with racial justice slogans in the St. Louis stadium — photographs of which subsequently became symbols of athletics’ role in destabilizing racism. The Lost Voices protest attempted to raise awareness and inspire action by situating their demonstration outside the stadium gates, where they could reach the flooding masses of football fans. The wide-reaching athletic community of the St. Louis Rams offered critical potential for subversive action and publicity.

Nonetheless, pervading racism that fosters bigotry within fan communities and sports media coverage fortifies a stadium culture that protects white fans’ “hooliganism” while criminalizing peaceful black protesters. As a point of comparison to the media defamation of Black Lives Matter activists, scholars often scrutinize the acceptance of white sports fans’ riotous, destructive and drunken revelries following big wins. The debauchery of inebriated sports fans wreaks havoc on campuses, private spaces and public centers over banal, superficial feats — in contrast with the heavy gravity motivating racial justice demonstrations. However, sports fans’ celebrations do not threaten to disrupt deeply entrenched racial hegemonies in the way that the Black Lives Matter movement urgently attempts to; uncomfortable with the potential dissolution of categories that bestow power on the socially privileged, media conglomerates and their corporate sports league partners maintain the one-sided, biased narratives. Zealous white sports fans receive a benevolent nod, a chuckle and a slap on the wrist; black activists are vilified as “rioters,” arrested and confronted with more violence, militarized opposition and disparaging media representations.

Reiterating monolithic conceptions of race and violence, media outlets sparsely covered the assault and arrest of Tonja and Brandy Bulley. Articles that mentioned the protest overlooked the complex terrain of race and gender power dynamics underlying the struggle. Reflecting many mainstream media narratives that dismiss and/or demonize protesters against police brutality, the story of Tonja and Brandy slipped into preordained, reusable molds that sensationalize black violence and expunge white accountability — a stale, carefully crafted narrative that bypasses crucial details and analyses in order to reinforce beneficial systems of privilege for (white, corporate) stakeholders. The lack of outrage over the attack and wrongful arrest speaks to a dominant silence in the mainstream media regarding violence against black women.

On Oct. 19, 2014, two black activists outside of Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Missouri, were beaten to the ground, arrested and forgotten. The predominantly white, male football crowd who attacked them walked away free. As we get swept up in the exhilaration of the new NFL season, don’t forget the violence football fans perpetrated on Tonja and Brandy Bulley for speaking out against race-based police brutality. This season, will media conglomerates and fan communities continue to venerate athletes while demonizing Black rights activists; will sports media coverage outstrip and supersede the money, time and space allocated to coverage of anti-racism efforts? As the St. Louis protesters declared over a year ago, “Rams fans know, on and off the field, Black Lives Matter.” This year, will sports media producers recognize their exigent responsibility to realize this truth?

Kate Poor is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at ksp57@cornell.edu. Triple Jump appears alternate Mondays this semester.

  • Mayor McCheese

    It is interesting that the writer classifies Mr. Brown’s death as a murder although the police officer who shot him was fully exonerated by the criminal justice system. After an extensive investigation it was determined that Mr. Brown did not in fact have his Hand up and was not saying don’t shoot. Perhaps Ms. Poor feels as though the criminal justice system is so corrupt and skewed against black people that anything coming out of it is suspect.

    Ms. Poor’s arguments are intellectually vapid and dishonest. In her world view, it seems that white people are the privilidged agressors and people of color – most particularly black people – are all victims of opression. Her view leaves no place for accountability. If white people would be less racist than everything would be great in the black community. Tell that to the thousands of black people who are REALLY murdered each year at the hands of other black people all across Americal. To ignore this significant fact invalidates her basic argument.

  • Hannah

    In response to the above comment by “Mayor McCheese”: Firstly, let’s be crystal clear that the U.S. criminal justice system IS skewed against Black people. This is simply a fact. I could list countless articles and studies that show quantitative evidence that this is the case. Now, this does not mean that “[every]thing coming out of it is suspect”–always, every single time. However, it does mean that we are obligated to deeply question systems that disproportionately criminalize people based on the color of their skin. And the fact that Darren Wilson was not indicted by this very same deeply biased criminal justice system does not morally exonerate him. There have been countless times throughout history when governments and legal systems have sanctioned the murder of civilians. The criminal justice system is known to favor white people, and especially police officers, as prosecutors work closely with them and rely on them for evidence. We can hardly call such a system impartial, and thus independent thought, such as that evidenced in this article, is important.

    Additionally, so-called “black on black crime” is irrelevant to the point that Ms. Poor is making. The fact that some civilians murder other civilians does not really have bearing on the question of a trained police officer’s conduct in the killing of Mike Brown. No one is arguing that police brutality is the ONLY problem in the country; just that it is a very important one. Not once in Ms. Poor’s article did she state that all problems would be solved if police violence stopped tomorrow. However, to the many individuals and family’s affected by this violence every day, yes, this would be an extremely important change.

    Plus, PLEASE. In the U.S white people commit the majority of violent crimes. FBI data from 2013 shows that more white people were killed by other white people than Black people were killed by other Black people. The phrase “black on black crime” is sensationalist and has a racist logic behind it that not-so-subtly depicts Black people as violent, and thus helps to justify their disproportionate criminalization and incarceration. Not to mention that violence in Black communities is often tied to disproportionate lack of access to educational and employment opportunities.

    On a final, and separate note, what’s up with the gendered language in trying to discredit Ms. Poor’s article? You may disagree with her argument that Mike Brown was murdered, and that we need to address racist police brutality in this country–although there you are in disagreement with a HUGE number of people–but let’s not call women “vapid” when disagreeing with them, K? “Vapid” is a gendered word that I have never heard applied to a man. Just because someone disagrees with you does not automatically make them “vapid,” “stupid,” or anything else. Ms. Poor’s article is well-written and well-constructed. Attempting to discredit her ideas by using sexist language is not a valid way of arguing your point. But I guess it’s probably tempting when she has more statistical evidence to back up her argument than you do.

    • Mayor McCheese

      This comment is in response to the comment “Hanna” made responding to my post on this opinion piece. From reading your response, it’s clear you passionately believe that institutional racism is endemic throughout all facets of American life. But it’s not just racism that you perceive. Injustice abounds everywhere. Why the personal attack? My use of the word vapid to describe Ms. Poor’s argument is a clear description of what it is – regardless of Ms. Poor’s gender. If you re-read my comment you will see that it is not her which I called vapid but her argument. I also dodn’t call her – or her vapid argument – stupid. K?
      You see this as further injustice in saying that you have only heard that word used to describe woment. Perhaps you ought to read more so you can discover that is is a gender neutral word and in any case it was directed to her argument and not to her. I don’t know her so I would have no reason to describe her. But your attack on me exhibits your own biases. That every chriticism of the BLM movement is inherently racist in itself. Perhpas in your wold view everyone who is not a black female is a racist and sexist.

      I certainly agree that there are real systemic problems with policing in this country. Crimes by po;lice officers are nothing new. Where our opinions differ is on the nature of police abuse which I believe to be a major problem. I believe that it is not so much racism as it is general police brutality. White people and black people are abused by improperly trained or criminal police officers on a regular basis. This is what is now starting to come to light through the use of cell phone video and police body cams. Of course there will be a dispropotionate amount of these cases that arise involving black victims sinmply because a disproportionate amount of urban crime takes place in black communities.

      You may like to ignore the terrible epidemic of black on black crime in our cities becaue it doesn’t fit neatly into your narritive, but it is highly relevant because it is the context in which the issue of police brutality and heavy handed tactics exist. It does not exist in the serene environments of a college campus.

  • George

    If black people fear the police and the criminal justice system so much, perhaps they should stop committing so much crime.

  • During a February 2014 on-air discussion about “Gangsta Culture” with Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett (Google search discussion), Bill O’Reilly intelligently and compassionately talks about America’s expanding and shameful *National Epidemic of Child Abuse & Neglect*, aka “Poverty”, that for decades has deprived countless children from experiencing and enjoying a safe, fairly happy American kid childhood.

    Besides O’Reilly and Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, how many Americans are addressing this topic that is at the core of most all the issues and social problems many Americans of African descent are today experiencing?

    Speaking At The Eulogy For The Honorable Reverend Clementa Pinckney, President Barack Obama said:

    *”Perhaps it causes us to examine what we’re doing to cause some of our children to hate.”* (Applause.)

    Video Excerpt from Obama Remarks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2T_GwYI7MnQ

    With all due respect to my American neighbors supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, I believe your cause would better serve all Americans if your organization were to honestly, openly and compassionately address our *National Epidemic of Child Abuse and Neglect,* aka *Poverty*, that for decades has deprived untold numbers of depressed children from experiencing and enjoying a safe, fairly happy American kid childhood.

    I strongly suggest members of the Black Lives Matter target communities that for decades have embraced The Street Culture Baltimore Mom of The Year Toya Graham desperately struggled to keep her young teen son from embracing.

    In his 2015 Grammy award winning Rap Performance titled “I”, Kendrick Lamar writes, *”I’ve been dealing with depression ever since an adolescent.”*

    During a January 20, 2011 LAWeekly interview (Google search) Kendrick, born in 1987, the same year songwriter Suzanne Vega wrote a song about child abuse and *VICTIM DENIAL* that was nominated for a Grammy award, he told the interviewer:

    *”Lamar’s parents moved from Chicago to Compton in 1984 with all of $500 in their pockets. “My mom’s one of 13 [THIRTEEN] siblings, and they all got SIX kids, and till I was 13 everybody was in Compton,” he says.”*

    *”I’m 6 years old, seein’ my uncles playing with shotguns, sellin’ dope in front of the apartment. My moms and pops never said nothing, ’cause they were young and living wild, too. I got about 15 stories like ‘Average Joe.'”*

    It seems evident to me Kendrick identified the source of his depression, the roots of poverty, the child abuse/maltreatment that prevented him, his brothers, sisters, cousins, neighborhood friends, elementary and JHS classmates from enjoying a fairly happy, safe Average Joe and Josie American kid childhood.

    Seems the adults responsible for raising the children in Kendrick’s immediate and extended family placed obstacles in their children’s way, causing their kids to deal with challenges and stresses young minds are not prepared to deal with…*nor should they or any other children be exposed to and have to deal with.*

    It seems evident to me these PARENTAL INTRODUCED obstacles and challenges cause some developing children’s minds to become tormented and go haywire, not knowing *OR NOT CARING ABOUT* right from wrong…because as they mature, young victims of child abuse realize their parents introduced them to a life of pain and struggle, totally unlike the mostly safe, happy life the media showed them many American kids were enjoying. *RESENTMENT*

    I cannot speak for anyone else, but if I was raised in Kendrick’s family I would most likely be silently peeved at my parents for being immature irresponsible “living wild” adults who deprived me of a safe, happy childhood.

    Though like many victims of child abuse, most likely I would deny my parents harmed me, seeking to blame others for the pain my parents caused to me.

    I wonder how little Kendrick and his classmates reacted when their elementary school teacher introduced the DARE presenter and they learned about the real dangers of drugs and how they harm people, including their parents? *Cognitive Dissonance*

    Growing up during the 60-70s I listened to virtually ALL American music artists of African descent writing songs admiring, praising, respecting and loving the maternal half of our population.

    I am curious to know if members and supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement have wondered why for the past three decades, many popular American music performers of African descent have been characterizing the maternal half of our population as *itches and *hores…essentially less than human creatures or people not worthy of respect?

    Honestly, I have a feeling most BLM supporters don’t have the strength or will to face the truth about who is responsible for filling our prisons with depressed, angry, frustrated, sometimes suicidal teens and young men who were victims of early childhood abuse and neglect at the hands of immature teen girls and women who irresponsibly begin building families before acquiring the skills, PATIENCE and means to properly raise a fairly happy American kid who enjoys a Safe Fun Street to play in.

    Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke offers sound advice to all Americans, *”Fix the ghetto!”*

    I’m with Sheriff Clarke. I believe we also need to re-examine society’s child protection and welfare laws.

    I am hoping when camera technology proves its mettle in protecting police officers, as well as identifying officers who require further training or officers who have no business serving the public in a LE capacity, we will use that same technology to protect children by monitoring the common area of homes in which caregivers have established a track record for failing to properly raise, nurture and/or supervise their children.

    If we do not take affirmative action to protect children, “the ghetto” will continue to thrive, fueled by poor parenting, resulting with depressed kids maturing into depressed, sometimes suicidal teens and adults who often vent their angers and frustrations on their peaceful neighbors, instead of the person(s) responsible for introducing them to a life of hardship, pain and struggle.

    This is a recorded act of criminal child abuse, maltreatment and violence against…”A little girl, catching a cool breeze..” | Written By Amanda Shea


    This video depicts horrific examples of men who were victims of childhood abuse and neglect, conditioning a young teen to embrace the criminal, anti-social ‘Street Culture’ Baltimore Mom of The Year failed to protect her teen son from…not to mention representing the fear peaceful people living and WORKING in the community experience knowing depressed, angry, unpredictable, sometimes suicidal teens and young adults need to vent their angers and frustrations for being introduced to a life of pain and struggle by irresponsible, “living wild” single moms and/or dads.


    NY Times May 18, 2015 – *Rise in Suicide by Black Children Surprises Researchers*

    Quoting the NYT article, *”The suicide rate among black children has nearly doubled since the early 1990s, surpassing the rate for white children, a new study has found.”*


    Who or what is responsible for traumatizing, abusing, neglecting, maltreating children to the point where depressed young kids believe their lives are not worth living?

    With all due respect to my American neighbors of African descent, the oppression of humans that led to racism and slavery has largely been replaced with a new form of human oppression that impedes and deprives many American children from experiencing and enjoying a safe, fairly happy American kid childhood.


    • Hannah


      • George

        Poverty is not a crime but it is nothing to be proud about. The real travesty is enabling poverty by not forcing the poor to acknowledge their own culpability. If someone has three children by two different fathers by age 19, drops out of high school and has no skills, her prospects for a decent life are not too good. That is not the fault of society (nor, to use a liberal narrative, the fault of the Koch Brothers).