The HNIC Report

Month: September, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Videos

by Dax-Devlon Ross

From the NY Times blog

The police made scores of arrests on Saturday as hundreds of people, many of whom had been encamped in the financial district as part of a lengthy protest, marched north to Union Square. As darkness fell, large numbers of officers were deployed on streets near the encampment in Zuccotti Park, at Broadway and Liberty Street, where hundreds more people had gathered.

Arrests

Arbitrary Containments Read the rest of this entry »

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Interview with a Death Row Warden

by Dax-Devlon Ross

Jim Willett oversaw more than 80 executions at the Walls Unit in Huntsville. Since 1924 all executions in Texas have taken place right in Hunstville. It’s a surprising and revealing look into what goes on the day of an execution and how it effects those who work in and around America’s death chambers.

What Does Pro-Life Really Mean?: The Intersection between States with Anti-Abortion & Death Penalty Statutes

by Dax-Devlon Ross

Fresh on the heels of the tragic conclusion of the Troy Davis saga, I was motivated to do a little research into our society’s culture of death. This year has also marked the must successful and comprehensive attack on abortion rights by state legislatures this nation has seen in nearly 40 years. A whopping 35 states threatened to or successfully passed legislation restricting the reproductive rights of women.

Writes the  ACLU, from which  this graphic was adapted, on this  year’s assault,

From denying women comprehensive health care coverage that includes abortion care, to forcing a woman to listen to scripts and speeches intended to shame her out of her decision, to debating complete bans on any abortion, the state legislatures saw it all this year.

What makes this all so ironic and troubling is the overlap between these allegedly pro-life states and their death penalty stances.

Statistically speaking, 76% of the states with death penalty statutes either passed or attempted to pass  anti-abortion legislation this  year. A stunning 53% of those states, including the top five killers, Texas, Virginia, Oklahoma, Florida, Missouri Alabama,  actually passed anti-abortion laws in 2011.

So, what do exactly do these states mean by pro-life?

Quiet Riot: A Dispatch from Occupy Wall Street NYC

by Dax-Devlon Ross

I won’t romanticize what’s going on down here in Lower Manhattan; it’s simply not necessary. After a reported 5,000 demonstrators showed up to protest Wall Street on Saturday,  a couple of hundred protestors operating under the Occupy Wall Street  banner remain camped out in a small public park they’ve since renamed Liberty Plaza. Throughout the day they break into peaceful marches along Broadway then return to their base for speeches. Most Wall Street workers don’t have a clue what they’re protesting nor do they seem to care, which though a shame isn’t surprising. The protestors are scruffy and haggard. They look like hippies. In an area of town dominated by power suits, protestors in jeans and sneakers may as well be invisible.

If you look at these protest purely from a quantity/quality standpoint, they’re pretty sad, especially if you compare them to what we’ve seen emerge in Spain, Egypt, Tunisia, Colombia, and even Israel over the last few months. But that’s the thing: you really shouldn’t look at Occupy Wall Street through the lens of other protests throughout the world. The protests are incomparably distinct in part because the adversary is bigger, broader and in some ways less tangible. But also because the injustice the protestors are addressing isn’t nearly as visible, articulable or, for lack of a better term, fixable. Read the rest of this entry »

Five Underreported Stories That Inspired Me This Week

by Dax-Devlon Ross

1. AAA condemns bridge and tunnel toll hikes 

In a nutshell, the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey forced a toll hike to pay for the new World Trade Center project. It elected to propose the hike on the eve of the  ten-year anniversary of 9/11 knowing that few would have the will to contest it given the emotional and moral implications. AAA, which was savvy enough to wait until the 9/11 festivities died down,  is charging the PANYNJ with violating the Commerce Clause by impeding interstate commerce. Making bridge and tunnel users, many of whom are not New Yorkers, pay for an New York project could be unconstitutional if the Port Authority’s main purpose for raising the tolls is to pay for commercial real-estate development that has little to nothing to do with the bridges, tunnels or roadways. It’s a clever, spirited, last-ditch effort,  and it may not have the desired effect, but it does shine the light on the PANYNJ at a time when Americans from all walks are struggling to make ends meet.

2. NY cabbies when rights

Muslim cab drivers in New York won the right to veto the placement of racy ads on their cabs. The gist of their complaint was that the ads are offensive and embarrassing. “If you’re a taxi driver who owns his or her own car, you take it home, your neighbors see it,” said Taxi & Limousine Commissioner David Yassky. This is a pretty big deal. Of late New York cab drivers have been organizing themselves and standing up for their rights in an unprecedented way. This new ruling may seem minor to most of us, but it isn’t. In an effort to bring more dignity to their profession, cab drivers are asserting their right to have some say-so over their labor and their self-representation. In the broader scheme, the victory is a direct challenge to the assumption that cabs are free game for advertisements.

3. United Autoworkers Strikes New Deal with GM

In a time when union labor, the backbone of the middle class, is under unrelenting assault, GM workers have struck what’s being called by most observers a favorable deal with the company. The new labor contract will award $5,000 bonuses to the 48,500 workers, preserve benefits, ensure (some) wage increases, reopen plants and create thousands of new jobs. Is it perfect? No. Is is encouraging? Without a doubt. What’s more, GM’s two and a half year turnaround is directly attributable to the much-maligned Obama administration. Said UAW President Bob King, “[L]et’s be completely clear about this: None of this would have been possible without the efforts of President Obama, who invested federal funds to help turn the company around, protect the auto supplier base and keep good-paying jobs in America.”  Read the rest of this entry »

More Die of Heartbreak: A Eulogy for My Second Father

by Dax-Devlon Ross

Years ago I picked up a copy of the late Saul Bellow’s More Die of Heartbreak for a buck at a stoop sale. It might’ve even been free. I can’t remember exactly. Nor does it really matter because I never really read the book. I started it a couple of times. Even got through thirty or forty pages. But like a few of Bellow’s books, I was never able to finish. But I could never get rid of the book either. The title alone was worth the shelf space. Whenever I see it I’m reminded of its truth.

Nearly seven years after the death of my biological father, the man who I will always call my second father has passed away. It happened a week ago today, but it didn’t hit me until 4:00 in the morning five days later.

On the surface my two fathers were very different men. Beneath the surface they shared a sensitivity to and for the world that I recognize as one in the same. Of course you had to know them only the way a son can know his fathers to see beneath the masks they wore for the world. Because of the times they came up in and the color of their skin, they learned to hold their masks in place as a means of survival. My biological father was stoic, proud, reserved. My second father was crass, candid, loud. One was a square; one was a street lifer. One sought to escape his heartbreak and disappointment through spiritual transcendence; the other found temporary relief in chemical dependence. They were both fighters to the bitter end. Read the rest of this entry »

After Troy Davis: From a Reform Moment to an Innocence Movement and Beyond

by Dax-Devlon Ross

This past spring I published a novel that tells the story of a young man who was executed for a crime I don’t believe he committed. It wasn’t easy for me to come to this conclusion. Only after several years of research and reflection did I gather the courage to articulate my faith in Toronto Patterson’s innocence. My aim was to tell a story that challenged readers to look at the facts surrounding not just the case but the culture and customs that sanctioned this young man’s death. He was executed nearly a decade ago. Even though he was a minor when he was arrested and the prosecution’s case rested on racialized character slander, coerced testimony, reckless leaps of logic, and the court-sanctioned suppression of evidence, he never became a cause celebre like Mumia Abu-Jamal or Troy Davis. Letters were were written to the clemency board on his behalf. Public radio featured his story. Vigils were held. But since mainstream America really had no idea who he was let alone the range and depth of the injustice being done to him, no public momentum built to save his life.

Timing is crucial. When Toronto was convicted in 1995, 80% of Americans were in favor of the death penalty—the highest in Gallup’s polling history. The legal precedent that now legitimizes the innocence movement underpinning the widespread support for Troy Davis was only beginning to take shape. In 1987, a mere two years before Davis’ conviction, the Supreme Court upheld Georgia’s capital punishment statute despite the alarming amount of evidence of its “racially disproportionate impact” because Warren McCleskey’s lawyers failed to prove the statute’s “racially discriminatory purpose.” Up to this point, legal scholars and death penalty abolitionists had put all of their eggs in the race-based basket. They figured if they could prove the ultimate punishment was being disproportionately used on African Americans, which continues to be the case, then they could get another moratorium, which would buy more time to figure out how to abolish the practice entirely. After McCleskey they needed to find a new direction. Throughout the ’90s, the “Free Mumia” movement kept the embers of the anti-death penalty campaign lit and should be in part credited with the 14% drop in death penalty approval ratings by 2000. But the movement to free Mumia was (and continues to be) a unique flashpoint/footnote directly linked to the civil rights era and the overt racial discrimination that characterized the relationship between the Philadelphia police and the city’s radical black freedom struggle. Read the rest of this entry »

Pieces of the Dream: King, The Help and Hollywood’s White Savior Syndrome

by Dax-Devlon Ross

I.

“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”

MLK, Letter from Birmingham Jail

A few days ago I returned to Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” The last time I’d read the letter in its entirety was high school. I suppose I was moved to return to the letter by the recent opening of the King memorial. But I also heard echoes of King’s upbraiding of the “white moderate”  in Patricia Turner’s  measured critique of The Help in The New York Times as well as Martha Southgate’s eloquently acerbic Entertainment Weekly cover story. Like Mississippi Burning and To Kill a Mockingbird, the story advances a view of racism and the civil rights era that is incompatible with the facts. That the central function of these stories is to soothe the psyches of good whites who do not consider themselves racists or having benefited from racism is troubling. That they evidence the persistence of the white savior complex in American cinema is nauseating. That they do so at the expense of people who felt and continue to feel the brunt of racial bias is morally inexcusable.

But this has all been exhaustively and perceptively rendered already. What I found myself wondering was why there is such a disconnect in our American realities and how in 2011 this particular story can stir up such dissimilar emotions? Read the rest of this entry »