Category Archives: newark nj

Furtive Movements

The Precision Afrikan, very dark and furtive, doing furtive movements like squatting in an empty room and chewing, indeed chomping, into the innocent white flesh of an apple. Filthy delinquent.

I have wondered about the criteria for NYC’s (and other cities’) stop and frisk policies for some time now, namely that of “furtive movements.” I have been a black man in NJ and NYC for 28 years now. I have been stopped and questioned in NJ once, stopped and frisked there once, and stopped, frisked and arrested in NYC once, that one for riding a bike in the street, all charges dropped of course. All of this happened in the period from my mid-teens to my very early twenties, the early 2000s, and none recently. All of it happened while just walking or standing around somewhere, or in the Manhattan case, bike riding, not on the sidewalk or anything, nor in the opposite direction of traffic. 100% law-abiding casual activities. But I know very few young or older black men in my circle who haven’t had such an experience, as law-abiding, peaceful citizens doing ordinary things in their everyday travels. Neither I nor any of these men have ever been engaged in Uncle Sam’s work of poisoning our community with narcotics, have never engaged in highway robbery nor attempted knocking over a bank, have never abused women nor anyone else sexually, nor perpetrated any other proper statutory crime. Yet we all walk around as suspects automatically as a result of our existential condition as black men inhabiting North America.

The wiktionary defines “furtive” as stealthy or exhibiting guilty or evasive secrecy. The NYPD will initiate a stop and frisk on the basis of, among other justifications, “furtive movements,” which is my favorite. The NYPD has stopped and frisked 4 million New Yorkers since 2004, and about 690,000 in 2011 alone, 85 percent of those stopped and frisked black or latino, the vast majority young men. Only 9 percent of these stops yield arrests, those often for past warrants for minor crimes, along with a very modest number of discoveries of narcotics and even less weapons (read a good Village Voice article on the matter here). So stop and frisk evidently has nothing to do with crime, and everything to do with intimidation of an entire population which the city, the Bloomberg administration anyway, does not want around – young black and brown men like myself.

We can also safely draw the conclusion from the evidence presented that all movements by black men are furtive. Notice the picture above, wherein the Precision Afrikan chews an apple. How furtive! How dare he! What is he hiding? Why is he being so sneaky, squatting in the corner, darkly and rudely, slinking around with mysterious and ominous intentions? He must be about to sell crack cocaine while raping a baby. The image says it all.

If you’re young, black and male and you’re brushing your teeth, you’re guilty. If you’re young, black and male and you’re scratching your nose while reading a newspaper on a bench in Prospect Park, you obviously just flooded the hood with heroin laced with gun powder. If you’re black, young and male and you’re taking a walk, we all know you just molested a toddler before mugging a tourist. And if you’re black, young and male and you’re taking a jog around the neighborhood, you definitely just killed five white people.

Everything we do, by the mysterious, snaky gesticulations of our lanky black limbs, by the odious shifting of our dark eyes, is obviously suggestive of evil intent. Yes, this must be why this happens to us. Existentially, black youth is elementally married to the characteristic of furtiveness. Even the most mundane thing we could possibly do has the flavor of villainy. At least to cops.

That’s why they’re also very quick to kill young black men, even in their own homes, like the teenager Ramarley Graham earlier this month in the Bronx, who was unarmed and assassinated by the cops in his own bathroom in front of his little brother and grandmother. This sort of police terrorism happens ever so frequently and consistently. With us, any commitment to apply constitutional considerations or restraint of force flies out of the window. The “war on drugs” and “tough on crime” policies are primarily about containing and terrorizing youth of color and ruining our lives, not crime prevention or improving our quality of life, not in the least. The police truly work us and our communities like an occupying army.

I go to school at Columbia University Medical Center in Washington Heights; most afternoons during lunch break I take a walk around the hood, around the Heights and Harlem. And whenever I see the cops, I admit, I hate them. I often feel like wearing this black skin and being a young man is something akin to wearing a yellow star of david in Hitler’s Europe – not precisely like that, but not too far either. The prison-industrial complex, a beneficiary of society’s willful failure to provide a future for youth of color, a beneficiary of the insane war on drugs, and a beneficiary of the criminalization of people who look like me, is literally eating black men alive by the hundreds of thousands in this country. This is how a vile colonial relationship with imperial power works, with mass incarceration of subject populations. This is how a caste system works, where it is assumed that a young black or brown man is a lesser being and a morally depraved being, a convenient conclusion to those who profit from our oppression and destruction.

So is it so far fetched to assume, based on how society shallowly and dishonestly draws its racist conclusions, that when they see me eating that apple, they see rage and dark intentions, solely because I’m a black man?

Naked villainy.

How many other brothers out there, particularly up here in NYC, or in Newark, Philly, DC or wherever, feel me on this? That we are almost made to internalize our own supposed guilt about something, so that we learn somehow to move in “less threatening” ways? I just move however I want, personally, and stare down the cops, cursing under my breath, and watching them close, the same way they do me.

Discuss. More importantly, organize and resist. As Dead Prez said, it’s war.

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Notes of a Militant Pedestrian

I wish all of the inhabitable world and all its streets were safely and comfortably navigable on foot. Even in the close-in suburb of New York City where I live, this is far from the case. It is as car-centric as American cities come. Yet I defiantly take to the streets in nothing but my old worn sneakers most of the time. I ride a bike and take the train to work/ school as well, but the vast majority of my movement around the world occurs on foot for me, and it occurs often, year round and with pleasure.

Of course around here I am a highly visible oddball for it, the only chronic African pedestrian in this Asian-American city without enough sidewalks for one man, let alone the 100,000 that live in this town. I know that on many of the routes I take, on minor sidewalk-less arterials paved too narrowly for the comfort of most through the woods and under railroads, most people would not choose to walk. It takes straight boldness to do it, since I don’t think I’m more courageous than anyone. But boldness should not be the prerequisite for living as if one’s community were built to human scale. In fact, take away the unfriendly roads and my town would appear to function at human scale – train station with express service to Manhattan, numerous produce stores, grocers, a major shopping mall, schools and more are all within 1-3 miles of my crib. If the streets were “complete streets” (sidewalks, crosswalks, traffic calming engineering, bike infrastructure and so on), it wouldn’t be only the bold that walked them regularly.

Seasons don’t change this condition of the streets and the local civilization’s transit patterns. To the die-hard pedestrian who lives standing up on his or her feet no matter what, human beings are hard to find in the streets of my town come summer or winter alike, but cars are always everywhere. I sometimes forget that human beings are even in those cars, in part because they are so rudely and aggressively operated. My conviction is that even the streets of my car-centric town are meant to move humans, whether they be on foot, on bicycles, in cars or buses. This means I don’t blink when the drivers honk at me for walking on the side of the road. At choke points where cars, cyclists and pedestrians have to share a narrow lane under a bridge, I don’t run when the motorists honk or speed by dangerously. I make them slow down like they’re supposed to. I don’t run in crosswalks either. It’s the law in New Jersey to stop “and stay stopped” as a motorist seeing pedestrians crossing streets. In fact I usually slow down to make sure the motorist knows he or she can’t intimidate me. I am always engaged in this sort of spiritual combat, testing the wills of impatient motorists and quietly thanking the ones that still have a sense of decency and humanity.

I am obviously of the opinion that automobile reliance is rather dehumanizing, both to the motorist who fails to realize that he or she is at some point also a pedestrian, and to the pedestrian who is often forced to move with trepidation and paranoia. But I do challenge myself to acknowledge and remember the humanity of drivers. It is not easy. I only wish that more motorists remembered that pedestrians are dignified humans with their own right to the safety and their few feet of breathing room on the road. We’re all human beings here.

Perhaps, until “complete streets” are unveiled everywhere, driver’s ed lessons should stress slowness. Slowness must become a virtue for prospective motorists, and motorists must be drilled and drilled with the notion that the road is for all human beings. It is not only for those operating the heavy, speeding, polluting and overly-deployed, overly-relied upon heavy machinery embodied in automobiles.

People would do well to rely more on their own bodies for transportation, simply because it’s natural. Am I living more like an ancient paleo-human just because I do this in this car-centric North-American wasteland? To admit as much would be amazingly silly – I’m just an ordinary man and far from a primitivist. But it seems like radicalism to be the hardcore pedestrian that I am. I embrace the radicalism – people always tell me they saw me walking here or there around town. But it shouldn’t be just the special eccentric character that some people take me for who walks a lot. And it shouldn’t require an exercise in boldness or radicalism to be hyper-mobile on foot.

My train station is a mere mile away from my home – 15 minutes on foot at a healthy pace. I would never think of doing anything but walking or biking there, and I’ve had that mindset as long as I’ve lived around here. But to many folks around here, including folks I live with, that’s an unwalkable distance. That’s partly a result of the unpleasantness of sidewalk-less roads and highways one might take to get there from here (unless one knows the shortcuts through the woods and neighborhoods), but I think the conceptualization of acceptable walkable distances is pretty warped out here. In high school I ditched the school-bus so I could walk the two+ miles to get there – loved every minute of it. My concepts were already broad enough to embrace walking around several miles every day even back then. If I could have that mindset as a young teenager, it can’t be impossible for others. I think that the culture at large would do well to begin to condition itself that it’s okay to walk a mile or two and it is a healthy and pleasurable discipline to give oneself the extra time to do it.

Walking is among the most natural expressions of our humanity. Bipedal creatures like us were literally born to walk upright. When humans spread across the continents from Africa, much of it was done walking. Why should walking be seen as an abnormal, radical or undesirable behavior? I live to walk. For those of us born with two good working legs, walking is our birthright, our native activity. It’s unfortunate that I am writing today to call upon the culture to re-remember this essential truth and normalize walking.

I hope Manhattanites and Newarkers feel me too. You have side-walks and hella foot traffic compared to where I dwell, but you also have hella shit-heads and car-centric road design and behavior. It sucks almost as bad sometimes when I’m over there, but at least there’s a critical mass of people moving at human scale over there too.

I’m not saying all of society should completely slow down, that all of the uses of automobiles are illegitimate, or that pedestrians should have free rein on the New Jersey Turnpike. But I do adamantly advocate for the complete streets and human-scale infrastructure necessary for more people to come out and feel safe to walk. I also demand a serious moderation and mellowing of the culture surrounding the automobile, along with a rethinking of how motorist attitudes are conditioned for speed, selfishness and callousness.

Too many motorists are engaging in straight-up asshole behavior out there. Your antics will never stop me from walking these streets. I will not apologize if my bipedal presence on the streets, my actualization of our common native activity, offends you and forces you to slow down. Homie, do slow the fuck down! The streets are for human beings! Remember, you are one of them and so am I!

Fellow humans, resume walking as your natural-born tendency. The lead foot is best used to pound pavement, not burn rubber and gasoline.

Hotep.

Updates on the Day of the Great Naija Shift-Change

On October 1, 1960, British despots handed over rule to African despots in the territory called Nigeria. It was a change-over of work-shifts, not a liberation. Yeah, yeah, the elders say sorta nice things about the very first post-independence leaders – all males anyway – but I don’t buy it. Fifty years of hysteria, emergency, regression, blood, dictatorship, false democracy, division, death and  devolution have now passed. And today, bombs explode in the capital, in part because of grievances and legacies of injustice in my own native Niger Delta. Enough of it.

We must urgently usher in the African Revolution! People’s democracy! Human rights! Self-determination! Justice! Universal Education and Healthcare! Socialism! Ubuntu! I’m tired of the imposed ignorance, the exploitation, the knee-jerk corruption habit, the patriarchy, the inertia, all of it. And the African Revolution begins with you and me, wherever we find ourselves as black people.

With that off my chest, I’d like to mention that some stuff is written and pictured about me over here at the Raw Mocha Angel’s “Have You Ever Seen a Healthy Vegan?” series. Check it out.

Another thing you must check out and tell your friends about is the Africana Institute at Essex County College in Newark, NJ. That’s where I work, and we aim to be the baddest Africana/ African-American/ Black Studies department on the planet. We’re all about activism, community, and education of our people about past, present and futures strides and struggles, and how to be victorious as a people.

The url is easy: eccafricana.com. If you have or know of a black-owned business in the Newark/ NYC area, let us know at africanatv [at] gmail [dot] com (or just hit me up) and I will list you on our African Business page right away. We are populating our blog with all relevant and uplifting pro-African content, and we will be letting you know of all activities and events we want to invite you to participate in.

And lastly, “Letter to a Brotha” is reposted at Racialicious, where an interesting and lively debate is going on.

Keeping it short today. Coming soon: (1) Thoughts on Straight Edge and Struggle, and (2) Thoughts on American Apartheid and Food Injustice.

Uhuru!