It was one o’clock in the morning on August 16th, 2014. In Minneapolis, DeRay Mckesson watched the news on television and scrolled through Twitter. “I saw what was happening on CNN; I saw what was happening on Twitter, and they were telling two different stories. And I said, ‘I just want to go see for myself.’” Exactly one week before, Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson had killed Michael Brown, an unarmed, black teenager. The television narrative highlighted protesters’ supposed unrest and Wilson’s self-defense claim. The narrative on Mckesson’s Twitter timeline was quite different: police brutality and murder.
That morning, Mckesson drove nine hours from Minneapolis to St. Louis to protest in the streets. The Ferguson protests not only propelled to the national stage the Black Lives Matter movement — originally sparked after George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, another unarmed, black teenager, in 2012 — it also launched Mckesson’s political activism career — one which he amplifies via social media.
Mckesson makes news in every direction. In March 2015, he quit his job in human resources at Minneapolis Public Schools to devote himself to full-time activism. He helped launch a police-reform initiative called Campaign Zero. He ran for mayor in his hometown of Baltimore. He started a podcast about policy and social justice called Pod Save the People, for which he recently interviewed Edward Snowden and Katy Perry. And he is currently finishing his term as interim chief human capital officer at the Baltimore City Public School System.
He has been tear gassed and arrested during a protest (with charges later dropped). His Twitter following, at around 1,000 in 2014, is now over 800,000 today, and he has become a sought-after guest and speaker. The only constant: Mckesson’s puffy, blue Patagonia vest — his sartorial trademark. But the question on everyone’s mind for the 31-year-old is simple: what’s next?
As part of my New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve vowed to read the hundreds of books I already own. Last night, I started and finished Kicking the Habit: A Lesbian Nun Story by Jeanne Córdova, which I received last year courtesy of a giveaway from Danika Ellis, a book blogger who runs The Lesbrary. Córdova’s 1990 memoir is compulsively readable—I couldn’t put it down. She writes about her decision to join the convent fresh out of high school, her growing unease regarding church politics, her deep friendships with her fellow postulants and secular students alike, and, eventually, her decision to leave the novitiate. Córdova is well-known for her 2011 memoir, When We Were Outlaws: A Memoir of Love and Revolution, which describes her political work and LGBTQ community organizing in the 1970s. She was a force for good in the West Coast queer community. She edited a lesbian magazine, created an LGBTQ business directory, and even organized the Gay and Lesbian caucus to the Democratic Party. Sadly, Córdova died a little more than a year ago. I wish I could have met her.
In the two years since I compiled the first installation of “The Lives of Nuns,” Autostraddle wrote about queer nuns in history, Racked shadowed (fake) nuns growing marijuana, and The Huffington Post reported on a nun’s murder and the students who want the truth. Those stories and more are included below. Seclude yourself and read. Read more…
In 1968, essayist, novelist and activist James Baldwin spoke with Esquire about racism in America, Dr. Martin Luther King, poverty and police brutality. In our current era of high profile police violence in communities like Ferguson, Missouri, and protests in Baltimore, Maryland, Baldwin’s words sound as prescient and, unfortunately, fresh as they did forty-seven years ago, proving the slow pace of progress in America, and how much hard work we have left to do. Below is an excerpt from the interview:
Q. How would you define somebody who smashes in the window of a television store and takes what he wants?
BALDWIN: Before I get to that, how would you define somebody who puts a cat where he is and takes all the money out of the ghetto where he makes it? Who is looting whom? Grabbing off the TV set? He doesn’t really want the TV set. He’s saying screw you. It’s just judgment, by the way, on the value of the TV set. He doesn’t want it. He wants to let you know he’s there. The question I’m trying to raise is a very serious question. The mass media-television and all the major news agencies-endlessly use that word “looter”. On television you always see black hands reaching in, you know. And so the American public concludes that these savages are trying to steal everything from us, And no one has seriously tried to get where the trouble is. After all, you’re accusing a captive population who has been robbed of everything of looting. I think it’s obscene.
As I described in the Making of Ferguson, the federal government maintained a policy of segregation in public housing nationwide for decades. This was as true in northeastern cities like New York as it was in border cities like Baltimore and St. Louis. In 1994, civil rights groups sued the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), alleging that HUD had segregated its public housing in Baltimore and then, after it had concentrated the poorest African American families in projects in the poorest neighborhoods, HUD and the city of Baltimore demolished the projects, and purposely relocated the former residents into other segregated black neighborhoods. An eventual settlement required the government to provide vouchers to former public housing residents for apartments in integrated neighborhoods, and supported this provision with counseling and social services to ensure that families’ moves to integrated neighborhoods would have a high likelihood of success. Although the program is generally considered a model, it affects only a small number of families, and has not substantially dismantled Baltimore’s black ghetto.
In 1970, declaring that the federal government had established a “white noose” around ghettos in Baltimore and other cities, HUD Secretary George Romney proposed denying federal funds for sewers, water projects, parkland, or redevelopment to all-white suburbs that resisted integration by maintaining exclusionary zoning ordinances (that prohibited multi-unit construction) or by refusing to accept subsidized moderate-income or public low-income housing. In the case of Baltimore County, he withheld a sewer grant that had previously been committed, because of the county’s policies of residential segregation. It was a very controversial move, but Romney got support from Vice President Spiro Agnew, who had been frustrated by unreasonable suburban resistance to integration and mixed income developments when he had been the Baltimore County Executive and governor of Maryland. In a 1970 speech to the National Alliance of Businessmen, Agnew attacked attempts to solve the country’s racial problems by pouring money into the inner city as had been done in the Johnson administration. Agnew said that he flatly rejected the assumption that “because the primary problems of race and poverty are found in the ghettos of urban America, the solutions to these problems must also be found there… Resources needed to solve the urban poverty problem—land, money, and jobs—exist in substantial supply in suburban areas, but are not being sufficiently utilized in solving inner-city problems.”
Rioting broke out on Monday in Baltimore—an angry response to the death of Freddie Gray, a death my native city seems powerless to explain. Gray did not die mysteriously in some back alley but in the custody of the city’s publicly appointed guardians of order. And yet the mayor of that city and the commissioner of that city’s police still have no idea what happened. I suspect this is not because the mayor and police commissioner are bad people, but because the state of Maryland prioritizes the protection of police officers charged with abuse over the citizens who fall under its purview.
The citizens who live in West Baltimore, where the rioting began, intuitively understand this. I grew up across the street from Mondawmin Mall, where today’s riots began. My mother was raised in the same housing project, Gilmor Homes, where Freddie Gray was killed. Everyone I knew who lived in that world regarded the police not with admiration and respect but with fear and caution.
Ta-Nehisi Coates reflects on the absurdity of calling for nonviolence in a city whose citizens — conditioned by decades of lethal police mistreatment and abuse of authority — expect violence and disrespect from the very police force that is supposed to serve and protect them.
Journalism, like everything else, has its trends. From celebrity guest editors to abundant Upworthian headlines, there’s a lot of replication in our business. So it was with low expectations that I began to read “Baltimore’s Forgotten Champions,” an oral history of a Canadian Football League team by a group of University of Maryland students. Most oral histories are not particularly challenging or innovative – they are, after all, just stitched-together interviews. But this one required some deep reporting to identify, locate, and interview more than 40 sources, including Baltimore Stallions superfans and the team’s former marketing executive. The Capital News Service team went beyond simply interviews and created several interactive graphics to help tell their story in an organic way, not just a tacked-on-for-technology’s sake way. This is the kind of oral history worth repeating.
What’s wrong with the crime stats in Baltimore? “The Wire” creator David Simon on how to fix them, and how beat reporting is necessary to understand the problem:
So if you’ve read this far, and you understand the actual dynamic in play, you’re probably saying to yourself: What’s the solution? In the past, the detectives and lawyers simply swept their mistakes under the rug, with neither side taking responsibility for the bad stats. And now, because the state’s attorney has prevailed in this contest of statistical gamesmanship, the police department clearance rate has been savaged and some bad cases are no longer being charged, yet at the same time, good murder cases aren’t going forward. Which is worse? And how can this be fixed?
Well, it’s easy. And I’ll give you as long as it takes you to read past the next string of asterisks.