Comedian W. Kamau Bell writes about racism at the Elmwood Cafe in Berkeley, CA

kamau-bell

I’m a big fan of comedian W. Kamau Bell. He and his wife and child had a harrowing-but-all-too-common experience at a cafe in Berkeley this week. He writes about it on his blog. Here’s the opening:

Dear Elmwood Cafe
2900 College Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94705

You don’t know me. I know that for sure now. It’s not that I would expect you to know me, although many people in the Bay Area do, because of the work I’ve done as a stand-up comedian locally and on television. I’m known for something that The New Yorker called “intersectional progressivism.” That basically means I use jokes to fight for the people who don’t get a fair shake in the world. For the last several years, I have tried to learn as much as I can about oppression in all forms so that I can help make the world slightly more bearable with a few jokes. But that’s just my career.

In my life, I am a person who loves The Bay Area. LOVE IT! I lived in San Francisco for 13 years and in Oakland for two. And even though I lived in SF mostly, I spent A LOT of time in The East Bay. I have done my own headlining shows at The New Parish, La Pena, The East Bay JCC, and Marga Gomez’s comedy nights at The Marsh. I love these audiences. The Bay Area is a place where all sorts of different people live together, explore new ideas and strive to uphold the idea made famous by children singer Raffi, “The more we get together the happier we’ll be!”

To be honest though, my most fervent love is for Oakland. Which is why I was so excited recently when the people at Oaklandish gave me a hoodie. They just GAVE IT TO ME! I was walking past their pop-up shop at The Oakland Airport and one of their employees saw me, recognized me (I told you that people around here know me), and she awesomely and very generously gave me a hoodie. I love it. I wear it a lot. I was wearing it this past Monday, January 26, when I went to the Elmwood Cafe.

Read the rest here.

POEM: the memory hole (for Bishop Desmond Tutu)

DES

the memory hole (for Bishop Desmond Tutu)

Twice this week I talked to people
who didn’t know Bishop Desmond Tutu.
The small giant with the impish laugh
who strode across the landscape of my
high school years, my classmates & I
following behind with our END APARTHEID
buttons, ordered from the Northern Sun catalog,
pinned proudly to our rugby shirts. We grew up
in a county that was nearly 100% white.
Even now, more than two decades later, I
remember the name of every person of color
I met through the age of 18. We could have
all piled into a van if we’d wanted to go
to a protest together. But of course there
were no protests to go to in our town &
it hadn’t yet occurred to any of us to start one.
Still, we knew Mandela & we watched
Denzel Washington play Stephen Biko five years
before he would introduce us to Malcolm X.
It was safer for us to know about Tutu & Biko
& Mandela. They were thousands of miles
away in a bad place that mistreated black
people. Not like our town, where a young
black woman was the vice president of the
student council. See? We would have
spent the requisite class period on the
civil rights movement if we hadn’t run
out of time in the year & been forced
to end at World War II. Still, a few of us
had our buttons & we listened to Sting
sing about Chile & U2 sing about whatever
it was they were singing about & we felt
like the sun would always shine on us.
On some weekends we’d go to the lake,
stand on the end of the pier & look out at
Squaw Island, where women & children
fled as Sullivan’s soldiers flowed like a
rushing river over the land, trying to
extinguish the flame of the Iroquois.
It turns out that story might not be true;
that in fact the island is more likely
to have been a staging area for the
Iroquois resistance. I can’t imagine why
no one taught us about that. But I digress.
This is not a poem about America.
This is a poem about a man of the cloth
in a faraway land where people
were once judged on the color of their skin,
not the content of their character.
This is not a poem about America.
This is a poem about a country where
black people had fewer rights & fewer
opportunities than white people.
This is not a poem about America.
This is a poem about a religious leader
who said enough is enough & that his people
must stand up against oppression.
This is not a poem about America.
This is a poem about a place so evil
that white men with guns could shoot
black men without guns with no fear of
reprisal or consequence.
This is not a poem about America.
This is not a poem about America.
This is not a poem about America.

/ / /

Jason Crane
25 January 2015
Oak Street

Responding to the post-Katrina race war in New Orleans

The current issue of The Nation has a very disturbing report on white vigilantism in New Orleans after Katrina. Here’s a description along with a link to pressure the NoLa authorities to investigate these crimes:

A new report in The Nation[1] documents what many have claimed for years — for some Black New Orleanians the threat of being killed by White vigilantes in Katrina’s aftermath became a bigger threat than the storm itself.

After the storm, White vigilantes roamed Algiers Point shooting and, according to their own accounts, killing Black men at will — with no threat of a police response. For the last three years, the shootings and the police force’s role in them have been an open secret to many New Orleanians. To date, no one has been charged with a crime and law enforcement officials have refused to investigate.

The report is helpful, but given Lousiana’s horrible record on protecting its Black citizens, justice will only come if we demand it.

I’ve joined ColorOfChange in calling on Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Louisiana’s Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, and the U.S. Department of Justice–to conduct a full investigation of these crimes and any police cover-up. Will you join me? It takes only a moment:

ColorOfChange.org

In the two weeks after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, the media created a climate of fear with trumped-up stories of Black lawlessness. Meanwhile, an armed group of White vigilantes took over the Algiers Point neighborhood in New Orleans and mercilessly hunted down Black people. “It was great!” said one vigilante. “It was like pheasant season in South Dakota. If it moved, you shot it.”

“The Nation’s” article tells the story of Donnell Herrington, Marcel Alexander, and Chris Collins–a group of friends who were attacked by shotgun-wielding White men as they entered Algiers Point on September
1, 2005. As they tried to escape, Herrington recalls, their attackers shouted, “Get him! Get that nigger!” He managed to get away. Alexander and Collins were told that they would be allowed to live on the condition
that they told other Black folks not to come to Algiers Point. Herrington, shot in the neck, barely survived.

And there’s the story of Henry Glover, who didn’t survive after being shot by an unknown assailant.[2] Glover’s brother flagged down a stranger for help, and the two men brought Glover to a police station. But instead of receiving aid, they were beaten by officers while Henry Glover bled to death in the back seat of the stranger’s car. A police officer drove off in the car soon afterward. Both Glover’s body and the car were found burnt to cinders a week later. It took DNA analysis to identify the body.

These are only a few of the stories of Black folks who were accosted in Algiers Point, and you can read more in The Nation. But unless you speak out, we may never learn the full extent of the violence. Journalists have encountered a wall of silence on the part of the authorities. The coroner had to be sued to turn over autopsy records. When he finally complied, the records were incomplete, with files on several suspicious deaths suddenly empty. The New Orleans police and the District Attorney repeatedly refused to talk to journalists about Algiers Point. And according to “The Nation” journalist A.C. Thompson, “the city has in nearly every case refused to investigate or prosecute people for assaults and murders committed in the wake of the storm.”

The Nation article is important, but it’s just a start. For more than three years now, these racist criminals have by their own admission gotten away with murder while officials in New Orleans have systematically evaded any kind of accountability. We have to demand it.

Please join us in calling on state and federal officials to investigate these brutal attacks and the conduct of Orleans Parish law enforcement agencies, and please ask your friends and family to do the same.

ColorOfChange.org

Thanks.

—-

1. “Katrina’s Hidden Race War,” The Nation, 12-18-2008

2. “Body of Evidence,” The Nation, 12-18-2008