An unforgettable portrait of slavery

An unforgettable portrait of slavery

Alan Maass reviews a powerful movie about one of the greatest crimes in history.

November 13, 2013

Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup in 12 Years a SlaveChiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave

IT’S A rare film that’s so powerful you have a hard time getting out of your seat when it ends. Rarer still is a movie that has you staring into space days later, thinking about why you couldn’t move.

12 Years a Slave is that good.

The movie tells the true story of Solomon Northup, a Black man born free in New York state. In 1841, he was lured away from his family and life to Washington, D.C., where he was kidnapped, shipped by boat to New Orleans and sold into slavery.

Northup wasn’t the only victim of kidnappers operating in the North at this time, but he was almost unique in winning his freedom from slavery 12 years later. He managed to get word to his family, and a white attorney, whose father had once owned Northup’s father and freed him, traveled to Louisiana on the authority of the governor of New York to rescue him.

Northup’s account of this nightmare was published as a book in 1853 and became a best seller of its time. Like other “slave narratives,” it was used by the abolitionist movement to sharpen Northern opposition to the Southern slaveocracy.

Review:       Movies

12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen, screenplay by John Ridley from a story by Solomon Northup, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender.


In the film, director Steve McQueen doesn’t stray far from Solomon and his story. The closest the movie comes to referencing the wider political situation is a single camera shot: As Solomon, shackled in a basement dungeon in Washington after his kidnapping, begs for help through a barred window, the camera leaves him and moves upward over the building’s outside wall until it rises above the roof–and we see the Capitol building in the distance, a symbol of American democracy looming over a world of violence and suffering.

The general isolation from the wider world is part of the movie’s storytelling, though. For Solomon, anything beyond the hull of the ship carrying him south, beyond the walls of the New Orleans mansion where he is sold, beyond the walls of trees that surround the plantations–that outside world may as well not exist for all the good he can expect from it. The only certainties of his life are right in front of him: the humiliation of servitude, the deadening routine of endless menial labor, and sudden eruptions of violence.

Solomon is traded between masters. The first, a Baptist preacher, flatters himself that he cares about his slaves, or at least their immortal souls, but proves in the end to be more concerned about his social standing in the slaveocracy. The second is a sadistic monster who treats his cherished human “property” worse than animals.

Throughout the film, the violence of slavery isn’t caricatured or sensationalized, which makes it all the more horrific. But the movie also captures a more commonplace horror: the crushing of the spirit, what Frederick Douglass called “the ever-gnawing and soul-devouring thought–‘I am a slave, and a slave for life, a slave with no rational ground to hope for freedom’–[that] rendered me a living embodiment of mental and physical wretchedness.”

This is a testament to McQueen’s skill as a filmmaker, but also to actor Chiwetel Ejiofor and the rest of the amazing cast. As Solomon, Ejiofor brings to life the different sides of his character: incomprehension and fury at his capture; heartbreak over the barbarism committed all around him; satisfaction in finding ways to utilize his mind and talents, even if they benefit those who own him; despair that he may never be free; anguish at the horrific acts he must participate in to stay alive.

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STEVE McQUEEN has made two previous feature films, but he also has a background as a visual artist, exhibiting in art galleries rather than theaters. This experience shows through in the film’s stunning visual images.

For example, Solomon at one point gains unexpected hope with the appearance of a white laborer working and living alongside the slaves, who Solomon pays–with the tiny sum he has earned as a musician–to mail a letter to his family in the North. But Solomon is betrayed and must burn the letter he has written on stolen paper, using a handmade quill and improvised ink.

When he sets fire to it in the dead of night, Solomon’s despair is written on his face–but that’s followed by the image of the letter consumed by flames, gradually turning to glowing red embers, then to spidery veins of darker red that flicker out, bit by bit, until the screen is left in total darkness. All McQueen has done is leave the camera running on a piece of burning paper after other directors would have turned it off–but the symbol of hopelessness is as powerful as the most graphic scenes of violence.

Likewise, McQueen shows the twisted dynamics of the slaveocracy’s terrorist regime in a single extended sequence of an attempted lynching.

Solomon has responded to a white carpenter’s provocations by beating him with his own whip. The carpenter returns with other whites to lynch Solomon from a tree in front of the circle of slave cabins. But the plantation’s overseer intervenes, on the grounds that killing Solomon would be “theft” of the owner’s “property.” The overseer cuts Solomon down–but leaves him still dangling from the tree limb, barely able to stay on his toes to keep from suffocating.

At first, all we see is Solomon, struggling to stay alive. Then, in a sequence of shots from a greater and greater distance, the life of the plantation quietly resumes around him. Slaves head toward the fields; children play. One slave edges up to Solomon and gives him a sip of water to keep him alive. In the next shot, we see that the overseer has witnessed this apparent act of mercy–he wants Solomon to survive, but also to teach him a lesson. Then, watching from the veranda, the plantation owner’s wife contemplates Solomon’s struggle to keep from strangling to death, before she, too, turns away.

So many characteristics of the depraved system of Southern slavery are captured wordlessly in this sequence–the condition of the slave, continually assaulted, but kept alive enough to work; terrorist violence to make an example of a rebel so others don’t join the rebellion; the savage crime of slavery hidden in plain sight at the center of supposedly genteel Southern life.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THE POWER of this movie comes from understanding that Solomon’s experience of barbarism and dehumanization was the same for millions of Blacks who endured slavery. But that power is greater still if you bear in mind some of the historical accidents that made Solomon’s story unique.

The opening scenes of the movie show Solomon as a respected citizen of Saratoga, N.Y.–the shopkeeper who will eventually travel to Louisiana to rescue him treats him as a friend and equal. But this shopkeeper would have been in a minority among Northern whites in 1841. The radical phase of the abolitionist movement was only just getting underway, and the majority of white working people viewed free Blacks as competition–their hostility was still confined, as W.E.B. Du Bois put it, to the slave power of the South, rather than the institution of slavery.

Even more unique are the circumstances of Solomon’s rescue. He is finally able to send word north to his family after he meets a Canadian laborer hired to build a gazebo for the plantation. The Canadian not only holds abolitionist opinions, but has the courage to argue with the plantation’s tyrant of an owner.

This character is true to Northup’s account in his 1853 book, but he would have been a very rare exception in the South of this era.

In the early 19th century, as the production of cotton became central to the world economy–it was the raw material that spurred on the Industrial Revolution in Europe–the labor system of slavery necessary for mass production of cotton became completely entrenched. The richest slave owners developed the terrorist system depicted in the film to crush the threat of slave rebellions. Simultaneously, any whites who opposed slavery were faced with the choice of living with the threat of deadly violence or fleeing for the North or West.

Thus, for Solomon to find an anti-slavery sympathizer in the South of the 1850s to get word to his family was a one-in-a-million shot. This leads to the final agony of Solomon’s 12 years as a slave: Even as he is finally rescued, he understands that he can’t help those who suffered alongside him.

McQueen dramatizes this realization with another unforgettable image: As Solomon sits in the back of a wagon that carries him off the plantation and toward freedom, we see his fellow slaves behind him, looking on from the increasing distance. Then, while Solomon’s face remains clear, the background goes out of focus, and the life he is leaving becomes an indistinct blur. McQueen’s trick of cinematography is a visual symbol of the last terrible truth for Solomon: The price of his liberation is to accept that he, by himself at least, cannot help even one other slave to freedom.

12 Years a Slave is a gut-wrenching movie, but it becomes even more so when you remember this: If not for an unlikely chain of coincidence and pure luck, Solomon Northup would have died unknown, his story buried with his slave name in a plantation graveyard in Louisiana.

In that sense, the movie pays its greatest tribute to the millions of men, women and children who spent not 12 years, but their whole lives, a slave–enduring one of the most terrible crimes of history.



prisondying Photo:

Dying inmates in NY struggle to get home    

        by Natasha Haverty, in Coxsackie, NY   

            SOME LINES:

Nov 07, 2013 — This year, North Country Public Radio has been looking in-depth at the growth of the prison industry here in our region, across New York and around the country.
Over the last four decades, we’ve seen the number of men and women behind bars soar–many serving long mandatory sentences for low-level crimes.
And one side-effect of those tough-on-crime policies today is that the number of elderly inmates is surging–growing by almost eighty percent from 2000 through 2009.
Prison officials across the US are struggling to sort out what that means, how we think about and care for inmates who grow old and die in our prisons. 
In part one of our investigative report, Natasha Haverty found that despite recent reforms to the system, many terminally ill inmates are forced to remain behind bars even when they no longer appear to be a threat to society. Even some prison officials think the process for allowing inmates to die at home needs fixing.           

When I met Daryl Bidding in his room, the first thing I noticed was how small he looked, lying there in his bed.

“I’m a pretty strong willed person. You know, I don’t want to believe I’m going to die. I don’t want to believe I’m going to pass away. I want to be strong.”

Earlier this year, Daryl turned 58. He was sent to Coxsackie, one of New York’s maximum-security prisons, on a drug possession charge. 

Eleven days after he arrived, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

“I feel like my insides are going to burst,” he said. “I feel like this thing’s gonna bust. It feels like the size of a grapefruit or something. It’s hot. It gets hot. And it’s agonizing because it’s not going away.”

From the moment doctors told Daryl there was nothing they could do for the tumor on his liver, his family starting working to get him out of prison and back home…..

Read and hear more:

“In final days, inmates care for inmates”

In final days, inmates care for inmates    

        by Natasha Haverty, in Coxsackie, NY   
Nov 08, 2013 — Yesterday as part our Prison Time Media Project we heard the story of an inmate at Coxsackie prison, who fought to get home after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
It’s a growing issue for America‘s huge prison system, as more inmates than ever are aging and dying behind bars.
Here in New York, hundreds of sick and dying inmates navigate the compassionate release system every year, but very few actually make it out of prison.
And for those inmates who die behind bars, prison officials offer them hospice care. As Natasha Haverty reports, those men and women are supported and comforted in their final days by fellow inmates.           

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Natasha Haverty
Reporter and Producer


Thomas Woodbury was in the cafeteria at Coxsackie Prison one day when an inmate pulled him aside and told him about hospice.

“It’s shocking man, because you don’t think that people are over here in the prison system on their deathbed.“

Woodbury says the inmate told him he had the right personality to be a hospice aide. Woodbury is 23, from Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, and is here for drug and weapons possession. He says where he came from going to prison seemed normal but at first the idea of sitting with people on their deathbeds sounded crazy “But, now,” he says, “I appreciate every day that I get. I appreciate it to the fullest. Because I see these guys, some of these guys dying in their thirties, forties. And I really would not want it to be me.”

This is Coxsackie’s medical unit. The walls are cinderblock; there’s a strong smell of ammonia.

When inmates get sick at Coxsackie, this is where they’re sent. When they find out they’re dying, prison officials offer them the option of hospice care.

“The most part is you try to comfort him,” Woodbury says. “You might rub his back, hold his hand, read to him. Just things like that. “ 


Woodbury, and every man who applies to become a hospice aide, has to go through a rigorous interview process, and then train for six weeks with a prison chaplain and nurses on the ward. They learn about the medical realities of death. And inmate aides like Patrick Ayrey learn their place in the dying process: 


“First and foremost we gotta show compassion, we’re just there to be their friend. We write letters for them if they need that, if they want us to cook for em we cook for him, if they want to play cards we play cards, if they just want to sit there we shut our mouths and sit there. I’ve held a man’s hand for 7 hours while cried in pain. That’s what he needed and that’s what I did for him.” 

Ayrey doesn’t look like a hand holder. He says he’s been in and out of prison most of his life—this time on a burglary conviction.

In there you’re not the one that’s vulnerable, they are.


As he talks about his work as a hospice aide he furrows his red eyebrows sits low in his chair. He says it’s not always easy to square who he is in the prison’s general population with who he is here in the sick room.

“I don’t know, in the yard you gotta put up a mask, you gotta put up a persona, you’re a tough guy you don’t want nobody messing with you,” Ayrey says. “It’s just different. In there you’re not the one that’s vulnerable, they are.”

Ayrey comes from Rome, New York. He first went to prison when he was 17. Like Woodbury, he says sitting with men through their last days, helping them die in peace, has changed the way he thinks about his own life.

“I’ve never done anything like this in my life; I’ve never put anything ahead of me before. It’s always been me first, and everything will fall into place. And that type of attitude is what let me to do fifteen years in prison and I don’t want to do it anymore. I want to spend as much time as I can with my family and I knew if I didn’t start doing something positive I’d spend the rest of my life in here. And I don’t want to do that.”

The truth is, hospice isn’t the first choice for a lot of dying inmates. A lot of these men just want to go home and spend their last days with their family. 

The U.S. criminal justice population is aging at a significantly more rapid rate than the overall U.S. population. Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau.

The U.S. criminal justice population is aging at a significantly more rapid rate than the overall U.S. population. Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau.

But for the vast majority of inmates—even those with weeks or months to live, the prison’s strict rules for compassionate release make that impossible. 


And some dying inmates have lost contact with their wives or parents; just getting a visit can mean a long struggle with the prison administration. 

Aldo Diaz, another inmate hospice aide, says his crew becomes the next best thing to family. “You just want to be there for them,” Diaz says. “They are expecting you to be there.”

Diaz is 34, originally from Puerto Rico. He’s a compact guy, and looks young for his age. 

“In 2009 my father passed away. So I was not able to be there for my father when he was in the hospital and he needed my help. So I was like, this is something I have to do because I’m gonna give back; what I didn’t do for my father, I could do for somebody else that’s here. “ 

A lot of the men working here in hospice tell the same story, of not being able to be there for a dying father or mother, and then having to keep their grief to themselves. 

Coxsackie is a harsh place; it’s one of New York’s maximum-security prisons. Here, compassion and warmth aren’t high on the list of necessary survival skills. 

Like the other hospice aides, Diaz says his work here turns a lot of the unspoken social rules of prison on their head.

“You know, I feel like the hand touch is so much important. You don’t get that. You’re in prison nobody likes to be touched. If I’m standing in the line, somebody touch me I’ll be like, you know what I’m saying, dude why did you just touch me, you know? But here in a hospice environment these guys trust you. Like I remember this one guy he was a real thugged out really bad dude. He was so sick he couldn’t tie his shoes. So, I used to like, put lotions in his legs. Put lotions in his feet. Combing his hair.”

Moments like that are exactly what these guys say they’re here for. Moments of human contact, companionship, making them feel as comfortable as possible. Victor Turturro is serving time for a second-degree murder charge. 

“There’s a lot of appreciation with a prisoner sits with another prisoner, you know,” Turturro says. “You try to encourage them to try and put on a pair of tight socks for their circulation and stuff like that. And when they see that you actually care, it makes ‘em feel good.”

Some of the fellow hospice aides at Coxsackie are here for lower level crimes, with sentences that will have them back on the street while they’re still in their thirties or forties. But Turturro is here on a murder charge. He’s one of the men facing the very real possibility that he could live out the rest of his life right here.

“I hope if I’m ever in that situation somebody’s there for me. And that I’m not alone. I came in with twenty to life, and there’s that possibility that I won’t go home,  but you know if not? I’m hoping this program’s around for me.” 

Support for the Prison Time Media Project is provided by the Prospect Hill Foundation, the David Rockefeller Fund, and the NY Council for the Humanities. Special assistance provided by the Adirondack Foundation. Hear more from the series at 

America Has More Prisoners Than High School Teachers

US correctional population timeline-zh-hans
US correctional population timeline-zh-hans (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Prisoners marching to dinner, Leavenworth
Prisoners marching to dinner, Leavenworth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

America Has More Prisoners Than High School Teachers

If sitting in a prison cell was a job, it would be one of the most common jobs in the United States. In 2012, there were some 1,570,000 inmates in state and federal prisons in the U.S., according to data from the Justice Department.

By contrast, there were about 1,530,000 engineers in America last year, 815,000 construction workers, and 1 million high school teachers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There were also 750,000 car technicians.

That’s what Anthony Papa was in the early ’80s, before he agreed to deliver 4.5 ounces of cocaine for someone who turned out to be an undercover cop.

Papa was arrested in 1984 and served 12 years in a New York State prison. Like many critics of the prison system, he now speaks out against mandatory minimum sentencing laws, which require judges and prosecutors to sentence defendants to prison for fixed amounts of time. If not for these laws, Papa might have spent less time in prison, and more time installing car radios and alarms while paying his taxes and providing for his family.  “I could have been a contributing, taxpaying citizen, instead of being a costly burden on society,” he said recently.

To be clear, some occupations are much bigger than the prison population: More than 4 million Americans worked in retail sales last year, and more than 6 million served food and drinks. Still, the Justice Department’s prison number doesn’t include inmates who are incarcerated in county or city jails. That number is hard to come by, since counties and cities keep their own records and don’t report to a central authority.

A few years ago, even more people were locked up. But states around the country have begun pulling back from the sentencing policies that characterized the war on drugs, and the prison population has declined by about 45,000 inmates from its peak in 2009, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Even so, there are nearly five times as many people in prison as there were in 1980, when the drug war was just getting underway.  “Nearly half of the inmates filling our federal prisons are incarcerated for drug offenses,” Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) said in a statement last week.

Labrador and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) recently teamed up to introduce the latest legislation aimed at reforming the country’s sentencing laws, joining Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and others from both sides of the partisan divide.

“Granting federal judges more discretion in sentencing for nonviolent drug offenses is the right thing to do,” Scott said in a statement. “Studies of mandatory minimums conclude that they fail to reduce crime, they waste the taxpayers’ money, and they often require the imposition of sentences that violate common sense.”…

“I spent more than five years of my sentence in “the box” for trivial violations.

Solitary confinement’s invisible scars

I spent more than five years of my sentence in ‘the box’, for trivial violations. It’s time we saw this casual abuse for what it is: torture

As kids, many of us imagine having superpowers. An avid comic book reader, I often imagined being invisible. I never thought I would actually experience it, but I did.

It wasn’t in a parallel universe – although it often felt that way – but right here in the Empire State, my home. While serving time in New York‘s prisons, I spent 2,054 days in solitary and other forms of isolated confinement, out of sight and invisible to other human beings – and eventually, even to myself.

After only a short time in solitary, I felt all of my senses begin to diminish. There was nothing to see but gray walls. In New York’s so-called special housing units, or SHUs, most cells have solid steel doors, and many do not have windows. You cannot even tape up pictures or photographs; they must be kept in an envelope. To fight the blankness, I counted bricks and measured the walls. I stared obsessively at the bolts on the door to my cell.

There was nothing to hear except empty, echoing voices from other parts of the prison. I was so lonely that I hallucinated words coming out of the wind. They sounded like whispers. Sometimes, I smelled the paint on the wall, but more often, I just smelled myself, revolted by my own scent.

There was no touch. My food was pushed through a slot. Doors were activated by buzzers, even the one that led to a literal cage directly outside of my cell for one hour per day of “recreation”.

Even time had no meaning in the SHU. The lights were kept on for 24 hours. I often found myself wondering if an event I was recollecting had happened that morning or days before. I talked to myself. I began to get scared that the guards would come in and kill me and leave me hanging in the cell. Who would know if something happened to me? Just as I was invisible, so was the space I inhabited.

The very essence of life, I came to learn during those seemingly endless days, is human contact, and the affirmation of existence that comes with it. Losing that contact, you lose your sense of identity. You become nothing.

Everyone knows that prison is supposed to take away your freedom. But solitary doesn’t just confine your body; it kills your soul.

Yet neither a judge nor a jury of my peers handed down this sentence to me. Each of the tormented 23 hours per day that I spent in a bathroom-sized room, without any contact with the outside world, was determined by prison staff.

Anyone lacking familiarity with our state prison system would probably guess I must have been a pretty scary, out-of-control prisoner. But I never committed one act of violence during my entire sentence. Instead, a series of “tickets”, or disciplinary write-ups for prison rule violations, were punished with a total of more than five years in “the box”.

In New York, guards give out tickets like penny candy. During my nine years in prison, I received an endless stream of tickets, each one more absurd than the last. When I tried to use artwork to stay sane, I was ticketed for having too many pencils. Another time, I had too many postage stamps.

One day, I ate an entire apple – including the core – because I was starving for lack of nutrition. I received a ticket for eating the core, since apple seeds contain arsenic, as spelled out in the prison handbook. The next time I received an apple, fearful of another ticket, I simply left it on the tray. I received a ticket for “refusing to eat”.

For the five years I spent in the box, I received insulin shots for my diabetes by extending my arm through the food slot in the cell’s door. (“Therapy” for prisoners with mental illness is often conducted this way, as well.) One day, the person who gave me the shot yanked roughly on my arm through the small opening and I instinctively pulled back. This earned me another ticket for “refusing medical attention”, adding additional time to my solitary sentence.

My case is far from unusual. A 2012 study by the New York Civil Liberties Union found that five out of six of the 13,000 SHU sentences handed out each year are for nonviolent misbehavior, rather than violent acts. This brutal approach to discipline means that New York isolates its prisoners at rates well above the national average.

On any given day, some 4,300 men, women, and children are in isolated confinement in the state, many for months or years. Those with more serious prison offenses have been held in solitary for 20 years or more.

Using this form of punishment is particularly absurd for minor rule infractions. But in truth, no one should be subjected to the kind of extreme isolation that is practiced in New York’s prisons today. I have no doubt that what is going on in prisons all over our state is torture. Many national and international human rights groups – including UN special rapporteur on torture Juan E Méndez – concur. Yet it continues, unseen and largely ignored by the public.

The scars that isolated confinement leaves behind may be invisible, too, but they are no less painful or permanent than physical scars. Even now that I am out of prison, I suffer major psychological consequences from those years in isolation.

I know that I have irreparable memory damage. I can hardly sleep. I have a short temper. I do not like people to touch me. I cannot listen to music or watch television or sports. I am only beginning to recover my ability to talk on the phone. I no longer feel connected to people.

Even though I am a free man now, I often feel as though I remain invisible, going through the motions of life. Feeling tormented by a punishment that has ended is a strange and unnerving anguish. But there are thousands like me, and until New Yorkers choose to bear witness to the soul-destroying torture taking place in their own backyards, our suffering, too, will remain invisible.


On Soul-Killing Solitary | Common Dreams


On Soul-Killing Solitary | Common Dreams.

10.31.13 – 2:56 PM

On Soul-Killing Solitary

by Abby Zimet

Belatedly, inadequately, the issue of solitary confinement has been seeping into the news – with the Pelican Bay hunger strikes, the story of Henry Wallace and the Angola Three, the willingness of the U.N. to declare such long-term isolation – from time, touch, speech, light, all human contact – torture, and legislative attempts to curb it.

More searing testimony from Five Omar Mualimm-ak, a prison reform  activist who served almost 12 years in prison, over five of them in solitary, “out of sight and invisible to other human beings – and eventually, even to myself,” for “offenses” like having too many postage stamps, eating all an apple, or not eating enough – “refusing to eat.”

“Yet neither a judge nor a jury of my peers handed down this sentence to me. Each of the tormented 23 hours per day that I spent in a bathroom-sized room, without any contact with the outside world, was determined by prison staff…

I never committed one act of violence during my entire sentence. Instead, a series of “tickets”, or disciplinary write-ups for prison rule violations, were punished with a total of more than five years in “the box”.

In New York, guards give out tickets like penny candy… I received an endless stream of tickets, each one more absurd than the last….One day, I ate an entire apple – including the core – because

I was starving for lack of nutrition. I received a ticket for eating the core, since apple seeds contain arsenic, as spelled out in the prison handbook. The next time I received an apple, fearful of another ticket, I simply left it on the tray. I received a ticket for “refusing to eat.”

Shopping While Black Can Lead to Arrest in New York City

Shopping While Black Can Lead to Arrest in New York  City

Shopping While Black Can Lead to Arrest in New York City

Add “buying pricey stuff” to the list of things New York City cops punish  blacks for doing.

In two separate incidents, black Barneys shoppers were stopped by police and  grilled about the source of the money they spent at the expensive store. The  cops seemed to believe that black people couldn’t afford to shop at Barneys and  must have committed fraud to do so.

The first victim was Kayla Phillips, a 21-year-old who put her  tax refund to use at the end of February to buy a $2,500 orange suede purse from  Barneys. “I had been looking for that purse in that color for a long time, and  it was always out of stock,” she said. When she found it she snapped it up,  paying with a debit card.

Four plainclothes cops (four?!!) stalked her to a subway station where they  publicly humiliated her, interrogating her for 20 minutes. “Two of them  attacked me and pushed me against a wall, and the other two appeared in front of  me, blocking the turnstile,” Phillips, who was pregnant at the time, remembers.  She said they were “very rough.”

Next up was Trayon Christian, who bought a $349  Ferragamo belt he had long coveted. Christian, 19, is an engineering student  with a job. When he got his paycheck at the end of last April he went to buy the  reversible, silver-buckled belt. He used his own debit card, and, when the  Barneys clerk asked him to show ID, he did.

He hadn’t gotten far from the store — about a block — when two undercover New  York City police detectives stopped him and accused him of using a fake debit  card. Christian told The New York Daily News that  the “detectives were asking me, ‘How could you afford a belt like this?  Where did you get this money from?’”

Christian says the cops handcuffed him, took him to a police station, and  left him in a holding cell for two hours. When they finally let him go, they  apologized.

Disgusted with Barneys, Christian returned his belt. “I’m not shopping there  again,” he said. “It’s racist.” The police who arrested him said that Barneys  had alerted them about Christian’s purchase. A store security guard told  Phillips’ mother that undercover cops routinely patrol inside the store to watch  for fraudulent purchases, which happen there about once a week. Barneys denies  involvement in the harassment of its black customers.

Christian and Phillips are both suing the city and Barneys.

The $349 belt and the $2,500 purse — and indeed anything Barney sells — stand  for something. In our materialistic culture, owning objects is seen as proof of  merit, whether by talent, intelligence, diligence or good looks. Barneys quotes  Sarah Jessica Parker on its website: “If you’re a nice person and you  work hard, you get to go shopping at Barneys. It’s the decadent reward.”

Punishing shoppers for buying things and doubting their ability to afford the  items is a way of saying those people don’t deserve their purchases.

By stopping, harassing and arresting black people who spend money, the city  is policing both racial divides and social class distinctions. An exclusive  designer purse is a status symbol that tells the world, “I have money!” It seems  that, when the person carrying the bag is black, New York’s police department  either doesn’t believe that message, or wishes it weren’t true. Staking out  Barneys is a way to limit conspicuous consumption by blacks and reinforce the  idea that they haven’t earned the right to own expensive things.

These cops have the potential to make the upcoming holiday shopping frenzy  even more unpleasant than usual.

Please sign our petition urging the NYPD to stop the unacceptable  practice of racial profiling.

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Pushed Out by Penthouses: The Gentrification of Downtown Brooklyn

English: Graffiti created by Yoshitomo Nara at...
English: Graffiti created by Yoshitomo Nara at Niagara Bar, 112 Ave. A, New York, NY, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Creative Time Reports

Pushed Out by Penthouses: The Gentrification of Downtown Brooklyn

October 21, 2013

This episode of Forms of Life, with Kelly Anderson, is part of Creative Time Reports’  Summit Series, which features articles related to the theme of the 2013 Creative Time Summit: Art, Place & Dislocation in the 21st Century City (which can be viewed via Livestream on October 25

Please, watch & hear this:

NY Senate passes bill making `annoying` police a crime

Frank J. Gardner, Member of New York state sen...
Frank J. Gardner, Member of New York state senate (1905-06) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Patrick Henry McCarren, member of New York sta...
Patrick Henry McCarren, member of New York state assembly, member of New York state senate (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Untouchables: NY Senate passes bill making ‘annoying’ police a crime — RT USA
by up2xxi
See on – up2-21

The New York State Senate passed a controversial bill on Wednesday that aims to classify ‘aggravated harassment of a police officer’ as a crime, but will it give the authorities the green light for strong-arm tactics if passed?

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Circle of Hope: Food for Thought by Robert Fisher Pa, DR

Scooped by Circle of Hope!
Food For Thought Part 45, by Robert Fisher Pa, Death Row
Circle of Hope’s insight:

Food for Thought Part 45


(A Flawed and Unjust System)


          For a country that is dead set in a system of mass incarceration, putting more of their citizens in prison than any other country in the world, there needs to be an extreme overhaul of a broken judicial system.

          The Death Penalty, life without the possibility of parole and other excessive mandatory sentences are not only causing the defendant to die in these prisons, but are killing families that are connected. The sad and scary part about it is that many of those convicted of these crimes are innocent. Hundreds of innocent people have been exonerated through DNA testing, many after spending decades behind bars, often family members dying during the process of their unlawful incarceration.

          Innocent people are dying in these prisons on a daily basis because most of us don’t have DNA as an issue to prove the injustice. Remember even those that were exonerated by DNA went through the same process, court procedure, witnesses, etc, in this so – called best judicial system in the world, but were still convicted. So this so called best judicial system, isn’t so great after all.

          A while back the “National Academy of Sciences” concluded that comparative bullet lead analysis and arson testing were no longer reliable, basically saying it didn’t pass scientific mustard. Now, recently they’ve reported fingerprint comparison hair and fibre and handwriting analysis are all unreliable. The only scientific test that still survives is DNA testing, So for decades, F.B.I agents have been paraded before juries all across America, misleading and persuading them to convict defendants, contributing to this mass incarceration with cold blooded junk science. Why isn’t there any outrage? One of the reasons there isn’t any outrage is because the majority of the people incarcerated and dying in state and federal prisons are poor whites and people of color. These are the people our government feels are expendable.

          This country is still infested with an awful lot of hate and prejudice, Do you think racial profiling is an accident? Do you think the big shots continue to allow and justify “Stop and Frisk” Police tactics in New York and other major cities that target Blacks and other minorities is an accident? Do you think the Klan and other hate groups haven’t infiltrated the ranks of our police forces, prison and judicial system? Why do you think the infamous “Stand Your Ground” laws are readily available when a Black gets shot, but somehow unavailable when a Black Mother earlier the year in 2011 tried to protect herself from an abusive husband, down in Florida, not far from the Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin incident, Why wasn’t she allowed to use it, they sentenced her to 20 years.

          Keeping it real, this racial profiling isn’t ever going to stop! Even if they pass laws saying it’s illegal, they will still do it and find ways to justify their actions, just like they do when they exclude Blacks from the juries. They come up with other reasons to get around the laws and continue the same evil an unjust practice.

         They even got Black leaders, psychological consulter’s, etc. talking to parents, about teaching our kids to not appear suspicious and to be respectful to the police when stopped, Telling them not to make any sudden moves when confronted. Hold up a minute!!! All of that sounds real good and probably would be helpful if those police were actually trying to do their jobs and there wasn’t any hidden agenda. If there weren’t so many that have infiltrated from one of those hate groups or had that “us against them mentality” etc, etc, Black children shouldn’t have to act any different than any other race, It’s not the children that have to change the way they act, it’s the police and all the people co signing their actions.

          The average Joe citizen needs to make this happen, One of the ways to make this change is to get out and vote! I can’t stress enough the importance of voting, especially when the extreme right are definitely going to vote and you can bet your bottom dollar, their vote will be for another extreme right wing clown and things will go from bad to worse, I con go one and on about this but I wont.

To be continued The Struggle continues

by Robert Fisher

(mailing address)

Robert Fisher AS-1738
175 Progress Drive.
PA 15370