Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Rosa Parks passed away tonight at the age of 92. When I think of my earliest childhood memories I think of teachers telling the story of Rosa Parks. My other memories of early grade school are of being ushered into the auditorium to watch Civil Rights films. It was horrifying to watch children being pushed back by the rush of water hoses. My other early memory is of playing outside our house and having the "N" word being shouted at me by the angry passengers. Those images are no different from the images and ideology that have been rising back to the surface taking some of us, by shock and reminding others of our place in America. I think of Robert Davis, attacked by police on the streets of his New Orleans just a few weeks ago. I think of the Mama D and Malik Rahim struggling to maintain their communities in Louisiana, which includes a daily struggle with white hate groups and that includes the police. I think of the Ousmane Zongo's family who suffered his loss, and the fact that the police officer that shot him, was acquitted of manslaughter over the weekend.
Thank you Miss Rosa for standing up for your right to take a seat because you were tired of taking a daily dose of injustice. Is their a little one being born this night to fill your shoes? Has she arrived already?
In these times it seems like we are destined to live the lives of our grandparents and great-grandparents. The civil rights won just a few years after I was born are being chipped and hacked away in the form of voter fraud and Illegal re-zoning by politicians to change voting blocks. The scattering of black folks as a result of water washing away whole times, peoples and places is just so convient for some.
Is this generation ready to step up and help us wade through the floodwaters coming to remove us from Harlem, Brooklyn and wherever urban renewal is taking place? The scattering of black communities is taking us from the gulf to Utah, New York, Washington, DC, Texas and Atlanta and Arizona. Our great-grandparents had each other. Black people had each other.
Poor people, black people and plain old oppressed people listen up. Let's start realizing that our strength is in our numbers and in our ability to strengthen ourselves, our families, and the next generation by doing simple things. Do you say good morning to one another in the morning? Do you make eye contact with strangers on the subway and exchange a smile? Or do you look away? Do you stop teenagers from cursing on the bus? Do you address them in love and respect and remind them that one-day they will lead? Or are you too afraid they will only embarrass you? Do you offer a neighbor the extra food from last night’s dinner or do you throw it away because you don't want them to know, that you know, they have a need? These simple acts can lead us to the conversations that need to be had. These simple acts can lead to discussion, which generate ideas, which motivate people to stop thinking and dreaming of a better world and act to create a new reality.
There is a little of Rosa Parks in each of us. She took a seat and made a stand. How will you stand up today?
Thursday, October 20, 2005
I got a surprise, when I came home and found out from Randi Rhodes that Tom Delay turned himself in. I found his photo on CNN.com. His lawyer, Jefferey Toobin said the finger printing and mugshot would be embarrassing. Is it me, or does this man not look the slightest bit embarrassed? He has been charged with money laundering and conspiracy. He faces up to 20 years in jail. He should be looking real sad. He could end up in Jail and become someone's new wife. He should not be smiling. He might get his ass beat in lunch room like scenes you see in the movies. Or maybe get surrounded by all the angry men during free time in the yard. Of course this is all fantasy. Nothing will happen to this man. The mugshoot looks like it was taken for the White House Yearbook. Check out the little pin on the lapel? Where's the number under the photo?
I found out other things about him today. Like this shocker, he only has a bachelors degree, from the University of Houston. How do you get to be the House Majority Leader with only a bachelors? I've taught for years in New York, but the Department of Education in New York requires it's teachers to have a masters degree or be in the process of getting that masters degree.
Tom Delay has a message on is website that begins, "Dear Friends." I hope he is able to get a room with his friends in jail. Scooter, Abramoff, Rove, Cheney, Bush . . .
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Usually my day consist of writing while I do the various tasks of a housewife. Laundry, dishes, preparing dinner, phone calls and filling our forms for my kids various school needs. Sometimes I can sit for an hour in morning and have 3 cups of green tea and take a 45-minute nap. Today I got up, made lunch for everyone, got myself dressed (forgot my own lunch) and headed down to the unemployment office for the orientation at 9:30.
The room was full of all kinds of people from various types of freelancers, veterans, students, office workers and a woman who needed an interpreter who spoke Polish. The supervisor of this hour was clearly very annoyed. "We don't have anyone here who speaks Polish, why didn't you bring someone with you?" I felt bad for the Polish lady. I wished I spoke Polish. We were asked to line up at the front, hand in the letter sent by the Department of Labor and show ID. I couldn't find my letter, but surprisingly no yelled at me. My name was on the appointment list.
Our host who ran the orientation was a hoot. She reminded me of a Sunday school teacher I had. She actually called a couple of people "baby” as in “baby it’s gonna be all right.” I was waiting for her to start passing out peppermints. As she fiddled with the projection machine for the power-point presentation she told us, she only had two more years to go. "Could you imagine doing this every day, sometimes twice?" I couldn't. She told us we did very well after the 15-minute screening. She demonstrated what most people looked like after the viewing. Heads titled back, mouth open. At the end of the session more workers from the Labor Department came in and called out the names of people who they already had prospective jobs for. The rest of us could continue to look for work on-line, visit the resource room (this felt so 4th grade) and continue to call in each week.
I haven't seen a check yet, but I figure Christmas is coming. If things get real bad, I can make Christmas cookies and banana bread, crochet potholders and picture frames for Kwanzaa and set up shop on 125th street with all the other hustlers.
I continued my day by going to Bryant Park and reviewing writing jobs. I have seven job searches to list on my work search record for the Department of Labor. I’ve a list at home and a bunch of cover letters that have gone out to various prospective leads.
From there I went in search of a Halloween costume for my four-year-old. The Jacks 99 cents store had great wigs for $4.99. I bought the perfect wig for myself. I've been thinking about being Condoleezza Rice. All I need is a pair of black high-heeled boots. Then I can be Condoleezza-Goes-Russian-Dominatrix. There were no costumes for little boys left at this location. Unless you count the sailor costume. Too dance recital.
Next stop Kay Bee Toys. Only Darth Vader and Ninjas left. Too angry, too violent.
Finally in the Kmart, there is a sea of costumes. They are just around the corner from the large snowman in the bubble with fake snow falling on him. Everything is so Christmas already. If you don't get your stuff now, come Thanksgiving, everything will be gone. I hate shopping. I hate being in the stores period. Especially the Kmart on 34th street. This is a must shop week. Yesterday my husband broke the toilet seat, so I had to go get that. (Don’t ask. All I know is my son was so filled with glee, because he wasn’t in trouble this time.) These are the duties of those without a swipe card and an employee ID number.
While searching for the batman costume, I realize I've lost the bag from the Jacks 99-cents store, in the Kmart. I circle the area twice. I didn't even realize when I put it down. With the Batman costume in hand I go to customer service to see if someone has turned it in. The woman at the counter starts ringing up the sale before I can get my question out. She half laughs, and says "The 99-cents store? Somebody has that, you can forget it." So much for customer service. I don't make an issue of it. Do I call the manager because she was insensitive to an unemployed woman's $16.99 worth of Halloween fun and fantasy? I swipe my credit card. The machine asks for my zip code. I tell her I don't wish to give my zip code. She hands me the slip to sign. She doesn't give me a pen. When I request a pen, she slams one down on the counter. I still don't request the manager. Is it worth getting someone in trouble on this job? The pay is probably why she is so cranky.
So, I'm out $16.99. My receipt with my signature was in the bag. I worry a bit. Then tell myself to get real. Is anyone picking up a 99-cents store bag running a racket for identity theft as well? Probably not. It could be worse. I could be that person picking up the left bag. I could be working at the Kmart.
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
I've come across several stories on the web about Robert Davis, the 64-year-old New Orleans resident who was beaten until bloody by local police officers, after asking about the local curfew. When looking up this story, the first article I came across is this one on My Way News.
I was annoyed by the paragraph that read:
"Under normal circumstances, it takes unusually offensive behavior to trigger an arrest on Bourbon Street. But New Orleans police have been working under stressful conditions since the hurricane."
Since the hurricane? Americans are becoming known for our short memory. Lets refresh, shall we?
According to an article by Daniel HoSang in the magazine Colorline, Winter 1999-2000 issue, "Between 1993 and 1996, fifty New Orleans cops were arrested for felonies including bank robbery and rape."
New York Times Magazine reported a story entitled "The Thinnest Blue Line." in the March 1996 issue. "As astutely noted by police abuse expert Prof. James Fyfe, some cities' police departments have reputations for being brutal, like Los Angeles, or corrupt, like New York, and still others are considered incompetent. New Orleans has accomplished the rare feat of leading nationally in all categories."
Can you say, "The Farm" also known as Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola ?
And what constitutes a normal circumstance? From my own understanding, a normal circumstance in the United States is one in which the poor, homeless, street venders, people who like to hang out on street corners and chat, etc. should not be seen or heard or exist. Beating up on black folks is the normal circumstance for New Orleans officers’ black or white.
Take the situation of Mr. Davis. Associated Press writer, Ross Sneed reports Davis's reactions as he returns to the scene of the assault. He was shocked to realize that the brown stain on the sidewalk was his own blood. He doesn't remember much after the first blow. "I didn't do anything. I was going to get a pack of cigarettes and taking my evening constitutional." For Mr. Davis a pack of cigarettes and an evening walk may be normal. Perhaps it was also his way of dealing with stress. He is a New Orleans resident who had come back from Atlanta, to check on six properties owned by himself and other family members.
Several reports on this story pointed to the stressful conditions under which the police in New Orleans exist. The stressful conditions are being used as excuses to further dehumanize and brutalize people of color in New Orleans, and many other cities including my hometown. At this moment in New York the Zongo case is before a judge for the second time.
Ousmane Zongo, 43, was an art repairman who emigrated from Burkina Faso. He was shot four times during a raid on a
storage warehouse to confiscate CDs and DVDs. The first case ended last March in a mistrial. The retrial began here recently, with the officer waiving his right to a trial by jury.
Having thought about all this, may I suggest to all those who love black people to get a copy of "Police Encounters-The Black Man's Guide to Handling Encounters with the Police and Protecting Your Constitutional Rights, by George W. Gordon & David Walker (not their real names). The book can be found on www.kommoncents.com. Two black men who have been struggling to over turn their life imprisonment sentences wrote it. It is their hope that this labor of love will serve as a guide to protect our people. The book is not meant to serve as one's only legal advice, but to educate and inform. There are some really helpful sections that include, The Constitution of the United States, Sequence Of An Arrest To The Arraignment, Most Common Mistakes Made During An Arrest, The Interrogation, Sample Warrants and Sample Complaint Letters just to name some of the issues covered.
This book could be a useful tool for community groups, after school programs, adult literacy classes and church groups. The book has a section just for youth, entitled "Juvenile Encounters." What better way to prepare young people in a rites of passage setting by supplying them with knowledge of their rights in the context of police encounters? This is a must read for parents and teens.
In the preface the writers conclude:
"Finally, it is often said, "the more things change, the more they remain the same, It is our sincere hope and intention that the nature of police encounters with Black people changes drastically because we refuse to be victims, prey, suspects, targets, perpetrators, and statistics anymore. As it is written, so let it be done."
Protect yourselves, Protect us.
I woke up having fallen asleep with the lights on and C-Span running the beginning of the speeches at yesterday’s demonstration.
I immediately start to pack everything into my bags. I get dressed and head out to breakfast as soon as the dining room opens. I'm anxious to eat. I went to sleep hungry. The dining room closed at 9 o'clock last evening. Around the hotel the choices were limited. There was a Checkers Hamburger joint and a Dunkin Donuts. With the reaction I had to the chicken sandwich, I was probably better off until breakfast. I envisioned some French toast and or at the least a bowl of oatmeal.
Breakfast was buffet style and the selection consisted of scrambled eggs, sausage, croissants, biscuits and hash browns. The only thing I could eat was some barely warm canned biscuit, and some hashed brown potatoes with peppers and onions. Thank god for the red bell pepper and onions. That was the only vegetable I'd seen or eaten for two days other than the banana I had on Friday afternoon. Fruit was not available. I felt deprived. I've not had a hot meal or a decent meal for two days. I asked for hot water for tea indicating to the waiter that I had my own cup and tea. "Just hot water please." The waiter bought back my cup with a Lipton tea bag in it. I took it out quickly and put in the tea I bought with me.
I tried to enjoy my time alone and keep an eye on my time. I didn't want to miss the shuttle van service headed to the train station and Greyhound Bus station.
At another table I notice a scene that I'm trying to not to pay too much attention to. Three women were sitting at a table with a man. At first I hadn't noticed them. They caught my attention because the man with them is black and he has locked hair that hangs past his waist. I always notice other locked-heads. They apparently had been there a while, since it looked like they were finishing their meal. The room is relatively quite with the exception of the wait staff chatting and laughing at a table amongst themselves. A family sits in another corner with their two children a boy and girl barely school age. A couple sits quietly sipping on tea or coffee.
So back to the three women and the man. One woman is thin, young and has a ponytail pulled back into a puff of short curls. Another woman at the table has dark hair and wears a beige tube dress. When she moves the lights cause the glitter in it to flicker. She is a curvy woman. The other woman is the very opposite of her. She is very pale, tall and thin. Her skin is luminescent, but in a way that speaks illness. She is wearing a halter- top and her ribs show. The woman with the ponytail stands up and views herself in the mirror on the wall behind them. She pulls at a denim skirt that does not go past her upper thighs. She is loud. She tells the women at the table that if she had worn the other shoes, she could have made more money. She stands on her tip- toes.
The waitress comes over to the table. She addresses the woman asking if she wants coffee and she is ignored. The waitress lingers a moment longer and then walks away. The young girl says to the man, “ I gave you a hundred dollars the first time and one-hundred and twenty the second time.” There is some discussion about settling a cell phone bill.
I watch them and am becoming angry and disgusted. I’m see the man as taking advantage; earning money from the sexual labor of the women. I wonder about them. Why have the women made this choice for work? Perhaps it is not of choice, but necessity. If you hand him the money how do you take care of yourself? What does he use the money for? Is it a side gig for extra money or their only source of income? I wonder if the young one has parents she can count on? I wonder if the women have children who need this money for food and clothing? I wonder if the man has children and or a wife? Is this how he pays his rent? Why does he wear dread locked hair? It is the hair of honor. It is the hair of the Ethiopians that was Bob Marley’s signature style. I want to shave my head bald. I want to disassociate myself from this man. Yet I don’t want to get rid of my breast to disassociate myself from the women.
None of these people are dressed in any way that suggest,business is great. I’m making judgment calls about them. My anger becomes shame and anger again. I wonder why.
After a while they stand up gathering their belongings. The man is bucking is belt. They walk out slowly. People in the dining room turn to watch them leave. The man sees me. He acknowledges me with a nod. I’m offended. Normally I speak to anyone who speaks to me. Especially in a strange city. Especially when the person is black. This acknowledgement of ones’ own goes back to me watching my father addressing every black man he encountered with “How ya doing ‘bro?” I look away. He doesn’t seem to care.
It has been a long weekend.
On the van I met the couple I saw in the dining room. I find out they are from Queens, NY. We compare notes about the horrible food and the lack of fruit in the whole city. “They charge a dollar fifty for coffee in that hotel and you don’t get no refills. In New York, they pour and pour!” We are amazed at the number of homeless people in the shadow of the capital. There were not many and that is what made the few so noticeable. I imagine that the city does a good job of hiding them in the outskirts. I passed a few while walking the night before. I wondered about the resources available. At the church I spent the night in, the caretaker told me they feed about 150 people for lunch and dinner. There were signs all over about the hours the space was used for shelter
At the bus station, I have a hard time buying a ticket. I want to use my credit card. The clerk won’t accept the card because it is my husbands. She and the other woman at the counter are not nice. I tell her I’ve used this card the whole weekend. She tells me she can’t help me. She tells me go to the ATM and take out cash. I only have $15 dollars in cash on me. I don’t have access to any more cash. The ticket is 35 dollars I try to use the machine, but it isn’t working. I’m frustrated. I call my husband. I intend to get the phone number of my father-in-laws friend in DC. But first I rant about the horrible food, the couple on the van I met from New York, Greyhound’s credit card policy. He reminds me of my American Express check in my wallet. I had been saving it for something special. This is special.
Back at the counter the clerk see me in line and she seems to ready herself. I present the check. She says, “I don’t know if we take these.” I point to the sign next to her that displays the “We take American Express.” She turns it over and looks at the back. She asks her co-worker. The co-worker gives her the okay. I take my ticket and change.
I make a mental list in my head of all the things I will need to do in order to continue to travel alone:
1) Get a credit card in my name.
2) Apply for the road test to get my license.
3) Purchase a tent. (If I had a tent I could have stayed on the mall where the rally took place and not missed the concert or paid for a horrible hotel room. There’s a bathroom in every Starbucks on every corner in any city in America. Other wise I can dig my own latrine!)
4) Take a self-defense class.
5) Apply for a press pass.
6) Make friends with other independent journalist.
Friday, October 07, 2005
Demonstrator holds poster of Haitians murdered under military regime backed by United States, UN Troops and supporters
of the wealthy elite.
Roughing it on a church floor all night isn’t easy.
I am awaked by an ache I feel in my hip. It isn’t the side I’m laying on, but the reverse. I see my friend that I’ve made on the bus has taken a spot on a bench near me. She says she laid down at 4 am. I feel like she has been watching me sleep and waiting for me to wake up.
I start thinking about my day. I need to get myself organized. I’m still annoyed by the camera thing. A broken camera really puts a dent in things. I thought it was going to be so cool. I was going to take photos, download them right away and post them with a few captions. No pictures of journalist testifying, nor anyone else who was a witness. No pictures of Ramsey Clark giving the closing remarks. No pictures of the jury as we reviewed the question and considered the charges. Where and how will I get a new camera? I also need headphones at some point. I cannot go the rest of the trip without them. I need an atm and the nearest starbucks because I can get internet access there to post. Although posting is the least of my problems. I need to figure out how to get to my hotel from here, so I can check in before the rally and drop off the knap sack. It is not heavy, but I don’t want to lug it around all day or miss out on the opening speeches. At 6:42 am I decide to stop writing so I can wash up, (I start most of my days writing. It is my morning coffee) change my clothes and start studying a map of the DC area. My plan; to find an ATM, call the hotel and find out how early I can drop my stuff off and the latest I can check in, and a radio shack. Maybe there is such a thing as a disposable digital camera capable with my USB cords to download tonight? Perhaps I’m dreaming. I also need to get Kim Ives mother’s phone number and the lady I’ve been chatting with on the bus. I wonder if it’s a good idea to charge my laptop while I get washed? This writing on the road stuff calls for many needs and much planning.
Getting Around DC or What Are We Doing In Maryland?
I got to my hotel only a few hours ago. I’m glad to have attended the tribunal and the march. I should be at the concert now. I’m too exhausted to go. I’m also angry with myself for not following my plan to drop my stuff off at the hotel this morning. I went on errands a few blocks from the church. After I took what cash I had out of the bank and found a 99 cents store that had disposable cameras. They accepted credit cards. I picked up a couple of croissants and juice from a 7-11 and rushed back to the church. I did get a cab driver to come to the church, but after he told me it was going to be 45 minutes to get me to the hotel and back, I decided not to go. I didn’t think he would have me back in time to travel on the bus with the group. Looking back on this now, I should have gone to the hotel anyway. I would have been able to secure all my stuff in the room and been able to stay in the DC area. I could have found my way to where the group was at the rally. I had the cell number of the bus captain. I always regret when I don’t follow my gut.
At about 3:30 pm I’m traveling with a group who is headed back to where the buses are parked. Others in the group wanted to stay at the march, but this group was concerned about getting back to the bus on time before the bus was scheduled to depart at 5:30. I was so glad I left when I did. We had to take the train to where the buses were. The allotted travel time was a half an hour. It was not a half an hour. It took one and a half hours to get to the buses which were parked in (Oh my God!) Maryland. I discover this on the train as we are pulling in to our stop. It is five o’clock. The concert was scheduled to start at 7 o’clock. I got to the bus used the bus toilet and said good-bye to the family I traveled with. The train station was full of people from the rally. It seemed that every bus that came to the rally was parked at this park and ride station. It took 10 minutes to get out of the train station because you had to put in a ticket in order to get out of the station. Hundreds of people were
trying to do this, the scene was pure madness. What a ridiculous system!
Things I notice about the DC/ Maryland area. Once outside DC we are in the middle of nowhere. I notice that the city becomes a suburb pretty much like where I grew up in New Jersey. The street becomes highway. There is nothing but land for miles. Every now and then you come across an industrial complex of some sort with trucks all lined up inside a steal gate. The complex is replaced by a mall with the typical Home Depot, JC Penny blah, blah, blah. I saw railroad tracks that led to who knows where. At each stop a few people got on and off. Once away from the train station there were no people.
On the way back to DC I was armed with directions from a train conductor. I felt secure. I trusted him. I told him where I was going. It was now 5:35 in the afternoon. Somehow it seemed later. I envisioned getting to my hotel, dropping off my stuff and heading out for a night of music with a message and a story to tell.
I arrived at New York Avenue. As a New Yorker getting out at a train station where there was no one standing on the platform, I put on my game face. I was still too obvious. A black woman with glasses, and locked hair and a red t-shirt with 200 years of Haitian Independence, may not be a typical site in DC. I also had a big backpack. There was no one in the station to ask which way to go. I walked for what was the equivalent of a New York City block before finding New York Avenue. It was not an avenue, but a highway. I was lucky to be on a sidewalk. It was now 6:15. It was overcast. I moved quickly. I walked for 15 minutes. I asked a woman pushing a stroller and a guy with a Mohawk dressed in all black and silver chains, for the Gateway Days Inn hotel. I found out that they are also from out of town. They are staying in a Motel 8 just up the road. They suggested I ask the counter people in the Wendy’s. I’m told by them it is just over the hill. I get so excited about sitting in hot tub, and air conditioning that I order food. I know I will be relaxing soon.
Forty-five minutes later I’m still walking. I’ve stopped twice in other hotels to ask if I’m on the right track. I get directions like, “Five blocks on the right.” It is getting dark. I’m tired. I curse myself as cars zoom past me. If I had my driver’s license, I would be driving the Toyota (my husband bought it Boston in a snow storm) that is sitting in front of my apartment. I’m so mad at myself for not leaving this bag at the hotel earlier. It becomes heavier each mile. I’m missing the concert. My stomach is upset. I suddenly remember, I haven’t eaten anything since 11:30 this morning. It is after 7 o’clock. I’m tired. I’m stupid. I haven’t seen another train station. What a lousy transportation system! Why didn’t I just get a cab? What if something happens to me? Why am I doing this again? Oh yeah, I want a press pass. I’m a writer. I want to go home.
When I get to the hotel (finally) it is 7:30pm. The clerk has me wait while he assists the obvious new guy with checkout procedures. I have to use the bathroom. I’m nauseous from trying not to think about needing to use the bathroom. The clerk tells me there are no more non-smoking. I tell him “It doesn’t matter, I don’t smoke.” He apologizes.
When I get to the room it smells like a giant ashtray. I wasn’t thinking about all the other people who have used this room. There is no microwave to warm up my cold fries and barely warm chicken sandwich. There is no alarm clock radio. The television doesn’t have a remote. The coffee maker has a cup next to it filled with instant coffee, tea, stirrers, cream and sugar packets. There is no coffee pot. I wash out the tub to take a bath. I’m sick from the sandwich. The hot bath makes me feel better. I’ve put on a skirt and fresh t-shirt. I want to go get hot food. I change my mind about the skirt. I think about the man who saw me signing in alone. He was too friendly. I put on the water board Old Navy shorts I’ve borrowed from my husband, sneakers and a sweater. I get a phone call. It is my husband. By the time I tell him about the sour end to my day, I don’t want to leave the room. I trade in my clothes for a pair of pajamas. I spread my own blanket over the bed. I set up my laptop. I begin to chronicle my day. There is no internet service. Why am I surprised by this? I’ve only paid 100 bucks plus frigg’in tax. I’m only comforted by the fact that the television has C-span. I fall asleep to all the speeches I have missed that morning waiting for the bus to arrive.
Recollections of the Day
What I remember most about today is the number of times I saw people crying. On the mall today I saw women holding signs with pictures. They were the mothers who had sons and daughters in Iraq. One woman’s sign caught my attention. It was a picture of her son and his brother in happier times. They had their arms around each other and their heads together smiling for the camera. A caption underneath the photo read, “He misses his brother and so do I.” I made eye contact with her and touched my hand to my heart and extended my hand to her. She nodded. A woman with me from our group, looked to see who I was motioning to and acknowledged her too. There were many groups of women sitting together holding photos.
I saw a group walking in a circle that seemed to have no end. They were carrying stringed photos of men and women killed in service in Iraq. Some of the people in the circle were crying. Their faces were grim. Rings of red surrounded their swollen tear filled eyes. I didn’t want to stop to ask them questions. Their circle of the fallen was in my mind a reminder to all of us not to forget the dead. I saw it as ritual and necessary.
The Haitian contingent was made up of people who were at the tribunal and other groups that came for the march.
Some of the women in our, who had come for the tribunal, had been crying too. During the demonstration while marching with the Haitian contingent, some of us held posters of stills of the film footage from the tribunal. One of the posters showed, Nelson Romelus, a 1 year old with his intestines hanging from his belly. He was shot during one of the neighborhood raids by UN troops. The caption under the picture read “1-year-old bandit?” I had not seen that photo. I thought of my four-year-old son when he was one. He is second generation born of a first generation Haitian- American father, who’s Dad came here as a teenager. I thought what if my father in law did not come to the United States. What would the life of the Limontas have been, I wonder. I started to cry. I took out photos of my family because I wished I had them with me.
Others demonstrators in the group held posters of the Haitian folk singer, So Annie being taken to jail. She was a supporter of Aristide. There was also a poster of the man crawling in his blood having just been shot by UN forces. I looked long and hard at that one. Each photo a painful reminder of what is going on all over the world with money backed by the United States.
Over the course of the bus ride after the tribunal and Saturday morning, a woman by the name of Marie, shared her story with me. She came to the United States 31 years ago. She has never returned to Haiti. Marie spoke of her suffering under the regime of the dictator Papa Doc. She said Haiti was not like it is now when she was a girl. She remembers her life in the county. She remembers how people “Were so good to each other. You could sit out in front of your house in the evening and get fresh air.” She said people would come from anywhere and they could stay at her house. Neighbors, friends, and people like the journalist who spoke at the tribunal were all welcome. When Duavlliar came into power she said he wanted to show the world his power. He had buses go out to the country to get people to line the parade route to celebrate him had on becoming president. She said he wanted to show his power. The problem was that the people didn’t have a way to get back. The buses didn’t take them back. So they stayed in Port Au Prince. She said that was the beginning of things getting bad.
Oppression began in subtle ways and progressively became a traumatic series of events. She told me she was taking a class to get her first aid certificate. The teacher invited her to a meeting for the supporters of Duvaillar. She said she was not interested in that. In a sad voice she said, the woman never sent her the certificate. She said, “After a while you didn’t want to leave your house because you would come back and your husband would be gone.” She remembers when the military lined up an entire family. She remembered the babies that they tossed up in the air and then fired upon as their bodies came down. She broke down a few times. Another member of the group who had been traveling with us, comforted her. Marie said she lives with those memories everyday. I sat close to her rubbing her back as she cried. Vincent a community leaders, came to help. He told her, her tears are her words. Marie confessed that she had actually written all this down in French and that it needed to be translated.
During the demonstration as Ramsey Clark addressed the crowd and spoke about Aristide’s kidnapping I noticed another woman who began sobbing. At first I didn’t recognize her grief in her cheering as Ramsey Clark stated, “Bring back Aristide.” I asked if I could take her picture. She said, “No, I’m crying” I tell her I’m sorry. I didn’t want to intrude on her feelings.
Going to sleep that night my mind twisted with all I had seen and experienced. There was one woman in the group that day who was not crying. She was visibly angry. She shouted in Creole and English “ US out of Haiti! Get out of Haiti!” She yelled this at people as we went past the Treasury Department. I thought of her justified anger and Nelson Romelus who would never see his next birthday. I thought of his father and the monotone voice he used to tell the story of his families murder. I went to sleep with the lights on.
Thursday, October 06, 2005
These are the journal entries of my weekend in Washington, D.C. for the Haitian Tribunal and the Anti-War March on September 23-September 25, 2005. Thanks to all of you who waited with anticipation and curiosity for them.
Friday September 23, 2005
So I’m on my way to D.C. I’m still a little nervous. I try to remind myself that this is a growing experience for me. It is necessary that I push myself to be more independent. I’ve gotten lazy in that area of my life. I’m not sure what to expect beyond the itinerary I’ve set for myself. Our bus was late leaving. We were waiting for someone. We left at 1:15pm instead of 12:30pm. I’m hoping we won’t be late. We’ve been on the bus for a while. I’ve been sleeping off and on. Not so much from being sleepy as I am bored. I didn’t bring anything to read. I wish I’d come with someone. Most of the people on this trip are with family or friends. I feel silly and lonesome. I keep listening to the radio, looking for stations like the non-commercial ones I’ve gotten used to listening to. I hope I’m able to make friends.
I’m back on the bus after our break in Maryland. I was worried about what I would eat on this trip having just come out of the rest area and seeing the usual fair of fast food. The fruit in the market place looked bad. They only had bananas and apples. I was hoping for a nice soup or a piece of bread. I didn’t put any real food in my bag. I was worried about missing the bus. Now all I can think about is the yellow rice, the Boca barbecue chicken and spinach in my refrigerator.
I’ve met Kim Ives mother. He is a writer and editor with the newspaper, Haiti Progres. Kim is one of the host of the radio program, “Haiti: The Struggle Continues.” The show can be heard on WBAI in New York City. That’s how I found out about the tribunal.
Kim’s mom approached me when I was sitting on a bench having a banana. She asked me if I was traveling alone. When I said yes she commented on how brave I was. She asked me if I’ve met Kim. I tell her no, but that I looked up his biography. I ask her what’s his interest is in the struggle of the people of Haiti. In my head I’m thinking he is white, he is an American and yet it seems that he is very invested in their cause. She tells me that he is her son. She explains that she married a Haitian man and they raised their children together. This is not what I was expecting her to say. I’m intrigued.
I tell her I’m married to a man with Haitian roots. I tell her that we have an elderly family member who is not a citizen of the United States, who must return to Haiti in a few weeks. The idea of this is frightening to me.
We share the same concern for the people of Haiti, as the elections get closer. We know that they will be subjected to more violence torture and murder. “You know who is backing one of the candidates?” She asks. When I reply “Our president,” she seems surprised that I know this. I know this may seem unusual to her, but why come to an event like this and be uninformed. I came to learn more. I’ve also become quite a political junkie, taking in my daily dose of articles from various websites; magazines and alternative talk radio as well as the conservative shows.
I tell her I’m on the trip to write about the tribunal and the demonstration. She profiles many of the groups that have come on this trip. They are mostly artist and activist like myself. I tell her I would like to get her contact information to talk more with her.
When we get back on the bus, we see the film “Bitter Cane.” The film is about 20 years old, but it gives a pretty good background on the situation in Haiti in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Factory and sugar cane workers told the story. It was a decent primer on Haitian history from slavery to the revolution, to American- occupation at the turn of the century. The film takes the viewer to the crisis of Haitians leaving on boats and arriving in Florida both dead and alive. It concludes with demonstrations in Brooklyn against the human rights violations in Haiti.
A young woman behind me complains to someone else on the bus, “Why did they put this on, it’s really old.” It blows my mind how she can be on this bus trip and say what she has said. Does she not see the relevancy of the film to the tribunal? I’ve just heard her (and so have all of us sitting in the seats around her) talk about her relationship with a woman for about an hour and then her relationship with a black man. Although not the same struggle, the life depicted in the film and the life she described are lives on the periphery. It is a shame that the connections were not obvious to her. Why did she come on this trip? I refrain from saying anything. My patience with people who appear to be or want to be progressive is wearing thin these days. I remind myself that everyone is a learner, no matter where they are in life.
The International Haitian Tribunal
I thought we might not be able to get into the event, but they were waiting for us. Kim Ives greeted our bus.
Kim said he needed jurors and asked for volunteers. I volunteered. We were ushered into a side door and seated in the section with signs on the seats that read, reserved for jury. I came to this event because I knew it would be historic. It never occurred to me that this was not a mock trial. This was for real. I wanted the experience, but took my seat anxiously. I became concerned about the things I would hear and see. I had known about the massacre that took place in February of 2005 and April 2005, but avoided viewing any photos posted on the web.
The judicial procedure used a combination of the Anglo-Saxon and Napoleonic system. The presiding judges were Ben Dupuy (former Haitian Ambassador at Large), Brian Concannon and Lucie Tondreau. The investigating judge/prosecutor was Desiree Welborn Wayne. Kim Ives was the assistant prosecutor. The duty of the jury was to bring an indictment against the defendants based on the evidence and conclusions of the reporter and prosecutor. We were told by one of the presiding judges that the defendants were offered an opportunity to appear before the court and had not responded. Most of the jury consisted of people who came on the buses from Queens and Brooklyn, New York and New Jersey. All the jurists were black and many if not most were Haitian or have Haitian descent.
Since this was the first session of the tribunal, the jury was
Was asked to look specifically at defendants Leon Charles, former Director General, Police Nationale d’Haiti (Also known as the PNH). He was also a member or former member of the police. Juan Gabriel Valdes, Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Chile. As a United Nations officer, he is accused of condoning or failing to prevent violence in Haiti before and during occupation. He is also accused of failing to prevent assaults on innocent Haitian civilians and unarmed persons not participating in active hostilities.
Another defendant was mentioned, but I could not recall his name.
The defendants mentioned here, are the first group to be bought before the tribunal. Eighteen other names appear on the indictment with others to be added as investigations continue. The charges also include, violating the Penal Code of Haiti, Laws of the Haitian National Police and the Constitution of the Republic of Haiti, crimes against humanity in a systematic attack against the civilian population including rape, other forms of sexual violence torture, murder and causing great suffering, mental and physical injury to the civilians not actively participating in hostilities. Other charges include violations of the 1949 Geneva Protocols, violating the American Convention on Human Rights and American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. The Latin America Solidarity Coalition put the full indictment and exhibits paper together.
Many of the Haitian citizens who gave testimony did so on video. The videos were excerpts of documentaries from various journalists and documentary filmmakers. When interviewed some did not reveal their names, while others did not want to appear on camera. Others cried and gave their stories in view of their dead husbands, wives, children and neighbors of the suffering they endure daily. Some displayed a grief beyond words or appeared numb while recounting their stories. Listening to their stories one could see that bravery and courage is in the ability to exist in the most horrifying circumstances without slitting your wrist. I commend all those who take on the humanitarian work of any group of people in need. The journalists, lawyers and investigators and graduate students can experience the anguish and horror for periods of time. They can come and go. However, the Haitian people live this life everyday.
The impressive evidence gathered by everyone from graduate students to the investigative reporters and various officials were overwhelming.
The bravery of the Haitian journalist and the international journalists was unbelievable. They were the ones getting the story of the people out to the world literally under the gun. The film and photographs presented into evidence were shocking and disturbing. It was equally alarming, but not surprising to see who was being accused.
Canadian investigative journalist of Quebec, Eve England, told us about the Ottawa Initiative on Haiti. It was a meeting held in January 2003. Denis Paradis, the Canadian Secretary of State for Latin America, Africa and the French speaking world, American officials of the State Department and French government met to discuss the future of Haiti. According to Mr. England no Haitian representatives were present at this meeting. The meeting concluded after three days with the committee planning to over throw the Haitian government.
According to the Latin American Solidarity Coalition-International Tribunal on Haiti Exhibit, background evidence demonstrates that the United States was instrumental in creating a political aid campaign that would actually undermine the elected government of Aristide. An organization known as the International Foundation of Electoral Systems (“IFES”), which shares its role with the National Democratic Institute, was created to support organizations implanted throughout foreign governments to undermine their activities and favor policies beneficial to the United States.
Ira Kurzban was the attorney representing the democratically elected government under President Aristide. His testimony showed how the United States officials were instrumental in the breakdown of the Haitian government including President Jimmy Cater who tried to discourage Aristide from taking office. Aristide was the first democratically elected official by obtaining over 85% of the popular vote in 1990. His policies of social justice were backed by the poor, but not by the small elite class that supported the military coup in 1991.
When Aristide was exiled the poor were left to defend themselves against the military, the police, gangs in opposition to Aristide supporters. Their demonstrations for democracy and the return of their leader were met with violence. This caused many of the students, organizations supporting the peasant population, social activists and journalists to be targets by the military. Haitians were killed in mass for resisting while others who could get away fled by boat.
He continued to say that; The World Bank, European Union and the United States among other financial organizations economically undermined Haiti. Even though the country was not receiving any funds at this time (a tactic known as the slow motion coup) the military received handguns among other weapons without interruption.
Ira Kurzban’s observation as a witness included the statement that the coup in February of 2004 was what Collin Powell and Dick Cheney started and did not finish in 1991.
Tom Griffin is an attorney and human rights investigator. He was the led investigator with information provided by Judy DaCruz, an attorney based in Haiti. It was through her contacts that Griffin was led to areas in need of investigation. He presented his findings from investigations in Cite Soleil. His reports take place after the September 30, 2004 demonstration where police fired on unarmed citizens. He found a city with no electricity, enforced curfew and workers at the morgue with over 1000 bodies dumped. They were mostly young men with their hands tied behind their backs and black hoods over their heads. He presented photos as evidence. In one of the photos, we are shown a field in Cite Soleil where bodies had been dumped and burned. Mr. Griffin reported that wild pigs were on site eating from the bones. In another photo, a human jaw is shown in the middle of a field.
In his investigations he noted that the UN patrols were mostly from Brazil going to poor neighborhoods with guns trained on the people. He said UN forces were usually fighting guerilla forces. The UN officials were for the most part English speaking officers who spoke no Haitian Creole. He also found that there were no radios for communication between the HNP (Haitian National Police) and the UN officers. These two groups were often fighting each other with the civilians getting caught in between. The Haitian National Police wore mask and no badges. He said the population is terrorized.
He reported that on November 18, 2004, there was a commemoration of the slave revolution in which the police opened fire on the crowd. In his investigation of the injured, he found many couldn’t be convinced to go to the hospital. Many people-suffering gun shot wounds, which had been taken to the hospital were often left untreated. They often ended up in the morgue. Others who had survived their wounds often were left with the affected areas infected and not healing properly.
He also visited an Anti-Gang Haitian National Police Station where 9 by 9 jail cells are the norm. Many of the people in the jail cell appeared to have been beaten. Most had been in jail for 30 days without seeing a judge. Prisoners eat only if family members can bring them food.
Much of Mr. Griffin’s findings are reported in “Haiti- Human Rights Investigation November 11-21, 2004”. The report can be at the Center For The Study Of Human Rights, University of Miami School of Law.
Kevin Pina is an American journalist who has been living and reporting on Haiti for 6 years. He is the director of the film, “Harvest of Hope.” He is a contributing editor to both reports can be viewed on Flashpoints and contributor Black Commentator magazine. He received an anonymous tip that Father Gerard Jean-Juste was arrested. He went to Father Jean Juste’s church with Haitian journalist Jean Ristil and found his room was being searched. He presented his press pass but had his camera taken away. He was thrown to the ground arrested, made to wait for an hour before taken to Fort Duma.
As evidence he presented film footage gathered by a cameraman in Haiti, whose name was not revealed for his own safety. He handed in a copy of a 12-minute footage, but showed 5 minutes for the sake of time. The film was of an operation on July 6, 2005 in Cite Soleil. The first scene was of civilian victims in the street just after a raid. The raid was carried out by UN peacekeepers. They were targeting unarmed citizens. It was hard to look at people dead in the streets, or still alive taking what appeared to be their last breaths. One man was crawling in his own blood, some of his skull missing. Another man sits calmly in his home with his family laid out on a bed beside them. They are all dead. He describes how his wife and children were gunned down. His four-year-old died from a headshot wound. Pina described how headshots are meant to kill. In another scene, a woman tells how she came home from work and found her home riddled with bullets and her husband dead. She asked to die too because her husband was her life. There are other women around her wailing what I can describe as the death cry. A UN member spokesperson’s words appear on screen with an explanation about how the UN is targeting bandits.
Many people in the room around me are silent or crying. I’m too struck by what I’ve seen to react any particular way. I can only keep looking away from the scene. Already the images are buried in my head.
Ramsey Clark has arrived. He has just gotten off of a plane. He makes a statement. “It is necessary to hold governments accountable for wrongs,” He says. “Haiti is the only colony of any European Power that successfully defeated the Napoleon Army.”
He said lots of things that were great quotes. Here are a few:
“We like to go around writing constitutions for other people.”
“Aristide has to go.” George Bush said this after stealing the 2003 election.
“Baby Doc left in 1986 for the French Riviera with the Haitian Peoples money.
“Why does our country keep supporting people like this?”
“The UN is there doing the US’s dirty work.”
The judge asks us to weigh the evidence. Based on our conclusions, the case may be presented to the International Criminal Court at The Hague. “Maybe Haiti will have its case heard.”
The jury gathered outside in an area to hear the question and make a decision. Everyone was tired, and frazzled from the experience. As we voted on the charges we found a juror who wanted to challenge the rest of us. He said he could not make a decision because the defendants weren’t there to give their side of the story. I didn’t say any thing. I was too tired. Other jurors gave him looks and said things under their breath, while a few challenged him, Dupuy asked him if he needed clarification on what we were doing. He reminded us that we were not finding anyone guilty. He also reminded the jury that the defendants had an opportunity to appear before the court, and did not respond. We were just voting to have the case bought before the world court. The gentlemen with the dilemma decided to abstain.
I was tired. I was wishing I had a hotel to go to instead of the church. I really wanted a good nights sleep. I hoped I could get to sleep.
The jury is asked to go outside and find a conclusion. I’m still shaken by what I’ve seen. In my head I’m wondering what is there to discuss, everyone is guilty. We are all guilty.
September 24, 2005
Settling in for the Night
We get to the church finally. The proceedings finished late. We left the University at 11:30. When we got back on the buses outside we discover that the two bus drivers have combined the two busloads. The bus is the same one I came here on. I’m glad for me, as I realize that people from the other bus had items on the bus they needed. So the driver makes an announcement that they have parked the other bus for the night in the assigned lot. The driver decides we will stop at the parked buses to allow people to pick up their belongs and then head to the church.
At the church we see young people on the sidewalk
Spray-painting posters. They are also using the church for shelter. Inside the sanctuary everyone is busy making a place for themselves on the floor, on the benches and the alter. It is dark. The only light available is coming from above an entrance way and the hallway. I make my near the glow of it. I spread my blanket and use my backpack for a pillow. I can’t find a plug to charge my phone and I don’t want to use the outlets near some folks who’ve already fallen asleep. I start writing my impressions of the tribunal and the people I’ve talked to on the bus. Someone comes to tell me there is food if I’m hungry. I close the laptop. Kim’s mom says to me, “ You were so into it over there.” I feel silly. I’m worried about not having time to jot everything down. I want to write in the moment. She says, some more encouraging words and then says she should let me eat. There are many mother figures on this trip. I feel safe.
Inside we find some food, chicken from KFC. I can’t remember the reason I stopped eating KFC. I take two pieces and some bread. I find pamphlets on a nearby table. I pick up a map, a vegan guide to dc and head back inside the sanctuary. I’m really tired. Lying down with my earphones and radio, I discover the earphones have stopped working. I’m so annoyed. I won’t be able to keep up with the events, by listening to the Pacifica station here in Washington. Earlier during the tribunal proceedings I discover my digital camera is broken. Before that I realize some checks have bounced and my account is overdrawn. I pray to God, and Buddha and the Orishas (at this point which ever divinity isn’t busy) that I won’t have trouble accessing the other bank account with money in the savings. I’ve periodically forgotten my pin number for my bankcard. I pray that this won’t be the weekend. I could always use my fifty-dollar gift check, courtesy of my previous job. What kind of freelancer am I? My husband told me, don’t be afraid to use the credit card for whatever I need. You can’t buy anything at an Anti-War rally with a credit card! I hope whatever article I come up with will eventually produce a job.