American policing can’t be reformed

I know all my friends want police violence to stop as much as I do. But we must understand that there are no reforms that can change the values at the very foundation of American policing, and those are white supremacy, patriarchy, and violence. 

We don’t need kinder, gentler slave catching patrols. We don’t need cops that learn to behave better only when we are filming them. We need to starve (defund) the beast while we reinvest in structures designed for community care, restorative justice, and public safety. 

We don’t need to have all the answers to know that the current systems are unacceptable. Let’s educate each other and start having conversations about what comes next.

If you need a place to start, Eight to Abolition and the BREATHE Act offer a way forward.

Ruby getting arrested in Graham, NC

None of us are free until all of us are free

One year ago today, I and eight other lovely humans were arrested by the Graham Police Department as we attempted to walk to the Alamance County Detention Center and hold a Jewish-led ceremony to say #NeverAgain, to mourn the many who have suffered at the hands of ICE, and to protect the ICE detainees currently held by Alamance County’s racist sheriff Terry Johnson.

Half of the group is STILL being charged, but the nine of us are fortunate to have the freedom to not be detained while we await trials. Unfortunately others are not as lucky. With COVID the jail is even more inhumane than ever. Please donate to Down Home North Carolina’s bailout fund to free as many people as possible:

NEVER AGAIN Ice Out of Alamance

Graham 9 Update

Here is a personal statement and an update on the Graham 9 – the group arrested at a Never Again Alamance protest last November.

On our first trial date, one member (who was charged with “masking” if you can believe it) received a Prayer for Judgement. The rest of us are charged with failure to disperse. Two had trials and were convicted. Those judgements will be appealed. The rest of us (including me) are now scheduled for trials in November and December.

The Burlington Times News wrote a quick story about the gathering we had before the trial with supporters, who came to walk us to court. They included an excerpt of the comments I made that morning as well as very thoughtful remarks from my co-defendant Xavier Adams.

Here is the full text of my statement:

I grew up next door in Orange County, and I’m here to stand with my neighbors both new and old who have had enough of the childish tantrums, violent threats, and racist intimidation in Alamance County.  Sheriff Johnson must go, and he can take all the city and county officials that coddle racists and arrest racial justice supporters with him.

I am old enough to remember life before ICE. I was 30 when the planes struck the twin towers on September 11. To many of us at the time, the whole idea of a Department of Homeland Security smacked of nationalism and violence. And sure enough it has grown to become a source of xenophobia, violence, and human suffering for nearly 2 decades now. ICE is our gestapo: terrorizing communities, abandoning people in concentration camps, and tearing families apart.

As a Jew and as an American, I have a moral obligation to stand up for the rights of all people, not just those who look or act like me.

As a parent I have an obligation to try to make this world a better place for my son and all the kids he’s growing up with in these unfortunately historic times.

And as the descendant of immigrants who were also demonized and ghettoized and exploited, I know that today’s immigrants are my siblings coming to the United States for a better life just like my ancestors did.

So when I learned last year that Terry Johnson was not only terrorizing women and people of color of Alamance County with his authority but also taking money from ICE to lock up innocent migrants in the Alamance Detention Center, I knew I had to come to Graham and join with others in calling out his racism an in humanity.

This summer in Graham demonstrations have continued for civil rights, Black lives, and freedom. Unfortunately we’ve also seen a lot of ugly white supremacy on display. Many around NC and around the country have looked on in horror as Alamance County officials have not only allowed actual neo-Nazi and neo-Confederates to swarm the streets and intimidate people, but in fact have arrested peaceful demonstrators who had the audacity to simply disagree with racist symbols and policies.

Crowd of protesters facing sheriffs deputies and riot police

Challenging racism and saving souls in Alamance County

Ten months ago, I joined hundreds of Jews, immigrants, and our friends in Graham, North Carolina to say “no more” to the the cruel, racist, and unnecessary practices of ICE and to call out Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson‘s enthusiastic enforcement of their white supremacist agenda. I was arrested at that demonstration, along with nine other lovely human beings.

In the months since then, two things have become even more clear than before. One, our government has no regard for civil rights, human dignity, or democracy and will stop at nothing to promote the interests of the rich, white, and powerful at the expense of everyone else. And two, there are some people in and around Alamance County that will happily and shamelessly attempt to shut down peaceful dissent if it in any way challenges their racist assumptions about the world. (Alamance County is the home base of neo-confederate ACTBAC.) But we’ve also learned that there are even more people in and around Alamance that believe that Black Lives Matter and that protest is patriotic, and they’ve been bravely showing up in the streets of Graham for the past several months.

When I drove to the Never Again protest on November 24, I wasn’t aware there was a Confederate statue in Graham. I learned later that the Sheriff had sent his troopers to the town square to protect it from the imagined threat. Meanwhile, we were four blocks away attempting to peacefully march to the Alamance Detention Center so that we could say the Mourner’s Kaddish, sit shiva, and observe other Jewish rituals in remembrance of the many people who have died in ICE custody. Unfortunately, the racist Sheriff Terry Johnson would not allow this to happen. Ironically, once we were arrested we were transported by the county directly to the same detention center that they prevented us from walking to!

Ruby getting arrested in Graham, NC
Photo of me (Ruby Sinreich) being arrested by Officer Ellis of the Haw River Police Department at a protest against ICE and Sheriff Terry Johnson in Graham, North Carolina on November 24, 2019. Photo by Anthony Crider https://www.flickr.com/photos/acrider/49118904508/

As Jews we have a special responsibility to remember the horrors of government-backed xenophobia, the dangers of draconian law enforcement, and the nightmare of illegal incarceration and family separation. When we say NEVER AGAIN, we must mean it. We cannot idly watch the actions of federal, state, and local government as they gradually but steadily march toward fascism. Those of us with privilege are called to spend it now in many forms of resistance large and small to stop the gears of authoritarianism, save people’s lives, and in doing so, save our own souls.

This summer, nonviolent protesters speaking out for Black lives and against the Confederate statue were arrested on a public sidewalk. (The ACLU of NC sued the town of Graham over their anti-protest ordinance and won.) And in recent weeks, as we have learned about a tragic and predictable COVID-19 outbreak at the Alamance detention center, people speaking out for health and human rights were arrested for such nonexistent offenses as swearing in the presence of a police officer.

It’s now undeniable that Alamance County officials have a racism problem, and that elected leaders are not concerned about the health or human rights of their residents. Alamance has the biggest prison COVID outbreak in the state of North Carolina with over 100 cases (out of just about 400 incarcerated people), far surpassing big cities like Charlotte and Raleigh. Thankfully the wonderful people of Down Home NC are working to free as many people from this nightmare as possible by raising bail funds.

In this new context of weekly demonstrations for and against racism in Alamance County, the town of Graham’s reactionary attempts to squelch free speech, and the increasingly grim reality of living in an uncontrolled pandemic stoked by racism, toxic masculinity, and ignorance, the nine of us arrested in Graham last November are scheduled to have our second appearance in court next week! You can show your support for us by donating to the Alamance Mass Bail Out.

Never Again Action in Graham (2019 Nov)
Enjoy scrolling through this album of Tony Crider’s excellent photos from November 24, 2019 in Graham.


Red paint is poured on the statue called #silentsam at #uncchapelhill; a statue that celebrates a racist history in a public space unavoidable to students and community members who are threatened by it and the white supremacy it represents.

Confederate context

I stand with UNC PhD student Maya Little who was arrested today for pouring blood and paint on Silent Sam. Here is her statement:

Maya Little was arrested today after pouring red paint on the statue called #silentsam at #uncchapelhill; a statue that celebrates a racist history in a public space unavoidable to students and community members who are threatened by it and the white supremacy it represents. https://www.instagram.com/p/BiNQ5jbA4Ql/I have been an organizer for the Silent Sam Sit-In since September 2017, when campus police confiscated the belongings of the 24 hour occupiers. Every weekday we provide context around the statue. This is an opportunity to teach. It is also our duty to continue the struggle against white supremacy that countless others have led since black students have been on this campus. The statue, a symbol of UNC’s commitment to white supremacy, has been defaced and protested since 1968. Yet the statue remains on campus 50 years later. These last 5 years Carol Folt has been chancellor and she has not taken a single step towards removing Silent Sam. The armed, Confederate soldier dedicated and built by racists during Jim Crow has remained. However, the dedication and courage of each successive group of students fighting for racial equality at UNC has made our message louder and clearer. The threat of Neonazis and white supremacists marching on our communities has made it more urgent.

Chancellor Folt and the administrators are more dedicated to silencing us. In her first two years, there was no state law against removing the statue. She has heard countless activists tell her the statue’s presence dehumanizes and threatens people of color. The governor has written an open letter asking her to remove the statue. White supremacists have marched around Silent Sam and threatened violence. How has Folt responded? She has called us outside agitators. She has refused to call a statue dedicated for and by proud racists, white supremacist. She has never met with members of the Sit In. She has allowed white supremacist groups to invade this campus. She, Derek Kemp, and Jeff McCracken appointed a campus police officer to go undercover, lie about his identity, and gather information on us. According to McCracken, they continue to spend $1,700 dollars per day to protect the statue.

What do you see when you look at this statue, Chancellor? We see the mutilation of black bodies, the degradation of black people, the celebration of an army that fought for our ancestors’ enslavement. I see Julian Carr whipping a black woman. I see your willingness to traumatize, dehumanize, and endanger every black person on this campus. We see our blood and now you will too.

Today I have thrown my blood and red ink on this statue as a part of the continued mission to provide the context that the Chancellor refuses to. Chancellor Folt, if you refuse to remove the statue, then we will continue to contextualize it. Silent Sam is violence; Silent Sam is the genocide of black people; Silent Sam is antithetical to our right to exist. You should see him the way that we do, at the forefront of our campus covered in our blood.

But UNC does not want this context. Chancellor Folt will order Silent Sam to be cleaned immediately. But she should clean my blood and the ink off Silent Sam, not campus workers. The Chancellor and all who have used their power to keep Silent Sam here must embrace the truth about UNC. UNC is Silent Sam. Chapel Hill is Silent Sam. The statue stands smirking and defiant representing a community that has failed many times to work for justice and racial quality. Chancellor, the blood is on your hands.

Folt cares more about plastering our black faces over the Campaign for Carolina than about our safety, our dignity, our right to exist on this campus. Black community members are harassed by campus police. Black athletes are exploited by this university for the Tar Heel brand. Black faculty are not retained. Black students are forced to live and study in buildings named after people who made their fortunes through the sale of black children.

But we are not silent. The statue will be contextualized to show UNC’s racist past and present. You, Chancellor Folt—and your donors, the students you recruit, the alumni you cater to—will be forced to see it until every facet of white supremacy on this campus has been removed.

 

Photos by https://www.instagram.com/dhosterman/

Less faith, more action

I will say it again: please stop thinking everything will work out in the end. The only way that happens is if massive numbers of Americans rise up and do not allow business as usual to continue. It’s on US. The institutions that got us to this moment are not going to suddenly fix it.

No one is going to save us, not Mueller, not the Democratic Party, and certainly not Congressional Republicans. Nothing will make them voluntarily let go of power.

An African American woman with her fist in the air looks a white man giving a Nazi salute

What happened in Durham

Like many people, a week ago I was feeling pretty down about the state of racial justice and just basic humanity in the United States. But then something happened.

Sunday

In response to the hate and violence displayed in Charlottesville, hundreds of Durhamites came together for a huge vigil on Sunday night. Many friends of mine posted pictures and powerful testimonials to the collective love they felt gathered together.

But I also noticed that some activists had less satisfied responses, including frustration that the mostly-white event marginalized voices of color and those with more radical tactics. Much of that frustration fed into a Monday demonstration, which had already been planned to take place in front of Durham’s old courthouse, where there was a confederate monument with an inscription to “the boys who wore gray.”

Many times I have passed that statue and wondered what on earth it was doing there. Until last year, I really didn’t realize how pervasive these were and what drove their creation. Last year the Southern Poverty Law Center (which tracks hate groups) published a report Whose Heritage? (PDF) that shows that most of the Confederate memorials were erected either during the Jim Crow era or during the Civil Rights movement, as a way to reinforce white supremacy. The Stubborn Persistence of Confederate Monuments explores this history and notes the increase in legislation such as North Carolina’s 2015 law that prevents any local authority from legally removing them.

As New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in May:

These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.

After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city.

Or as my friend Tony put so well: “Taking DOWN Confederate monuments is not about erasing history. Putting them UP was.

Monday

I knew that protesters planned to rally at Durham’s monument on Monday. I might have joined them but for it being league night, and I also had an obligation to feed a recovering friend. I did not expect just a few frames into the evening to learn that the protesters had actually pulled the statue down! Many of my fellow bowlers were sharing videos of it and talking about how this felt like a cultural turning point. We hoped this would be the first of many dominoes to fall.

Of course in the days following, we learned that the people who did this were being arrested and charged with crimes related to toppling the statues. First was Takiyah Thompson, a young, queer, financially-struggling HBCU student and woman of color (I say all this to show how much she put at risk) who bravely scaled the statue and looped the rope over the top of the confederate soldier. Then the others who helped pull it down were also arrested one-by-one. They looked like a youngish cross-section of Durham – various generations, races, gender identities, and income and education levels.

Many of us were upset to hear that in addition to misdemeanor property destruction charges, the Sheriff was levying felony rioting charges against them. Law enforcement officers were present when the statue was pulled down. It seems to me that if there had been any serious chaos or public danger, they would have stepped in rather than quietly observing and recording the event.

Thursday

On Thursday I attended a protest at the Durham County Jail where about 60 people declared that they also wanted to be arrested for supporting the toppling of the statue. Here you can see them lined up in black, with another 100 or more observers cheering them on.

Panoramic photo in from of Durham County Jail by Ruby Sinreich

Not surprisingly, County officials declined to arrest them so we moved into the courthouse for the planned observation of the the first court date of some of the arrested activists. I have observed trials before, and I find it to be a helpful way to both learn about the criminal justice system and to remind decision-makers that the community is paying attention to their actions. I dressed up for court, and brought my laptop so I’d be able to stay and work from the courtroom as long as needed.

I was one of the first to arrive at the courtroom, and the deputy at the door informed me that the Sheriff had pre-emptively decided that no-one would be allowed into courtroom 4D unless their name appeared on the docket that day. (Later I heard rumors that he was concerned about overcrowding or that people with cases wouldn’t be able to get into the room. Both of these problems seem to have obvious solutions that wouldn’t require violating NC’s open courts law, but there’s no reasoning with a Sheriff’s Deputy.) This left about 200 of us calmly standing around in the hallway wondering what to do.

Eventually we filed out, and gathered in front of the courthouse. After their trial was continued, the defendants of the day came out and made media statements. I came home and went back to work. Later I was interviewed for this Huffington Post article, and helped Now This who made this brief video. Rodrigo’s 20-minute live Facebook video (below) is a much better document of the event. I left feeling great about the message we sent from Durham to the world about supporting the leaders who took this action to rid our community of a symbol of violence and white supremacy. One of my tweets about the demonstration got over 1,000 likes, so I knew people were watching and appreciating us in Durham.

Friday

[screenshot of screenshotted text message]On Friday around 10:30 I was trying to get my head together to write a blog post about all of this, when I got a text (at right) from a friend. I went to Facebook and saw similar messages. People were trying to spread the word, but to keep the rendezvous point secret to avoid attracting negative attention. (It’s a wonderful queer-friendly venue that welcomes activism and has already been targeted by haters.)

The forecast was for a high in the 90s, I was behind at work, and I’m a Buddhist that abhors violence. I knew I had to go.

When I arrived, the meeting point was already overflowing. Outside I caught a brief glimpse of my friend who is an active member of a group called Redneck Revolt. He was carrying a rifle slung over his shoulder and trying to help people get organized. (The gun is an interesting issue. I will have to to address it in a future post.) I worked my way in to find a friend I planned to meet. The speakers (primarily Manju Rajendran and Serena Sebring, two amazing women of color with long records of service to social justice work near and far) were using the human mic to share important tactical and logistical information.

Panoramic photo in front of old Durham Courthouse by Ruby Sinreich

We learned that the police could arrest any group blocking the street without a permit, and that included us! They told us to find a small “family” of friends and always stay within arms length of them during the demonstration. It really hit me then how serious the stakes were. But I also felt the powerful love of everyone holding each other up. Many of us were scared. Some people were crying. But we were ready to put our bodies on the line to keep the Klan out of our city.

 

The time came and we marched down the street toward the old courthouse. When we got there we met an even bigger march that had come from the other direction. They held a huge sign in front that read “We will not be intimidated” with what many probably didn’t know (or care) was an “antifa” logo. The only Nazis we found were a couple of losers lurking around the statue. As soon as one raised his arm in a Nazi salute next to a woman with her fist in the air, they were pretty quickly hustled out of the area by two intrepid volunteer marshals (one of whom happened to be a Durham City Council member).

An African American woman with her fist in the air looks a white man giving a Nazi salute

Rachel Alexis Storer being harassed by a Nazi. Photo by Michael Galinsky

Michael Galinsky, who took the wonderful photo above, also made this excellent 10 minute video, but I have to add a caveat to it. The video overemphasizes the high-energy moments of excitement and tension – of which there were plenty – but it is almost entirely missing the other dynamic that was just as present, which was hours of alternately mundane and joyful moments of solidarity, warmth, and connection. People were greeting old friends and making new ones. Everyone was glowing with pride at the tremendous power we had to collectively fight hate.

After it was clear that we had secured the entire block from any potential noon KKK march and were not in immediate physical danger, we learned that there was a chance they might come back at 4pm. People immediately resolved to continue holding the space, and so we did. Brazilian drummers came and sparked an impromptu dance party. We eventually grew to over a thousand people, all mobilized with just a few hours notice.

After a lunch break I returned and stayed until I had to go pick up my son from his last day of summer camp. At this point, police were attempting to re-open the street, but many activists were not having it. Eventually, what was left of the group joined the weekly demonstration against poor conditions and treatment at the County Jail a few blocks away. (I wasn’t there of course, but have attended in the past.)

The extra momentum carried the protesters from the jail and up the street toward the Durham Police Department, where the community finally saw the hostility that some of us had frankly been anticipating all day. There was a lot of confusion when photos like this hit social media and many people took them to mean that the Klan had finally showed up. What else would explain cops in riot gear and aggressive formation?

Fortunately only one protester was arrested all day long, and it was for failure to disperse at the police department. I have had many anarchist friends and comrades over the years, and I know that there are some who thrive on conflict and simply were not going to feel like they had their say until something like that happened.

This amazing day was capped off by hearing the surprisingly thoughtful statement from the Durham District Attorney, making it clear that any charges against the statue topplers would take into account the political context in which they acted.

Whew

The past few days have been intense. (Plus Steve Bannon resigned. Holy what!) But each time people ask me how I’m doing, I tell them about this strong sense of community love that has emerged. Under a dehumanizing autocratic regime like the current Republican administration, it’s easy to feel powerless. Lacking epic leadership and organization, it seems there’s not much we can do in this moment. But building solidarity is the best way to keep us human and connected in an era where those in power want us to be alienated, weak, and angry.

A few pundits have argued that taking statues down doesn’t help to fight this fucked up government that is literally trying to kill us, but I don’t agree. These events, these victories, and this organizing is very much building the movement that will also demand voting rights and that will mobilize voters in 2018 and 2020. It’s all part of one effort.

This week was a great start. Let’s keep the love flowing.

Oh and, Silent Sam, you’re next. You stand for racist brutality and you always have. It’s time to stand down.

The first day of Silent Sam's last semester, 8/22 7pm

 

Links of the day – If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention

Here is some good stuff I posted on social media recently: