Thank You, DJT: A Critical Reflection on Race, Justice and America Herself

Today I was hopeful. I was hopeful because I witnessed several NFL teams defy our current president, DJT, who a famous sports host labeled correctly a “racist and white supremacist,” and who a famous NBA star called “a bum.” DJT had, even before he was elected, ignited a national sense of urgency to resist social injustice in the so-called “mighty USA.”

However, his recent attack on Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players who courageously exercised their uniquely American rights and heritage of resistance and freedom. It is actually extremely ironic that many people, such as our “bum” president, criticize those of us who stand up and speak out on injustices, such as police’s cold-blooded murder of black people such as Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Sheila Bland, etc., etc., etc. (or by people pretending to be police, such as what happened to Trayvon Martin).

The irony is that Americans should celebrate and join those of us who speak out against injustice in our society. For goodness sake, this is what our country was supposedly founded upon, although initially did not live up to. No one said it better than the late great Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, when he delivered the bicentennial speech at the annual seminar of the San Francisco Patent & Trademark Law Association in 1987.

About “We the People,” the first three words of our Constitution, Marshall said, “… On a matter so basic as the right to vote, for example, Negro slaves were excluded, although they were counted for representational purposes at three-fifths each. Women did not gain the right to vote for over 130 years ...” His point, of course, is that everyone in this country was not included in this statement, “We the People.”

I strongly urge every American to read his words and consider its credibility on its own merits. I read it to whoever I am around on every July 4th. Unfortunately, Mr. DJT, America was not initially the country that other countries should emulate and try to pattern themselves after.

It’s only because of those who fought for the Union in the Civil War and the civil rights, women’s rights and LBGTQI rights movements in this country that America has begun to live up to her “promise.” It is only because of the type of protest and resistance found in these movements that America has begun to deserve the honor and glory that many have fought for and died for.

Prior to the Civil War, and subsequent social justice movements, such as the civil rights movement, America was literally just a theory, a wonderful and splendid theory, but a theory nonetheless. In practice, prior to the Civil War and civil rights movements, America was a lie and nothing to be proud of at all.

This brings me to my core point. Ironically, the Charlottesville murder of a true patriot, Heather Heyer, that DJT did not adequately deal with — instead choosing to defend the racist murderer(s) who killed her and wounded so many others that fateful day, is what crystallized these ideas for me.

DJT was defending those racists who were defending those who fought to keep slavery intact. This is consistent with DJT’s so-called defense of “all soldiers” just for being soldiers, when he attacks Kaepernick and others who kneel during the national anthem in the presence of all those soldiers on the field at NFL games.

First of all, not all soldiers should be honored and celebrated in the same way. Some soldiers, such as those who fought in defense of the Confederacy, or those soldiers who did not want black soldiers next to them or with them in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, etc., should not be honored.

I personally do not respect nor honor soldiers who had racism in their hearts, minds and souls. I understand and join many of those Americans who do not respect and honor them as well. Therefore, Kaepernick and others who take a knee during the national anthem are actually displaying our best and most honorable principles and traditions because they are calling attention to the racist, unjust and hypocritical conditions in this country, many of which still remain today.

So thank you, DJT. I appreciate the help. Anything anyone can do to get more people to stand up (or kneel down) and speak out against racists such as yourself is so very much welcomed. Just for the record, because it is not about me, I want to verify my credibility to make these comments.

I am a black man who happens to both have lived under a racist police state as a youth in Paterson, New Jersey and who has been studying, researching and teaching about the problem of racism in our juvenile and criminal justice systems for the past 20-plus years. I am also an associate professor of social work at a university in New York City and I have been researching and publishing on this topic for two decades.

In closing, I sincerely do thank you, DJT, for rallying the troops for social justice, human rights and real equality. Hundreds of NFL players would have never acted today had it not been for your idiotic and disrespectful comments about them and their mothers. Peace, family, but keep fighting. I’d rather stand up and die with honor on 125th Street than lie down and live without honor in an apartment on 5th Avenue, Mr. DJT.

Edgar Tyson, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service in New York. He has been a researcher and educator for 14 years and a practitioner, specializing in treatment of high-risk and delinquent youth, for the past 21 years.

Remembering Michael Brown: Policing Alone Doesn’t Create Safety in Our Communities

Today we reflect on the memory of Mike Brown, the 18-year-old unarmed black youth fatally shot six times, twice in the head, by Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson. The 2014 shooting prompted protests across the nation for weeks. The gripping images of a blood-covered white sheet lying over his motionless body for hours will forever be etched in our memories. As will the image of another black mother with tears streaming down her face, grieving the loss of her son to this senseless yet all too common scenario.

Three years and many more police-involved shootings later, we ask ourselves, is this what public safety looks like in our communities?

Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Akiel Denkins, Tamir Rice and Freddie Gray are just some of the names of unarmed black boys and men who have lost their lives since Mike Brown’s death. Over and over, we are confronted by the horrifying images of black men killed by the police.

According to The Guardian’s “The Counted" initiative, in 2016 black males aged 15-34 were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by law enforcement officers. They were killed at four times the rate of young white men. This trend should have us all on edge given the call for more “tough on crime” responses from national and local policymakers.

Just two weeks ago, President Donald Trump encouraged a room of law enforcement authorities to not be “too nice” while transporting suspects. This quip drew laughter and cheers from officers in attendance. However, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and several local police departments quickly rebuked the statement. The Campaign For Youth Justice and 25 other organizations released a joint statement calling on police to commit to clear protocols and policies against the use of force in our communities.

Additionally, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been an ardent defender of “get tough” practices from the 1990s. Sessions recently ordered federal prosecutors to seek the harshest possible penalty in all cases, no matter how minor, a practice that will send more Americans to prison without good reason.

These rollbacks are occurring on the state level as well, including in Michael Brown’s home state of Missouri.

In the same week that the NAACP issued a travel advisory, warning people of color that their civil rights could be violated in the state of Missouri, Republican Gov. Eric Greitens implemented a new anti-violence plan. The plan calls on highway patrol troopers to ramp up policing to combat urban crime, reopening historical tensions.

“We are looking for anything,” a Missouri state trooper recently told a Washington Post reporter, before pulling over a motorist for an expired license plate near downtown. “I don’t see how it can be detrimental having more law enforcement in an area that really needs more policing.”

As we reflect on the anniversary of Mike Brown's death and the subsequent deaths, the current climate in our country toward crime signals that we are headed in the wrong direction. Young men of color are much more likely to be profiled — and then subsequently, prosecuted, sentenced and incarcerated as adults in their communities than their white counterparts. Federal, state and local officials are calling on the police, those entrusted to protect and serve, to lead the charge against crime.

But is policing alone what public safety looks like in our communities? Many chiefs of police are calling for evidence-based practices, which include community policing strategies, a focus on prevention and referrals to other agencies and community organizations that are experts in mental health, substance abuse and defusing crises. Our caution is against embracing law enforcement as the only solution to crime; and in adopting a more militarized police force, particularly focused on low-income communities and communities of color.

We don’t want police in schools, driving our children to the courts for typical adolescent behavior. We don’t want police threatening to deport and separate immigrant families trying to live their lives in the United States. We don’t want all our resources poured into enforcement of the law at the cost of access to quality schools, career opportunities and access to public and mental health.

We recognize that law enforcement agencies are among the largest and most powerful bureaucracies in most localities. They intersect daily with our lives, especially in low-income communities and communities of color. They may be who we call first when trouble arises, but they are also armed and evoke fear in many communities across the country. At some point, we must question whether all this law enforcement is necessary. There is a significant imbalance in our current policing model, with far too much emphasis on law enforcement and not nearly enough on crime prevention.

We remember Mike Brown because his death should serve as a daily reminder of the very real work left undone. His memory serves as our invitation to help fix a broken system.

Aprill O. Turner is communications director for the Campaign for Youth Justice, a national initiative focused entirely on ending the practice of prosecuting, sentencing and incarcerating youth under the age of 18 in the adult criminal justice system.

Future Baltimore Consent Decree Called Chance to Reform Police Interactions With Youth

Large number of protestors were out in the streets Tuesday afternoon to protest the death of Freddie Gray, who was killed while in police custody one day after his funeral. residents stood near a line of riot police along W. North Avenue Tuesday afternoon.
Riot police stood in formation in Baltimore in April 2015 after the death of Freddie Gray.

BALTIMORE — A scathing Justice Department report on unconstitutional police practices in the city includes a section not often seen in federal findings — a lengthy description of how the department has mistreated youth.

The police force does not use best practices for engaging adolescents, which results in the use of unreasonable force and erodes trust within the community, said Justice (DOJ) officials in the report on Baltimore’s police force.

An officer used a Taser on a young girl without probable cause after the girl tried to walk away from the police, the report said. In a separate incident, officers used force and pepper spray against siblings standing on their own stoop as police dispersed youth gathered in a residential neighborhood.

“It is apparent that officers have not received guidance nor have been trained on well-established best practices for police interactions with juveniles that account for their developmental stage and prevent the unnecessary criminalization of overwhelmingly minority youth,” Justice officials wrote.

Justice Department officials detailed a system rife with civil rights violations of people of all ages.

While the findings are sobering, they are also powerful because they put the experiences of youth on center stage — a position observers hope will encourage reform. Other recent DOJ investigations and subsequent reform agreements in cities such as Ferguson, Missouri; Newark, New Jersey; and Cleveland have made scant, if any, mention of youth.

“This is a major step forward for DOJ and a wake-up call to law enforcement across the country that culture change has to start with youth. Every interaction packs a wallop,” said Lisa Thurau, executive director of Strategies for Youth, a policy and training organization that works to improve interactions between police and youth.

Youth who learn to distrust police carry those feelings into adulthood, perpetuating a cycle of poor relationships between officers and the residents of the communities they work in, she said.

The police department put in place a policy on contact with youth in 2015, but it does not include guidelines on youth behavior or development and does not prescribe specific techniques for officers to use, the report said.

Negotiations begin

It’s critical for youth, families and organizations concerned about how children and adolescents fare in the system to weigh in about the need for reform as negotiators fill in the details, said Gabriella Celeste, policy director at the Schubert Center for Child Studies at Case Western Reserve University. With the ear of officials, especially at Justice, they can hope to affect what ends up in the final consent decree.

[Related: Young Protesters React to Not-Guilty Verdict in Baltimore]

“The fact that the report is explicit makes it a great opportunity for youth and youth-serving organizations. It seems unprecedented in that way,” she said.

With the DOJ’s investigation complete, city and federal officials will begin to negotiate a consent decree, an agreement that lays out reforms the police department will undertake. The two sides have settled on a framework that says the police department “will ensure that its policies and training conform with legal and constitutional standards for law enforcement interactions with youth and divert youth from the criminal justice system, where possible.”

Baltimore residents may want to explore reform ideas in a letter Ohio researchers and policy experts wrote when the Cleveland police department was in negotiations with the Justice Department, Celeste said. The recommendations include training on adolescent development, adopting model Miranda warnings and interviewing techniques that account for age, and rewarding police for positive interactions with youth.

Ultimately, the Cleveland consent decree did not include explicit youth-centered requirements, but Celeste said the idea that kids are different than adults has become a part of the conversation about how to implement the reforms.

And, parallel to the consent decree, a group of local and national experts is working to develop policy guidelines that the police department could use, she added.

No matter the approach, Celeste said youth voices are critical to the conversation, both as reforms are crafted and ideally in dialogue with police officers.

Hope for training, dialogue

Dayonna Tunstall
Dayonna Tunstall

Dayonna Tunstall, 18, said she hopes youth will be a key part of training for police officers in any reform effort. She is the youth executive leader of the Youth Engagement Training program, a training course for police officers housed at The Inner Harbor Project in Baltimore. The youth-led organization works to make the city’s Inner Harbor a safe and inclusive space through initiatives such as teen mediation.

In the training courses for police, youth offer their perspectives on positive communication, understanding teenagers’ lives and how to handle situations with teenagers based on scenarios both police and youth have actually experienced.

The courses are a conversation, one designed to make sure no one goes on the defensive, Tunstall said. She’s often heard officers comment that they benefit from hearing directly from youth and that the fledgling relationships built in training carry over into the neighborhood.

She wants the consent decree to stress the importance of training and building relationships because she’s seen first-hand how it changes interactions between officers and kids.

Working side by side, youth can feel their perspective matters and police can see there are young people who care deeply about the city, Tunstall said.

“When youth have a voice it goes a long way,” she said.

More related articles:

Reporter’s Notebook: Frustrated Baltimore Youth, Residents Look for Solutions

Reporter’s Notebook: A City Expecting the Least From a Broken Criminal Justice System

Youth Need Substance Abuse Help in Communities, Experts Say

Reporter’s Notebook: A City Expecting the Least From a Broken Criminal Justice System

BALTIMORE — The rumors were out a few days ago that Officer Caesar Goodson had been acquitted on murder and other charges in the death of Freddie Gray, and the streets around the courthouse were filled with protesters. Among them, a black mother dressed as a mime holding a sign on one hand reading: “Modern day lynching got America stinking,” while the other hand pulled a luggage strap wrapped around her neck symbolizing a noose.

“I’m telling you, don’t touch my baby. I only got one,” she yelled, her face half painted in white. “The truth is that somebody needs to be held accountable.”

I asked a resident standing outside the courthouse whether he knew of any protests planned that day. “There’s gonna be something at North-Penn. The metro takes you right there,” said James Gantt, who used to be a correctional officer, then a cab driver, then a tourist guide, but now describes himself only as a poet. Gantt, who calls himself a “Niggerologist” on his business card, said he’s a representative for the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America.

JJIE New York Metro Bureau logoLater in the afternoon, I took a train to North-Penn station, about three miles north west of the city center. As soon as I got out of the station, I found myself in front of the CVS store I saw burning on live TV during the riots following Gray’s death. A little over a year ago, the anger of this community had turned into violence filled with fire, looting and massive disorder as National Guard and police clashed with protesters in clouds of tear gas.

Last Thursday evening, however, the scene was startlingly different. The city had prepared for the worst but the worst never came. Instead, after a spasm of frustration at a perceived injustice, life turned toward the quotidian.

A handful of people lined up in front of a fried crab truck ready to buy early dinner.

Commuters walked to and from the Metro station minding their business. No sensible tension was in the air.

A few police officers stood by watching, while others patrolled the neighborhood in small groups, though their presence never felt overwhelming.

A mime artist simulating a hanging during a protest following the acquittal from murder charges of one of the police officers involved in the death of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray.
A mime artist simulating a hanging during a protest following the acquittal from murder charges of one of the police officers involved in the death of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray.

The lack of a large scale protest speaks to what many here said was a lack of faith in the institutions that govern their lives. Young people on the block were not surprised by the lack of violence, in part because they had long anticipated what the verdict would be. They learned to mistrust institutions when it comes to justice, in particular when the defendant is a cop.

[Related: Young Protesters React to Not-Guilty Verdict in Baltimore]

“The verdict was what everybody expected,” said a young resident of the neighborhood who did not wish to give his name. “What I can say is that despite what was expected, there was no violent reaction, you feel me?” The young man said he was proud his community was reacting with composure at the news of Goodson’s acquittal.

Journalists were the only people looking out of place.. A radio reporter walked around with a microphone and a recorder looking for people to interview. Three broadcast news trucks were parked on different sides of the intersection of Pennsylvania and West North avenues, with camera operators waiting hours for something to happen.

It never did.

Children playing around a police car near the intersection of West North and Pennsylvania avenues in Baltimore. The intersection has been the stage of the uprising following the death of Freddie Gray in April 2015.
Children playing around a police car near the intersection of West North and Pennsylvania avenues in Baltimore.

At about 7 p.m., they finally had something to shoot, though perhaps, not what they had expected. Half a block away from the intersection, in the parking lot of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, music was blasting from the speakers of an unusual venue: a police car, with a door open.

Children were playing basketball in the parking lot, shooting into a net brought there on a trailer. Police officers were dancing with the kids, trying to loosen up despite the weight of their belts and the loaded guns they carried. Some of them seemed to do pretty well. Media broadcasters and photographers were all around them, following what in that moment was news: no unrest whatsoever, but instead a quiet neighborhood and a police department trying to defuse tension and calm fears.

Earlier reports had given the National Guard on alert, ready to intervene in case protests got out of hand, but that scenario seemed unlikely in the face of this unremarkable tableau.

Still, the specter of last year’s demonstrations was vivid among residents, who that morning said that the not guilty verdict was more proof of the lack of accountability with their police department.

“They gotta do something, unless they want the city to go back crazy how it was,” said Roy, a young man living in the neighborhood who wouldn’t give me his last name.

A mime artist holds a sign reading “Modern day lynching got America stinking” during a protest following the acquittal from murder charges of one of the police officers involved in the death of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray.
A mime artist holds a sign reading “Modern day lynching got America stinking” during a protest following the acquittal from murder charges of one of the police officers involved in the death of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray.

A group of protesters showed up at around 8:00 p.m. They had signs and banners and were chanting “All night all day, we will chant for Freddie Gray.” Among them, I recognized some of the same people who awaited the verdict in front of the courthouse hours earlier. The protest was peaceful and didn’t last very long. Police officers guarded the intersection wearing regular uniforms rather than riot gear.

After sunset, the neighborhood turned quiet. Barred windows and collapsed roofs on West North Avenue gave away the poverty of this community, whose population is more than 90 percent African American, and whose sense of urban decay resembles that of many cities in the country.

Hours after the sunset, there were no protests or indication of any coming unrest. Police presence on the street appeared to wind down. The CVS store, which was rebuilt during the winter, had a sign hanging from its window that read “Now Open,” stood there untouched. The news crews started to pack up. By 11:00 p.m., when the streets were nearly empty.

A heavy rainfall came soon after. To me it felt like it washed away the anger and the expectations that filled the day. What remained was uncertainty and doubt.

This story was written by journalists from our New York Bureau.

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Young Protesters React to Not-Guilty Verdict in Baltimore

BALTIMORE — As word of the not guilty verdict spread from the second-floor courtroom down to the crowd waiting in the street below, resident Shana Ashby, 21, stood across from the courthouse and worried about how the verdict will affect her four younger siblings.

"They see their fellow black people being killed off like that, and they're scared," she said. "They're thinking 'that could be me'."

Baltimore police officer Caesar Goodman was found not guilty Thursday on all charges related to the death of Freddie Gray.

JJIE New York Metro Bureau logoGray died in April 2015 of spinal injuries sustained while riding in the back of a police van driven by Goodman. After the death, six officers, including Goodman, were charged with felonies related to Gray's death. So far, none have been convicted.

For many of these residents the not-guilty verdicts were yet another blow. Of the six officers who were indicted, Goodman is the second to be found not guilty. A third ended in a hung jury.

"This verdict is outrageous," said Ashby.

"Freddie Gray died in the back of a police vehicle," she said.

"I'm still not understanding how he had a fractured spine and all those serious injuries unless they were roughing him up or giving him a rough ride," she added.

A 'rough ride' is the term used to describe placing detainees in the back of a police van and driving erratically, taking sharp corners and slamming on the brakes in order to cause those in custody to be jostled violently about the back.

Cortly "C.D." Witherspoon, with the Baltimore chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said no type of police brutality is acceptable. He brought his son, also named Cortly, to the courthouse.

"I came here because people are dying in Baltimore City, and we need to stop it," said 7-year-old Cortly Jr.

The elder Witherspoon wants young people to know they're not forgotten. "I think it's important that we send a message to the next generation that we need to continue to fight for freedom, justice and equality," he said.

Ashby agrees. She said while verdicts like today's tell young people the system doesn't care about them, she said as the oldest of child of a single parent, she needs to let her siblings, who range in age from 15 to 20, know that's not the case.

"It's young people like us who know what's going on in our communities and to speak up in order to create the change we need," said Ashby, who hopes to make the world safer for her younger siblings.

Part of that change, she said, is to hold police accountable and to end police brutality.

"There's just too much evidence in this case not to have a guilty verdict," she said.

This story was written by journalists from our New York Bureau.