Category Archives: punishment

Axe and misogyny: They view it as a war to defend white supremacy

On January 6, supporters of the sitting president of the United States attacked the United States capitol and rioted inside the building. The stories, images and fallout are all visible and well documented. Here is how I understand that we got here:

In the 80s, republican operatives, mapping demographic changes and voting assumptions began to see rising numbers of people of color as a threat to the electoral power that they had held. Billionare conservatives started funding very specific media sources (Breitbart, Fox News, Daily Caller) to make money from a new market – white people who could be made angry about changes for justice in order to create an enthusastic white supremacist voting block to keep republicans in power.

In their mind, there were just a few short decades to go until the showdown, so they strategized in a couple of very focused ways to ensure that conservative business leaders could resist.

  1. They funded, fostered, nurtured white anger against people of color at every opportunity. Using the axis of race, right wing journalists could re-articulate crushing poverty as the fault of the gains of people of color. It was the Southern Strategy on steroids.
  2. They invested heavily in controlling the courts. Federalist society, nurturing young conservatives, scholarships, mentorship, and guidance to create targeted young right wing ideologues ready to carry the white supremacist mission long after they are dead.
  3. They worked hard to win state legislatures, and use gerrymandering to minimize the power of voters that didn’t vote republican.
  4. They succeeded in establishing a relationships to politicize videogame players and an emerging online troll culture to embrace the symbols of white supremacy with ease and comfort.
  5. They absorbed / hijacked the Republican party in the 2010s and reassured the traditional elements of that coalition that the gains in power would be worth the harm to the nation. Corporate donors, philanthropists, government agencies, and many others became complicit in a full-fledged white supremacist government structure working under the Trump administration to do active harm to people of color at almost every turn.

Here is where we often get it twisted. The justifications and explanations for each of these activist strategies are fairly well documented. The key question is how do a small number of very privileged republican organizers spin this strategy? What do they specifically say and to who – these questions can be part of the educational work to innoculate future fascist moments. In this case, the narrative of white supremacy was the only communiciation strong enough to push working class white people to harm people of color and it was buoyed by hatred of women and an anger at lack of white solidarity.

There are a lot of issues of accountability that will be navigated in the next few weeks. Criminal charges for those who killed a cop, resignations from those leaders who are identifed as responsible (or those who are scapegoated). And this rupture will open the space for new policies that will often have profoundly negative implications for people of color, poor people, women and disadvantaged folks (increased surveillance, new anti-terrorism laws, policing in communities of color etc). To rush into policy-making without reflection is a terrible path forward.

We should take stock of the recuperation efforts. Examine those who played a role, or had been connected to the violence and some-how are attempting to detatch themselves. We should be asking how the invitation was framed such that it made sense to so many people. But finding access points is important.

My first off note about this was Strava – the bike riding app told me that it didn’t support the insurrection against the US government and weren’t cop killers in an announcement at the top of the app. Well yeah . . . you are supposed to be an app that tracks my cycling miles, I hadn’t honestly assumed that you were in favor of a violent overthrow of the government by Nazis and their allies.

“What we saw in the US Capitol this week was the antithesis of what Strava stands for,” the letter read. “It was internal terrorism and we denounced it. Whatever the limits or flaws our democracy may have, we believe that we must protect it. ”

“This is not about politics. These are fundamental principles in which we deeply believe: treat ALL people with decency, respect and fairness ”. says the letter. “When you joined Strava, you joined a global community of athletes who are in line with our community standards: respect each other, respect the rules, and be inclusive and anti-racist.” (Sidenote: it looks like Strava disappeared this note almost as soon as it was made. The only reference I can find to this quote is from a weird fitness webpage that is giving me fascist vibes . . .)

We can probably distinguish those corporations who took a serious loss from their de-platforming of Donald Trump. In this case, we are talking about a corporation that commented on the attacks either for their own gain or to protect themselves from public relations losses.

Axe Body Spray for instance.

Axe Body spray is the worst. Not only in aroma, but in the toxic sexist rape culture advertising that has been marked, mocked and mapped. I’m not surprised that Axe body spray had to respond – they must know that the bogus entitlement to sex because you sprayed yourself down with duck urine is tied to the entitlement of those who tried to murder Nancy Polosi.

“We’d rather be lonely” is the most minimizing and trivializing read on the events of January 6. To understand that Axe would go without their body spray rather than be affiliated with the murderous nazis and that they still have time to indicate that it would make them lonely is grotesque. They still want you to know that if you don’t wear Axe Body Spray you won’t get laid . . . Axe sells entitlement and in this case, a multinational corporation’s PR team put it clearly that this one was too far.

I think that whoever run’s Axe’s twitter handle might not get the depth of this moment. But then again neither did the men who came to DC to murder uppity women. For instance Cleveland Grover Meredith Jr. The investigating report indicates that he voluntarily showed Federal agents text messages planning to kill Speaker Polosi.

“How much u give me to go trench the Capital lawn with ma big truk?” The other participant wrote, “Don’t do it.” MEREDITH replied, “I’m gonna run that CUNT Pelosi over while she chews on her gums.” Later in the conversation, MEREDITH wrote, “Dead Bitch Walking. I predict that within 12 days, many in our country will die.” (https://extremism.gwu.edu/sites/g/files/zaxdzs2191/f/Cleveland%20Grover%20Meredith%20Statement%20of%20Facts.pdf)

Misogynistic slurs have been uncovered and amplified in the quotes of those who drove to the capital heavily armed with a desire to do harm. The centrality of violence against women is really tied to the logic of the transgression of violating the capitol. The goal was similar to the early 1900s strategies of faux-assasination communications attentat – to illustrate the potential for somene to be harmed. To illustrate that a president or a king can be reached and to strike fear.

We could also examine this from the perspective of the domestic violence literature. Understanding the power and control wheel and the transgression of safe spaces to induce terror. Abusers will communicate in many small ways that the abused is not safe – including by invading previously safe space to communicate disempowerment.

There was no way to understand the photos of the dude with his feet up on the desk outside Speaker Polosi’s office and his initial encounters with the press. Barnett is his name and we can match the entitlement and joy in transgressing with is deep hatred of a powerful woman.

BARNETT states “I did not steal it. I bled on it because they were macing me and I couldn’t fucking see so I figured I am in her office. I got blood on her office. I put a quarter on her desk even though she ain’t fucking worth it. And I left her a note on her deskthat says “Nancy, Bigo was here, you Bitch.” (https://extremism.gwu.edu/sites/g/files/zaxdzs2191/f/Richard%20Barnett%20Statement%20of%20Facts_0.pdf)

Donald Trump has articulated the hurt done to white men in several divisive ways, but the deeply sexist and racist framings he has presented seem to have tracked well with the people who showed up to do harm on January 6.

Challenging white supremacy means contesting the common-sense nature of the dialogue. Fragmented social media (where people can bury themselves in media which affirms their point of view) has reached a point of insulation – where it can protect harmful ideas from critique. This means that unpacking white supremacist (ill)logic means navigating the ways that sexism and racism co-create this moment of deep entitlement and violence.

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Filed under capitalism, communication, critique, gender, intersectionality, juxtaposition, media, police, protest, punishment, race, representation, resistance, rhetoric, sexism, sexual assault, Surveillance, videogames, vulnerability

“Either unmarked or engraved, hey, who’s to say?” MF DOOM

It is hard to fathom the loss of DOOM (editing note – “all caps when you spell the man’s name”). I listened to a lot of MF DOOM and spent quite a few hours discussing, debating and analyzing his lyrics. I can’t capture the depth and weirdnesss of thoughts about DOOM in a single post – every time I sit down to outline this post I get a gigantic spider web of entwined themes.

Black america, slang, diaspora reflections, coded language in hip hop, sample choices, mocking, survivorship, graffiti, families, drugs and alcohol, masking, comic books, representation, sex, communication strategies and a million other threads travel through DOOM lyrics. All you can really do is pull some of those strings and hope that they spark meaningful thoughts.

So maybe we start with the fact that DOOM wrote about his death, his legacy and the fragile nature of human existence in his first song as DOOM.

Daniel Dumile emerged in the NYC hip hop sphere as MF DOOM for the potent first album Operation: Doomsday with the support of Bobbito Garcia and his indie record label Fondle ‘Em. Although Dumile had rhymed with KMD, this was a new incarnation for the artist with a new mask, lyrical style and stylized representation as a villain – exhaggerating every hip hop trope with double and triple entendres.

“On Doomsday/ ever since the womb/ ‘Til I’m back where my brother went, that’s what my tomb will say/ Right above my government: Dumile/ Either unmarked or engraved, hey, who’s to say?”

MF DOOM “Doomsday” from Operation: Doomsday.

Dumile’s brother Subroc was killed in a car accident the same week that his band KMD was dropped from Elektra shelving their second album Black Bastards. The band was fired because of the album cover art presenting the hanging of a Sambo character – symbolizing the birth of a new Afro-centric Black man who refused to perform demeaning roles. Cue Dante Ross.

How do you make art out of this kind of stuff? DOOM is honest about his own upcoming death in the chorus, then he names the stakes. It has been DOOM’s day (centered on him) and also a apocalypse/catastrophe (doomsday) from his birth until his death. His tomb might be engraved (famous) or he may finish his run on this earth as an un-acknowledged anonymous dead person but he is going to work.

It is a weird thing to put in the middle of your comeback/vengence album. But for DOOM life and death never seem all that far apart. This is the opening track (after the intro skit) an honored place in the hip hop album – the centerpiece to tell a consumer if they should buy the album. It might seem morbid, but this is life and death stuff and that crucible produces amazing art.

Doom reports that he made the album while semi-homeless, sleeping on couches, battling doubt and an industry that didn’t understand or like him. Which forced a very intimate album. The samples are friendly (if you like 80s and 90s RnB – DOOM and his friend’s limited record collections) and looped with careful MPC skill by the masked villain himself (as he writes in “Operation: Greenbacks” he owns the crown in “microphone, beats or the wheeles of steel”).

For me this song presents a declaration of his rebirth into a new world of DOOM. The song is an invitation to understand an artist’s use of the medium of hip hop to embody his own will to re-define and rearticulate himself. From a traumatized rejected creative artist who had tried to do the right thing (KMD) to a retaliatory bad-man who was beloved and could also pay his electric bill. That transformation came through intention, lyricism, imagination and the follow-through to make something happen.

We can imagine the tomb as an end piece – the final resting place – but we can also understand the tomb as a transition between worlds. Most mystery cults (and the saccharine descendants like the masons) use simulated burial, re-birth and re-naming as ritual symbols marking a person’s change by committing to the worldview.

In similar ways the end of KMD, ending of intimacy (you don’t get to see DOOM’s face after this) and the death of Dumile’s brother come to a focal point in this song’s chorus. Like a mystery cult burying an initiate in a stylized coffin suffused in incense and low lighting only to have them emerge reborn and shrouded in a new costume and given a new name.

For the comic book loving Dumile, it is also the birth of every significant bad guy character. It is Doctor Doom from the Fantastic Four comic book crafting his metal mask, studying esoteric magic and creating the character to plague the comic book heroes. It is a great story arc for an artist and Dumile could foster a literal mask to keep the public just far enough away from the actual pain while still talking explicitly about how much he missed his brother and was still angry at the journalists and record labels that had ruined he and his brother’s career.

The new DOOM, clad in the metal mask is ready to make fun of the goody goody rappers like KMD. Not only that, he wants their money, the credit and the praise. In his mini Jeopardy segment in the song, DOOM chooses the category “Means to the end” – he will do what needs to be done to get the money. He is “Bound to go three Plat / Came to destroy rap.”

Emerging as a villain from the tomb had to be liberating – and DOOM is free to drive off with sexy women, brag about his toughness in jail, mock the current so-called tough guy rappers and play with verbal expression without any limitations other than being the best. And that is what made him a villain in their eyes — and a hero in ours.

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Filed under art, capitalism, communication, critique, disaster, hip hop, media, memorial, music, punishment, race, representation, resistance, rhetoric, vulnerability

Torture Gorsuch: looking at a single email

I’m reading through the pile of documents that Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch provided to the Congress.  The documents show a legal advisor helping the Bush administration justify their torture policy.  Although being portrayed as a friendly frat guy, these documents suggest that Gorsuch is a more dangerous individual who is not qualified for the Supreme Court.   This essay is a discussion of a single email Gorsuch writes in a 2005  after his visit to the military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay Cuba.

The email is a message coordinating strategy to defend Guantanamo.  The email is to other lawyers who represented the positions of the Bush administration.  Gorsuch writes the email giving three suggestions about how to defend the use of the base in Guantanamo Bay as a detention, interrogation and torture facility.  His first suggestion is to destroy the evidence:

“1.  Camp X-Ray.  It serves no current purpose, is overgrown and decaying.  Gen Hood would understandably like to tear it down.  Of course, there may be some evidentiary concerns with this, but can we at least tee this up for a prompt resolution?  Eg — notify counsel of our intent to remove it or seek advance court authorization?”

-Neil Gorsuch, released email from November 10, 2005.  “GTMO trip”

His suggestion to tear down camp X-Ray suggests a desire to cover the nastier parts of the torture at Guantanamo.  Gorsuch’s first suggestion when he returns from a trip to Guantanamo Bay is to destroy the original detainee holding facility despite noting: “Of course, there may be some evidentiary concerns with this . . . ”

This memo is from November 2005.  A couple of months earlier a federal judge had ruled that Camp X-Ray was protected as evidence.   Here is Carol Rosenberg, in the Miami Herald reporting on the legal stakes of destroying Camp X-Ray:

“In July 2005, U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts became the first federal judge to impose a protective order on Guantánamo, ordering the government to “preserve and maintain all evidence, documents and information.”

At the time, the Bush administration argued that courts had no right to meddle in what the White House wanted done here.

Defense Department lawyers interpreted it to mean that nobody should touch Camp X-Ray, even though it officially closed in April 2002, leaving it a ramshackle rot of plywood interrogation huts and cage-like cells engulfed in weeds and wildlife droppings.

For now, that’s where plans for closure start. The FBI team that spent a week earlier this month creating digital imagery did it for Pentagon lawyers, who will ask federal judges if they will accept imagery as a substitute.

But defense lawyers don’t want anything removed or razed.

First, dozens of captives are still suing for their freedom in federal court and their lawyers say their confinement could be used to challenge confessions as bogus, coerced, whether they are tried in the future or set free.

Later, some may want to sue the U.S., said New Mexico criminal attorney Nancy Hollander, who argues that her Mauritanian client Mohammedou Slahi, 38, was subjected to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” at Guantánamo. Never been charged with a crime, he is suing for his freedom.

Detention center staff defend their work as “safe, humane and transparent,” even as they declare portions of the prison camps off-limits to media and lawyers.

But, says Hollander: “I think they should preserve it all. Camp X-Ray figures in too many cases in terms of how people were treated, how people were interrogated.”

“There are interrogation rooms throughout Guantánamo’s prison system. There are loudspeakers. There are strobe lights. The bottom line for me is that Guantánamo is a crime scene and that it should be preserved.”

Moreover, she said, Slahi was moved around the base in blindfolds — at one point taken into the bay on a boat and threatened with death. He says U.S. forces beat him, subjected him to a systematic campaign of sleep deprivation and threatened his family. If she ever gets to look at intelligence logs of his interrogations, she may want to send investigators to examine the sites.

“Many of those things are violations of the conventions against torture,” she said. “And I believe he was tortured, and he received cruel and degrading treatment in violation of the law. There may be civil suits.”

– Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald November 15, 2009.  http://www.miamiherald.com/news/americas/guantanamo/v-print/story/1335533.html

This couple of years are the apex of political and legal scrutiny on the Bush Torture policies.  And they were Gorsuch’s responsibilty.  Charlie Savage explains in the New York Times:

“Judge Gorsuch’s time in the executive branch was brief. He joined the Justice Department in June 2005 as the principal deputy associate attorney general, meaning he was the top aide to the No. 3 official in the department. He left in August 2006, when Mr. Bush appointed him as a federal appeals court judge in Denver.

But those 14 months were tumultuous ones for the Bush administration amid controversies over detainee abuses, military commissions, warrantless surveillance and its broad claims of executive power. Judge Gorsuch’s job put him at the center of both litigation and negotiations with Congress over legislation about such topics.

References to those efforts may offer clues to Judge Gorsuch’s approach to the sort of national-security and executive power issues that rarely come before his appeals court but can be crucial at the Supreme Court.”

– Charlie Savage.  “Neil Gorsuch helped defend disputed Bush-era torture policies.” New York Times, March 15, 2017.

Gorsuch, fresh back from Guantanamo zips off a 3 point memo to provide more robust support for Guantanamo.  He casually suggests destroying camp X-Ray despite the legal prohibition to do so.  Why might a Bush Administration lawyer hope to protect Guantanamo from legal scrutiny?  Oh yeah, turns out the CIA was running a top-secret torture detention facility out of Guantanamo.  Here is Carol Rosenberg in the Miami Herald in 2014:

“In 2004, as the U.S. Supreme Court was poised to let Guantánamo captives consult lawyers for the first time, the CIA spirited some men who now face death-penalty trials from a clandestine lockup at the U.S. Navy base — and didn’t tell Congress.

Two years later, even as President George W. Bush announced at the White House Rose Garden that the spy agency had transferred its most prized captives to Guantánamo for trial, the alleged al-Qaida terrorists were still under control of the CIA.

The release of 524 pages of the 6,700-page Senate Intelligence Committee report confirms for the first time that the CIA used Guantánamo as a black site — and continued to run the prison that held the alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and 13 other men even as the Pentagon was charged to prosecute them.

It also offers graphic details that the U.S. government has hidden from view in the pretrial hearings of six captives it seeks to execute — about the sexual torture and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder of the alleged USS Cole bomber and why a sickly looking accused 9/11 conspirator sits on a pillow at court proceedings.

But it does not resolve whether the spy agency that systematically hid its prized interrogation program from court and congressional scrutiny has ceded control to the U.S. military of the secret facility where the men are imprisoned. And, if so, when?

“I would find it hard to believe that they let go. Throughout this entire program, the CIA is running from the law at every turn,” says Navy Cmdr. Brian Mizer. He calls the revelation that his client, Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, the accused planner of the USS Cole bombing, “had a tube inserted into his anus” tantamount to rape.”

– Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald.  December 11, 2014. http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/guantanamo/article4434603.html

Gorsuch consistently ran interference and helped to cover-up the potential crimes of Guantanamo.  That original quote is a grotesque artifact and it is just a single paragraph.  Gorsuch leans so heavily in favor of the Republican President of the time this email is a documentation of his hustle to find justifications and run interference.

In this same November 10, 2005 email Gorsuch suggests bringing federal judges to Guantanamo to sway their opinion of Guantanamo.  Gorsuch writes:

“2.  Judges trip.  If the DC judges could see what we saw, I believe they would be more sympathetic to our litigating positions.  Even if habeas counsel objected to such a trip, that might not be a bad thing.  What do they want to hide, a judge might ask?  Habeas counsel have been eager to testify (sometimes quite misleadingly) about conditions they’ve witnessed; a visit, or even just the offer of a visit, might help dispel myths and build confidence in our representation to the court about conditions and detainee treatment. Of course there are countervailing considerations — e.g., can judges come take a view under such circumstances?  do any judicial ethical considerations exist?  who bears the costs?  (. . . )”

-Neil Gorsuch, released email from November 10, 2005.  “GTMO trip”

Gorsuch’s bias to defend Guantanamo at all costs and to sway judges seems offensive to me.  Federal judges have been the only realistic check on potential abuses at the facility.   Is Gorsuch trying to prevent rulings such as the judge who ordered Camp X-Ray be preserved as evidence?  It seems this way.

Neil Gorsuch is a danger to the United States.  President Trump has widely called for an expansion of the use of Guantanamo.  Including at times for illegally sending United States citizens to Guantanamo.  Here William Finnegan explains in the New Yorker:

President Donald Trump has never been particularly lucid on the subject of the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He is for it, of course. Early last year, at a campaign rally, he said, “I watched President Obama talking about Gitmo, right, Guantánamo Bay, which, by the way, which, by the way, we are keeping open. Which we are keeping open . . . and we’re gonna load it up with some bad dudes, believe me, we’re gonna load it up.” This cartoonish threat raised the question of where or in which putative wars the United States would find these new inmates. Trump seemed to think, in a later interview, that he could send Americans accused of terrorism to Guantánamo to be tried by military commissions. But American citizens cannot, by law, be held at Guantánamo. Details, for Trump.

– William Finnegan. “President Trump’s Guantánamo Delusion” New Yorker http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/president-trumps-guantanamo-delusion

Gorsuch seems to be a torture-leaning, executive branch yes-man in this email.  The United States must have a robust Supreme Court who can prevent or respond to illegal presidential actions.  Sadly, Gorsuch has shown us that he is not that judge.

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Filed under colonialism, communication, human rights, prisons, propaganda, punishment, representation, sexual assault, Surveillance

Best arguments from the supreme court hip hop brief

I grew up with the notion that hip hop was opposition to mainstream culture.  Regardless of lyrical content, hip hop (and hip hop fans) were deeply mocked and policed for years.  Rappers might have been saying mundane things but if you rhymed over beats, you carried the weight of the genre.

You could get in trouble for playing hip hop lyrics.  Radio stations would proudly broadcast that they played everything “except rap.”  There was a kind of stigma that stuck with hip hop artists and fans.   Hip hop concerts weren’t booked at Madison Square Garden until Jay-Z broke through with the Black Album.

It seems so clearly racist from my current perspective.

We might add in capitalism.  The nineties saw a rush to absorb, market and exploit hip hop culture by advertisers.  The stereotypes and old discourse lingered as hip hop became mainstream culture.

It doesn’t surprise me that the choice of hip hop as a medium stigmatizes the participant.  (It saddens me).

Taylor Bell, a thoughtful high school senior was informed that two PE coaches were commenting and touching female students, Bell wrote a rap song.  Instead of praising this whistle blower, Bell was kicked out of school and had to go to an alternative school for his senior year.

His eventual lawsuit hinges on the ability of a high school student to express their political views outside of school.  This seems like a first amendment no-brainer to me . . . so of course it is before the Supreme Court.

Killer Mike (Michael Render), Erik Nielson, Travis Gosa and Charis E. Kubrin submitted an supporting brief to the court.  Here are my favorite parts:

  1.  It is actually the bad words that disturb administrators, not the report of sexual harassment.

Following a lengthy decision-making process, Bell was suspended and sent to an “alternative school” by the school’s Disciplinary Committee. A Committee member suggested that Bell’s use of profanity in the song was the reason for his suspension: “Censor that stuff. Don’t put all those bad words in it . . . The bad words ain’t making it better.”

Source: Microsoft Word – 151206 Taylor Bell amicus 12-17-15.docx – Taylor-Bell-Amicus.pdf

2.  Hip hop is an alternative to fighting.

Hip hop—a cultural movement comprised of performance arts such as MCing (“rapping”), DJing (“spinning”), breakdancing (“b-boying”), and graffiti (“writing”)—began as a response to these dire conditions. Pioneers like Afrika Bambaataa (once a gang leader himself) used spiritual and political consciousness (“knowledge of self”) to develop hip hop as a tool for ending gang violence by providing an outlet that transformed the inherent competitiveness and territoriality of gang life into something artistic and productive. Dance competitions, rap battles, and other competitive performances replaced actual fighting , and rap in particular eventually became an alternative, legal source of income for blacks and Latinos otherwise cut off from labor market opportunities. Travis L. Gosa, The Fifth Element: Knowledge , in T HE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO H IP -H OP 56, 58-61 (Justin A. Williams ed., 2015).

Source: Microsoft Word – 151206 Taylor Bell amicus 12-17-15.docx – Taylor-Bell-Amicus.pdf

3.  Bell was intending to spread the word via hop hop.

Like Tupac Shakur, Taylor Bell was using his music to effect changes . In the final portion of the video for his song PSK da Truth , Bell says that in rapping about sexual misconduct at his high school, he is trying to raise awareness about similar injustices around the world: “It’s something that’s been going on, you know, worldwide for a long time that I just felt like, you kn ow, I needed to address.”

Source: Microsoft Word – 151206 Taylor Bell amicus 12-17-15.docx – Taylor-Bell-Amicus.pdf

4.  Threatening gun metaphors are widely used in hip hop.

When Bell raps, “fucking with the wrong one gon’ get a pistol down your mouth (Boww!),” he is channeling well-worn phrases used by popular and established artists like Lil Wayne (“Pistol in your mouth, I can not make out what you tryin’ to say”), Gucci Mane (“Put the pistol in ya mouth like dentures”), Waka Flocka Flame (“Niggas know I got a pistol in his mouth”), E-40 (“Put the pistol in his mouth and make it hurt, ooh”), and Scarface (“Put a pistol in his mouth, and blow his fucking brains out”). L IL WAYNE , Bill Gates, on I A M  NOT A HUMAN BEING (Young Money, Cash Money & Universal Motown 2010); GUCCI MANE , Texas Margarita, on BRICK FACTORY : VOLUME I (available for download from http://www.livemixtapes.com 2014); WAKA FLOCKA FLAME , Where It At, on DU FLOCKA RANT : HALF -TIME S HOW (available for download on http://www.livemixtapes.com 2013); SCARFACE , Diary of a Madman, on M R . SCARFACE IS BACK (Rap-A-Lot Records 1991); E-40, It’s On, On Sight, on T HE ELEMENT OF SURPRISE (Jive & Sick Wid It Records 1998).

Source: Microsoft Word – 151206 Taylor Bell amicus 12-17-15.docx – Taylor-Bell-Amicus.pdf

5.  Discourse influences stereotypes about hip hop: experimental studies

A handful of studies have examined the direct impact of these stereotypes. In these studies, people who are given identical sets of lyrics—but who are told these lyrics come from different musical genres—are asked about their perceptions of the lyrics. One study, for example, presented respondents with sexually explicit rap lyrics or sexually explicit non-rap lyrics. Importantly, the researchers discovered that the sexually explicit music was considered more offensive and less artistic when it was rap compared to when it was non-rap. Dixon & Linz, supra , at 234-35.

In a related study, participants read a set of lyrics from folk group Kingston Trio’s 1960 song, Bad Man’s Blunder , and were told that the lyrics were either from a rap or country music song. After reading the lyrics, participants evaluated them and responded to questions about the offensiveness of the song, the threatening nature of the song, the need for regulation of the song, and if the song would incite violence. The responses were significantly more negative when the lyrics were represented as 24 rap, revealing that the same lyrical passage viewed as acceptable in a country song is considered dangerous and offensive when identified as a rap song. Carrie B. Fried, Who’s Afraid of Rap: Differential Reactions to Music Lyrics , 29 J. A PPLIED SOC . PSYCH . 705, 711 (1999).

All of this research reveals that stereotypical assumptions play a far greater role in our decision- making than we may realize. And some of this stereotyping may account for what happened in this case. If we don’t work to acknowledge and, when necessary, combat these stereotypes, the consequences can be serious and life altering— particularly for a young man like Taylor Bell.

Source: Microsoft Word – 151206 Taylor Bell amicus 12-17-15.docx – Taylor-Bell-Amicus.pdf

***

I think this brief is a strong set of arguments.  It also makes several key arguments about hip hop and metaphoric violence that need further discussion.  Good opportunity for amplification and discussion.

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Filed under capitalism, communication, hip hop, music, punishment, representation, resistance, rhetoric, sexism

Obama pardons Valerie Bozeman: drug war reflections

Kyle Swenson has an excellent write up on Valerie Bozeman in the Broward Palm Beach New Times.  Bozeman was convicted of drug charges and received federal mandatory minimum penalties.  She was pardoned from her life sentence by President Obama after 23 years in prison.  This is an excellent read complete with a sympathetic protagonist, grimy drug kingpins, incompetent defense attorneys and a guilty judge.

Swenson does a good job explaining how low-level offenders were getting astounding sentences.

But as anxiety over crack grew, the statute was hijacked. The use of “851 enhancements,” as they came to be called, became a huge prosecutorial hammer. The marching orders for federal prosecutors were for no mercy.

In 1989, then-Attorney General Richard Thornburgh ordered U.S. attorneys to “charge the most serious, readily provable offense.” Victory in the courtroom was “measured by the length of sentence you could get if you secured that prosecution,” explains Price. So 851 enhancements — which could trigger a life sentence if an individual had two prior felony convictions — became an easy way for the government to notch a heavy win.

“It was a time when we turned our backs on rehabilitation and support, and our criminal justice system and sentencing law became much more punitive,” Price says. “We were locking up people who we didn’t like and were afraid of. But we were also locking up a lot of people who really didn’t deserve the lengthy sentences we were doling out.”

Source: Valerie Bozeman Is Pardoned by Obama as America Wrestles With Fallout From the War on Drugs | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

Bozeman got a life sentence and learned about the 851 (mandatory minimum) penalties that sent her to prison only years later.  Note that the ‘old timers’ — the prisoners who are sentenced to life became a legal research unit under the direction of Bozeman.

In between chores, Bozeman shot off urgent letters to court-appointed lawyers, like SOS messages stuffed in bottles and pitched into the ocean. Most were ignored. Eventually, she received a letter from Judge Ungaro patiently explaining that Bozeman had been sentenced to life because of a statute known at “851 enhancement.”

With that phrase in her mind, she began visiting the prison law library, where she finally began to unlock what exactly had happened to her.

Soon, Bozeman called together the old-timers. Bozeman had a one-question pop quiz. “Do you know why you got a life sentence?”

Blank looks bounced back at her. One by one, Bozeman sent the women to their cells for their sentencing paperwork. Together they bushwhacked through the legalese until they found it: 851. “The ladies didn’t understand why they were sitting there with a life sentence,” she says today. “They just didn’t know.”

Source: Valerie Bozeman Is Pardoned by Obama as America Wrestles With Fallout From the War on Drugs | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

The essay is also ripe with some terrifying statistics about the drug war and incarceration.  In particular the use of the federal 851 statute (mandatory minimums) to coerce suspects to admit guilt.

Between 1980 and 2013, the number of drug defendants incarcerated in federal custody had exploded from 4,749 to 100,026 — a 2,006 percent uptick. Fifty percent of all federal inmates were serving time on drug charges.

Not only did mandatory minimums put small-time dealers in prison for long periods but 851 enhancements also had another harsh effect. Because the decision to file rested solely with the prosecution, it could be used as a threat: If you go to trial, we’ll file an enhancement.

A study by Human Rights Watch showed that in 2012, “the average sentence of federal drug offenders convicted after trial was three times higher (16 years) than that received after a guilty plea (5 years and 4 months).” When sentencing enhancements were in play for defendants with prior convictions, defendants “who went to trial were 8.4 times more likely to have the enhancement applied” than those who pleaded guilty.

New York Federal District Judge John Gleeson noted that use of 851s had gotten out of control. He wrote in an October 2013 decision that they brought on “the sentencing equivalent of a two-by-four to the forehead.” As a result, so many people chose to plead guilty rather than take chances at trial that a federal criminal trial was “on the endangered species list,” he said. “The government’s use of [851 enhancements] coerces guilty pleas and produces sentences so excessively severe they take your breath away.”

Proof was in the data: In 1980, only 69 percent of defendants in federal drug cases pleaded guilty and took plea deals; by 2010, 97 percent did.

Source: Valerie Bozeman Is Pardoned by Obama as America Wrestles With Fallout From the War on Drugs | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

This essay is a worthwhile read and a thoughtful reflection on the drug war.  Thanks to Longreads for the suggestion.

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Filed under capitalism, class, do-it-yourself, drugs, human rights, prisons, punishment, race, representation, resistance

Sandra Bland and police killing

It feels indulgent to write about anything other than the murder of Sandra Bland at the hands of police officers.   I don’t have much to add to the sad and terrified discourse surrounding the Bland killing.

But it gets you thinking about how a human being like Texas officer Brian Encinia becomes so brutally callous as to cry “good” when the suspect he is slamming to the ground declares that she has epilepsy.

Or how a young activist headed to a new job in a new place might run afoul of the police system she had critiqued.

Edited video, officer suspended, suspicious death in the jail.  These things should enrage you and be motivation for culture change which is deeply necessary.   Watch the traffic stop video if you can:

Rest In Power Sandra Bland.

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Police violence and mentally ill: firing dissidents

Toshio Meronek has a thoughtful piece about police violence toward mentally ill people.  I appreciated the article, but one part stuck out.  Meronek writes:

Statistics and history show there’s little accountability for cops who use excessive force, like in central New Jersey, where a 2014 study by the Courier News and the Home News Tribune found that 99 percent of police brutality complaints went uninvestigated. Last year, a police officer in Monterey, California was fired not for using too much force, but for using too little. In February of 2014, Corporal Thanh Nguyen a campus officer at California State University Monterey Bay, refused to tase a mentally ill black student when prompted by officers from the nearby Marina, California police force. After the Marina police filed a complaint with the university citing “failure to act,” Nguyen was fired. (In an interview with The Huffington Post, Jeff Solomon, president of the Statewide University Police Association, the officer’s union, explains that Nguyen refused to participate in the tasing because he believed it was unnecessary. Nguyen is now suing his former employer for wrongful termination.)

via Cops shouldn’t be above the Americans with Disabilities Act | Fusion.

There is an interesting groupthink dynamic in the firing of Nguyen.  Seems similar to the Border Patrol firing border agents who humanize people who cross the border.

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Harm reduction, EDM & ‘Molly’

Longreads suggested the tell-all essay on so-called molly and Electronic Dance Music festivals written by Shane Morris.  It is a good read with snappy prose and a strong argument that the EDM festivals are locations where lots of people seek drugs from one-time drug dealers who may sell them almost anything.

But I’m more taken with his follow up essay where he not only answers many of the criticisms and also suggests a series of solutions.

Much of what he suggests is harm reduction – trying to make risky behavior (of almost any stripe) less likely to result in damage.  But it is also a sincere plea for bystander accountability and a change in the culture of drug-users and those promoters who make money on festivals.

I’m only saying that it’s time the EDM community starts acting like the family it espouses itself to be. No more secrets. No more “turning around and pretending you didn’t see that happen.” No more fearing what might happen if you ask for help. No more pretending people aren’t getting hooked on Molly. If everyone in the EDM community collectively decides to help themselves, rather than bending to legislation, we can fix this. If we advocate a culture of safety, health, and honesty, we can correct the course of this ship before it maroons itself on the rocks.

Part I. We need a return of safe, “cool down” areas to EDM events. If we all acknowledge that people are going to do drugs, and it’s just something that happens, then we should also be able to acknowledge that every person deserves to be safe, healthy, and well. If you’re not feeling OK, there needs to be a place you can go and sit down, chill out, drink water, maybe even get a bag of ice and put it on your head.

via Finding Molly: Reconstructing Dreamland | Bro Jackson.

Morris also suggests people “call out the idiots promoting overconsumption,” and for transparency (including drug testing kits for prospective users).   He also commits to making his own music events more safe and offers up “safe word” as the catchphrase for a campaign of communication:

Here is his explanation:

In BDSM circles, using a safeword means things have gotten too much for you to handle, and you need to stop, without judgement. In that regard, I feel its purpose is well served here as well. If you’re at an event, and things have spun out of control for you, a friend, or perhaps a stranger you’re just looking out for–you should be able to remove yourself from the situation and know your safety is the primary concern, without fear of repercussions or judgement.

via Finding Molly: Reconstructing Dreamland | Bro Jackson.

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Sanitizing Waka Flocka Flame

I’ve noted before that Waka Flocka Flame travels a careful orbit between violent drug rhymes and friendly celebrity.  It reminds me of Snoop Dogg and Sean Price — they both sort of make visible the double-consciousness of famous black men. Simultaneously expressing fictional violent anti-social expressions (which are consumed for people’s pleasure) and at the same time in different venues re-representing themselves with a friendly comedic persona (which is consumed for people’s pleasure).

Here is Waka telling a story from his childhood about his grandmother punishing him stylized like a Charles Schultz Peanuts holiday special.

Let’s remember that only the voice is Waka’s the representation is the work of a whole team of experts (sound editors, animators, directors, artists).  And a company makes money on the whole thing.

It would be very interesting to map the choices of animated representations of the recent Trae and Waka videos.

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Cannibal capitalism: Chief Keef and rehab

I’m interested in the idea that folks would become famous because they harmed themselves or allowed someone else to harm them on camera.  I’ve been calling it cannibal capitalism – as a means of describing this wide scope on popular media.    Cannibal in the sense that viewers consume of the body of another human being who is on camera taking years off of their life

Chief Keef is in rehab for ganja and let’s loose with some great insights about how unpleasant it is.

Nestled inside a nondescript beach house, one of hip-hop’s most controversial rising stars is holed up in court-ordered rehab, and he’s feeling frustrated and alone.

“It’s like being locked up,” Chief Keef, 18, tells Billboard, in his first interview since he entered rehab. “And when I’m locked up, I don’t want anybody to come see me. I won’t let my family come here. I haven’t seen my 2-year-old daughter.”

via Chief Keef Talks Rehab, ‘Bang 3’ Album & Learning How to Surf | Billboard.

Cannibal Capitalism is best thought of as a pattern of mediated communication about morality.  Along with viewing people getting hurt and enjoying it (Jackass, NFL, Ultimate Fighting) we also get the moral commentary from the narrators and participants about that suffering.

Part of the narration of morality that comes with hip hop and cannibal capitalism is a kind of racism+classism+paternalism.  When the articles were popping about Odd Future, the dominant story was just how naughty they were and emphasizing the difficulties they got into.  Very little conversation about music, and heavy emphasis on the disciplining of (usually) young black men.

The quote from the Billboard article is the opening passage.  Do you think it invites a kind of moral judgement?  Do you wonder what this rapper did to get this punishment?  Is it framed in a way to encourage you to read it as an omniscient person who hasn’t had this kind of difficulty, shaking your head in faux-sympathy?

There is no doubt that Chief Keef is at the core of a major moral panic.  One part of the division is the fascinating language used to divide people up.  Richard Sherman and the significance of the representation of thug:

I wonder if the exciting pleasure of the music and imagery of Chief Keef experiencing suffering, particularly mapping up to the discipline and punish strategy of suffering/redemption (recycled) is part of the appeal?

Public consumption of rap stars and their back stories usually includes a kind of nefarious sharing of information.  I went over to my buddies house and we listened to music and also to a 5 minute rant from KRS-ONE threatening some dude over a van robbery.

Hip hop fans are usually fiends for gossip, and interested in the music, culture, language and well, anything of our favorite musicians.

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Filed under capitalism, communication, hip hop, media, prisons, punishment, race, representation