On the historic day of May 1, 2015, I had the good fortune to be with Civil Rights legend Bob Zellner. In the early 1960's, Bob was arrested and tortured by police several times for leading peaceful Civil Rights demonstrations as the first white Southerner to serve as Field Secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Below is his written statement. Bob Zellner, May 1, 2015: Today is May Day, an international day of solidarity among working people. On this May Day, 2015, people will take away different things from the actions of the young State’s Attorney in Baltimore, Marilyn Mosby, charging six police officers with serious crimes including murder in the death of Freddie Gray. A few things occur to me as I reflect on my tears of a few minutes ago. One, that I cried with happiness that even the first step toward justice was accomplished with charges being levied. It says a lot that we have to celebrate such a rare thing. Another thought is that charges of murder would not have been filed without the intense national and world scrutiny. The notorious Baltimore police, forced to do a textbook investigation of some of their bad actors, were compelled to brand their fellow officers as criminals. The most important takeaway from this morning’s events, however is that the leadership of youth is so clearly seen and even welcomed. Baltimore’s 35-year-old prosecutor related to the Black Lives Matter movement and the new nationwide youth-led moral human rights movement by calling herself a fellow young person and thanking them for providing leadership. Majorities of whites and blacks say Marilyn Mosby made right decision in charging #Baltimore officers responsible for Freddie Gray's death PEW Research Center reports: "Overall, 65% say the decision by the state’s attorney to charge the officers was right, while 16% see it as the wrong decision; 18% do not offer an opinion. The question was asked May 1-3 among 798 adults. (Mosby announced the charges on May 1.)"Nearly eight-in-ten blacks (78%) and 60% of whites say the decision to bring charges was right. There are sharp partisan differences in these views: 75% of Democrats, 71% of independents and 45% of Republicans express positive views of the decision to charge the six officers." Fox News and Rush Limbaugh have been screaming the opposite, but the power of race-based propaganda is waning in the United States, even as its production levels climb to historic highs. Who would have predicted this 6 years ago during the cable news backlash against the results of the 2008 election?
I have just learned of a $2.45 million settlement between the City of Los Angeles and lawyers representing the nearly 300 people who were arrested at the Occupy Los Angeles protests during the 2 am hour of Nov. 30, 2011. I was one of them. I understand this means I may receive some money from the city. This would be a form of justice for two reasons: (1) the ordeal detailed below, and (2) Lord knows I've paid the City of LA enough money in parking tickets. This is the account I wrote a few days after my release from jail, with photos I shot with my phone. That first one — click to enlarge — was shot moments before I was arrested as a wall of militarized police marched toward me. Human beings do not soon forget encounters with law enforcement. Officers with lethal weapons empowered to take away your freedom are going to leave an impression, even on a routine traffic stop, and all the more so during incidents where there are thousands of confrontations and hundreds of arrests. During my detention following the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) raid on the Occupy LA camp at LA City Hall, I was charged with a crime (failure to disperse from an unlawful assembly) for the first time in my life. I came into contact with dozens of police officers, sheriffs deputies, and detention officers. Some left a positive impression on me; some not so positive. Most of my time in jail was spent talking to Occupy LA protesters and their supporters who, like me, got swept up in the November 29, 2011 raid. I had no intention of getting arrested. In fact, I took steps not to be arrested so that I could document the event from start to finish. As it turned out, I watched the police raid wind down from the LA County Sheriffs Department bus you see in a photo below, which I shot hours earlier with no idea I'd soon be locked inside it. Continue reading
We had a simple question when Eric Byler and I began our journey around the country with Story of America: Why have we become so divided as a nation and how can we become more united? As I watched the video of our interview with James Morgan of Bakersville, NC, a mining town in the Appalachian Mountains, I finally recognized what really propelled this journey. It wasn't some academic answer to my question; it was something deeply personal. Continue reading
Today a friend in the justice movement texted me these words: "Happy New Year. I'm depressed." In trying to offer some advice, I summarized the remarks quoted below, which had made me feel better about life. Continue reading
As you know, Story of America aims to create greater understanding and civil engagement on divisive issues. One of our goals for 2015 is to create better dialogue between communities and law enforcement. We were able to contribute to the dialogue in Prince William County through our critically acclaimed documentary project 9500 Liberty, the youtube series and the feature film. This is the trailer for the film. Continue reading