Saturday, September 24, 2011

Discipline and Punish

Discipline and Punish

On September 21, 2011 the entire United States witnessed the lynching of a Black man. The execution of Troy Davis should serve as a wake up call for whites and others to a couple of factors many Blacks and other minority groups have known for decades. One, racism in the form of white supremacy is still just as powerful as t has always been. As much as people would like to ignore it or deny it, this is a known fact. Two, the entire criminal justice system, from the police to the courts, to the prisons, is flawed and easily corruptible. It is geared toward imposing the will of the white ruling class on the lower classes. The Troy Davis case proved both of these points.
The situation reminded me of Michel Foucault’s (pronounced me-shell foo-co) book Discipline and Punish. In the book, Foucault explained the evolution of capital punishment and the development of the prison system. He explained that originally governments used public torture and executions as the primary form of punishment for crimes. The idea was that the condemned would serve as an example and deterrent to other criminals – even for the smallest of offenses. The media’s depiction of medieval executions is somewhat inaccurate. During such public executions, the public would be comprised of those who supported the execution and those who opposed it. After the execution, riots would erupt between the opposing groups. Those executed were often seen as martyrs. When groups become organized and gain dominance during riots, those riots become revolutions. The fact that these riots occurred proved that public executions weren't an effective method of dealing with crime or dissident activists.
A more effective method of dealing with criminals was needed as society evolved with new forms of government and industrial technology. This led to the development of chain gangs and labor camps. The labor camps and chain gangs put the inmates to work deemed useful by the government and other special interests, there was still always a change for rebellion and escape. The chain gangs punished prisoners by assigning them to jobs that reflected the nature of their crimes. The prisoners were said to pay their debt to society by physically working to improve the aspects of society that they had previously damaged. This method of punishment was supported by many reformers because it was more humane than public torture and executions.
Over time, governments developed the prison as the main method of punishment. Prisons became a way of using the same method of punishment for all crimes. By observing, training, and controlling every aspect of the prisoner’s life governments and prison authorities sought to impress a generic ideal of discipline to all f its convicts. Foucault explained that this method of punishment was meant to create people who would easily return  society to hold positions in institutions that required the same discipline such as schools (as students), (blue collar) jobs, and the military. The general function of all four of these institutions is to break a person down mentally and/or physically so that those in control of those institutions can build the subjected people up to be who/what the institutions were designed to make them. In capitalistic countries, the ruling class wanted (and still wants those convicts to serve as the manpower behind the institutions that keep the ruling class in its position at the top rung of the economic and political ladder. Needless to say, prison also has a secondary affect on one’s financial health. It affects not only the prisoner’s ability to generate income, but forces his family to fill the void of financial support that is left by the inmate’s absence. And without the financial ability to join the ruling class (primitive accumulation of capital), according to Marx, one has no other choice but to become a member of the working class (which includes both the middle and lower classes), or the lumpen (the criminal segment of the working class). This explains why many of the people who are released from prison often return.
Most of the forensic methods used today are primarily for the purpose of finding a suspect guilty of a crime. Forensic evidence maintaining one’s innocence is mainly the other side of the coin. The criminal justice system operated the same in the early days of America and developed similarly leading to the current day. Discipline and Punish explained this process for the entire Western world. As a friend of mine put it, “Michael Foucault is the white man that every Black man needs to read.” (The same goes for Karl Marx and The Communist Manifesto as well.) Despite the evolution in the methods of punishment, little was done to secure safety nets for those who were wrongly accused, let alone provide effective methods of repairing the damage done to such individuals. Such is the case for Troy Davis and many other political prisoners like Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier.
Troy Davis’ case was questionable to begin with, given that 7 of the 9 primary witnesses claimed that they only testified against him due to pressure (meaning intimidation or threats) from the police. One witness was told that he would be charged as an accessory to the murder if he refused to testify against Davis. It’s actually very common for them to use such methods to extract information from someone, whether that information is correct or not. I’ve seen it personally a few times before I was educated on what was going on. Obviously, neither the police nor the courts would ever take responsibility for such actions. Needless to say, many will try to use the fact that 7 of the 12 jurors were Black to rove that Troy’s case is not an issue of race. The thing many don’t realize, or choose to ignore is that anyone of any race can be used to support white supremacy directly or indirectly.
To those who understand the concept of being “safe” when it comes to race, it’s obvious why Obama decided not to say or do anything to help. He was most likely advised not to comment, whether he personally wanted help or not – and he took that advice if that was the case. Regardless, Obama has never spoken out in favor of Black men, not even during his campaign when Diop Olugbala posed the question “What about the Black Community”. Although he ironically was a member of a church that, according to the media, supported Black Nationalism to some degree, he seems to have distanced himself from those circles.
Hundreds of thousands of people called for Troy’s clemency. Celebrities (such as Big Boi of Outkast), regular citizens, a former FBI director, and even George W. Bush (of all people) opposed Troy’s execution. The flood of calls, emails, Tweets, and petitions finally won Tory a temporary delay of his execution minutes before he was to be executed. The PEOPLE did that. The Supreme Court took hours reviewing the case only to maintain Davis’ guilt. Maybe they saw something no one else saw or paid attention to. And if that is the case, then those who opposed Davis' execution should study the court transcripts the same as every other court has. Otherwise, the highest court in the land refused to admit that the justice system failed and killed an innocent man.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Hip Hop and Tupac Pt 1

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the death of Tupac Shakur. From the time I heard my first Tupac song, to the day I got my first album, to today – Tupac has played a “big brother” role throughout my life and I’m sure the lives of many others in my generation. When Pac died I was 7 years old. I didn’t have much exposure to rap at the time, but I had heard a few songs (California Love, 2 of Amerikas Most Wanted, and How Do You Want It) at different times that burned his name and sound into my mind.
I was in the 7th or 8th grade when I got “The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory” (everybody called it “Mackavelli”). I had already built an interest in reading up on Black history, and eventually researching the artists that I listened to became a part of my self-education. I had heard the names of the Black Panther Party, Huey P. Newton, Malcolm X, and Black Power, but I didn’t know much about any of them in detail. Listening to Tupac’s more socially conscious music led me to study those names and more as a teen. Those studies and the messages in Tupac’s, as well as the lessons that can be learned from examining his life are what led me to my current understanding of Black Power. And without that world view this blog probably would never have been created.
Despite the events that took place in Tupac’s life that would raise eyebrows for many about Tupac as a man, and Hip Hop itself, few can argue against his artisic genius. From the feelings of sympathy, sadness, and desperation in songs like “Brenda’s Got a Baby” and “Lord Knows”, to the hyped, partying mood in “How Do U Want It”, to a pissed off but empowered feeling from “Letter 2 the President”, “White Man’s World”, “Panther Power”, and “Soulja’s Story”, to moments of introspection and hope with “Who Do U Believe In”, “Better Dayz”, and “Thug’s Mansion” – Tupac’s music is mood altering.
The brother’s lyricism and symbology have led to thousands of web sites, books, and YouTube videos analyzing his words. Fans looking to understand references he made to past and (at his time) present personalities, events, and concepts to drawing connections between opinions Pac stated when he was alive to things going on today. One thing I always try to remind people of when they get too caught up in the “illuminati killed Tupac” and “Pac being alive” hype is that it doesn’t really matter if Tupac is dad or alive. He put the messages in his music and tailored his persona and sound the way he did for a reason. From experience, I’ve seen that when you go too deep for too long on sociality or politically conscious issues, you can quickly lose the interest of groups ranging from preps to jocks, to thugs and wanabe’s. Tupac tailored his music so that the conscious message was still present in most of his songs, but it didn’t turn off the average listener who wasn’t interested in such subjects.
Whether you understood or agreed with his message or no, you still heard the message; the seed was still planted. Whether those seeds take root through conversation, experience, or your own study is up to you and chance. Regardless, Pac put the messages in his music not for us t argue whether he was dead or not. He wanted us to feel the way he felt about the issues he spoke about and act on those feelings. Tupac said “I may not change the world, but I guarantee you I will spark the mind that is going to change the world.” I would like to think that I am one of those minds. R.I.P. and Thank You, Tupac.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Lessons From 9/11: Spitting Truth to Power

Today, many people will take the time out to mourn those lost on 9/11 and celebrate the people who acted to save lives on that day. When 9/11 happened, I was in the 7th grade. The science class (my first class of the day after home room) had barely started when the teacher was called out of his room. After a while he came back and announced that the World Trace Center had just been attacked. The first thing that came to mind was paratroopers gliding down and running through the streets. I had no clue what the World Trade Center was, what the attacks means, or why they happened.

After that, we would hear speeches in various classes about the terrorists attacking because they were jealous of our freedoms and hated how great of a country America was. I had been told better, and learned more from doing research over the years. The teacher who had been the main one telling us that patriotic BS saw me as one of her favorite students. I wonder how long that would have lasted if she had heard what I was really beginning to think about the attacks. Back then I couldn’t articulate what I thought at the time. I could repeat what I had heard, but couldn't debate anything yet.

Over the years I've come to understand what I had learned then, and more about why those attacks and others occurred. It came to the point that I stopped watching the news because I understood the science behind why terrorist attacks occur. I didn’t need any indoctrination to se the attacks the way I was expected to see them.

The people who took action to save lives that day and the victims who died should be commended (for those who survived) and remembered (for those who died). But it would do those heroes and victims more justice if the people and organizations who were supposed to be responsible for our protection never held accountable for their failure. They failed to protect us form attacks that they had been WARNED were going to happen. They also failed to show us the role that they played in causing or motivating the attacks in the first place.

Although many would like to think otherwise, the concept of power and freedom between countries are closely related to resources in function: Thee is only so much of either to go around. When one country has more freedom and power than another, it is because the rulers of the more prosperous country have done something to take power, resources, and therefore freedom away from the other country. It has never been a secret how America got its power and continues to maintain that power. Corporate and political control and influence over foreign governments and military violence (when the first two fail) are how the US and its allies keep their power, even today.

For the objective thinkers, here are some questions and fats to think about, and then possibly take action on. While the rest of the country mourns, unresolved questions like these leave the opportunity for future attacks and disasters like 9/11 open to happen again...

1) The Miseducation of the American Citizen: The terrorists of 9/11 placed a mirror in front of the US. The attacks exposed the not-so-civilized nature of the average American citizen. After the attacks religious and ethnic slurs, along with grossly distorted descriptions of Arabic culture and Islamic teaching flooded the internet, general conversation, and the radio. Most people didn’t, and still don’t know anything about Islam or Arabs, alone given the differences between the views of traditional Muslims and Muslim extremists. Closed minded people refused, and still refuse to this day, to learn more. Regardless of their lack of understanding, Americans called for blood to run in the streets of the Middle East (and they got it).

2) Why did no one fight back?: Each plane had 2 – 4attackers only armed with box cutters and martial arts training. They were up against a flight crew with a locked cockpit, and 100+ other passengers. Why did the passengers of only one plane decide to fight back? A person can be as good as they want to be at martial arts, they are not invincible. Can 2 people really beat 10 people fighting them at one time? Fear is a powerful tool.

3) The Third Building: The government has still failed to answer why the third building at the World Trade Center collapsed although it was never hit by any planes.

4) Fear is a Powerful Tool: Bullies use fear and violence to control the feelings and actions of others. They are usually shocked when they come cross a “victim” who is willing to fight back (or gained the ability to do so despite the bully’s pressure). It has been so long since the US had been attacked on its own land that it was shocking. The US was usually attacking other people’s homelands. The fear and hatred that this put in people’s hearts and minds allowed for the government to respond by providing the people with wars that would “end” terrorism. They also managed to take away many of our Constitutional rights and imprison many innocent people in the process. Every war the US has ever fought in, there was a "terrorist" attack that preceded. From the Revolutionary war to the War in Libya. They were always found to be inside jobs after the war had been started.

5) The War on Terrorism Can’t Be Won: As long as there are “Haves” and “Have Nots”, there will never be peace in domestic or foreign lands. As long as those two classes exist, the Haves will always have because they have taken from and disenfranchised the Have Nots. In the eyes of a desperate man in one of those US occupied counties, a US citizen reciting patriotic rhetoric can be seen as responsible for that man’s conditions. They their patriotism shows a passive agreement with their government’s actions. Therefore, if or when he decides to attack, he won’t discriminate against who he hurts in the process. Religious, political, racial, and other forms of extremism are always born out of extreme conditions. One man’s terrorist will always be another man’s freedom fighter. People are always looking for catalysts for change to improve their conditions, whether the methods are right or wrong.

6) Remembering the Dead: Mourning the loss of a loved one, though painful, can and should also be used as a learning tool for the living. Learn from the mistakes they made (how and why they made them) while living so you can better yourself. And to the best of your ability learn how unnecessary losses such as these can be avoided in the future. Hold your elected officials and local/national corporations and businesses accountable for the decisions they make that affect you. In a democratic country, what you don’t hold your elected officials accountable for, you and your loved ones will always be the ones who suffer the consequences.

Here are some other sites and books to check out for more info.

How to Hustle and Win, Part One: A Survival Guide for the Ghetto

9/11 We Know - FAQ

Fahrenheit 9/11