Tag Archives: activism

Dr. Luke Tripp: The Political and Structural Context of the Police Murder of George Floyd

Editor’s Note: Back in 1988 I was a student reporter for the Daily Egyptian, the student newspaper for Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. I reported a story about campus activist and Black Studies professor Dr. Luke Tripp being denied tenure there. During a Facebook discussion about an off-the-record threat I received from an administrator to be mindful of the kind of reporting I did: (‘If you’re going to be a trouble-maker, you’d better be damned good, otherwise, if we find an excuse to get rid of you, we will.’) a friend wondered whatever happened to Dr. Tripp.

A google search traced him most recently to St. Cloud, Minnesota as the acting chair for the Department of Ethnic, Gender & Women’s Studies at St. Cloud State University.

I sent an email there to Dr. Tripp. I wrote Dear Sir: I would like to start a political podcast and have you on my first show to discuss your campus activism in Carbondale and where it led you. I’d be interested to share whatever you have to say about politics, social justice, and the possibility or lack of possibility for racial reconciliation or political reform.

I regret you did not get a better platform from my article in 1988 and would like to offer whatever amplification I might produce through this effort.

Dr. Tripp responded promptly in the affirmative and included this essay. I am blogging it now and look forward to having him as guest on the podcast.

This was sent as an email draft and has not been proofed by an editor. – Adam Broad – Lake County, IL June 1, 2020

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Author: Dr. Luke Tripp

The Political and Structural Context of the Police Murder of George Floyd

During a pandemic, the savage murder of George Floyd has sparked protest demonstrations and the mobilization of millions who are morally outraged. His brutal death represents the everyday inhuman racist treatment of people of color in the United States. This case is socially and politically explosive.

To understand the social and political dynamics of this case, we have to focus on the centrality of race and the criminal justice system. Americans profess to believe that the rule of law should be applied equally to all citizens regardless of race or status. Yet, it is beyond dispute that the criminal “justice” system functions from start to finish (definitions of crime, investigation, arrest, charging, conviction, and sentencing) in a racially biased way.

Black bodies have been made to signify criminality, a threat and a menace to society by the American government at all levels. It logically follows that these bodies (male, female, young, and old) will be harshly and brutally assaulted by the law-enforcement forces of public safety (police). The continuing and pervasive practice of the extremely aggressive policing of Black people is a manifestation of the fear and contempt that the White power structure and White American culture have of people of African ancestry. A militant, well-organized, and the highly politicalized Black community is necessary to curb anti-Black policing. Recent mobilizations of the Black community in reaction to the shooting deaths of unarmed Black men demonstrate that we can have an impact on the course of actions by officials of the criminal justice system. 

America: Racialized Police State

Every Black male, young and old is stigmatized as a potential or actual threat or menace to society. The vast majority of Black men have had a negative encounter with the criminal justice system, including Martin Luther King. One of my many personal encounters with the police department happened in St. Cloud, Minnesota. On Monday, July 9, 2007, at about 3:40 pm, while walking home from my office at St. Cloud State University, I was stopped on the sidewalk by two police officers who were in separate squad cars. One officer got out of the car and looked at me and my bag, which I use to carry books and papers, and said that she had mistakenly perceived my bag as a purse. The fact that I, a university professor and senior citizen, was stopped on a busy street in mid-afternoon and publicly humiliated by police officers because they perceived me as a suspected purse thief indicates the high level of anti-Black police profiling in the city of St. Cloud. I filed a formal complaint, but it was disdainfully dismissed. I did not even receive an apology.

The social structure of racism is predicated on stereotypes based on the appearance of our bodies. Negative stereotypes and anti-Black prejudices shape the discrimination that makes the everyday lives of Black Americans painful. Anti- Black stereotypes are derogatory beliefs and cognitions and feelings of antipathy toward Black people. They are used to discredit, vilify, persecute, dehumanize, and target Black people, and they become toxic when supported by White power and dominance. The George Floyd case is especially painful for Blacks. Daily, Blacks feel the stress largely caused by White police officers and hostile Whites. The George Floyd case reveals more about the criminal justice system than it does about his killers.

The American Constitution: Black Lives do not Matter

Racial tensions are very high in the U.S. today. The Black community is angry, hurt, and in pain because of the frequent killings of Blacks by police officers. This institutionalized violence is evidence to Black people that their lives are not respected or valued by White American society. Throughout American history, the government has created institutions that functioned to maintain White privilege and supremacy, resulting in the continuing oppression of Black people. One major arm of the government that is used to control Blacks is its criminal justice system. Since the very inception of the United States, through its ratification of the Constitution in 1787, Black people have had to fight against the legal system which legitimized our dehumanization and enslavement.

To understand why criminal justice works against black people, we need to know a little legal history. Dred Scott v. Sanford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857), was a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. In Dred Scott v. Sanford, Supreme Court judges considered this key question: Did the citizenship rights guaranteed by the Constitution apply to African Americans? The Supreme Court decided the case by a 7 to 2 decision that Black people were not American citizens. They reasoned that people of African ancestry had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order and altogether unfit to associate with the White race, either in social or political relations — and so far inferior that they had no rights which the White man was bound to respect. This decision continues to be the guiding constitutional principle of the legal system in the U.S. This is the legal anti-black foundation of the criminal justice system. it is morally bankrupt. It confirms that the legal system continues to operate on the basic principle that “Blacks have no rights which the White man was bound to respect.”

Today, the criminal justice system in Minnesota is being used to control and weaken the Black and American Indian communities by making felons a very large segment of the Black and Indian male populations. Only about 6 percent of Minnesotans are Black, according to 2018 census estimates. Yet nearly 36 percent of the state’s prison population is Black. American Indians make up about 1 percent of the population and more than 9 percent of prisoners. Section 1. Adult Prison Population Summary as of 07/01/2018. https://mn.gov/doc/assets/Minnesota%20Department%20of%20Corrections%20Adult%20Prison%20Population%20Summary%207-1-2018_tcm1089-347924.pdf

Turning the Black community against Itself

Perhaps the greatest immediate danger to the social fabric of the Black community is the criminal “justice” system. Through mass incarceration, millions of Black parents are now in prison, on probation, or parole. Moreover, a large segment of the Black population is legally marginalized by being branded as felons or ex-felons. Thus, police actions against the Black community have serious implications for the economic status of the family and the educational future of the children.

The criminal justice system has become a dominant presence in the lives of Black males. It impacts employment, housing, family formation, and political participation. Racialized incarceration is a manifestation of the political strategy to control and stigmatize Blacks as violent criminals and dangerous threats to civil society. The social, economic, and political consequences of stigmatizing and criminalizing Black males have seriously weakened the social fabric of the Black community. Black ex-convicts are viewed as social pariahs.

They have been virtually banished from the labor market and in many states, they have been banned from civic engagement by the Felony Disenfranchisement Laws. They return to the Black community from prison with very few skills or opportunities to lead constructive lives. The social dysfunctions in the depressed areas of the ghetto can be largely attributed to the anti-Black functions of the criminal justice system, which operates to debilitate the Black community by making felons out of a large proportion of Black men who then prey largely on members of their community- “Black-on-Black” crime. Racial profiling is a tactic used in the strategy of the criminal justice system to maintain the subordination of Black people. But we are fighting back. The mass protest marches show our resolve to struggle against racial injustice in America. Racism divides and dehumanizes groups. Resisting racism is an act of liberation.

The militarization of the Police Force 

This militarization of the police force is a manifestation of the strategic planning of the government to control Black people. The war on drugs serves as the rubric under which anti-drug laws and administrative policies have targeted Black people for marginalization and criminalization. Through the criminal justice system, many Blacks are denied basic citizenship rights (the vote, student loans, public housing, etc.). The criminal justice system has become a dominant presence in the lives of Black males. It impacts employment, housing, family formation, and political participation.

The militarization of the police force in terms of army weapons, military tactics, and special assault units has been a long-term trend since the urban rebellions of the 1960s. The display of naked military-style intimidation against protesters for social justice in Ferguson, Missouri in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown is an example of the extent to which the police departments across the nation have been militarized with equipment from the U. S. Department of Defense.

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement grew out of this reality which continues to propel it. The main thrust of the movement is aimed at the criminal “justice” system, especially on police brutality and harassment, racial profiling and ticketing, police militarization, and mass incarceration.

The White ruling elite views BLM as a disruptive threat that has the potential to become an insurgent force that will challenge their stratified power structure of racial domination. Therefore, they are implementing both repressive and reform strategies to weaken and defuse BLM. The repressive measures taken by the White elite include hiring more police officers and equipping them with military weapons, putting more people under surveillance and detention, restricting the space for protest demonstrations, and stigmatizing protesters as violent, uncivil, militant troublemakers.

Social Control through Deceptive Color-Blind Policies

The grievances that are acceptable to the White elite only address lite manifestations of racism in the criminal “justice” system. By making small concessions to minor demands and incorporating the moderate protest elements into the mainstream entities, the White elite wants to co-opt BLM. The White liberal establishment has framed the issue as the bad or inappropriate behavior of a few White police officers. Hence their remedies include a better screening of police officer candidates at the point of hiring, conducting racial/cultural sensitivity training, and arranging get-acquainted sessions with people and police in the patrolled area. Also, recommendations are made to incorporate more people of color and women into the police force to change the White image and to reduce the racial criticism of the police force.

The racial integration of police departments and prison staffs may reduce the level of profiling, brutality, and harassment, but they will not address the basic underlying issues because these fixes are predicated on the erroneous idea that the blame for police profiling and brutality is on White police officers who harbor racial animosity toward people of color. By focusing on racist police officers, serious attention is deflected away from the systemic control role of the police, of any color, which is to serve and protect the racialized capitalist social hierarchy from disruptive insurgent forces.

The basic fact is that the police force is under the command of the ruling White elite, which directs the criminal “justice” system to target those individuals and groups whom it views as a threat to social stability and its dominant power structure in the social order. History has shown that organized morally driven disruptive strategies against racialized political structures by Black people and their allies have been effective in the struggle for social justice in America. The struggle to dismantle U.S. apartheid will continue.

Resistance to the Racist Police State 

Why should Black people obey unjust laws that do not recognize their humanity? Protests in the form of demonstrations, marches, rallies are acts of resistance against a brutal repressive system that targets and dehumanizes and assaults Black people. The political officials are calling for calm and acceptance of the racialized capitalist structure. But to accept the structure is to legitimize the moral authority of an inherently racist system, which debases Black people. 

Government officials view Black’s people’s moral outrage as a problem that must be repressed and dissipated; they ignore the anti-Black function of the CJS that caused the outrage. The CJS is used as an assault weapon and an extortion mechanism against the Black community. Black people have a moral duty to actively fight against a system that operates to strip them of their dignity. People who have a sense of what constitutes justice will not accept immoral policies. Moreover, they will vigorously protest them. Racism divides and dehumanizes groups. Resisting racism is an act of liberation. Rallies, marches, forums, and petitions are moves we take to empower ourselves to dismantle racism. The struggle for justice in the George Floyd case is a struggle against racism. Paul Robeson, a Black liberation hero, reminds us that we “must take a stand” to advance our humanitarian struggle.

Yes, You Can Do Something

Yes, You Can Do Something
Author of Soul of A Citizen tells how people create change in cynical times.
The following article I composed was adapted from an interview and became the cover story for the July 6, 1999 StreetWise.

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“How can we comprehend the moral implications of a world in which Nike pays Michael Jordan more to appear in its ads than it pays all the workers at its Indonesian shoe factories combined?”—Paul Loeb, Soul of a Citizen

I showed up for a morning interview with Paul Loeb after plowing through his latest book, Soul Of A Citizen: Living With Conviction In A Cynical Time. The book is “an antidote to the twin scourges of modern life–powerlessness and cynicism”–and has received acclaim from a wide range of activists, including novelist Alice Walker and John Sweeney, president of the AFL/CIO. With slight prompting about parts of the book that stood out, Paul was able to fly off the cuff. An associated scholar at Seattle’s Center for Ethical Leadership and an author, Paul is an engaging, enthusiastic speaker who gets a lot of motivation from the many activists who are used as examples in his book.

One of the many activists on his mind was Rosa Parks, awarded the Congressional Silver Medal of Honor and a subject of a tribute from President Clinton the day before this interview.

Paul Loeb: “I was interested to know what story they portrayed about (Rosa Parks). Hearing her described as suddenly out of nowhere, deciding to take her stand, refusing to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama and helping to start the Civil Rights Movement. And what bothered me about that, is that in fact, she didn’t come out of nowhere. She’d been active for about 12 years with the NAACP in Montgomery, Alabama trying to challenge things, working with other people.

“When I look at that what I see is a lesson of you jump in, you persevere, keep working for 12 years, and then finally one of the many things you do works and suddenly history changes.

“But if you just sort of depend on having the courage to miraculously come out of nowhere and take a heroic, courageous stand you might wait forever, so to me Rosa Parks’ story, the real story, (is) you work with other people, you try. It’s an uphill fight, it’s a difficult fight, you have to keep going; you try for 12 years, nothing seems to work, then all of a sudden something does work. That’s an infinitely more powerful story than the media myth that we usually get which says, “She came out of nowhere one day, she just decided to act.” This was a conscious movement.

“The media culture prefers it to be (that) if anyone ever does something, it’s sort of naive, innocent, out of nowhere, and in fact, what that does is that prevents us from trying to consciously act.

“Most people have never heard of Miles Horton, who was the founder of this labor and civil rights center where Rosa Parks and other longtime civil rights activists who’d been continuing long before her (came from)… And so we know, Parks… And this is to take nothing away from her, a wonderful, courageous woman… (but) she doesn’t start out in this impossibly heroic state. She started out just an ordinary person trying to get involved. She is part of a movement and she is part of a movement that continues over time. And we should be able to identify with trying to be part of a movement, and in a way, that’s easier to identify with than just coming out of nowhere, doing something impossibly heroic and suddenly changing history…

“Saul Alinsky did a lot of his work out of Chicago. They called him the godfather of community organizing, and he founded a network of organizations around the country. One of the stories I tell in Soul of A Citizen is in San Antonio, Texas where there’s a woman named Virginia Ramirez, a Latino Woman, a traditional housewife… Her husband has a tiny taxi business, and one day an old woman in her neighborhood dies from the cold. Her house… (is) so run down that the wind will just whip through it every winter. She gets sicker and sicker and finally paramedics carry her out and she dies. They said she’d be alive if someone fixed up her house. Virginia gets really upset about this and she goes to a meeting of COPS (Communities Organized for Public Services) and said, ‘What are you going to do about this? This woman died!’ and they said, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ And Virginia gets really upset and says, ‘I thought you were supposed to help!’ and she storms out. And then a few days later a nun who works with the group knocks on her door. Virginia said, ‘I only let her in because she was a nun.’ So she lets her in and the woman says, ‘What are you so angry about?’ Virginia says, ‘I’m angry because this woman died!’

” ‘And what else?’

” ‘I’m angry that my father picked crops all his life and never got any money and never got any respect. And I’m angry that my kids don’t have a good education. I’m angry that our community is scorned and ignored.’

“Virginia starts being involved in this group. At first she is very hesitant. She timidly takes one step then another. The first time she speaks at a meeting she can barely get the words out. Then she gets a little more confident and then she feels, ‘I’m just telling a story about the community.’ Then she ends up speaking at a city council meeting. She ends up testifying before Congress on this wonderful Job Training Bill that they developed. And what she says is, ‘Everything I learned, I learned from the University of COPS.’

“What’s interesting is that COPS isn’t like UIC, or Northwestern, it’s not like Loyola; it’s not a college, it’s a community group. But what she means by that is that it functions to teach her what it meant to be involved, to teach her what her voice was.

“By being involved it gave her the strength and it gave her the voice and that allowed her to act. She got something profound from being involved. One of the lessons of Soul Of A Citizen is that you get so much back when you’re involved in community and you take a stand. Even if it’s difficult and even if you’re frustrated. You need patience to be able to act. You need patience and you need community. Virginia was isolated at first. Only when she joined a community group did she get something done.

“You never know what the ripple effect is. There’s a friend of mine who in the early ’60s was in this very lonely vigil against the nuclear arms race and nuclear testing. There was less than 100 women in the rain in D.C. with their kids. They just felt pitiful. They were like, ‘Here you are. Nobody is obviously listening. None of this is going to make any difference. Why are we even doing this?’ Their kids were crying and they wanted to go home. A few years later she’s at a very big rally. Benjamin Spock, the baby doctor who died last year, is speaking. His presence is a wonderful addition, because every kid in the ’50s and ’60s was raised on Spock’s books. He’s a major national figure who starts speaking out on public issues and has a huge impact. And he talks about how he got involved. He says, ‘Well here’s the issues and this is why I started speaking about them.’ Then he says, ‘What really got me was that one day in Washington D.C., I was walking down the street and I saw this little raggedy group in the rain, and the ink on the signs was running and they’re dealing with their kids, and I thought, if they care this much to be involved with this, I ought to go check it out. I ought to take it seriously.’ And so my friend was watching this and realizing that in this moment of apparent powerlessness, she is making a difference. Her actions were actually mattering, and what a wonderful feeling, because you don’t always know that until later.

“The cynicism says you can’t make a difference, don’t even try. Just give up. Watch TV, shop at the mall and buy as many things as you can. If you don’t like it, too bad, because that’s the way the world is. We’re really told that consistently. It’s historically false. If I look at any of the great struggles in this country, to abolish slavery or get women the vote, to fight for the 8-hour day, the Civil Rights Movement… the Anti-Vietnam War Movement… in every case it was frustrating. It often took years and years and years, but it worked. It may not have achieved every final measure of justice, but it certainly changed society. When I hear people say you can’t do anything, what they’re really doing is accepting what they’re being told, and that’s very convenient for the powers that be, because if people are all passive, nothing will happen.

“There’s another person I write about, Hazel Wolf, who is 101 years old. She wanted to play basketball when she was 11 years old. She said, ‘I want to play basketball.’ The coach said, ‘Girls can’t,’ and she said, ‘Of course we can’t, because you never give us any balls or hoops. Give us that and we’ll play basketball.’ He kind of looked dumbfounded and he says, ‘Alright, if you can raise the teams by this afternoon, you can play.’ And she did. And then she goes on in the 1930s (to fight) for organizing unions. She helps push through one of the first pension systems that became a model for social security, and that’s a good thing because she was a secretary her whole life and never made any money and she’s been living on social security for almost 40 years. She would be in the streets if people had not pushed through social security. One of the lessons of Soul Of A Citizen is that you not only get back in sort of an emotional way, but sometimes in a very practical way. Especially if you stick around long enough that you can see the benefits of the things you fight for. In her case, that’s been critical and I don’t know what she’d be doing otherwise. In the last 40 years she’s been working on environmental issues and building coalitions of environmental justice in low-income communities and Native American tribes, again, very far-sighted stuff. When I ask her how does she keep going, she says, ‘You do what you can, and then you do some more. You can’t do everything, but you can do what you can and then you can do something else and then you can do something else. That you can do your entire life.’

“Basically she’s saying, ‘You don’t have to take on everything’ but, if you start, and whatever it is you care about–homelessness, violence in the streets–you do something and then you continue on and you just learn a step at a time as you go, and if you keep on long enough, you can look back over a life of 30, 40, 50, 60 years of involvement and feel like, ‘Yes, I’ve done something.’ “

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