how do you spell racist?: U!-S!-A! [or: the new jim crow and the grand jury’s decision not to indict]

It seems strange that the week that is supposed to be about giving thanks opened on such a sour note. To wish people, “Happy Thanksgiving!,” in the face of so much brokenness feels odd.

Once the news broke on Monday night, all I heard walking down the street was people on their phones wondering if a mistake had been made, if the charge that would stick hadn’t been brought up in proceedings. “What about manslaughter? Wouldn’t at least involuntary manslaughter stick? There’s no dispute that Michael Brown was killed… Shouldn’t there be any recourse?” And yet, there wasn’t. But was anyone surprised?

Then, of course, since the decision was (strategically) announced after dark, the next word on everyone’s lips was, “riot,”

Walking through Bed-Stuy, a traditionally black Brooklyn neighborhood, I surprised myself by thinking, “If there are gonna be riots, let there be riots. If people are being treated like they are living in a war state and their lives are literally worth less, then bring it.”

Flames filled the screen when I turned it on. It didn’t take long before I turned it off.

I started my Tuesday morning watching (and at times listening to) Democracy Now!’s on-the-ground coverage of the aftermath of the grand jury’s decision. I ended up walking through Flatbush in tears listening to black youth in Ferguson chanting, “Black lives don’t matter.”

No. I Do Not accept that.

from Amnesty International

from Amnesty International

Yet this is what we are saying with every indictment that is thrown out, with every not-guilty verdict when a black person is killed at the hands of a white person–cop or vigilante. The message is just that: Black lives don’t matter.

I am a pacifist at heart. I fight for peace. I’ve never been in a fist fight, have never fired a weapon and stand for non-violence. Yet, at the same time, I can’t discount that Malcolm X declaration, By Any Means Necessary.

Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman brought up a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. in Tuesday’s coverage:

“It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.”

He said those words in March 1968. He was assassinated 3 weeks later.

I am not condoning rioting. In the end the small business owner paying for the consequences of a burnt-out store front is generally not in a position to change the broken policies that caused the arsonist’s anger in the first place. I do believe that there are peaceful ways to bring about change. But I understand the rage. As much as I can as a privileged, white young woman, I understand the rage.

The first black killing by white cops that I remember clearly–and protested with gusto–was the slaying of Amadou Diallo. 41 bullets. “It’s a wallet, not a gun!” And yesterday I watched “America’s Mayor” on CNN saying that he’s still waiting for an apology from those protesters to the cops who were acquitted in 1999.

Don’t hold your breath, Rudy. (Or maybe… do?)

Last night, while I was having a drink with my boyfriend at my parents’ apartment, a group of protesters appeared, marching and chanting down Sixth Avenue. That was all the invitation I needed. I grabbed Jason’s hand and we joined. We marched down Sixth Avenue, over Houston Street and onto the FDR up to the UN–where we turned off–leaving a group of thousands continuing up First Avenue.


approaching the FDR on Houston Street

approaching the FDR on Houston Street

protest moves down ramp to the FDR

protest moves down ramp to the FDR

helicopters over protesters

helicopters over protesters

approaching Empire State Building on FDR

approaching Empire State Building on FDR

Astor Place 6 station

Astor Place 6 station

When I was in Taiwan and the Trayvon Martin verdict was announced, all I wanted to do was go out in the street and scream. I was so angry that my friends were worried about me. I wore my hood in solidarity but just looked like a wacky foreigner wearing a hood in 99% humidity to Taiwanese folks on the street.

Sometimes shouting in the street feels good. At least it’s doing something, right? Taking to the streets, protesting is something we can do now. It’s within our power as US citizens. But then what? It doesn’t feel like enough. I am having a hard time channeling my anger about this into something constructive. It feels like every system is broken. The education system, the election system, the system of mass-incarceration, the system set up to “protect” law-abiding citizens. So where do we start? Where should our energies go? Where can we make the most lasting impact?

Regardless of the “facts,” this grand jury was not going to indict Darren Wilson because the prosecutor did not want the case to go to court. I’ve heard it over and over these past few days, that a prosecutor could get a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich.” But what happens when a prosecutor acts as a defense attorney at grand-jury proceedings? (And indulge me for a moment while I take a minute to acknowledge how disgustingly smarmy¬†Robert McCulloch was at the decision’s announcement!!) What recourse is there for that? When we don’t even get to the point of having a “fair trial”?

When murderers walk because there is “no law” that can stick, then the laws need to change. When unarmed 12-, 14-, 18-year-old boys are being killed in our streets by “law-enforcement” who see these boys as demons, monsters, threats, then the training needs to change.

And, cry me a river, I would look like a f*cking demon, too, if I had just been shot at.

With every indictment that is thrown out, with every not-guilty verdict when a black person is killed at the hands of cops and vigilantes, no matter what color, we are setting a precedent that black people can be killed with impunity.

We’re waiting on a decision from the Eric Garner grand jury. Time will tell what happens to the cop who shot and killed 12-year-old, Tamir Rice this weekend, what happens to the cop who shot and killed Akai Gurley in Brooklyn’s Pink Houses last week. The list could go on and on and those two killings happened within the last week.

So on this Thanksgiving Eve, here’s five things I’m thankful for:

  • I’m thankful for protesters around the country protesting peacefully because we want something better.
  • I’m thankful for the clergy and organizers on the ground in Ferguson who have been actively working with and guiding protesters towards peaceful methods of disobedience.
  • I’m thankful for journalists like Amy Goodman and the Democracy Now! team for their unsensationalized reporting on what goes on in the world.
  • I’m thankful for my amazing beau who walked with me hand in hand, through stand-still traffic on the FDR last night.
  • I’m thankful for my parents for raising me to fight for what’s right and supporting my every effort to do so (down to walking the dog I’m dogsitting for me so I could shout in the streets last night–Thanks, mom!).


I hope that everyone has a safe Thanksgiving. Get your hands on a copy of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. And in solidarity remember: No Justice, No Peace.

This is Lauryn Hill’s dedication to the folks in Ferguson.

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