Tag Archives: #BlackLivesMatter

Benicia mom Amira Barger: I’m a Black Bay Area parent. The Ketanji Brown Jackson hearings were disappointing — though not surprising

A Black Bay Area parent and community activist reflects on the Ketanji Brown Jackson hearings

SFGate, by Amira Barger, March 30, 2022

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson becomes emotional during an impassioned speech by Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 23, 2022. | Andrew Harnik/AP

I hope my daughter never has to endure the treatment Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has been subjected to.

Being a Black woman and the mother of a young Black girl, I felt it was important for her to witness this historical moment. But instead of the positive experience it could have been, the scene that played out was sadly familiar. As we sat together watching the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, my nine-year-old wondered why Texas Sen. Cruz frequently interrupted Jackson.

“May I say a word I’m not supposed to?” she asked. “Isn’t he kind of being…a jerk, and why isn’t anyone doing anything?”

I explained a lesson from bell hooks: “Sometimes people try to destroy you, precisely because they recognize your power — not because they don’t see it, but because they see it and they don’t want it to exist.” Black women have a common experience — we are often required to respond with restraint and calm in the face of misogynoir (misogyny directed towards Black women where both race and sex play a role), so as not to disrupt the dynamics of power. I witnessed this misogynoir with my daughter as Jackson smiled and paused — a response born of hard-earned wisdom. It was triggering to watch.

We have waited 233 years to be represented. The Supreme Court has had 115 judges — of these, there have been two Black men and five women — none of them Black. Interestingly, confirmation hearings have only existed since 1916, when Woodrow Wilson put forward Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish man nominated. Hearings were not previously required for the white Christian men who had historically held these seats. Many might suggest the treatment of Jackson is some sort of retribution for treatment received by the last two Supreme Court nominees — particularly Brett Kavanaugh. Several GOP senators alluded to as much. However, in presuming this, one chooses to conveniently forget the circumstances surrounding those hearings.

Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault. The consternation surrounding Amy Coney Barrett had less to do with the nominee than it did with whether, only weeks from the presidential election, confirmation proceedings should be happening at all. Senators blocked President Barack Obama from replacing Justice Antonin Scalia in the spring of 2016 — months before the election. During her hearing, Barrett repeatedly sidestepped questions, stating she shouldn’t give an opinion on matters she might have to rule on as a justice. Such answers have long-standing precedent, and did not seem to ruffle too many feathers among the GOP members of the committee. Contrast that with their treatment of Jackson, berated for not answering questions even as she was interrupted time and again. Still, she sat composed as she was met with conjecture and infighting amongst senators. Compare that with Kavanaugh, red-faced and shouting at the committee about how much he liked beer.

One might also be tempted to write off the treatment of Jackson as merely partisan politics as usual. However, you would only have to go back so far as the nominations of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to note the marked differences in tone and tenor of those hearings compared to the Jackson hearings. A desire for the “most qualified candidate” has been the GOP rallying cry in response to President Joe Biden’s promise to nominate a Black woman. Of course, the quiet part of that seemingly reasonable request is the underlying assumption that no Black woman could possibly fit the bill as “most qualified.” As a federal appellate judge, a district court judge, a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, an attorney in private practice, and as a public defender, Jackson has broad experience across the legal profession. A visual from the Washington Post paints a poignant picture of the totality of Jackson’s unparalleled qualifications in comparison to her would-be colleagues. Kagan, for example, had never been a judge at any level before her appointment to the Supreme Court, yet her nomination was met with a far greater degree of civility.

What Jackson endured is a result of inequitable procedure propped up by decades of empty diversity, equity and inclusion promises without accountability. True commitment to inclusion requires opportunity for any historically excluded or marginalized person to enter without constant monitoring of the system. Black women, who must overcome the bigotry of both race and gender, are most often the last to be allowed in the room. As it stands, there are no Black women in the U.S. Senate, nor are there any Black women serving as governor. Yes, Kamala Harris is the vice president. And Jackson’s confirmation would be a step. But these singular exceptions do not themselves break the ceiling too many of us encounter.

I consult in diversity, equity and inclusion, and my professional experience leads me to believe that the linguistic and mental contortion we saw Jackson masterfully navigate was not nearly as difficult as assumed. She is a trained contortionist, as are many Black women. We anticipate the questioning, racism, sexism, and blatant contempt. We know that, once in the room, the fight to prove ourselves only intensifies. We embody the age-old adage of exceptionalism: “twice as good, to get half as much”. This often manifests as an alphabet soup of degrees and certifications behind Black women’s names, mine included. The problem with exceptionalism is that it falsely espouses one will, having achieved the exceptional, be treated well. Sadly, these hearings have served to reinforce that, not only was Jackson’s humanity not sufficient to be treated well, but neither were her exceptional qualifications.

I want more than this for us. This being the vitriol, pain, and perseverance. This being hopes and dreams sandwiched between systemic barriers and misogynoir. This being agility and strength earned on a rigged playing field. I want more than what we have today. For me, for you, for my little Black girl, and all little Black girls to come. We are to be treated well because we are human. Full stop. Our success should be judged by more than proximity to an impossible and unnecessary white ideal. We are enough as we are. The preeminently qualified Jackson, with her own display of vulnerability and humanity, reminded us that being human is enough. I saw myself and my daughter in Jackson, as her daughter proudly looked on. I know many of us did. Because her story is our story.

With other supposed allies in the room, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker had to be the one to boldly disrupt the disgusting onslaught — to affirm, to encourage, to look her in the eyes and give a moment of reprieve. As Black women, we continue to navigate a world that so often demonstrates how little it values us. The sexism, racism, and discrimination are constant. Celebration of our perseverance only serves as a tacit reminder of the systemic inequity we face while offering little in the way of actual change. Do us a favor, if you will: 1. Lead from your chair to disrupt harm. Affirm, encourage, and look someone in their eyes and recognize their humanity. 2. Call your senator and demand confirmation of Judge Jackson.

A lesson I teach my nine-year-old is one we can all apply here: Leave people and places better than you find them. Also, don’t be a jerk.

Amira Barger is a Bay Area Black mom, an adjunct professor of marketing and communications and a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant.

 

Latest ‘Our Voices’ – First-hand Witness to Racial Profiling and Police Injustice


BENICIA BLACK LIVES MATTER
…OUR VOICES…

From BeniciaBlackLivesMatter.com
[See also: About BBLM]

“As a young woman, I was a first-hand witness to racial profiling and police injustice. It irrevocably changed my perspective about law enforcement…”

November 8, 2021

74 year old white woman
Benicia resident for 6 years

I was born and raised in the Bay Area. When I was a young woman, it was an exciting time. It was a time of activism. Anti-war protests and the Civil and Women’s Rights movements were powerful and seemed to be changing the shape of the future as I watched with fascination and anticipation. The world was becoming a better place for the young and the historically disenfranchised. I was looking forward to a more equitable world, and I considered myself to be part of this change. I was optimistic, energetic, educated, and ready to roll up my sleeves.

In 1972, I was an art teacher at Lincoln High School, which is in a very integrated part of San Jose. The school saw their multi-ethnic student and family population as an opportunity to build a mutually respectful and open community, and racial problems were rare if present at all. That year, the YMCA leased an old three story mansion right behind my school and opened up a Youth Center. I was offered the directorship, and I enthusiastically accepted. It didn’t matter to me that I was working two full time jobs. I was in my early 20’s with lots of energy. It was meaningful work, and I was ready to take on the world.

The Teen Center was a fun place for kids to hang out after school. The old building had lots of passageways and interesting spaces to explore. We put a pool table in the old formal dining room. Kids and adults worked together to fix up the old place with donated paint, hammers and gardening tools. After school was out, the music came on, and the Center became a place of youthful activity. My job was wonderful. I walked around making sure things were flowing and that the staff and students were engaged in healthy activities. When adolescent tempers flared, I was on hand to redirect and facilitate a peaceful conclusion.

And then one afternoon, my ideals were shattered. It was around 4pm when a group of 8-10 of my teenage boys got into an argument on the front lawn that escalated quickly. By the time I got to the scene, it had turned into a fist fight. It was very public and very loud. The boys were all around 16 and 17 years old and were nearly adult sized. They were of mixed ethnicities, and, although I don’t remember the precipitating cause, it was not about race. Of that I am certain.

I had been ineffectively trying to de-escalate the energy for about 15 minutes when the police showed up. Apparently, a concerned neighbor had called upon hearing or witnessing the scene. The two police officers who pulled up were white. They didn’t ask any questions. They pushed me aside and ignored my protestations. They simply pulled their guns and ordered the Black kids – not the white kids – to back down. When that didn’t happen immediately, they threatened to shoot. The boys, still wrapped up in their argument, kept fighting even after the guns were drawn and they were being threatened. I don’t even think they noticed. Then a shot was fired, and one of my kids went down. He was one of the Black students. The fighting abruptly stopped.

I was in shock. I watched in disbelief as the officers took a report, primarily calling out the Black youths who were part of the fight. An ambulance was called, and my injured student was taken away. He died later that day.

This was a fight that I am certain I could have eventually stopped. It was a fist fight, one without weapons. This was the kind of fight that hormonally charged teenage boys typically engage in and then it’s over. No one was going to be seriously hurt. No property was being damaged. No outside parties were involved. No one’s life was in danger. Not until the police showed up.

This was the first time I witnessed abject racial targeting by law enforcement. Although it was and tragically is still a common experience, as white woman I had not been privy to the blatant imbalance of justice until that moment. All of the boys in the fight were equally involved. Less than half of them were of Color, and yet, it was Black ones who were in the sights of the officers’ guns. It was the Black boys who were blamed. And it was the Black kids who suffered the consequences. No charges were levied at these officers. The family of the boy who was killed suffered their pain quietly and without protest. I sat with the family and did an announcement and an article for the school, but no more came of it. The community mourned, and then it was over. I lost my enthusiasm for the job and moved on when my contract was up. Teen Center eventually closed and the building was razed.

Today, we recognize and challenge the prejudices of law enforcement, the injustices of the racial profiling, and the “shoot first, ask questions later” attitude of some of our law enforcement agents. I’m glad to see a movement towards better police training, integration of social services, more conscientious use of weapons, and oversight over law enforcement agencies, but we have a long way to go. My fifty year old memory of watching helplessly as a young man, for whom I was responsible, was killed just because he was involved in a teenage scuffle and his skin happened to be Black. It has left an indelible imprint upon my soul.


Previous ‘Our Voices’ stories here on the BenIndy at
Benicia Black Lives Matter – Our Voices
     or on the BBLM website at
beniciablacklivesmatter.weebly.com/ourvoices

Benicia Black Lives Matter – CALL TO ACTION!

Do you believe Black lives matter? Then answer this call to action

By email, October 29, 2021

Benicia Black Lives Matter (BBLM) is a values-driven, grassroots, volunteer organization that is dedicated to affirming and improving Black lives in Benicia and beyond. Designing and monitoring accountability structures within local government and institutions—including law enforcement—is an essential part of achieving this mission.

Incidents demonstrating a sustained pattern of racial bias, excessive force, and misconduct within the Solano County Sheriff’s Office, along with Sheriff Tom Ferrara’s open unwillingness to observe accountability and transparency norms, are too numerous to recount here. These allegations of excessive, often racialized violence as well as documented support among his staff for anti-government and white supremacist ideologies, together with the sheriff’s refusal to discipline his staff for misconduct even when recommended by neutral investigatory bodies such Internal Affairs, should concern every Solano County citizen.

When it became clear that the sheriff was not meeting the requirements of his position, BBLM initiated a cross-organizational call to action spanning multiple municipalities, collecting volunteers and allies across many diverse groups and organizations. This coalition now requests help from this same community—your help—at the upcoming Board of Supervisors meeting, to voice our shared concerns and call for change.

This Tuesday, November 2, at 9 am, the Solano County Board of Supervisors will meet to consider utilizing Assembly Bill 1185 to create a community-based civilian oversight board for the sheriff’s office. Such a board would provide a communication channel between the Board of Supervisors and the sheriff’s office, allowing the supervisors to respond to non-criminal complaints from their constituents when the sheriff’s office is involved; create a process to file complaints independent of the sheriff’s office when public trust has eroded; give our community the reassurance that review processes are thorough and bad actors are held accountable for misconduct; strengthen the sheriff and his staff’s relationships with the community they are in service to; and improve trust in law enforcement in Solano County in general.

Anyone can attend the board meeting in person or via Zoom; the details to attend are available on the Solano County website (solanocounty.com). You may also submit written comments to clerk@solanocounty.com.

BBLM strongly encourages anyone who has ever considered themselves to be an ally, supporter, or accomplice in the march toward equity for all in this city, this county, and this country to take this opportunity to be heard. Solano citizens cannot have confidence in Sheriff Ferrara’s leadership and authority until there is an open, fair discussion about the value a community-based oversight board could create when confidence in Sheriff Ferrara and the sheriff’s office is at an all-time low. We all deserve more.

At the meeting, or in your email, ask supervisors to authorize county staff to move forward with research and evaluation of an oversight board, or to allow Solano voters to weigh in.

This is your chance to be heard, and to be a part of making change happen here in Solano County, in support of Black lives, and in support of the community and the spaces we share together. Please act.

https://www.vallejosun.com/pressure-grows-for-oversight-of-solano-county-sheriffs-office/

Benicia Black Lives Matter, BBLM
http://beniciablacklivesmatter.com/
https://www.facebook.com/BeniciaBLM/
https://www.instagram.com/beniciablacklivesmatter/
https://twitter.com/beniciablm?lang=en
https://linktr.ee/BeniciaBLM

Latest ‘Our Voices’ – Racism is real in Benicia


BENICIA BLACK LIVES MATTER
…OUR VOICES…

From BeniciaBlackLivesMatter.com
[See also: About BBLM]

“I was horrified to witness such abject racism in my own city…”

July 13, 2021

Chris Kerz
70 year old white man
6 year Benicia resident

I consider myself a good person. I try to treat everyone with respect and compassion. I have friends of different cultures, different races, different socio-economic levels, and different age groups. I generally greet everyone in my path with the same friendliness and warmth. I know that racism exists everywhere, but I never expected to witness such viciousness in my own quiet community.

During the Covid months, like many people, I took at least one brisk walk every day to get my blood flowing and maintain some sense of normalcy. On this particular October 2020 day, I was walking through the Ninth Street Park from the north end around 3pm. As I approached the boat launch I saw a Black gentleman, possibly in his mid-40s, seemingly also out for a walk, heading in my direction. When he was about 20 feet from me and before I was able to greet him, I began to hear a low chanting of what sounded like the word “N****r” coming from the parking lot. I looked around. The parking lot had several cars in it, but from where I was, I couldn’t see any people in the cars. Then the chanting stopped.

At first I thought I was mistaken. That didn’t seem possible, particularly since I couldn’t see the source. We both circled around, going opposite directions, and neared the parking lot a second time. As we again approached each other, I heard it – the same chant, only louder. This time there was no mistaking the content or intent. The voices were men, and there was more than one. I met the eyes of the Black man and mouthed, “I’m sorry!” which, of course, he could not see through my mask. He sent me a furtive glance, but I couldn’t interpret what he was communicating either – Fear? Anger? Suspicion? I only know that I felt a terrible sense of anger and disappointment. And above all, I was shocked. The targeted man picked up his pace and headed towards the downtown area.

In the meantime, I doubled back through the parking lot one more time to see if I could identify the perpetrators. There were several people milling about and about a dozen cars in the lot, so it was hard to tell. A moment later, a vehicle with at least two people in it pulled out of a parking space and headed downtown. The driver exercised the appropriate caution and speed for exiting a parking lot, raising no particular suspicion other than his/her timing. Still, I thought it was likely they were the chanters. By the time they were clear of other cars, they were too far away for me to read the license plate, and even if I could, I knew that I had no evidence that the people in the car were involved in any way. My opportunity to identify anyone was lost.

And so I did the only thing I could. I retold the story of this horrifying event to my family and friends, not only as a witness, but in hopes that other Benicia residents acknowledge that racism does exist here and that we must be proactive in opposing it.

In hindsight, I would have liked to have been more of an active ally. I could have turned around and caught up with the man and asked if he needed any help and/or walked with him. I could have run through the parking lot looking for the sources of the ugliness and excoriated them, or at least obtained a description to call the police. I could have done a lot of things. I just hope for two things by making my story public: the man who was accosted will realize that he was not alone in his pain; and that the people of Benicia will wake up to the fact that these horrible injustices do indeed happen in our community and should NEVER be tolerated.


Previous ‘Our Voices’ stories here on the BenIndy at
Benicia Black Lives Matter – Our Voices
     or on the BBLM website at
beniciablacklivesmatter.weebly.com/ourvoices