Involuntary manslaughter. It is with great sadness and bitterness that those two words are echoing through California right now.
Protesters gather in downtown Oakland following involuntary manslaughter verdict in trial of the officer who killed Oscar Grant.
Protesters have massed in downtown Oakland in response to this disturbingly lenient verdict in the trial of Johannes Mehserle, the former transit police officer who shot and killed unarmed train rider Oscar Grant.
Involuntary manslaughter — it’s a verdict usually reserved for accidental killings such as car accidents. That conviction alone usually carries with it a maximum prison sentence of four years, but in this case the maximum sentence has been upped to fourteen years due to Mehserle’s use of a firearm in the killing.
I am deeply critical of our nation’s bloated and violent prison system (the United States locks up a higher percentage of its population than any other country in the world, and this does not make us any “safer”) so it was strange to find myself hoping — along with so many others in the East Bay — for a stiffer verdict and therefore longer prison sentence for Mehserle. This is and is not about Mehserle. In truth, what I want is not revenge or punishment but rather an end to police brutality and racism in our society. But for various reasons, this particular trial has taken on an enormous symbolic significance.
For days we’ve been wondering: Will the verdict reinforce our sense that the justice system sees crimes by cops against people of color as somehow natural or forgivable? Or will it reassure us that our justice system is capable of seeing a white cop’s killing of a Black man as equally if not more criminal and disturbing than a Black man’s killing of a white cop?
The phones have been ringing off the hook here as word spreads of the threatening intrusion upon our editor’s home. It’s heartening to hear some empathetic voices after weathering the days of hate mail that followed Tikkun‘s decision to present an award to Judge Goldstone for standing up for human rights in Israel/Palestine.
Sometime late last night or in the wee hours of the morning, vandals glued threatening posters to Rabbi Lerner’s door and around his home. Some posters attacked Lerner personally; others targeted liberals and progressives more generally, accusing them of supporting terrorism and “Islamo-fascism.” Here’s an excerpt from the statement that he and his assistant Will Pasley sent out via email this afternoon:
UC Berkeley’s student senate is set to vote once more this Wednesday, April 28, on a bill to divest from two companies that materially and militarily support the Israeli government’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. Yesterday Michael Lerner posted on the diversity of opinion among peace activists on this issue. Today I want to share a piece submitted to Tikkun Daily by Matthew A. Taylor, a Peace and Conflict Studies student and member of Jewish Voice for Peace who is currently on leave from UC Berkeley. As a member of Students for Justice in Palestine, the group that is promoting the bill on campus, Taylor argues with urgency and deep emotion for the bill and explains what those in support of the divestment effort can do to help before the vote tomorrow evening.
When Will the University of California Stop Funding War Crimes Against Palestinian Civilians?
“The soldiers came early on the morning of Sunday January 4th. [My husband] Atiyeh went to the door with his hands raised holding his ID but they shot him in the doorway,” said Zinad. “I shouted ‘children, children’ in Hebrew but they started shooting,” said Zinad’s nephew Faraj.
After the massacre, Israeli soldiers left messages for the dead Samounis on the walls of a neighbor’s house. The graffiti read: “Arabs need 2 die,” “Arabs are pieces of shit,” and “1 is DOWN 999,999 TO GO.”
A Palestinian woman cries in Gaza City's al-Zeitoun neighborhood (AFP).
When I was a child, my family celebrated Christian holidays in a fairly standard secular way, decorating a tree on Christmas and hunting eggs on Easter, not to mention joining in the customary consumption of marshmallow peeps, “jelly bird eggs” (whatever those are), and other foods invented by companies with a clever eye for turning a profit from a holiday.
My version of Easter lacks the radical Christian religiosity that Nichola laid out in her recent post about Good Friday as a time “to look at the crucifixions necessary to preserve the fiction of Pax Americana, or any false peace maintained by force, whether violent or hegemonic.” It lacks the progressive rethinking of the resurrection narrative that Rabbi Lerner highlighted in his spiritual wisdom of the week post with a quotation from Peter Rollins. But it’s still one of my favorite holidays of the year.
On its surface, the humanist Easter I grew up with may have seemed drained of meaning to religious onlookers, but it was actually highly ritualized and deep in its own way. I want to share my family’s three main rituals — an Easter eve afternoon of collaborative egg art, the collective reading aloud of a surprisingly feminist bunny book from the 1930s, and a morning of romping, outdoor egg hunts in bitter spring weather — as a resource for nonreligious families who want to celebrate a secular Easter that’s about more than just candy.
Why is there an olive on the Seder plate? Why is there an orange on the seder plate? And how can the liberation story of Passover relate to our modern-day struggles against oppression? Traditional Passover haggadot (the books of readings used at seder services) are full of answers but not to these questions. But then again, most seder plates don’t have olives and oranges on them …
I’m always interested in efforts to reclaim, reinvent, or renew religious holidays in ways that make them newly sustaining and politically energizing, so I was excited to learn through my friend Traci of a radical, anti-racist haggadah full of poetic writing and ideas about how to find new relevance and depth in the rituals of Passover: “The Love and Justice in Times of War Haggadah Zine” by Micah Bazant and Dara Silverman. The authors intentionally did not copyright the piece and have made it available for free on the web, encouraging people to print it out and use it as the basis for a “choose-your-own-adventure progressive seder.” Traci used the zine as the basis for a joyful and politicized seder that I had the pleasure of participating in earlier this week.
The rush and anonymity of city life draws us apart, even as it draws us together. Jammed in the bus and streaming through the street, millions of strangers cross paths without hearing each other’s stories.
Those who do exchange a word or a glance often lose each other to the closing of a train door or a shy failure to exchange phone numbers in line at the pharmacy, and many end up posting plaintive regrets in the “Missed Connections” section of Craigslist‘s online classifieds site. Sophie Blackall, an artist based in Brooklyn, brings to life strangers’ sometimes poignant, sometimes funny searches for each other by illustrating a new post from the New York City listings every week.
Students, workers, grade school teachers, and professors are marching in defense of public education throughout the country today, with more than 100 events taking place in 32 different states.
Hundreds of people gathered at the state capitol in Sacramento this morning to call on the state legislature to reverse the budget cuts and layoffs that are undermining California’s elementary schools and public universities alike.
Protesters gather March 4, 2010, in Sacramento. Photo by Randy Pench of the Sacramento Bee.
In one image a winged bird flaps her wings but remains rooted to the ground. In another a fork-headed monster rushes by, a small bird fluttering at its heart. Nearby a masked bundle of writing appears to be stuck in a toilet bowl.
These are just a few of the uncanny creatures that emerged three years ago when some friends and I started playing “exquisite corpse,” a collaborative drawing game invented by surrealists in the 1920s.
So many of the drawings evoke unexpected scenes of constraint. The creatures are tangled up in themselves. They’re tangled up in each other. They’re tangled up in the surrounding environment. But unlike most images of constraint in pop culture today, most of the drawings portray structural constraints (such as the bird’s physical rootedness in the ground) rather than overt scenes of domination. Many of the surrealist creatures seem oddly joyful and calm despite their limitations.
The subtle entanglements in these pictures are not unlike the constraints that global political, social, and economic forces exert on radical efforts to build a more just and caring world.
Hundreds of warm voices rang out Monday at the University of San Francisco as spiritual progressives sang together and debated how best to push our society toward a vision of economic justice, environmental sustainability, ethically oriented institutions, and a foreign policy based on generosity rather than militarism.
Hosted by the Network of Spiritual Progressives and Tikkun, the one-day conference in San Francisco included in-depth strategy sessions about how to develop a constitutional amendment to establish that corporations are not persons and how to support Obama while pushing him to live up to his progressive campaign promises. You can read Michael Lerner’s report on the conference to learn more about the proposed amendment and discussions about it. Here are some photos to give a feel for the event itself:
Medea Benjamin speaks at the Feb. 15 NSP conference in San Francisco.
MLK Day is drawing to a close. Have all the tributes and videos shaken us up, radicalized us, and renewed our resistance to the systems of imperialism and racism that Dr. King fought in his day?
At its best, MLK Day leads us to hear King’s powerful call for justice resounding in the present moment, to hear him urging us to dismantle our racist judicial/prison system and end the mass incarceration of black men, to oppose U.S. imperialism in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to take seriously his idea that militarism leads to the “spiritual death” of a nation. At its very worst, the memorialization process reduces King’s legacy by offering a saccharine history lesson that leaves people thinking that King did all the necessary work and racism is over.
Jack & Jill Politics has done a particularly smart job of projecting Dr. King into the present rather than freezing him into the past. In response to the Washington Post‘s call for YouTube videos about Martin Luther King, Jr., blogger Baratunde Thurston (aka Jack Turner) created this video to draw attention to Dr. King’s radical critique of militarism and imperialism, which has such clear relevance to U.S. foreign policy today: