January 19, 2015
Letter from a Bloomington Jail (Metaphorically Speaking) and honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
by: Nekima Levy-Pounds
Minneapolis, MN – I have been reminded repeatedly over the last several months in watching the tragic events unfold in Ferguson, Missouri, New York, Ohio, and all across this country—laws without justice are meaningless. Throughout our history, we have experienced the debilitating effects of laws being written to lock us out of access to opportunity; the ability to be paid for our labor; and to criminalize our blackness.
Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired
We are tired of our black boys and men, and even our women and girls, being slain at the hands of police officers, security guards, or vigilantes, with little accountability to boot. This sense of fatigue and exasperation with the status quo is reminiscent of the seeds that sparked the birth of the Civil Rights Movement and after much marching, protesting, and bloodshed, prompted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to write his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” King’s prophetic letter was written in response to 8 white clergymen who implored the protesters to stop demonstrating and disrupting “business as usual.” King responded by saying, we cannot and we will not wait for justice and freedom and rights we are entitled to under the Constitution.
We are Not Satisified with the Status Quo
That same spirit of discontent with the status quo and the unequal treatment of African- Americans under the law is what has birthed the national movement known as #BlackLivesMatter. This movement resulted from young people of color deciding that they could no longer tolerate the gross injustices within our systems and the high tolerance for police abuse and misconduct happening throughout the country. Much like protesters during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ’60s, participants of #BlackLivesMatter, have stood on the front lines braving arrests, police violence, surveillance, chemical weapons, and hostility from those who are comfortable with the status quo. Yet, even in the face of such adversity, the young people have demonstrated remarkable courage to continue standing, marching, and fighting for our freedom. They are standing on the right side of history.
Here in Minnesota, young people came together under the banner of #BlackLivesMpls and began organizing events in solidarity with protesters around the country. In spite of Minnesota’s reputation as being “liberal and progressive,” our state has some of the worst racial disparities in the country across health, wealth, education, employment, infant mortality rates, home ownership, and criminal justice. And we are not immune from problems between police and communities of color, with some of our most racially diverse areas experiencing high rates of racial profiling, unjust arrests, and excessive force, with little political will to address these issues. It is a national embarrassment. Yet, rather than act with fierce urgency to reverse course; we remain in a state of “donothingness” as things grow worse for our most vulnerable populations.
Photo of Taye taken at Mall of America Demonstration
In light of these concerns, #BlackLivesMpls organized a nonviolent, peaceful demonstration at the Mall of America (MOA) in Bloomington, one of the most visible locations in the country. On December 20, 2014, 3,000 people from all walks of life descended upon MOA to sing, chant, and to remind the world that #BlackLivesMatter. Rather than welcome the demonstrators into MOA, we were met by police in riot gear. In spite of the demonstration being peaceful, roughly two dozen people were arrested, stores were shut down by mall security and police, and exits were sealed. What started as a demonstration of Dr. King’s vision of the “beloved community,” became a reminder of what Dr. King warned could destroy our nation: The triple giants of racism, militarism, and extreme materialism. All three of those giants were present that day at MOA and they set out to crush the spirits of “the little guy.”
Political Prosecutions as Retaliation
In the aftermath of the demonstration, the Bloomington City Attorney, Sandra Johnson, spoke to the media about wanting to “make an example” out of the protest organizers, and that she would not only bring criminal charges, but would seek “reparations” for the cost of overtime police and security. To the average person, Sandra Johnson’s misuse of prosecutorial discretion to “punish” protest organizers is disturbing, to say the least. Two days ago, she decided to charge ten “leaders” of the demonstration with misdemeanor counts ranging from disorderly conduct, to trespass, to public nuisance, and she is seeking tens of thousands of dollars in “reparations.” Much to my surprise, I was one of the ten people who were charged. Not only was I charged, despite being a civil rights lawyer, I was one of two people with the most charges, eight misdemeanor counts in fact. I can’t help but think that my outspokenness on issues such as police accountability and calls for reform played a role in Ms. Johnson’s decision to bring charges against me in an attempt to publicly humiliate me, to silence my voice, and to curb my advocacy for justice. Even my home address was included in the complaint, with no regard for the safety of my children and family in making such a public disclosure. This amounts to political persecution and is a gross misuse of prosecutorial discretion and a waste of taxpayer dollars. Thankfully, these intimidation tactics will not be effective in shutting down our movement. Our voices will only grow stronger in the process.
We are in a Metaphorical Jail
Although neither of the ten of us were charged physically went to jail for our alleged “crimes”, in many ways, it feels as though we are locked in a metaphorical jail for our willingness to stand up for justice and equality. I posit, the metaphorical ‘Bloomington Jail’ to which we have been sentenced is a microcosm of the condition of confinement in which African Americans are subjected to in the state of Minnesota and in many places around the country due to barriers at the intersections of race, criminal justice, and socio-economic status. We can’t breathe because of the persistence of racial inequality and oppression. We can’t breathe because of the constant denial of our basic human rights and human dignity. We can’t breathe when we are being told to just sit back and tolerate these deplorable conditions. We must decide that it is time to break free from our metaphorical Bloomington jail cells and demand equal justice and equal treatment under the law, just as Dr. King and others did during the Civil Rights Movement.
I applaud the young people across the country and in Minnesota who remain steadfast in declaring that #BlackLivesMatter and who refuse to give up. I urge them to continue the fight until our change comes. And the rest of us must join them. That’s what Dr. King would have wanted and that’s how we can really honor his legacy. All else is but a shallow, anemic celebration of his life.
Nekima Levy-Pounds is an award-winning professor of law, civil rights attorney, and a nationally recognized expert on a range of civil rights and social justice issues at the intersections of race, public policy, economic justice, public education, juvenile justice and the criminal justice system and host of Real Talk with Nekima Levy-Pounds. Recently honored by MN Lawyer Magazine on its 2014 Minnesota Lawyer of the Year list, Lawyers of Color Magazine List of 50 under 50 Most Influential Law Professors of Color in the U.S., 2014 Faculty Member of the Year by the Black Law Students Association.
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 7, 2014 Media Contact: Gabriela Linder, 702.885.8708
How media bias plays a role in perpetuating negative stereotypes . . .
by: Monique Linder
Minneapolis, MN – In an exclusive interview today with Nekima Levy-Pounds, the conversation focused on the role media plays in perpetuating negative stereotypes (see full interview below).
The conversation took on real meaning when “#pointergate” erupted on social media as a result of a KSTP news story calling out Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges for allegedly showing solidarity with gangs by way of her use of a “gang sign.”
#pointergate has quickly become an internet sensation.
International Business Times: What Is Pointergate? Twitter Mocks Outrage after Minneapolis Mayor Poses For A Picture With A Felon
The Root: #Pointergate: How A News Station Missed A Story That Twitter Didn’t
Twin Cities Daily Planet: KSTP Reports Mayor Hodges Flashing Gang Sign Social Media Erupts Anger
Today, Nekima Levy-Pounds released a video statement sharing her views on the KSTP-TV news coverage.
Interview with Nekima Levy-Pounds on November 7, 2014
Monique: How do we use this really low point in KSTP’s news coverage to bring awareness and change to the bias and negative stereotypes that exists in media today?
Nekima: We can use this as a teachable moment. Every media outlet across this country should examine its practices to ensure that implicit bias is not playing a role in how stories are covered and how people of color are being portrayed in the media. It is time to reevaluate how news is delivered and to reach for a higher standard in media coverage that is inclusive and not racially divisive. It is important that media outlets create environments that are inclusive of viewpoints of individuals from diverse racial and ethnic perspectives.
Monique: In your role as a regular contributor to media outlets regarding stories that involve race or civil rights issues in the Twin Cities, do you see diversity when you enter local newsrooms?
Nekima: Typically, the newsrooms are lily white. In most organizations there may be one or two folks of color who are delivering news, but rarely are they given decision-making power of how news is being reported and the framework that is being used. Having a dearth of diverse perspectives is a recipe for disaster in a country as diverse as the U.S.A. Nuances in stories are bound to be missed and racial stereotypes are likely to be reinforced in the process of having an all-white or nearly all white newsroom.
Monique: As the President of the Alliance for Women in Media, Minnesota Affiliate, advocating for the growth of women in media, what does gender balance look like in the newsroom today compared to ten years ago?
Nekima: Newsrooms are still disproportionately made up of white men. Gender balance is vital to ensure balanced coverage of topics important to the general population. Based upon their life experience, women have a unique perspective that can enhance news coverage and decision-making. Women of color in media add a whole other dimension that is largely untapped.
Monique: Do you feel that the lack of diversity in the newsroom contributes to media bias and stereotypes, as well as, inaccuracies in content delivery as it pertains to the diverse communities of Minnesota?
Nekima: Absolutely. A lack of diversity in newsrooms may contribute to an environment in which people from homogenous backgrounds make decisions that are more consistent with their own worldview and not necessarily inclusive of the rich culture that exists in this country of people from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. The current lens that is being used is too narrow in scope and leaves much to be desired.
Monique: What are the top 3 things that need to happen now to move this process forward to eliminate bias and stereotypes in the media?
Nekima: 1) Work to intentionally diversify newsrooms along the lines of people from different racial backgrounds, greater gender balance, and the inclusion of younger voices as well. 2) Aggressively train staff in becoming more culturally sensitive and culturally competent. Also, it is important to reward employees who immerse themselves in cultural communities to broaden the scope of their knowledge and coverage of issues impacting communities of color. 3) Set measureable goals to increase reporting of issues that impact communities of color. Not only will this positively impact the bottom lines of media outlets as America becomes more diverse, but it will lead to more positive race relations and increased understanding amongst individuals from different racial and ethnic groups.
Monique Linder is the founder of OMG Media Solutions who handles media and marketing for Professor Nekima Levy-Pounds.
Updated: 10/10/2014 7:26 PM
Created: 10/10/2014 4:33 PM KSTP.com
By: Lindsey Brown
A non-profit hired by Minneapolis Public Schools to help close the achievement gap was fired Friday. The district announced it’s terminating a $375,000 contract with Community Standards Initiative (CSI), because it didn’t have the resources to get the job done.
CSI got the contract in May. The group was supposed to enroll hundreds of students by last month. It fell short on that goal. The school says it didn’t have the resources to help those who did sign up.
Local education activist Nekima Levy-Pounds says this move is a positive one. Levy-Pounds is an attorney who works at the University of St. Thomas and with Brotherhood Inc., which gives young black men a safe place to go and help finding jobs. She knows the people hurt most by the achievement gap.
“For the volume of resources that are involved in this situation it’s not a stretch to think we could have set up high-quality tutoring centers across the community, effective art programs, youth employment opportunities. Instead, we see resources be expended in situations that seem unjustified,” said Levy-Pounds.
Levy-Pounds and Black Advocates for Education want there to be an investigation into why the district awarded CSI the contract. They have sent a letter to district leaders demanding answers.
“We have a pattern of false starts within the district in terms of programs being set up that are largely ineffective, initiatives that are rolled out that don’t achieve results, and we are sick and tired of seeing that,” Levy-Pounds said.
Minneapolis Public Schools declined to speak on camera about this story. A spokesperson said they’ll work to closely monitor the kids who signed up in the CSI program to make sure they get the support they need this year. We’ve been unable to reach CSI or its leadership for comment on this story.