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police brutality

What Rodney King Meant To Me

by Jose Vilson on June 18, 2012

in Jose

I have a student who already glorifies the idea of enrolling for the armed forces. He resolves every imaginary conflict with a shotgun or a mixed martial arts move. I’ve made it a running joke just to show how absurd he sounds every time he puts his fingers up in a shot-trigger motion. Yet, something unnerved me about him. For the last three years, I’ve worked on making him one of my student leaders, and thus, he reflects me in a way no other student in the building does.

His continued impersonation of local and federal officers made me wonder what would happen if his community asked him to keep the peace, where he might offer war.

Growing up, Rodney King symbolized the continued persecution of people of color by local police. It might have shocked the nation, but it only made those of us from the hood nod in unison. While the videotape kept rolling in the media, I kept watching, hoping to see when he would rise and kick their butts back. I kept waiting for the posse to roll up and fight back at whatever cost. I kept still because, even though I saw this constantly, it just reaffirmed the bitter and unnerving relationship so many of us have with authority.

Admittedly, as a youth, I felt relieved with the increased police presence in my neighborhood, but as I got older, I started to see the police presence not as necessary, but as a necessary evil. Would I prefer to have to find against the unwritten rules of the hood or against the written laws of the land? Would those glares from the drug dealers and the boys in blue get me tossed into the corner of a building or behind a local jail cell? Only two types of cars drove slow, and both made me walk quickly back home. Friends caught up in one life eventually found themselves too immersed in the other, so it often became a question of who protected who from what.

Some of the media only exacerbated the situation by emphasizing his drug use and his appearances post-beatdown. Some commentators almost said to us, “This man is less than a man. He almost deserves to be beaten down. None of this will matter anyways, so just move along.” Yet, we saw a little of him in all of us. When the offending police officers were acquitted on all charges and the revolts raged through Los Angeles in 1992, we were asked to see these as riots because riots infer a lack of intent or intellect behind the actions. An angry sort of Black surfaced.

A similar sort of angry that I see linger into today. When Operation Desert Storm raged on through the early 90s, a war at home for justice occurred … and resolved little. Yet, Mr. King’s assault may have planted a seed into the minds and hearts of others needing a glimpse into our existences as people of color here. For a moment, I can only hope to teach future Rodney Kings to rise up and plea to fellow brothers and sisters to, at least, get along.

And not just in the pseudo-post-racial way we do now.

Jose, who suggested to my student to read Malcolm X’s autobiography. I might even gift it to him …


Short Notes: An Injustice Here

by Jose Vilson on November 25, 2007

in Short Notes

Police LineThis week in my blog, I’m engaging in lots of civil disobedience. You’ve been warned.

As usual, on a Sunday, some short notes:

- I totally forgot to do this, mainly because I’ve been overwhelmed by the kudos I’ve gotten for my work here, but Joel at SoYouWantToTeach made me the first teacher for his Reader Appreciation Month, so a quick shout-out to you, good sir.

- My new linking policy seems to be working: you link me, I link you, unless I’m not feeling what you’re writing. Then again, I’ve come across some pretty intelligent bloggers / writers around the Internet, so I don’t really reject many links.

- Beowulf isn’t just a great CGI movie. It’s a great movie. Go watch … if you’re into blood, guts, mysticism, and nudity. Otherwise, take your time walking there. I love the recreation of the epic poem, and it scared me just how realistic everything appeared. I’m still disappointed they used the same ads from Tomb Raider in this one, but overall, I did like the recreation.

- I still support net neutrality. With the ever increasing popularity of Facebook (thanks for adding me if you already have) and other social networks dominating the Internet scene, it becomes increasingly important that not only do we have an unbiased playing field, but we also have the ability to access any information we want without being redirected to the Internet providers’ options first.

- Today marks the one year anniversary of the death of Sean Bell, a young and unarmed man who was shot and killed brutally by the NYPD after his bachelor party. Unfortunately, we still don’t have a criminal case in court, and really, there’s no justice served here yet. I’m still waiting for justice for Amadou Diallo (the benchmark for all brutality cases unfortunately), Jayson Tirado, Timothy Stansbury, and even Malcolm Ferguson. When the government of any area creates a hostile environment, they can’t expect the people to just sit there idly. Therefore, people should must will protest.

jose, who constantly experiences mental paradigm shifts …


A Tale of Two Lower East Siders

by Jose Vilson on October 30, 2007

Jayson TiradoI’m a resident Lower East Sider. I don’t teach around here, but my heart, soul, and body still resides here. So when news from this area comes out, my ears perk up. We’ve had some of the more peculiar and iconic events happen around these parts, yet they hardly get recognized because 1) people didn’t care too much about our hood or 2) it’s become the mecca of immense gentrification, which is happening around here and the neighboring East Village.

The latest tragedy here is that of Jayson Tirado, who was shot by an off-duty police offer on Sunday, October 28th, 2007. Tirado, and the off-duty police officer, had an argument while in a traffic jam in Upper Manhattan. Officer Sean Sawyer, the cop, turned himself after shooting up Tirado’s car, which also had 2 of Tirado’s friends. As of now, the local papers have called it a serious case of road rage, but most people around my way call it another case of police brutality, as Tirado had no weapon on him and there was no real reason to do anything to him. He pointed his finger at the officer, but that was really it.

Of course, the officer, who is Black, claimed self-defense, so he’s not in jail right now, but it got me to thinking about the various stereotypes we hold against young men and women in our neighborhoods, and how we can transform those if we saw beyond the surface just a little bit. This was a husband and father of two, and someone who his family loved very much. They came out in packs for the man at his funeral at the Ortiz Funeral Home on 1st and 1st, and yet, because he listens to a certain type of music, hangs with a certain type of people, and wears braids in his hair, he’s already pegged as a drug-dealing young dropout low-life.

It’s easy for Black and Latino conservatives or semi-conservatives will look at the man and say, “Well he shouldn’t have been wearing those braids, and rocking those clothes, or being who he is.” Imagine if someone told you you couldn’t be who you were, even if you weren’t hurting anyone. But his image alone seems to disturb the self-righteous into that type of thinking.

As someone who chose a more academic and hence alternative route, I, too, was brainwashed into believing guys like him were holding our community back. Then again, I also grew up in a time when people compared this side of the neighborhood to Beirut, with people shooting people from behind an edifice, and blue caps lined the cracks on the concrete. And people who looked like Jayson were conduits for that type of behavior. Then again, people who were in Sean’s profession often instigated that violence, leaving some of these materials under park benches readily.

What changed my mind after looking at all these images weren’t the cases of Amadou Diallo (who used to work at a deli I frequented),  Anthony Baez, Abner Louima, or Timothy Stansbury. It was when my brother told me that a family friend, 17 year old kid at the time, had gotten slashed in the face. I said, “Wow, that’s what you get for being up in the street like that.” And my brother goes, “Yeah, well it’s ’cause he beat some dude in basketball and he slashed him. That’s how much you know.”

Shit. Here I was thinking I was lifting my people, but I was really leaving them behind, and that’s disheartening. Since then, I’ve made real concerted efforts to become more knowledgeable about what happens in the community. While I can’t discuss some of the things I do, I’ll say that a simple conversation with neighbors, waving to people I never used to talk to, and things of that nature have really made me proud of being from this still poor neighborhood. I’m not proud of the negative things that come out of the ‘hood, but I don’t disown it for the sake of appeasing some authority.

In many ways, that’s why the hood hates Bill Cosby, but appreciates Malcolm X. We stick by our local leaders, but hate people like Oprah who come out against hip-hop like they’re saviors, and appeasing their masters by selling us out. If I could borrow a comment from one of my favorite sites to visit:

“… Bill doesn’t talk, he preaches. He doesn’t agitate, he sermonizes. A lot of us are sick of it and here’s why. First, if you want to motivate someone, you don’t scold or make them feel bad. You nurture them, you take take positive behavior, build on it. How does Bill attempt to motivate? By finding the worst examples and bashing black folks over the head with it– in front of white audiences on Meet the Press. Second, Bill is educated and already knows that we’re talking structural vs cultural arguments, with what comes down to one feeding on the other. People are poor and feel hopeless, and they do what all poor people do– blame and take it out on the closest people to them– ” – mac

I don’t know much about Jayson’s life other than what the local media’s distributed, but I can tell you I feel for his family and I send my condolences. It’s not everyday when someone’s death helps refocus another person’s life. Thanks.

jose, who’ll always be from the hood …