Laughter

the human race has one really effective weapon


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Today’s Reads 006 (Michael Brown, Pt. 3)

Further coverage of the Michael Brown murder and related stories from across the Internet, including essays related to the Eric Garner murder in New York City:

  • Unorthodox police procedures emerge in grand jury documents (Washington Post)
    “An officer driving himself back? Wrong. An officer booking his own gun into evidence? Wrong,” said David Klinger, an expert on police shootings with the University of Missouri at St. Louis who is also a former police officer. “The appropriate investigative procedures were not followed.’’ A 2013 Justice Department manual on processing crime scenes, designed in conjunction with police departments across the country, addresses what experts said was perhaps the most serious breach of protocol after Brown was killed: Wilson washing the blood off his hands.
  • Ferguson Grand Jury Evidence Reveals Mistakes, Holes In Investigation (Huffington Post)
    Talking with police investigators and before the grand jury, Wilson claimed that Brown had grabbed at Wilson’s gun during the initial incident in the police car and that Brown’s hand was on the firearm when it misfired at least once. Wilson also told police that he thought Brown would overpower him and shoot him with his own gun. “I was not in control of the gun,” Wilson said. Eventually he regained control of the weapon and fired from within the car. Investigators could have helped to prove or disprove Wilson’s testimony by testing his service weapon for Brown’s fingerprints. But the gun was not tested for fingerprints. An investigator argued before the grand jury that the decision was made not to test the weapon because Wilson “never lost control of his gun.”
  • How Not to Use a Grand Jury (The New Yorker)
    But the goal of criminal law is to be fair—to treat similarly situated people similarly—as well as to reach just results. McCulloch gave Wilson’s case special treatment. He turned it over to the grand jury, a rarity itself, and then used the investigation as a document dump, an approach that is virtually without precedent in the law of Missouri or anywhere else. Buried underneath every scrap of evidence McCulloch could find, the grand jury threw up its hands and said that a crime could not be proved. This is the opposite of the customary ham-sandwich approach, in which the jurors are explicitly steered to the prosecutor’s preferred conclusion.
  • Darren Wilson’s Grand Jurors Were Told To Base Decision On Law Ruled Unconstitutional In 1985 (Addicting Info)
    You will not find another legal proceeding in which jurors and Grand jurors are simply handed a law, and then weeks later handed a correction to that law; and then the Grand jurors are simply left to figure out the difference in the laws by themselves. That is actually something you would do in a law class,” O’Donnell said. “Figure it out by yourself.”
  • Five ugly and uncanny parallels between lynchings and police killings in America (Daily Kos)
    In spite of extremely egregious circumstances surrounding all lynchings and many police killings, it is a rare occurrence for the killers to be held liable. While definitive stats are hard to come by, some estimate that over 95 percent of the perpetrators of lynchings or police killings never served a single day in jail. During the days of public lynchings, it was popular for entire families to come and view them. Photos, as seen in the exhibit, Without Sanctuary, were regularly taken of the lynched bodies on display and made into postcards that were sent all over the country. Little legal interest truly existed in bringing the perpetrators to justice. In modern America, even in extreme cases like the March, 2012 shooting death of high school football star Kendrec McDade, police claimed they heard McDade take multiple shots at them and even saw the flash of the bullets exiting his gun, but it turned out McDade was unarmed. Police were completely exonerated. The constant exoneration of police who kill unarmed African Americans lends itself to the belief that, like during the time of lynching, little true interest exists in bringing justice to the families of the victims.
  • The American Justice System Is Not Broken (Deadspin/The Concourse)
    America is a serial brutalizer of black and brown people. Brutalizing them is what it does. It does other things, too, yes, but brutalizing black and brown people is what it has done the most, and with the most zeal, and for the longest. The best argument you can make on behalf of the various systems and infrastructures the country uses against its black and brown citizens—the physical design of its cities, the methods it uses to allocate placement in elite institutions, the way it trains its police to treat citizens like enemy soldiers—might actually just be that they’re more restrained than those used against black and brown people abroad. America employs the enforcers of its power to beat, kill, and terrorize, deploys its judiciary to say that that’s OK, and has done this more times than anyone can hope to count. This is not a flaw in the design; this is the design.


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Why I Am Opposed to the War (Everywhere)

photo by Marvin Koner

photo by Marvin Koner

As Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the presidential inauguration coincide for just the second time in history, many people will sit down to hear or see clips from King’s legendary “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on 28 August 1963.

Due in part to its composition, King received the Nobel Peace Prize and Time magazine named him “Man of the Year.” It was so powerful and influential that it prompted the FBI to describe King as “the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro and national security.” Attended by over 200,000 civil rights protesters, it is rightly called “one of the defining moments of the American Civil Rights Movement” and regarded as one of the greatest speeches in American and world history.

But King wrote numerous sermons and delivered many more powerful speeches calling for justice and equality among men and nations, some of them even more revolutionary than “I Have a Dream.” Among these is “Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam.” Delivered as a sermon to the Ebenezer Baptist Church on 30 April 1967, it continues a line of thought King began with “Beyond Vietnam/A Time to Break Silence,” a speech he gave just a few weeks earlier in New York City, on 4 April 1967. That speech, which calls the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” did not meet with the universal applause that “I Have a Dream” enjoyed. According to Wikipedia:

King’s opposition [to Vietnam] cost him significant support among white allies, including President Johnson, union leaders and powerful publishers.”The press is being stacked against me”, King said, complaining of a double standard that applauded his non-violence at home, but deplored it when applied “toward little brown Vietnamese children.” Life magazine called the speech ‘demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi‘ and The Washington Post declared that King had ‘diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people.’

King recognized a connection between capitalism, war, and inequality that was too radical for the public to consider, much less accept. In “Why I Am Opposed” he reminds us of the economic dimensions of the war: “it is estimated that we spend $500,000 to kill each enemy soldier [in Vietnam], while we spend only fifty-three dollars for each person classified as poor, and much of that fifty-three dollars goes for salaries to people that are not poor. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor, and attack it as such.” Accusations of communist sympathy were subsequently leveled against him.

Nearly 46 years later, this problem still runs rampant. The connections between capitalism, war, and poverty are perhaps stronger than ever. We could easily replace the word “Vietnam” in his speech with “Afghanistan” or “Iraq” and all meaning would be preserved. And so his speech remains a challenge to this country.

An edited version of “Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam” was eventually released on album by Black Forum Records. At 22 minutes long, it is approximately half the length of the original sermon, but it preserves most—if not all—of King’s strongest points and most damning accusations. It also contains one of my favorite King quotes, which reminds us not to despair and that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

I’ve posted the edited and full-length versions of this speech below, via Youtube. You can read along by visiting Berkeley’s Library website, which contains a complete transcript. And since today is Inauguration Day, I’ve also posted a clip of Princeton professor Cornel West taken from C-SPAN’s coverage of the “Future without Poverty” panel at George Washington University. In it, West questions Obama’s use of King’s bible during his inauguration and reminds us of the revolutionary spirit King wielded. The same one that made him a target of the FBI and eventually cost him his life.

Edited Version:

Full Version:

Cornel West:

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. day.