Thursday, December 25, 2014

Ismaaiyl Brinsley and the Anarchists: The New Oswalds and the Repression of Black Lives Matter

Ismaaiyl Brinsley: 
The New Oswald and the Repression of Black Lives Matter

This is an open letter to Black Lives Matter activists and all activists working against mass incarceration, predatory policing, the new lynching, the police state, and the wanton murders of African American men and women.

Ismaaiyl Brinsley is this era's Lee Harvey Oswald. He is the lone nut whose specious connection (read: there is no connection except that which right wing media insists on asserting) to the Black Lives Matter movement allegedly justifies the termination of that movement and the demise of public concern for the systematic murders of Black people by the American police state.

Don't let this happen. Don't let this stop the New Civil Rights Movement that you have launched in this country. Your movement has reached a critical juncture. The ideological forces that support state-sponsored racial violence and mass incarceration are looking for ways to shut you down.

The police state is now offering the public an "Oswald," a questionable figure with a lengthy rap sheet who can move the dialogue away from the police murders of 2 Black people per week since 2006. Far be it for anyone to become sympathetic with the wanton murders of innocent Black citizens. If Lee Harvey Oswald was a patsy for the murder of JFK and the whitewashing of CIA and American mafia involvement, Brinsley is being used as a patsy to implicate Black Lives Matter in violent retaliation and render the movement illegitimate. 

A bit of this strategy was attempted by St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch when he handed down the decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson during the evening of November 25. 2014. It was a move that was certain to invite anarchist cells across the country to confuse the message. And the Ferguson Police Department added even more fuel to the fire by blocking public spaces where protesters had previously gathered and creating a perimeter around Ferguson and inviting the presence of the National Guard, using tear gas and hornet's nest grenades and rubber bullets with toxic chemical powder.

The media naturally followed the lead of the police state by reporting anarchist activity as protestor violence. This has long been a common problem in Oakland, California, where  anarchist cells appear to be ready to mobilize within 30 minutes of nonviolent protests. The Daily Kos got it right in a November 2 edition, claiming: "Unfortunately, a small group of anarchists took advantage of the complete absence of police on the streets of downtown Oakland to smash windows at banks and other businesses during an afternoon "anti-capitalism" march. I was toward the back of the march and was not even aware of what was going on until I saw the smashed windows. Witnesses say it was anarchists clad in black with black flags and speculate that they came with the intention of doing this kind of thing. There were no uniformed police anywhere on the streets of downtown Oakland. It's a shame that the whole protest couldn't stay peaceful. I'm sure that media and merchants will be demanding a police presence."  (

Brinsely and all future Brinsleys -for there will surely be more to try to dilute the power of this movement- comes in this anarchist tradition. His shooting spree met be contextualized by the facts.

1. Brinsley was allegedly a member of the Black Guerrilla Family. Although initially founded in part as a Marxist/Leninist revolutionary organization by George Jackson while incarcerated and at one time linked to The Weather Underground and the Symbionese Liberation Army, this is no longer a revolutionary movement. Since its decline in membership in the 1990s it has reorganized around affiliation with other Black street gangs and would-be Black mafia organizations including the 415s, Black Gangster Disciples, Bloods, and Crips. It has NOTHING to do with Black Lives Matter. These were the very same people who murdered Dr. Huey P. Newton on the streets of Oakland in 1989. Newton's murderer was Tyrone "Double R" Robinson, a member of the Black Guerrilla Family. Although the media has reported that the Black Guerrilla Family wanted retribution for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, there's hardly a revolutionary bone left in this organization and they should perhaps more properly be regarded as equivalent to the anarchists and opportunists who ride on the coattails of legitimate social justice movements in order to cause dissension and spread disinformation. Remember that such tactics were central to COINTELPRO.

2. Brinsley also murdered his girlfriend before journeying from Baltimore to Brooklyn to murder two police officers. Because Black Lives really do NOT matter in this country, everyone seems to have forgotten that he murdered his girlfriend. Was her death also in retaliation for the deaths of Brown and Garner??

3. The sole piece of "evidence" that the media and the police have used to link Brinsley and Black Lives Matter is his Instagram post prior to the murders. Brinsley wrote: “Putting Wings On Pigs Today.” He added that for every “1 of Ours…Let’s Take 2 of Theirs.”  He further included hashtags for Michael Brown and Eric Garner. How is this evidence that affirmatively links Brinsley to the movement? Can an Instagram post stifle a broad coalition of activists united under the causes of prison abolition and police murders? Does Brinsley's act mean that its actually okay for the police to murder innocent citizens? (

4. No one is talking about Brinsley's mental health in the same way that every white male mass murderer is analyzed. Rarely are white mass murderers politicized. Ever notice that? Oswald was an exception, portrayed as a tool of the far left when he was most likely an instrument of the far right. White male mass murderers are always portrayed as mentally disturbed. Columbine in 1999 was a fine case in point. The actions of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were attributed to everything from video gaming to bullying to Goth culture and gun culture. But Harris and Klebold were neo-Nazis and virulent racists who shot an African American kid in the face during their shooting spree because he was "a nigger." And the Columbine murders occurred on the 110th birthday of Adolf Hitler. The Trench Coat Mafia that they formed sported long black trench coats and Nazi insignias as those they were posing as SS officers. ( How were the actions of Harris and Klebold anti-political while the Instagram post of Brinsley is definitively political???

5. Let's be clear: The Police Lives Matter Movement and the anti-De Blasio actions of the NYPD  are counter-revolutionary actions designed to shift the dialogue and generate sympathy for the murderers rather than the murdered. Yes, it's awful that two cops were murdered, and no, I am not endorsing this kind of activity. When you read this blog know that you are reading the words of a passionate endorser of non-violent social protest. But Brinsley has nothing to do with Black Lives Matter. 

My brothers and sisters, do not let them kill the movement by using Brinsley and the anarchists and others that will surely follow as patsies the same way that they got you to look away from the obvious collusion of the mafia and the CIA in the murder and coup d'etat of JFK. Remain grounded in the facts and keep on keeping on!

The Interview: The Great American Culture Bomb

The Interview: The Great American Culture Bomb

My wife's family in Atlanta has  a wonderful  tradition of going out to the movies after an early Christmas dinner. It's a tradition that I've enjoyed so much that we've adopted it out west. This year we decided that after Christmas eve dinner we would watch Seth Rogan and James Franco's controversial film, The Interview. As pro-Obama folks it would in some perverse way fulfill our latent patriotic impulse - perhaps one thing we can all agree on as Americans is that no one has the right to limit our freedom of speech- as well as meeting the needs of our family tradition. At the very least the film might provide some laughs and a momentary distraction from our troubling times.

Was I skeptical that Sony's reaction to Kim Jong-un's disapproval was part of a broader publicity stunt generated to bring larger audiences to the film? Of course. Look, it's Hollywood. Was I troubled by investing time and money in a film that intentionally poked fun at the North Korean dictator? Absolutely not. It's always refreshing, albeit rare, when Hollywood focuses a critical lens on injustice, and certainly even more deeply rewarding when Hollywood focuses on American injustice. In these times there's certainly ample opportunities for such critiques and ample opportunities for us to grow as a just society. What will be Hollywood's take on Ferguson, the Obama years, Occupy, American plutocracy, marriage equality, the legalization of marijuana, the Dreamers, etc. They've managed to crank out a film on Social Media but Lord knows it took forever to get a big budget film on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Selma) and the iron will of America's greatest contemporary filmmaker, Spike Lee, to produce an epic film based on a screenplay written by James Baldwin on the life of Malcolm X.

What I was hoping for was something on the level of Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator. Satire. Wit. Insight. What I got instead from The Interview was two hours of toilet humor, a high budget collection of jokes about "stank dick" and anal penetration, a rehashing of the kind of Orientalist humor that enabled such racial projects as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and a paean to an Eisenhower-era rich white male heterosexual misogyny.

The Interview is an American Cultural Bomb. In many senses it is a cultural weapon. It's humor is driven by the lowest common denominator of Orientalist/Racist, homophobic, and misogynist humor. It's only redeeming value is that it will inspire countless collegiate drinking games, including taking shots of tequila for every mention of the words "honeypot" or "honeydick" or for every anal penetration, "stank dick," or "bitch" reference.

From the standpoint of being a cultural weapon, there's a lot here to offend the Supreme Leader, not that I could give a wit, but even more to offend me as an American. It's not just homophobic and racist and misogynist throughout. It adds violence as spice, as though doing so is inventive and original. When Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) actually shoots someone "a new asshole" the film goes lower than slapstick and adds a violent twist to its homophobia. When Seth Rogan is twice ravaged by the "me-so-horny" General Sook (Diana Bang), the filmmakers add a particular violence to the worst Orientalist stereotypes of sex crazed Asian women as worshippers of the Great White Dick. When Seth Rogan's character engages in a bloody fight in the North Korean state television control room and viciously throws an assailant onto a control panel, piercing the man's anus with a joystick and then moves the man's impaled body back and forth as he manipulates camera angles, the film asks us and again to laugh at bloody and violent forced anal penetration. When Seth Rogan hides a massive dildo-shaped CIA package lubed by the blood of a slain tiger - yeah, really- in his ass...well...again with the blood and the anal fixation...really, what's the point?

In fact the film completely misses the point. The problem with Kim Jong-un is not that he's "gay." Really, The Interview is almost a two-hour long comedic argument that the Supreme Leader is a bad dude worthy of either death or embarrassment or both because he is "gay" and listens to Katy Perry and drinks margaritas. No. The problem with Kim Jong-un is that he is a totalitarian dictator. That the people of North Korea are repressed and starving and subject to state violence and mass incarceration. We openly critique these phenomena in America and the west in spite of the fact that our societies are characterized by similar impulses and practices under the auspices of an ever more powerful plutocratic rule. Kim Jong-un is certainly a very bad actor, but so are the Koch brothers, Jeff Bezos, the too big to fail "Banksters," and the bevy of crooked politicians who inhabit our local, state, and federal offices. This film is wholly incapable of making that connection. Chaplin, on the other hand, would have had a field day with this material.

The fateful and titular "interview" scene encapsulates the film's central misunderstanding. It begins with Dave Skylark (James Franco) asking Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) a series of scripted questions. Disillusioned by the Supreme Leader's fake grocery store, Franco's character goes off script, questioning Kim Jong-un about mass incarceration and the starvation of 2/3 of the North Korean population. Kim Jong-un fires back with a sharp critique of the American criminal justice system. For a moment, you think the filmmakers have finally found their way! But the critical Frost/Nixon moment comes when Franco questions Kim Jong-un about his father's disapproval of his "femininity" and assessment of his homosexuality. Utilizing Katy Perry's "Firework" lyrics in this verbal battle, Franco emotionally breaks down Kim Jong-un, leading him to cry and defecate in his pants. Yes...we're back to scat! And the ideological battle is won on the grounds of Kim Jong-un's femininity and homosexuality, not his politics. Ugh!

The film has one smart scene that indicates the direction and tone that the filmmakers should have ventured towards. Eminem "comes out" during an interview by Franco's character. It's funny because it represent Eminem's response to his critics -of whom I am most certainly one- and also his willingness to critique the homophobic and misogynist construction of his own masculinity. This is done without mocking homosexuality itself, something that the filmmakers fail to accomplish anywhere else in the film. In similar fashion, The Interview could have succeeded as a Chaplin-esque critique of Kim Jong-un's dictatorship and of modern totalitarianism. It could also have succeeded as a critique of America's mass media perceptions of North Korea or the shared spaces between American and North Korean culture (e.g. mass incarceration, the police state).

In the end it may well wind up a box office bomb as well as an American Cultural Bomb because of its reliance on the basest of American humor, the lowest common denominators of American society. I cannot imagine that President Obama viewed this film before offering his support and encouragement to Sony. But in many respects The Interview does represent what America now offers to the world. Our freedom of expression, our 1st Amendment rights are now foregrounded by the right to express our racist, misogynist, and homophobic views. That is the measure of contemporary American freedom. We are no longer interested in a true intellectual freedom that produces biting critique and irony (e.g. Network, Putney Swope). Ours is the right to potty humor. Our devastating Cultural Bomb is a fragment grenade of crass anal obsessed humor. Welcome to the new age.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Across 110th St. - A Harlem Photo Essay

Across 110th St. - A Harlem Photo Essay

I was the third brother of five,
Doing whatever I had to do to survive.
I'm not saying what I did was alright,
Trying to break out of the ghetto was a day to day fight.

Been down so long, getting up didn't cross my mind,
I knew there was a better way of life that I was just trying to find.
You don't know what you'll do until you're put under pressure,
Across 110th Street is a hell of a tester.

Bobby Womack "Across 110th St."

For over a decade a dramatic process of urban gentrification has been taking place in Harlem NYC. Today's Harlem is not the Harlem so well chronicled in the essays and fiction of James Baldwin, Richard Wright, and Ralph Ellison. We've seen the same processes from coast to coast, in San Francisco's Fillmore/Western Addition and Bayview-Hunter's Point neighborhoods, and in post-Katrina New Orleans. In the last 3 to 5 years, however, the pace of Harlem gentrification has hastened. This has not served the African American citizens of Harlem well. Rather than providing the chronically underclass African American citizens of Harlem with access to refurbished, new apartments and jobs, Harlem's Black residents find themselves once again living at the margins, migrating to the Bronx and New Jersey, re-locating to ghettos as of yet untouched by urban gentrification. The total effect appears, as it has been on San Francisco's Fillmore St. and in New Orleans, to keep African American culture (soul food, jazz, and a proud history demarcated by street and place names) intact without the actual presence of African American citizens, turning Harlem into a kind of livable museum for affluent and largely non-Black residents.

In large measure, the aggressive policing policies - including the recently challenged "Stop and Frisk" - that have made NYC one of the safest cities in America, have also enabled a largely white and affluent return to Manhattan and Harlem specifically. Nowhere is it more clear that the mission of the police is to protect and serve the interests of property and wealth. NYPD is present in Harlem in a way that it never was in previous eras, strategically positioned at the outposts of corporate development, stationed outside of the Chase Bank, Staples, Starbucks, GAP, and American Apparel, to name just a few.

The following Harlem Photo Essay is my attempt to chronicle a little moment of this process of gentrification. My photos emphasize areas of transition, the vestiges of a decaying African American past, and the movement of Harlem's remaining African American citizens through this landscape of change. I've grouped my photographs in 8 different sub-headings:

I. The Evidence of Gentrification and Corporatism
II. The Last Vestiges of a Black Community History
III. Black Harlemites Just Making a Way Out of No Way
IV. The Changing Ethnic Makeup of Harlem and Tourism
V. The Enduring Black Church
VI. The Projects on the Margins
VII. Black Entrepreneurship
VIII. The Changing Physical Landscape of Harlem

I took these pictures August 3 through 10 between 110th and 145th Sts. (south to north) and St. Nicholas Ave. and Park Ave. by the trains and the Harlem river (east to west). Malcolm X / Lenox Blvd, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd., and 125th/Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. were

Part I. The Evidence of Urban Gentrification and Corporatism
If you remember Harlem in the 1990s or earlier, many of these photos will be quite striking. Look, I am not lamenting the loss of a ghetto. I have no sentimentality for poverty. I am critiquing racist political and economic processes that intentionally prevent African American citizens of Harlem, who have suffered so long amidst the hopelessness and despair of Harlem -the quintessential American ghetto- from enjoying any of the benefits of contemporary redevelopment and urban uplift. I am critiquing generations of predatory slumlords and neglected properties and predatory policing. I am critiquing all those who would claim that the unfettered free market provides the ultimate answer to poverty. Although it is clear that the influx of large corporate firms provides some employment to the African American residents of Harlem, there is no real indication that this employment provides wages that enable Black Harlemites to markedly  improve their social class. 


Part II. The Last Vestiges of a Black Community History
Everywhere you see the last vestiges of great Black institutions that Harlemites relied on through the many eras of racial segregation. The Amsterdam News, a venerable Harlem newspaper, is a classic example of such segregated institutions. When the NY Times refuses to print stories relevant to your daily life, and, in effect pretends that you don't even exist, you have to turn the pages of the Amsterdam News in order to know what's really going on. But the Black United Fund and the Harlem YMCA and street names and murals of Malcolm X and statues of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. all speak to what Harlem has been as a Black cultural force. This is Black capital of the urban north. This was home to Garvey and Malcolm and Duke and Bird. 

Part III. Black Harlemites Just Making a Way Out of No Way
There are real  lives being lived in the midst of the larger historical forces of gentrification and ethnic out-migration. I remain moved by the on-going resolve of Black Harlemites. For so long Black Harlemites lived within the specter of the ghetto in a perpetual state of hopelessness and despair, and now that they have come to see their neighborhoods finally improved, they must surely be cognizant that with each passing day, they are no longer welcome, and that an unwelcome change is well underway.

Part IV. The Changing Ethnic Makeup of Harlem and Tourism
There's little doubt that redevelopment, gentrification, and corporate reinvestment have produced a changing ethnic makeup in Harlem. But this is about more than race, it's about race and class and the way that developers and real estate moguls and the city are conspiring to enforce the out-migration of Harlem Black poor and lower middle class.

Tourist buses are a common site, enhancing that "living museum" feel of Black Harlem, but in context, loads of tourists in double-decker buses look suspiciously more like convoys of prospective future tenants and apartment owners. Where once it was the forbidden zone where all but a few brave souls dared to journey in seek of brown sugar fantasies, Harlem is now open territory, ripe for affluent whites who fled the confines of Manhattan generations ago.

Part V. The Enduring Black Church
It's also clear that the very last remnants of Black property ownership in Harlem, as in every gentrified formerly Black urban enclave, will be the Black churches, if for no other reason than the very smart and progressive efforts of so many Black churches to pay off their mortgages. The continued existence of these churches, many of which have congregations that commute from outside of Harlem, is a testament to the power of collectivism as a strategy for beating the capitalist game. By pooling money and resources, Black congregants have managed to hold on to their properties and are now certainly watching their property values rise in the midst of gentrification. Hold on brothers and sisters! You may well be the last living Black Harlemites!

Part VI. The Projects on the Margins
Many of Harlem's projects remain. Brothers hoop it up on project basketball courts, seemingly unaware of the social, political, and economic realities that ultimately doom their continued existence in Harlem. The time of the mutli-story project, the tower, is certainly limited. The geographic landscape of Harlem now finds these projects, many of them constructed in the 1940s, at the very margins, near the Harlem River and the train tracks to the east, and at the northern-most portion of Harlem above 145 St.


Part VII. Black Entrepreneurship
There remains limited Black ownership of property and entrepreneurship in Harlem. The occasional new cafe, chicken shack, barbershop, hat shop, salon, and restaurant are very encouraging. This is, in my opinion, what a New Harlem should look like, with a thriving economy based on Black-owned small businesses. However, struggling watermelon street sellers and hustling street vendors peddling used Black books, blaxploitation dvd's, hair care products and caps, are also an ever-present reality in the shadow of corporate retailers like H&M and Verizon, where the real money is being made. They demonstrate the enduring and intentional racialized failures of capitalism. How difficult must it be for a Black small businessman to get a loan and profit from Harlem's urban gentrification?

VIII. The Changing Physical Landscape of Harlem
Harlem is now one massive construction site, and has a physical landscape dominated by scaffolding and busy construction crews. Gentrification has brought an entirely new look to parts of the neighborhood. People tell me that before gentrification, there were no driveways in Harlem. You are starting to see them because a lot of the new construction includes garages where upscale professionals can park their expensive cars. But this is not all. Many of Harlem's refurbished apartment buildings simply look different, as though transplanted from Chelsea or Park Avenue. Maybe Harlem's re-development isn't simply geared toward white hipsters working internet start-ups but also corporate middle and upper management and bigger money on Wall Street, banking, international commerce, law and real estate.

Do you know this new Harlem? Does the transformation of the Black Capital of America matter to you? Does it matter to you that when the big money comes to town, people of color get pushed on to the next ghetto? Does it matter to you that after more than a century of Black residence in Harlem, Black Harlemites get caught with the short end of the stick, once again, a day late and a dollar short? Does it speak to our perpetual marginalization within the American capitalist system? Does it give evidence to systemic oppression? And could we have gotten it together as a people to be ready when the big money came to town, or were we always marked for extinction in spite of our best efforts to survive?

In the immortal lyrics of the great Bobby Womack, "Across 110th St. is a hell of a tester."

l shot these photographs using a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS19 HD pocket camera (although two of the photographs indicated by an asterisk * were shot using an iPad2 camera). Photo effects and enhancements including clarity, textures, and frames were added using Photo Toaster and Camera Awesome apps for the Apple iPad. I used Picassa Web Albums to organize the photos and coordinate between my camera, the iPad, Macbook Pro and my Google+ blog.

Opening of "Across 110th St." with Yaphet Kotto featuring the music of Bobby Womack