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4 Lessons from the Ferguson Uprising


Here are the lessons I’ve thought about over the last year that I believe can be helpful to our racial justice movement locally. Do you have any to share?

  1. The existence of COINTELPRO is a fact. Labeling someone as a police informant may not be fact—even if their behavior is disruptive and counter-productive. We must find ways to identify, isolate and resolve this kind of behavior in our organizations and in our movement. Paranoia and mistrust destroy the cohesive fiber of our movement which is a goal of COINTELPRO.
  1. There is plenty of injustice in the STL. We need organizing on many fronts. Do not take credit for other’s work or claim their victories. It creates an unnecessary tarnish on you or your group’s integrity.
  1. The racial justice movement needs many imaginative tactics that advance our strategic goal of challenging racism and transforming the society we live in. We can assess the effectiveness of these tactics in an objective and thoughtful way. Criticism of a tactic should not be a personal putdown. Let your own organizing work speak for you. Finally, understand the difference between strategy and tactics.
  1. Every tactic you engage in should include one of these (or all) components: political education, base-building among the working class or institution building.



When will we seriously deal with mental health?


I wondered if James Perry had read my book Ferguson is America. Perry was part of a panel discussing post-Katrina conditions on Melissa Harris Perry’s Saturday show on MSNBC. James is Melissa’s partner. As they talked about the mental health issues associated with black residents of New Orleans, James Perry referenced the work of Dr. Mindy Fullilove. Post Traumatic  Stress Disorder and Depression rates in young people are 3-4 times higher than the national average. I talk about Dr Fullilove’s concept of Root Shock and her ground-breaking work in my book and how black and poor folks in St. Louis have experienced root shock over generations. And still.

I was heartened to hear someone interrupt President Obama’s speech on Thursday when he visited NOLA. The President talked about the emotional scars many of the youth people were exhibited.

THE PRESIDENT: …Certainly we know violence still scars the lives of too many youth in this city.  As hard as rebuilding levees are, as hard as” —

PARTICIPANT:   “Mental health. Our children need mental health.”

THE PRESIDENT:  “I agree with that.  But I’ll get to that.  Thank you, ma’am.”

ME: Yes, Mr. President, when will we “get to that”?

Moving past the blame to unified action


Posted at the St. Louis American, August 27, 2015

“Everyone is crying out for peace, yes

None is crying out for justice.”

The above are lyrics from reggae artist Peter Tosh’s song “Equal Rights.” The song comes to mind when I hear families’ unspeakable pain after violence has taken a loved one.

I would change Tosh’s lyric to:

“Everyone is crying out for peace, yes

But most are not working for justice.”

#BlackLivesMatter has become a powerful banner to wave in the face of racist oppression and repression. It’s also a coalescing space for those who want to work to make Black Lives Matter on many fronts.

Yes, we hear the variation of cries to “Stop the Violence,” but often there’s no action plan as to how to stop it, no discussion about the roots of the violence, no agreement on who’s the main perpetrator of the violence.  A thousand chants into the stratosphere or, in the words of Sweet Honey in the Rock, mothers “crying tears that fill a million oceans” will not bring us the peace we so desperately seek. We must actually do the work for justice in a tangible and meaningful way.

Recently three families experienced the death of loved ones by violence. They all called out in pain, confusion, anger and frustration to the social forces engaged in racial justice work.

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