Saturday’s forum, Racism, State Oppression, and the Black Community Ferguson Beyond, held at the Southside Cultural Center on Broad Street here in Providence, was packed, with the crowd at its peak reaching nearly 200 people.
City Councillor-elect Mary Kay Harris emceed the event, keeping the panelists and commenters from the audience mostly on point. The panelists were Globe (Jonathan Lewis) of the Positive Peace Warrior Network, Erroll Lomba of roots.media, Monay McNeil, a student at Rhode Island College, Prof. Matt Guteri of Brown University and Steve Roberts, a recent graduate of Rhode Island college and one of the PVD7, arrested November 25th for allegedly trespassing on the highway during a Ferguson protest here in Providence.
The size of the crowd and the resurgent interest in civil and human rights is a welcome counter to what many perceive to be a rising tide of government overreach and police militarization. The links between social and economic inequality are becoming ever more clear, as both panelists and commenters pointed out. We are still in the early days of what seems to be a new civil rights movement poised to oppose the drug war, the prison industrial complex and the “New Jim Crow,” and we are starting to see signs of what this movement is and what it hopes to accomplish.
The event was hosted by the Mount Hope Neighborhood Association, Inc., the Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM), the Providence Africana Reading Collective (PARC) and OneVoice RI, in collaboration with Shanna Weinberg of the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice at Brown University.
As usual I have a ton of video from the event, including the entire 2 hours and 20 minutes as one video (scroll down to the bottom of the page). Photographer Rachel Simon supplied the still pictures for this post.
Errol Lomba, of roots.media, was interested in the questions brought up by nationwide reactions to the incidents in Ferguson and New York, but he also wonders about the answers. “What does a solution look like?” he asks, “How do we win?”
Monay McNeil reflected on the media reports about the Mike Brown homicide. When the shooting was fist reported, news media were taking their cues from social media, and we learned that Mike Brown’s death as a tragic loss: he was young, he was a college student. Soon, the narrative changed, as the media moved to defend the police. Now, Mike Brown is a thief and a thug.
Globe is a student of Martin Luther King and nonviolence. He mused on the divide between the youth driving the recent protests and the older activists who seem to be out of touch with their methods and style. The youth are “not saying they don’t want to learn from you,” says Globe, “they’re asking, ‘What are you going to do for us?'”
Nobody talked longer than Steve Roberts, who is full of ideas on hip hop culture, the history of the civil rights movement and the philosophy that seems to be driving the current unrest. When examining history, says Roberts, “you get this sanitized, dry, boring version of civil rights… People tend to discredit the more radical elements of protest efforts.”
This one is well worth a watch for people interested in understanding what’s really going on.
Professor Matt Guteri of Brown University was quick to give up his academic privilege when joining the conversation. “Just call me Matt,” he said, but he made some important points. “Any crime is used as a justification for death,” said Guteri, explaining how the police and the media blame the victims for violence done to them. he also made some important points about the role of social media in recent events. In the build up to the Iraq War, says Guteri, the media ignored the peace protests, but because of social media, the media is having a more difficult time ignoring the protests that have come in the wake of Ferguson.
After the public commentary, the panelists were given some time to wrap up their thoughts.
“We live in a society where in Detroit, they shut down the water, and old people are walking around with buckets. And it’s not because there’s a drought, it’s because they want more money, because the rich want more money…”
This speaker talked about working within the system to effect change, and he surprised the audience with a big reveal…
“In order for this movement to successful it has to be lead by the most oppressed, and right now I believe it’s the black transgendered youth…”
“Until we have a conversation about racism in this country and the white supremacy that these officers are fighting/uplifting, we’ll never truly find a solution…”
“We have to see the way in which we get punished for speaking out and fighting back. So a modern day example would be how he (Steve Roberts) got punished and tried to be ‘put in his place’ and essentially a call to all the white supremacists to go find him was publishing his address in the Providence Journal. That seems very much like the fugitive slave act…”
Servio Gomez is one of the PVD7. “On the issue of the firefighter getting reprimanded, we need to understand that as a worker issue. We need to understand that a worker was showing solidarity, and they got reprimanded as a worker, using state mechanisms, because the state was their employer, and that’s just how it goes. Workers need to be able to determine how they express themselves on the job and how to best develop themselves…”
Maria Cimini is finishing up her second term as State Representative, after being essentially pushed out by a Democratic leadership that didn’t like her Democratic Party positions. She will be returning to the fight for social justice as an activist. At the forum, she defended the idea of working within the system, at least in terms of being active in state and local politics, in order to achieve social justice goals.
“I’m 21 years old and it took me 21 years to understand my own blackness and understand that I was black as an Afro-Latina…”
Carolyn Thomas-Davis of OneVoice RI wonders if everyone “really understands the reason we are here, today? Do you understand the issues over police brutality? And do you understand how we got to where we are?”
Shannah Kurland is an activist lawyer working as the defense for five of the PVD7. “I want to ask every one of us to show some love for the PVD7, those brave young people who put their lives on the line… they did that for all of us. In terms of older people looking to younger people for knowledge and inspiration, I know they’ve given me some and I know they’ve given a lot of us- by putting their bodies on the line, by putting their safety on the line…”
“Currently have the NBA and the NFL as one of the most lucrative businesses for black and brown people, yet it’s also being used as a [way to control us] by white owners…”
Randall Rose warned the audience not to get too comfortable with social media. It can become a tool with which to identify the troublemakers and oppress us.
Here’s the full video:
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