Simply doing something, anything, because something needs to be done, is often the enemy of doing the right thing. People are dying because of Fentanyl. People are also being swallowed by addiction. People’s lives are being ruined both directly and indirectly. However, adding laws that criminalize drug use, expanding the prison industrial complex with laws that lead police to Stop-And-Frisk, and are used to target Black and Brown folx, all under the guise of helping people struggling with addiction, is a failed strategy. This is precisely what Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison, and Seattle City Council Members Alex Pederson and Sara Nelson are attempting to accomplish with CB120586. The legislation Davison, Pederson, and Nelson proposes would make possession and usage in public a misdemeanor in Seattle. Officials have inaccurately claimed that this is simply a technical amendment and that the City is required to adopt any crime the state passes. However, the City Council has the legislative authority to decide what laws get adopted and which ones don’t. Just as Seattle didn’t adopt the temporary drug law passed by the state in 2021, they don’t have to adopt the law passed by the state in May. This legislation asks Seattle to refresh the War on Drugs. It is simply doing “something”, “anything,” and it is the enemy of doing the right thing.
Not only did the War on Drugs of the 1980s fail to stop drug usage, it also criminalized and demonized Black and Brown people throughout the country and was a major part of the rise of the prison industrial complex. By the end of the 1990s, Black men were considered an “endangered species” because there were so many of us locked up or who had been killed. By 2005, the United States, which only had one fifth of the world’s population, also boasted twenty-five percent of the world’s prisoners. The impact to our communities, having so many of our people ripped away from us, is still felt today. This broke apart the social cohesion in our communities, and in part made us more susceptible and vulnerable to forces such as gentrification, which further dislocated and disorganized our communities.
The accusation that Black men were “Super Predators” by Hillary Clinton, and the 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill, signed into federal law by President Clinton with heaps of money for Student Resource Officers (SRO), went after our children in what is now known as the School-to-Prison Pipeline. The “Zero Tolerance” policies brought in by the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, and the 1994 Crime Bill with SROs, led to the criminalization of our youth through expulsions and arrests. This made a serious impact on education in our communities and interrupted our competitiveness in society. It also reaffirmed the perception that the youth of our community were adults, that cops feel justified shooting, and that courts treat as adults through what is known as Auto-Declines, which permits courts to sentence children as adults and to ship them to adult facilities. Our communities have been criminalized, incarcerated and murdered from birth, and none of this has had any real or tangible impacts on drug usage or addiction or quote-unquote “crime.”
What we now call “The War on Drugs” was started by President Nixon as a means to shatter the largest voting block ever to emerge onto the United States political landscape, the Black vote following the Voting Rights Act of 1964. Nixon targeted marijuana, placing it on the Schedule One controlled substances list, criminalizing possession and use. Because of felony disenfranchisement, this went right after Black people’s right to vote. According to the Sentencing Project, the current estimates of people who are denied the right to vote as a result of felony disenfranchisement is roughly 4.6 million. The political impact of this cannot be measured because every argument that can be made is counterfactual and would presuppose how people might have voted had they had the opportunity to vote.
In “Making Crime Pay,” Katherine Beckett showed how politicians utilize their platforms to exacerbate a ‘problem’ like crime or drugs to inflate both their prevalence and the public concern about them to create a mandate for making laws to criminalize people and behaviors, and to expand the prison industrial complex. We can see this tactic locally, when officials focused on our neighbors who are houseless, and the proposed method of management was to conduct over nine hundred sweeps in 2022. There is not a homelessness problem, there is a housing crisis. Yet, instead of making structural adjustments they increased police presence and targeted individuals. There is still a housing crisis. So the next strategy is to criminalize people who are houseless as a means to move them, “somewhere else,” as Mariame Kaba and Andrea J. Ritchie, the authors of “No More Police,” would say. However, neither proposal addresses the root causes and thus neither will solve the issues.
Making drug possession and usage a crime to compel people into treatment under the guise of preventing overdoses and saving lives is not only a failure, but could very well result in a lifetime of hardship or even a death sentence. People are between 40 times and 129 times more likely to die from an overdose after being released from jail. One conviction, whether time is served or not, can create 44,000 different legal barriers or “collateral consequences.” These include barriers to housing access and access to public assistance such as food and medical care or health care, and even access to jobs – the primary things that people need to not be wrangled into the revolving door of the criminal justice system. For immigrants, even if no jail time is sentenced, a drug conviction is disastrous. Misdemeanor convictions are a gateway to more charges and negative consequences that grow in severity, not less.
Many of our elected officials and politicians lack the political will to employ the strategies that have been proven to work and do not expand the prison industrial complex and the police institution and budgets. In comparison to police budgets, City officials have tossed pennies toward alternative community-based and holistic approaches that are not reliant on enforcement, punishment, and coercion. This gesture provides them with a flimsy reed upon which to make the argument, look we tried this and it didn’t work. But the reality is that the alternatives to the carceral system have never been appropriately resourced and have never had the chance to be successful.
Instead of a War on Drugs, what we need is a War on Poverty. Mariama Kaba and Andrea Ritchie write, “The systemic denial of accessible, nonjudgemental, and noncoercive mental health supports drives the very behavior that is condemned as antisocial. Focusing on drug addiction as an individual ‘condition’ to be cured rather than meeting the needs of people who use drugs as they define them, distracts us from the social conditions that shape and drive substance use.” Lack of access to health care, mental health care, accessible jobs, education, quality housing – that is, our basic human needs – are the primary driving factors of substance use and so-called ‘crime.’
Our communities do not have these things, not because we have been forgotten, but rather because we have been systematically targeted and abandoned for generations. It is impossible to forget that chattel enslavement was outlawed in 1865, then there was the advent of Jim Crow, which was not outlawed until the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Black, Indigenous, and People of Color were not counted as citizens, let alone full human beings. Our people were red-lined as the War on Drugs and the Prison Industrial Complex started and Mass Incarceration became what it is today. Society has not come as far as it proclaims. It is still in the laws, it is still in the mores, it is still in the policy decisions and arguments about funding and resources. It is still embedded in the deserving vs undeserving rationalizations that claim our people are burdens on the system that has oppressed and exploited us and our predecessors for profit and gain.
What we ask is for a shift from the normal mode of operation and business as usual of increased criminalization and policing, and instead prioritize community-based alternatives that address root causes. This is precisely what Seattle Solidarity Budget has been articulating since 2020, which is a coalition organizations and groups across the city that includes, Black Action Coalition, Puget Sound Sage, Creative Justice, Stop the Sweeps, Whose Streets Our Streets, CID Mutual Aid Coalition, 350 Seattle, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, and a host of endorsers that are all focused on real solutions.
Our community is concerned about what is happening to our people, that many are turning to drugs as a means to cope with the day-to-day, and that many are dying as a result. We are also concerned about the harm that emerges within the community as a byproduct of drug usage. Every life is precious and so is the quality of life that each of us gets to enjoy. This is why it is not good enough for us to simply do anything because something needs to be done, we need to be doing the right thing. The War on Drugs failed and so will a New War on Drugs.
Join us, Tuesday 6, 2023, at Seattle City Hall, at 2 PM to tell Seattle City Council that criminalizing drug use is not the answer. They have the power to reject this ordinance and not adopt state law. In-person testimony is preferable, but online is also effective. It is important that this proposed ordinance is not passed under the radar of the community members most impacted by it. Seattle City Council has not sought our counsel to ascertain what we want or why. They are moving paternalistically. We intend to interrupt that process. They need to hear from us because simply doing anything, because something needs to be done, is the enemy of doing the right thing.
You will find all the information you need to sign-up for public comment at the following link:
Among other things going on around the town, 350 Seattle shut down 4th Ave downtown Seattle and made visits to the Canadian Consulate, Chase Bank, and Bank of Amerika.
Shutting down business as usual because the normal flow of business is killing us.
Line 3 in Minnesota and Trans Mountain in Canada were two of the primary focuses being the pipelines major corporations and these banks are supporting. These lines are being forced through Indigenous lands, without permission, again.
Energy is something we as a collection of Peoples have grown dependent on, yes. However, we generally do not want and we certainly cannot afford more of the same. We want healthy and sustainable alternative forms of energy.
There is a conundrum based on some myths that we must confront:
#1 “Progress” is always something good. Sure, time moves forward and new things are invented, but what measure is used to define ‘good’?
#2 It’s not okay to slow down to make course corrections. Cars, ships, even people do it everyday in our common and regular experiences. However, there is some paradigm that purports slowing down derails this immaculate ‘progress’ that can do no wrong.
If acquiring healthy and sustainable energy sources requires us to slow down long enough to make the appropriate course corrections, that is not a derailment but a wise strategy.
#3 Now may be the only moment we have, but that does not make it the most important moment by default.
I like the conceptualization living like I will die tomorrow, but planning like I will live forever. When we allow a precedence to be placed on this moment, we may be inadvertently sacrificing future moments.
Our energy needs and wants in this moment should not outweigh the needs and wants of future moments.
We are already in the midst of a climate crisis, and with the lag of impact, we will be dealing with the harms for generations to come. That is not to say there are not things a course correction will not help. Quite to the contrary, in fact. A course correction includes addressing the harms and mitigating the pains people, animals, and the rest of our world are about to feel.
This understanding is coming from the “7 Generation Principle” shared by the Iroquois Confederation.
We have a responsibility to those who have yet to become. We do not get to write them off just because they are not here to advocate for themselves. The same is true for those who live in other and more impacted regions around our world.
The way I tend to think about is is to question what our progeny looking back at us have hoped we had done.
One of the course corrections we need to make is to scale back ‘who’ is granted the privilege of defining our course. This currently resides with governments and corporations who have not behaved as though they have the best interest of the planet and our Peoples in mind. They have behaved in a manner that reveals profit and self-interested motives. They should have a say, but not limitless autonomy.
Interrupting business as usual to shift the agenda to these vital and important concerns is a step in the direction of steering us to make some course corrections.
Police brutality against Black people and other People of Color, is nothing new. Racism is nothing new. Economic discrimination and racism are nothing new. Red-lining, gentrification, outsourcing, sweatshops, employment discrimination, glass-ceilings and sticky-floors; none of these things are new, but are rather, a continuation of Jim Crow segregation and imperialism. Colonialism and imperialism are nothing new, and neither is the military industrial complex that is utilized to maintain its structure.
Extra-judicial killings, which by definition are lynchings, are nothing new. In 1951, William James Patterson, with the help of the National Association of for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), submitted to the newly created United Nations (UN) in general, and the UN Human Rights Commission in particular, a report titled “We Charge Genocide.” This report systematically detailed the occurrences of genocide, according and in reference to each line of the definition that the UN Genocide Convention detailed, in regard to the treatment of Black people in the United States, which included reports of lynchings by police officers as horrendous as the lynchings today. He tells a story in the report that was printed in one of the newspapers that served as the primary resources of most of his evidence (there was no internet then), wherein a police officer simply walks up to a parked car and shoots a Black man in the head. The recent tragedy of police officers killing Keith Lamont Scott while he was reading in his car is a mirror image of what Patterson was reporting on over sixty years ago! Patterson also details the extensive economic oppression, which includes Red Lining and the formation of ‘ghettos,’ as well as, the medical discrimination towards Black people in the United States. The “Ten Point Platform” of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP) released in 1966, called for self-determination, equal opportunity of employment and education, fair housing conditions, for the United States to honor the US Constitution, and Point Seven specifically called for an end to “police brutality and murder of black people.” The killing of Black people by police officers is nothing new to the people of the United States.
Slavery, and yes it is an institution that is still very much functioning even within the borders of the United States, as well as, elsewhere, is definitely not something that is new. That prison walls are meant to keep ‘criminals’ in is only part of the truth, the reality is that it is also meant to keep people out; wherein the majority of modern day slavery in the United States is occurring. Prisoners are compelled to make everything from paint to military grade equipment, which includes furniture. Some states, like Washington, even have written into their laws that all state agencies “must” purchase these goods. The Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, that was supposed to have outlawed slavery, however, did not; “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” And this does not even begin to scratch the surface on human trafficking, the sex-trade, or migrant farm workers. The Thirteenth Amendment provided the foundation for the Prison Industrial Complex that exists today, and of which the police institution is a major component. Since, what the police do is “catch” (arrest) so-called ‘criminals’ and put them into prisons, which are modern day slave plantation, that technically makes one of the primary functions of the police institution to be ‘slave catching.” This however, is completely ‘constitutional’ as the Fugitive Slave ClauseArticle V Section 2 states; “No person held to service or labor in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be do.” Slavery was not abolished in the United States, it was transformed to conceal its true functioning and presence.
None of these events and institutions are distinct or mutually exclusive. They are in fact all mechanisms of a much larger system of oppression. And they are most certainly not anything that is new.
However, many of the people jumping up and down in public and on social media all pissed off because they do not believe Black Lives Matter, either as an organization or as a movement, the people of the many rebellions that have erupted throughout our country over the last few years, or even merely any dissenters of the system have any moral ground or claim. They attempt to dictate to us how and when we can and should protest or respond to the generations of oppression. Often times they recommend that we should utilize the tools and mechanisms of those who came before us because they were “good protestors.” Please! The demonstrators in the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s (and yes our people have been protesting and demonstrating against all of this suppression and oppression, white supremacy and this entire racist superstructure in all of those decades) have always been hated and loathed. Don’t listen to that fabricated nonsense you think you were taught in your history books. One of the things they always make disappear is that it is not called “The Struggle” because it was easy and the oppressors simply admitted their wrongdoing and all was ok. If you think that was the case, please reread the historical section above and re-check that misconception. It is and was called The Struggle because it is a struggle, it is a fight against the systems of power. This is a war for our very lives.
These people who clamor that racism does not exists, or start invalidating our concerns and demands by making references to “Black on Black” issues, or who claim that police officers are merely doing their jobs, that ‘slavery’ (notice that they almost always missed the enslaved [the someone doing something to someone else] part) is over so get over it, or whatever else they may come up with; are hyper problematic. First, they miss that this is nothing new. These trauma, these incidents, the racist system has been in place destroying our communities and tearing apart families for generations. Our people have been opposing this system for generations. The only thing that is even remotely new about what is going on is the social media presence and the evidence that has been compiled; which comes with its own kind of trauma. As a result of the interlocking and overlapping networks and access to information, the lies and half-truths that used to be spread about how far this country has come and how the “Race Problem” is gone has been tossed to the wind as the rubbish that it is. Trump exemplifies this perfectly and so does Hillary, for that matter.
Second thing they miss is that all the tactics they suggest have been done. They look down on the people from their moral armchairs rebuking and chastising the people who revolt to throw off our oppressor and our oppression upset that the monopoly of violence has been interrupted. The country and even President Obama seem to be just fine when everything goes according to their plan. Tupac, the nephew of Assata Shakur, and who was named after the revolutionary of Peru who almost overthrew the Spanish Empire, Tupac Amaru, warned us; “Cops give a damn about a negro? Pull the trigger, kill a nigga, he’s a hero.” Or the United States and their drone strikes killing innocent people in other countries, all to gain access to their resources. This monopoly on violence is disgusting! These people act like they do not understand why our people, why Black people are upset, like there was only one person killed “by accident,” or that one person did not get the job, or went to prison or was sentenced to death wrongly. They act like this is something that is new. It is not and that is precisely why Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. states that “a riot is a language of the unheard.”
We are unheard today for the same reasons that the Reconstruction Era ended, our lives are not valued! It was this systematic silencing for generations with broken promises and dropped vows that lead King to write “Why We Can’t Wait” in 1963, one hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln during the United States Civil War in 1863; our people still had not achieved freedom and liberation from our oppressors. And yet, another fifty years has passed and we are still fighting for the same things. No, this is nothing new and these arm chair, neo liberal moralizers do not get to tell us how to throw off our oppressors and oppression. The half-truths and lies they have imbibed will no longer pacify our people’s thirst for liberation, quell our rebellions, or stifle our disquiet!
For too long has this system attempted to conceal a very real truth; the amount of power that we as Black people actually have in this country. At no time since the conception of the United States has the country been devoid of the institution of slavery. The entire structure of the nation is dependent upon a docile, submissive, complicit population of workers of whom to exploit the labor of. In fact, that dependence is so interwoven into the fabric of this nation that should our people simply decide not to participate in that system any longer it would cause that system to collapse.
There is an unfair advantage that is garnered from suppressed wages, and the synthetic inflation of prices that result from practices like red lining that this country is dependent on. So dependent in fact, that it will attempt to do damn near anything to make sure that its profit structure is not interrupted; such as, crafting laws to criminalize acts such as possessing cannabis, by which they then force people into these modern day slave plantations, and disenfranchise them in the process so that we cannot undo the havoc they have created. Red lining was essentially motivated by the desire to limit the power of black people by keeping us segregated. Politicians and bankers engaged in this practice heavily in the northern states, which many Black people migrated to during the Great Migration to escape Jim Crow in the south. But, these redlined neighborhoods formed major voting blocks and those in power sought to limit that power by redistricting their neighborhoods so that they would not be able to influence the political structure, and thus the outcomes and conditions of their lives very much. When that did not work, not ten years after the victory of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, President Nixon puts (now called) “marijuana” (a Spanish word) on Schedule One of the Controlled Substance List. Not even heroin is that high on the schedule! And alcohol and tobacco, which kill or lead to the deaths of thousands more are not as controlled as cannabis. After 1965, when Black people won the right to vote, the largest new voting block United States had ever witnessed was coming into being. People were woke because of the Civil Rights, Black Nationalism, and Black Power movements that collective comprised the Black Liberation Era, more Black youth were making it into and through college because of Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and the 1964 Civil Rights Act; so, there was real potential to challenge and change the system.
This is also the time that the infamous J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is known for warning against the emergence of a “Black Messiah” and for the formation of the Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) to destroy the Black Liberation Movement. Hoover, COINTELPRO, and the United States government are the reason that so many of our leaders from that era were killed, imprisoned, or forced into exile. These agents also brought about the downfall of the Black Panther Part approximately one hundred years after the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 was passed by the US Congress to get rid of the KKK. The KKK still exists to this day. The KKK is one of the most blatant terrorist organizations that the United States has ever witnessed and yet, for all its clamor about terrorism, it is still invading other countries, dropping bombs, employing drones, creating armies to suppress their own people, toppling democratic governments, violating almost every tenet of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and has labeled Black Lives Matter a terrorist organization. The same shit is happening all over again! This is nothing new!
Everything about this system has been designed and tailored to limit Black Power. From the education system with the School-to-Prison Pipeline, to the police institution, to the Prison Industrial Complex, and the Military Industrial Complex (also part of the militarization of the police). Our schools do not teach us our true power. They may teach that some people have the Freedom of Speech, but not how to use it. They may teach that this is a democratic society, but they do not teach everyone equally has to exercise their democratic rights. They do not teach that we have immense power and that we give our power away by consent. They say that a democratic government, even a representative one such as we live in, is one of consent. But, since we cannot vote a new system in the only consent that people have is to pay taxes, but we cannot refrain from paying taxes and revoking that consent, so technically speaking we do not live in a state of consent, but rather, one of compulsion. Voting in a system (for those of us who have not been disenfranchised by an unjust system already) that controls the agenda, and one in which there is an economic bar to entry, and a patriarchal system in place we have the same system as the Articles of Confederation (the predecessor of the US Constitution) laid out; namely, that only white, male, landed gentry could hold office. The net result is the same, regardless of what laws are written. The schools do not teach us that. However, consent is also given through participation.
Neglect to participate and revoke the implicit consent. They want to steal our right to vote to change the system, to direct our way of life, to influence the development of our own communities; then we merely neglect to play along with their game any longer. They want to kill our people with impunity, then we stop participating in their repressive system. They want to continue to hold us within the confines of internal colonies, then we retract from their system. They want to silence the cultural evolution that has been underway in this country for the last hundred and fifty years, then we let them have their system that is so dependent on us. It is not like it is doing us or the planet any good any way. It is time to take a lesson from Black Wall Street, Tulsa, Oklahoma. Granted, the police and KKK burned it to the ground after shooting all the Black People they could find (1920), but building their own, for their own they rivaled New York’s Wall Street. That alone proves that we do not need them. It also shows their level of fear about separatists and Black Nationalist like Marcus Garvey and Malcom X. The capitalistic structure, which is so far off base of what Adam Smith envisioned is destroying the planet, corrupting the relationship the people have with the planet, and is responsible for the empire structure of imperialism destroying the lives of Black people and people of color all over the globe. It is time to envision a new way of doing things, and an organization in Jackson, Mississippi called Cooperation Jackson has been working diligently to create such a structure.
We do not only have to pull away, but we can create something entirely new in its place. Something that will liberate our people, all our peoples, and feed our souls at the same time. Whatever we choose to do as a people, it is important to recognize that we have a choice and that we have power. We have immense power. And furthermore, that we are locked within and engaged in a war that none of us asked for or sought that has been going on for generations. This is nothing new.
By looking back and unpacking the cryptic, concealed, and distorted history to see what is really going on and for how long, hopefully we can begin to envision what it is that we do want and how to achieve those ends. I am not the first to talk about these things and I most certainly will not be the last. Below is a speech that Malcom X made in 1964, “The Ballot or the Bullet” wherein you will hear him speaking on Black Nationalism and self-determination and how to achieve it. Below that are some links for how to connect and exercise your power.
I am a true renaissance man and I have experienced so many forms of life and held so many positions or roles that it is difficult to narrow my thinking down to one foundational experience that has shaped and influenced my life. I died in a car accident when I was seven years old and the outcomes of being brought back to life and my faculties resulted in every person who was close to me expressing that I had a great role to fulfill on Earth.
I grew up in rough, alcoholic, and often violent home when I was younger and this heavily shaped my perception of poverty, addiction, relationships and vulnerability. My parents split when my mother had to flee from my father after he threatened to kill all of us before killing himself. That morning was the last time I ever saw my father and that definitely had a major influence on my life. The only place my family could flee to were areas in Oregon where my brother and I were the only black students in the schools. This was at a time that Oregon still had a prohibition in its State Constitution stating that Oregon was to be a white utopia and that black people were not permitted to settle within the limits of the state. Those experiences definitely shaped my perception of the world and my life. When we finally escaped the racist treatment of the people in Oregon, we moved to the Central District in Seattle where my brother and I, being tri-racial and coming directly from an all-white area lacked much of the social capital needed to be accepted by the black community in Seattle and found ourselves ostracized as outsiders. Those experiences also shaped my perception and influenced my life.
Shortly thereafter, I found myself indoctrinated into gang-life, criminal activity, and drugs. As a result of my behaviors, I spent a lot of time incarcerated and even went to juvenile prison for an extended period of time. It was there that I began to write poetry, which later in my life would lead me to being a spoken word and hip hop artist and being named Renaissance the Poet. After I was released from their prison, I was not able to shake the gang or the drugs, but the poetry stuck with me. On my eighteenth birthday I was given a drug called ecstasy, and under its influence was when I had my first experience with god. That experience caused me to leave the gang and the drugs alone and before I knew it, I had walked across the country from Washington to Massachusetts where I joined and became a priest in a cult.
I stayed with them for the better part of a year before I was able to escape from the mental imprisonment and the only method I knew to shut out the demons swirling in my head was to use drugs and alcohol to silence them. However, when I found myself back in Seattle I was ensnared by the chains of addiction once again and when the excitement of my return wore off, all of my family and friend severed their ties with me. I was left homeless, without prospects, and alone. Worst of all, the drugs were no longer working to silence the demons swirling in my head and a deep depression set in. After giving up everything I thought I was supposed to give up for god I felt truly alone because to me at the time that not even god could save me from myself.
Without anything else holding me to the planet or the people on it, I decided to take my own life by jumping off the Aurora Bridge. However, while I was walking to the bridge from Lake City, a lesson I head while I was in prison came back to me. There was an O.G. Vice Lord from Chicago that came to visit us and he told us that strangely, he discovered that he felt more free when locked-up, and more of a prisoner when he was on the streets. At the time I heard him say that, I thought he was out of his mind, but as I became a victim of the streets and was on my way to end my life I finally understood what he meant so many years earlier. Aside from having my liberty taken from me, the single other largest factor to the peace I felt while I was in prison was that I was not using drugs. So, while I was on my way to the bridge I decided to call the emergency services and with the direction they gave me while they treated me overnight in a few short weeks I was able to find my way into a chemical abuse treatment facility, which changed my life forever. I have been sober ever since and I have never felt as hopeless as I did that night I walked to the bridge to end my suffering.
Getting sober did not solve all the problems I had in my life, but it did provide me with the tools to access a level of peace necessary to confront those problems. I had four felonies and several misdemeanors on my criminal record. Furthermore, I had failed high school and at the current standing when I left, I was a 0.0 GPA student. I had no place to call home, no friends, and my family wanted nothing to do with me. I was able to gain access to a half-way house for people in transition from institutions and shortly after I began living there I woke up to the news of 9/11. I did not know it when I moved in, but the house was run by a Mormon church, and while there is nothing wrong with helping the community, I had a hard time coping because of my experience with the cult I was in; there were too many similarities. Then given the factors of my history that were barring me from both employment and education, I decided to go to a Job Corps facility.
If there was any experience in my life that I believe really set the stage for the man I was to become, then it was my experience at Tongue Point Job Corps Center in Astoria Oregon because it was there that I learned that I as an individual could have a positive impact in the lives of the people around me. Job Corps used to provide a bi-weekly allowance for the students that lived on campus, but that stipend was very limited. However, students could get a job to subsidize the funds they were lacking and I was encouraged to become part of the student government. I did and within a few months I had worked my way up the being the student body president of the facility. Aside from providing for the extracurricular activities for my fellow students we also challenged microagressions and negative stereotypes, although, at the time I did not know that is what we were doing. We challenged the center’s policy on sagging pants and how it related to the administration’s and staff’s perceptions of black youth who sagged their pants. I sagged my pants at the time and I was the president. More important, it was the issue that the students wanted me to bring up and fight for them.
While at the job corps facility I earned my G.E.D., my high school diploma, and printing apprentice certificate, and even started college. My goal for attending college was to go into law school, become a lawyer, then enter into politics and eventually become the president. It was a mixture between my experience at Job Corps being the president and a class I had in when Mr. Mollette my high school history teacher that told me that any American citizen could become president, one of the days that I passed through his class. I dropped out of school a few quarters after beginning and returned to Seattle thinking that I would get into college, but that was much easier said than done. My criminal record from when I was a juvenile still haunted me and I was barred from employment in most establishments.
I gave up on the idea of ever being able to afford college and found myself working in a used retail store for about a year when I began my journey into construction work. A man I met started hiring me on weekends to do odds and ends for him and paid me well. Then he brought me on as his first full time employee and decided that I would become his apprentice and eventually buy him out and take over the company. Within a few years I had become a professional heavy equipment operator, pipe-layer, estimator, and project manage and then I became a partner in the developing construction company negotiating contracts with Mid Mountain Contractors, Turner Construction, King County, and the City of Seattle.
During this time with the construction company I also started, hosted and ran the Cornerstone Open Mic & Artist Showcase, a hip hop and spoken word open mic that happen monthly at the Fair Gallery and Café on Capital Hill in Seattle, with my best friend and adopted brother Marcus Hoy. Mark Hoy and Sean Stuart are the people who named me Renaissance the Poet, because of the rollercoaster life I had lived prior to meeting them and the skill I had with poetry. The Cornerstone, as it became known, was a hub for revolutionary minded poets and artists from around the Puget Sound area where we discussed and challenged some of the most disparaging issues confronting our generation, such as, patriarchy, sexism, racism, and state control of citizens. Some of us may have been revolutionaries and activists at the time, but for the most part we were simply artists learning how to exercise our minds and our voices while we were learning how to exist and survive in the world we were all born into. In the more than five years that we hosted the Cornerstone, there was not one fight, and this was nearly unheard of for any hip hop venue anywhere at the time. Many relationships were forged there and the underground cultural element of resistance and justice was kept alive and fostered.
In 2010, our company won the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business “Minority Business of the Year” award. However, I always felt that I had missed my true calling to fulfill a great role on earth and thought that becoming a lawyer was the method I was supposed to take to achieve that role. In 2008, the economy spun on its head and we went into a dire recession that put a lot of pressure on our company. In 2011, a couple years after I had destroyed my knee mentoring some youth with the organization called TSB, the Service Board, battling to keep our business afloat and continuing to damage my knee, I realized that construction was never a trade I wanted to be in and decided to do whatever it took to go to college. So, I left R.J. Richards CE LLC and enrolled in North Seattle Community College (NSCC).
Somehow and somewhere along the line I had gotten this plan for my life and what I was supposed to do with it embedded into my head. I am going to write a new socioeconomic system for the entire planet that is environmentally sound, socially just, and equitable for all; and I am going to see it implemented before the day I die. I began studying history, philosophy, economics, sociology, psychology, biology and mathematics and my understanding of the world exploded my perceptions of humanity and the insurmountable character of my goal. That is when I became involved with another student government and I was brought in as the Student Fee Board Coordinator, which was the treasurer for the college. To do that job I had to study the Washington State laws associated with public monies and student fees, and to study ethics because I had to select and train a board and we were going to have to make tough ethical decision. Before that I knew being part of the government enabled me to have a lot positive influence in the lives of marginalized people from my experience at Job Corps. However, I never fully grasped how much power the United States Congress has on the lives of every citizen in the United States until I was given a smaller, yet similar role. People can design all the best programs in the world, but if they do not have the funds to get them started and to maintain them, then they may often never be able to achieve the goals of their programs.
At this time OCCUPY was challenging the corporate structure and control of people’s lives worldwide after the economic collapse in 2008. Like Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote about the white clergy who questioned the movement while he was in the Birmingham jail during Project Confrontation, I agreed with their aims, but I disagreed with their methods. I disagreed with the mostly because I did not comprehend how they could be successful. It was a leaderless movement with demands that ran the spectrum. At the time it seemed to me that the movement lacked the necessary cohesion to achieve its aims. It was not that I disagreed with any of the demands. To the contrary, I believed that all of the things people were asking for should be achieved. My issue at the time was that I thought they could achieve more of their demands if they focused on them one or few at a time. I did not get involved with the movement because I did not understand it.
In 2013 I graduated from NSCC and had been accepted to the University of Washington (UW). When I first started at NSCC I thought that I would enter into the Law, Societies, and Justice program at UW, but by the time I entered the university I had settled on double-majoring in history and philosophy. I was still intent on progressing onto law school. I thought getting a good background in reading and research, with training in analysis, which the discipline of history would provide me with would be helpful in this regard. I thought having a strong understanding of morality and ethics, and the philosophical frameworks they are grounded in, plus developing my argumentative skills, which the discipline of philosophy would provide would further prepare me for law school and the work ahead of me. My ethical training began with a look at global justice, which confronted issues such as poverty, hunger, gendered vulnerability, social contracts, state legitimacy, climate change, immigration and feudal privilege, and many forms of oppression. It was these arguments about justice, which is to provide for that which promotes most the flourishing of all human beings, not the interpretation of it as punishment common in the United States that exposed me to the concepts of obligation and responsibility. History provided me with a lens into why these conditions exist and what factors led them to come into being. The courses at UW changed the way I envision my role in the world and I began to feel an immediate responsibility and obligation to use the knowledge and wisdom I had to benefit people.
During the summer of 2013, Sarra Tekola, my partner in life, brought me to my very first protest. We traveled down to the Columbia River on the border of Washington and Oregon States to participate in the Portland Rising Tide opposition to the coal and oil that were being shipped from the west coast to China. At the time, Sarra was an Environmental Science major at UW and part of the Divest University of Washington coalition and she schooled me on how important the issue of climate change was to our survival as a species. She also hipped me to the fact that people of color worldwide are the not only the first impacted by the effects of climate change, but are also the most impacted by it as well. She informed me that the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of the best and brightest scientists on the planet determined that if we as a civilization burn enough carbon to increase the temperature of the planet by two degrees Celsius cumulatively, we will enter into a negative feedback loop of destruction that we will not be able to recover from. Desertification will destroy once plush and arid farm lands, like what had happened to her father’s people in Ethiopia. Melting polar ice caps will submerge places like the Philippines displacing millions, many of whom will die in the process. So, it was important to protest the extraction and transportation of carbon producing materials for everyone on the planet, but especially for people of color because people of color have nest to no power in the decision making circles like the U.S. Congress and the United Nations. It was scary and every moment I thought I was going to be arrested. Canoes spread across the river to block any ships and people spanned the bridge above holding signs, while a group rappelled off the bridge to display a huge banner. We did not stop the extraction or transportation of fossil fuel materials that day, but it felt good making a stand with like-minded people for the sake of justice.
The summer of 2014 I went to Greece with the Jackson School of International Studies (JSIS) of UW to conduct research on immigration. I thought my time in Greece would help me to work on the issues surrounding immigration in the United States. Greece had been suffering from a major recession for several years and was also experiencing a major influx of people from the Middle East and the African continent. Most of the migrants were fleeing from deplorable situations and most did not intend for Greece to be their final destination, many wanted to continue onto other European Union (EU) nations. Greece was the entry point by both water and land into the EU for many migrants. However, the EU had tightened its policy on migrants and because of the Dublin II Regulation, the EU was returning any migrant discovered in any country to the country they entered into the EU at to process their applications of asylum. In addition to the recession, and the lack of financial assistance from the EU for both the residents of the country and the new influx of immigrants, there was also a nationalist and xenophobic organization oppressing the immigrants named Golden Dawn. Golden Dawn was a two-winged organization like the Dixiecrats of the South because they had nineteen percent of the parliamentary seats in Greece, in coordination with an organization like the Ku Klux Klan because they had a grassroots physically repressive regime harming immigrants. Immigration could be studied in any country in the world, but the particular set of conditions in Greece enabled us to observe the systematic denial of almost every singly right it is commonly agreed that people inherently possess simply for the sake of being human.
My second night in Greece at the American College of Greece dorm that UW has a satellite facility, I was taking a smoke break in the smoking section when for officers on two motor cycles turned the corner and immediately jumped off their bikes and pointed assault rifles at me simply because I am a black man. This may seem like a strange assertion until you have been to Athens, Greece and become acquainted with the reality that millions of people smoke and because of the smoldering heat that many people are out on the streets at night. There was nothing about me or what I was doing that was out of place except for the color of my skin. Luckily, I had my passport on me at that particular moment and I was saved from being hauled off into one of their immigration prisons. Their whole attitude toward me shifted as soon as they discovered I was an American, but until that moment I felt as though they regarded me as less than the mud on their boots would have shot me just to get a laugh. It was not until I hung out with an enterprising group of migrants from all over Africa in Monostraki Square—an electric flee market—and spending time with a parliamentary member that I learned Greece was a police state, and that the police had the authority to act independently of the government. I heard stories of how the police would select a street that migrants were known to frequent, then would block the exits, beat all the people of color and then imprison them. I spent most of my time in Greece terrified for my life from both the police and Golden Dawn because I did not have the social networks or rights that I had back in the United States. However, two nights before we left Greece I received word about the execution of Michal Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by officer Daren Wilson and I knew there was no escape from state sanctioned or permitted violence.
The O.G. Vice Lord’s words came back to me and kept playing over and over in my head about how we are prisoners on the streets. Being a black man in America I exist as W.E.B. Du Bois mentions, with a “double-consciousness,” constantly viewing myself from two lenses; I experience myself as a man, and I am also always conscious of my status as a “black” man as viewed by white Americans. People of color in the United States suffer from dire economic sanctions which impose poverty upon us with a capitalistic system and an ideological framework of individualism. The system of oppression is held in place through red lining, the regressive tax system, voter disenfranchisement, poor education, and limited access to capital. Until I began researching the School-to-Prison Pipeline (STPP), I did not understand why many of the people I grew up with ended up in prison or dead, or locked in the revolving trap of poverty. I did not understand or even know about the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) or how it was linked to the Military Industrial Complex (MIC). I had learned, like most people are taught that Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution ended slavery. However, what they do not teach is that slavery was abolished “except” in the case that a person is convicted of a crime. From that debt peonage and convict leasing emerged and over time prison slavery became a huge industry in the United States to the point that now America which has five percent of the world’s population also warehouses twenty-five percent of the world’s prison population. The largest consumer of prison labor in the United States is the U.S. Department of Defense, a.k.a., the MIC. But prisoners also fabricate furniture and produce paint and clothing for many companies. Prison labor subsidizes many industries that otherwise would be too expensive to conduct in the United States, industries that create products other countries would have a comparative advantage producing. Prisons are an oasis for profit that is garnered from the exploitation of millions and that also disproportionately disparages communities of color.
Applying the aforementioned information about the PIC to the statistics about the rates of suspension, expulsion, and incarceration of the youth of color in the U.S. the School-to-Prison Pipeline began to make a lot more sense. Black children and children of people of color are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled from school. From the ninth grade on, one suspension or expulsion makes them fifty percent more likely to be incarcerated. After these children are incarcerated they become seventy-five percent more likely to enter the adult penitentiary system with prison slave labor, and over eighty-five percent likely to remain trapped in recidivism for the rest of their lives, in addition to their being disenfranchised from their first incarceration in accordance with the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of all these factors is a phenomenon known as Institutional Racism/Discrimination that permeates America’s society and institutions. The police and prosecuting attorneys have been granted arbitrary discretionary power and legal protections to act with impunity in its dealing with citizens. So, in toto, the U.S. Department of Justice with all its subsidiary prisons and law enforcement agencies when stripped of its colorful and well-sounding appeals to justice and order dissolves to a system of oppression, suppression, and exploitation. With this understanding of the ‘criminal justice’ system in the United States, the fact that most of the people I grew up with wound up in the negative feedback loop of poverty and exploitation, or how and why Michael Brown’s executioner was able to commit the atrocity with impunity were no longer mysterious to me. We, being people of color, whom at any time can have our very lives stripped from us because the laws of this country deny that we have a right to life, are prisoners on the streets of America.
Therefore, when I returned from Greece and Black Lives Matter, which was started by Alicia Garza after the assassination of Trevon Martin in 2012, decided to organize and protest the abuses of law enforcement and for justice in the Michael Brown execution, given my sense of responsibility and obligation to use the knowledge and wisdom I had to the benefit people of my community, I joined the movement for Black Liberation. My participation in the movement has taken many forms over the last year reaching from protests, to arrests, to testifying at Seattle City Hall and King County Metropolitan Council chambers, to giving a speech to Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee. All the while I was still a student at UW continuing to learn about the system we live in and the factors that helped to created it. My academic pursuits definitely suffered when I became involved in the movement because my time became divided, but that does not mean I have not continued to be successful. I highly doubt that I will be selected as the valedictorian as I was when I graduated from NSCC, but I nonetheless, have managed to maintain a very strong GPA given all of my community activity. However, that has no longer been my primary objective. I have used my education to learn what happened during previous social movements and struggles and I now understand the importance of a leaderless movement and demands that are specific to the regions they are made. I have learned precisely what I did not understand about the OCCUPY movement. There are some similar macro-problems, such as racism and institutional discrimination that people of color suffer everywhere, but those problems are expressed differently in different places. Furthermore, there is a history of the U.S. Department of Justice, through programs like COINTELPRO under the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that systematically destroyed activists and Civil Rights organizations in the 1960s and 70s.
I have lived one incredible, rollercoaster of a life that has made me a jack of all trades, and a true renaissance man. At no time have I ever known where one event would lead me. And looking back it is very difficult to pinpoint any one specific event that shaped me into the man that I am or the man I am becoming. Taken out of context, none of the major shifts or events in my life will tell anyone very much about me, who I am, or why I do the things I do. But the words of the O.G. Vice Lord from Chicago that I met while locked up have been with me since then. There is something very wrong with feeling like and being a prisoner on our own streets. A place where one might think epitomized the essence freedom. That contradiction of beliefs filled my soul with dissonance and it reverberated through all of my life-experiences until it shook loose the warrior in me. Renaissance means to revitalize, or to bring new life. The system we live in has become a runaway train that no one seems to know how to stop or get off of, and what we need is to breathe new life into our civilization. We need a new system of values and an expanded conception of “we” that signifies, represents, and displays through action that we and our planet are all connected and intersecting components of our world organism. Each and every one is vital. No one is expendable. We all have our roles to fulfill on Earth. We are all responsible.