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Military Rape: Remember LaVena!

johnson lavena

The Congress is currently discussing legislation to the rampant and pervasive culture of sexual assault in the military. The Pentagon’s recent report on rape indicated 26,000 people were assaulted in 2012, up front the 19,000 from the previous year. This means that even with all the bright lights on the issue, the military has been incapable of addressing the situation as it has been for years.

Two female senators have introduced legislation that have bi-partisan support. MO Sen. Claire McCaskill presented a bill that includes removing the authority from commanders to overturn a conviction at court martial and making it a crime to retaliate against a victim who reports a sexual assault.  Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s bill goes much farther in an extremely important way if there’s going to be true relief for victims. Her bill takes the issue out of the hands of the victims’ commanding officers and puts it in the hands of  “independent military” prosecutors.  If there’s never a prosecution of perpetrators, you can’t even get to the court martial or retaliation phase.

I liken the current military reporting system to reporting police abuse to Internal Affairs (police). How’s that working for citizens?

In St. Louis, let’s remember our own LaVena Johnson who was sexually assaulted and murdered in the Army. Given the numbers, there’s a victim in most of our communities. Call Sen. McCaskill to tell her the bill needs to farther and to support Gillibrand’s bill.

Michelle Alexander


For those of you who missed Michelle Alexander when she came to St. Louis recently, here’s the next best thing–a YouTube video.  Alexander was humble about her lack of awareness of how deep and wide the problem of mass incarceration really was. Although many of us have been doing prison reform work for decades, The New Jim Crow has elevated the disturbing problem to a national discussion. Now, it’s up to all the people whose consciousness has also been raised to move into action to reverse the behaviors, policies and laws that got us to this place.

Click on the photo below to view her presentation.

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Lessons from the murder of Renisha McBride


I don’t know Renisha McBride or her family. I don’t know all the circumstances surrounding her death. My heart goes out to her family and friends for this senseless death. Working with young people, I’m always looking for those teachable moments no matter how they come.  How can we use  Renisha’s tragedy to save some lives of black youth in a society that targets anyone who’s Black While Breathing?

I do know about Dearborn Heights. D-Heights has a racist history like that of a southern town. Its motto for years was “Keep Dearborn Clean,” code for “Keep Dearborn White.” The surburb of Detroit has stayed true to its motto and even to date, it’s nearly 90% white. The NAACP has  raised consistent concerns over the city’s racial profiling numbers and there are constant complaints about racial harassment by law enforcement. Back in 2000, Frederick Finley was choked to death by a plainsclothes security guard at a mall. Five security guards converged on Finley’s 11-year old stepdaughter accusing her of shoplifting a $4 bracelet. The incident drew 7000 to the mall to protest the racist killing. The point is you don’t want a child of yours going through D-Heights if they don’t need to.

The details that the media has conveyed to the public about that fateful night is that Renisha was shot in the face by a Dearborn Heights resident when she knocked on his door for assistance after a car accident. Renisha was killed by a shot to the face; the homeowner said he thought she was an intruder but also claims the gun went off accidentally. His identity remains unknown and so far, no charges have been sought by prosecutors.

Gerald Thurswell, the family’s lawyer, has pieced together details of the incident. On Nov. 2 McBride crashed her car in Detroit and received aid from a passersby, who reported to police that she was bleeding from the face. In the 40 minutes before police arrived (yeah, that’s how long it takes the po-po to respond), Renisha wandered away from the accident scene and ended up on the porch of a Dearborn Heights home about a mile away.

As village parents, we must step up our vigilance in protecting our young. That means passing on the racist history of this country in general and for places like Dearborn Heights in particular. This means talking about a law like Stand Your Ground that could innocently put them in the crosshairs of a white person with a gun. (Michigan is a Stand Your Ground state.) We must school our children about how to respond when they are confronted by the police or racist white people. The time to start this critical education is NOT when they get to be teens.

Lastly, our young people need to know that cell phones are not just for play/socializing; they are necessities in this age of danger and violence for young people of color. I know our kids can yak on the phone all day long about foolishness and that’s all a part of being a teen. We have to encourage/persuade them to keep their batteries juiced up especially when they know they will be traveling alone (foot or vehicle) and when they will be traveling at night.

As I said in the beginning of this article, I don’t know what Renisha’s situation was and I am making no judgment. These were the issues that came up for me as I read about her case and felt compelled to draw any life-saving lessons from her unfortunate death that could help save our young people.