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Another 6-Yr.-Old in Handcuffs? Harry Belafonte on Child Incarceration


One of the foremost people fighting to end this injustice is musician, actor and civil rights legend Harry Belafonte, who founded the Gathering for Justice, an intergenerational coalition with the goal of ending child incarceration. Back in 2010, right after the November elections, our publisher Rinku Sen interviewed Mr. Belafonte about his ongoing social justice work and his advice to today’s young activists. In light of last week’s headlines from Alabama, we revisited that interview and cut this new video from previously unpublished footage, in order to bring his much-needed voice into our current conversation. We also spoke with Carmen Perez, executive director of the Gathering for Justice, who served as a Santa Cruz probation officer before joining Belafonte.










"I'm just trying to make a way out of no way, for my people" -Modejeska Monteith Simpkins









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Black Agenda Report has a broader analysis of this trend amongst others targeted towards black women and children.


Freedom Rider: The War on Black Women and Children


by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley

White supremacy is on the offensive, especially against Black women. “Black people are punished for driving, for walking down the street, for having children, for putting their children in school, for acting the way children act, and even for having children who are killed by other people.” There is only one option: “Restart the freedom movement and never let it end.”


Freedom Rider: The War on Black Women and Children

by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley

Black women have been criminalized for the most minor of offenses.”

We are told that the Republicans are waging a war on women. It is true that they are on an endless quest to restrict access to abortion, if not outlaw it altogether, and want to prevent insurance companies from paying for contraception. In Wisconsin, the Republican governor recently signed legislation which repealed that state’s equal pay enforcement act.

The Republicans deserve the label, but if there is a war on women in America today, it is being directed primarily at black women as a group and at their young children as well. Black women have been criminalized for the most minor of offenses, for enrolling their children in schools outside of their home districts, and even when their children are victimized by other people.

In Ohio in 2011, Kelly Williams-Bolar, was convicted of felony theft and spent ten days in jail for enrolling her children in a school district that was not her own. The merits of the case were debatable, as her children lived with their grandfather in the district in question, but no matter, Ms. Williams-Bolar had to be taught a lesson and she and her father were indicted. The governor did reduce her sentence, calling it unduly harsh, but she was still convicted of a crime.

In Connecticut, Tanya McDowell was sentenced to five years in jail after she used her babysitter’s address to send her son to school. Ms. McDowell was homeless, living in her vehicle. It could be said that she did live in the district, but again, only pursuing criminal charges and sending this mother to jail would satisfy local prosecutors. McDowell had a drug conviction as well, so the war on drugs and the war on black women were both used against her.

If there is a war on women in America today, it is being directed primarily at black women as a group and at their young children as well.”

All over the country, black women are criminalized for bizarre reasons. In some cases, they are even punished for doing what other people have done to their children. In Cobb County, Georgia, Raquel Nelson’s son was struck and killed by a drunk driver when she crossed the street with him. Because she was crossing at the green and not in between, Nelson was charged with vehicular manslaughter even though someone else killed her child.

Of course, the state of Georgia doesn’t care about black children at all. Six year old Salecia Johnson discovered that when she was handcuffed after having a temper tantrum in her Milledgeville, Georgia school. Neither the school nor the police were at all contrite, with the school calling the child “violent and disruptive” and the police chief adding that Salecia was handcuffed to insure her own safety. Black people are punished for driving, for walking down the street, for having children, for putting their children in school, for acting the way children act, and even for having children who are killed by other people. We are punished, in short, because we still exist.

This imperative is a legacy of slavery, which lest we forget existed for more than two hundred years after Europeans first arrived here. Slavery lasted longer than freedom has existed, and the notion that black people are the physical property of white people has never gone away. It ebbs and it flows and today it is flowing in full force, and explains the mass incarceration state, police brutality, and all the other ills which befall us as a people.

The concern for women and children espoused as an American ideal was always a lie. The weakest among us have always been the most prone to be victimized, and black people arrived here as the ultimate victims, property. The level of disdain and hatred directed towards us is intense, and these recent examples of oppression indicate that it is worsening.

Nelson was charged with vehicular manslaughter even though someone else killed her child.”

Mass action is the only thing that can possibly keep these forces at bay. The worst atrocities committed against black people happen when the system doesn’t punish the perpetrators. It is vital that all of these outrages be answered for and that we make it clear we are not fooled by the presence of black presidents, or rich black celebrities. We know that the consequences of political disengagement can be deadly. We have no option but to restart the freedom movement and never let it end.

If not, black women will be arrested as soon as they give birth. Why wait. Punish them and their children as quickly as possible.

  True slavery has existed longer than freeedom.  In fact, slavery have been HERE in the world since the beginning of time-which includes EVERYBODY....Europeans too.  But!  The difference in African slavery I see opposed to others who have been enslaved are the facts that we were/are the ONLY ones targeted and specificially taken from our lands for sole purposes of profit and sex.  Hence the ideology of being a degraded form of chattel property. African women and children have always been on the cross hairs of the hunt.  Nothing's changed.  That's one of the many reasons WHY I become so upset and irritated with black rap artists/some atheletes whose behaviors further insult the integrity of the
African American journey of women in this country.  If a culture has no respect or being no accountability to protect the females and children in their community-who will?  And because we have the transparent rhetorical type verbose that can be assummed as protection, it REALLY isn't.  Just a lot of hot air.  Cuz everytime a black woman or child is profiled illegally-all of us should be there to support them.  But are we?!  Only when the event appears in the media, do some of us stand up.  But what about in our daily lives....with our neighbors....our co-workers....our classmates or our we stand up for them when we KNOW that they have been mistreated by "white" supremacy?  That would be another....hell no!  We turn our heads individually and only have a voice when it is collective.  And for that reason alone, in my opinion, more and more African American women and children are being singled out by the very same people who were singling them during Jim Crow and slavery.  Cuz again....nothing's changed.  


And to be fair, black people aren't being RAISED the way they used to be.  Children were taught early on who the enemy is.  Plus as brilliant as we are, we knew what we could get away with back in the day and what we couldn't....cuz we were trained to understand the climate of the era.  But!  Not anymore.  Many of us live in a cloud of arrogance.  I call hot air with no sense.  We expect the unexpected just cuz.  And a lot of it has to with drugs, gang banging and illiteracy-and it NEVER had to be this way.   Cuz I knew a lot of "poor" families who had values, principles and morals and made sure their children understand the "goal" i.e. education and respectability.  And trust me, I'm not ignoring the fact that the economy has shifted and more and more people are faced with being homeless....but!  What I am saying is that this is nothing new to our community....  We have always struggled to make ends meet but what is different today versus yesteryear is how we are treating each other and how we are turning our backs on the most vulnerable ones in our community-we NEVER did that before.  Everyone in the once tight nit neighborhood, good and bad, were in the fold.  Not anymore.  For the last 20-25 years or so jealousy, keeping up with the Joneses and every man for himself are now the policies and bylaws in the black community.  And as a result, we have what we have now no real community protection for those who need it the most.  Belafonte can say what he wants....but!   It's gonna take more than a few voices to turn this around and show black folks that the women and children in their community do matter!  And that omni-present reality must come from the inside out.  But!  


I do admire Belafonte for all these years still being a person that will actually come out against injustice and racism without regard to what it may or may not do to his career, and for even being a person who could just as well sit in his comfy life and just ignore plight of anyone not in his own family or his own circle, but he chose not to just sit and ignore and be a hear not evil, see no evil, speak no evil Negro.  


But, your response, Koco, was really on point.  I really think that you should write a book detailing a lot of what you have to say on this board.  

  Thank you for that my sista.  Through the years, I've self-published a few books:  poetry and essays mostly.  But!  After the death of my son, my focus changed.  And there was a need for me to incorporate my knowledge to the youngsters.  So I developed many after school programs to teach writing, literacy, composition and such to those uninformed teens who think they know it all. 


For a good while, I hated adult black took me almost ten years to finally heal from the anger of abandonment-I felt my community abandoned my son.  At one while my motto was:  stupid is what stupid does.  And I refused to even look at a black adult let alone talk with one.  But!  That's behind me now-thanks to the children in our community who showed me what true black love is.  And so I am contemplating seriously to one day do another book.  And to be fair, I also have to thank this forum for being my sounding board.  I have had the opportunity to "scratch it outta my head" and it feels soooooo good not to be in this pain anymore.  It really does.  And talking to yall and debating with yall over the years have been the cultural medicine I needed-especially since I feel most of yall are the most intelligent, brilliant and dynamically stimulating folks around.  Yall truly have yall's finger on the pulse our community.  I used to think many blackfolks were blind and not in touch with the real world but engaging here have changed my perception-cuz I'm really not a social butterfly and NEVER thought I would ever come outta my solid "hatred" for blackfolks.  But I did.  And now I am open to share my expressions and thoughts with my counterparts....when before not so much.  Again.  Thanks my sista for your kind encouragement!  I truly feel I have socially evolved.  But!  

Your welcome Koco, and I really meant it.


Also, I think that many, many African American feel frustration and even anger towards the African Americans out there that are just a big weight on the Black community, I know I have.  But, then I have to think about how little I knew when I was young and that most of what I know now and have learned about our history in this country, African history, American politics, racism, the politics of psychological and social manipulation, etc., I had to search out that information and learn it on my own.  Unfortunately, most African Americans that don't learn the true history of our people just can't always connect the dots.  I also believe that our circumstance of history has left many of us in just survival mode, just going through the motions it takes to just live, let alone thrive or have anything left to share with others, be it emotionally or financially or intellectually.  


May I ask, why you felt abandoned by Black people when you lost your son?  The reason that I ask is that I know someone else who felt when they lost their son.  

Last edited by sunnubian

  Thank you  for asking my sista.  My feeling of abandonment came from my son being gunned down in front of a least 40 morning commuters whom merely swirved around his body as he fell to the ground like he was road kill.  No one called the police.  No one stopped their cars.  He just laid there dying.  No one saw him as maybe someone who could be one of their children-a son.  Or maybe a family member.  Their inhumane ignorance of a "child" laying in the middle of the street demonstrated to me how desensitized and emotionally unplug many blacks in my community were and still are.  I felt abandonment cuz this was a place I grew up.  A place where I walked to school, went to visit friends....a place that I once called my neighborhood....and yet years later my own child could not enjoy the same pleasure of a safety environment I once had.  But!  Most importantly, I felt abandonment of the black community cuz many grown black folks REFUSED to come forward and give information to the police of what they witnessed-not something that is assummed or something that is deemed hearsay but something that was evidental facts. Cuz why?  They were afraid of retaliation from their own people...from their own children-how can one be afraid of their own children?  And during that time police would pay $25000 for relocation fee outta town for those considering telling...but!  No one felt that money was enough to start a new one felt that our black kids mattered.....and so the next day another youth was murdered and the day after that the SAME thang happened...another young man was killed. 


So.  Needdless to say, I felt abandoned by the very folks I demonstrated for who looked me straight in the eyes regarding the death of my  child and said  "oh well, that's the way of the world."  WTF?  Cuz why?  They didn't know what to say or do.  Say nothing.  Do nothing.  I felt abandoned by the very folks I burned my "small" bra for whose loud voices were beginning to sound like whispers after the civil right movement; I felt abandoned by the very folks I assisted as an educator by helping THEIR children learn and know their black history and yet these same folks couldn't find it in their hearts to do the right thing not only for my son, but sons [and daughters] of the black community who all died at the hands of something sooooooo cruel and evil: black on black crime.  At that point, I shut down.  Cuz it was absolutely genocide of our youth.  In retrospect, it was the black youth who were abandoned by their community.  And when you lose a child by murdered especially there is no other "pain" so great.  You feel the people who look like you are nothing more than lazy azz cowards who talk a lotta shyte but are clueless when it comes to helping their own people..these unproductive fakes; snakes in the grass backstabbers-these unfeeling zombies.....your own people....just stood by and let murder happen or didn't react the way they should have-the way grown folks are supposed to behave in a crisis situation.  How can you watch the death of your culture and feel and do absolutely nothing?  That was my question.  It was never answered.  So I had to find my own way through this painful maze of societal abandonment to get to the solution or the answer on the other side of my recovery.  No one could help me with it.   And through it all, I know I'm much stronger as a result of the process cuz it's lessons learned with combat social scars.  Whew! It was a very long journey cuz I really did lose myself.  I'm sooooooooo glad it's now all behind me. Cuz I finally got "me" back.  But! 

Koco, I am so sorry.  I am almost speechless.  It's unbelievable that human beings can even have it in them to do something like that.  I'm gonna have to mentally digest that for a while.  I am so sorry.  I'm glad you found the strength to soldier on to help someone else, to try to save other people's children in the face of how everything when down with your son.  

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