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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The CHP's Thug Life: Justice for Marlene Pinnock

By Sikivu Hutchinson

When a white California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer used 51 year-old Marlene Pinnock’s body as a human punching bag he was continuing a bloody tradition of uniformed thugs who’ve assaulted black women with impunity. The unidentified officer’s attack on Pinnock (who is reputedly mentally ill and homeless) was captured in a horrific video by motorist David Diaz. Pinnock was lucky to have escaped with her life. In 1999, a fiftysomething African American homeless woman named Margaret Mitchell was killed by an LAPD officer after an alleged street altercation over a shopping cart. Mitchell’s murder spotlighted the inhumane treatment of homeless people of color. African Americans are half of the county’s homeless population yet the complex mental health and socioeconomic issues that they face make them more vulnerable to long term homelessness than white transients. Mentally ill homeless African Americans are more likely to be criminalized for their condition. They are less likely to receive treatment, therapy or medication for their illnesses and are often misdiagnosed. Nationwide, African Americans are also more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than are whites. But time and again when mentally ill black people “act out” or “meltdown” in public their symptoms are reductively perceived by law enforcement as dangerous, threatening and criminal.

At a recent community meeting that I attended with CHP commissioner Joseph Farrow, my father Earl Ofari Hutchinson of the L.A. Urban Policy Roundtable, Lita Herron of the Youth Advocacy Network, and Paulette Simpson of the Compton NAACP--as well as activists from the SCLC and the National Action Network--expressed their outrage over Pinnock’s brutal beating while contextualizing L.A.’s long history of officer-involved murder and abuse in communities of color. In contrast with the LAPD and the L.A. Sheriff’s department, Hutchinson and Herron noted that the CHP has had relatively few incidents of racial misconduct. Yet with a 69% white and an approximately 7% female officer population it’s clear that the CHP has serious “diversity” problems. For many people of color, the overwhelmingly white culture of the agency (according to CHP stats there are only three female chiefs of color in the agency and African Americans comprise 3.5% of all its employees) means that Pinnock wouldn’t have gotten a beatdown if she’d been a white middle-aged woman with mental health issues. Black women, be they mentally ill, elderly, disabled or otherwise, are never proper victims; while white women, the Western ideal of beauty, innocence and femininity, are always perceived as such.

This is starkly borne out in the criminal justice system. Nationwide, black women are overrepresented in the prison population, often receive harsher sentences if they are darker skinned and have the highest rates of suspension and expulsion in K-12 schools. There is no question that a video with an older defenseless white woman lying prone on the ground being knocked senseless by an officer of color (or a white cop for that matter) would’ve had the entire nation up in arms demanding the officer’s immediate termination and prosecution. Although the agency pledged to do a thorough and swift investigation, activists have called for a probe by the Department of Justice and the appointment of a special prosecutor—all recommendations that Farrow claims to be comfortable with.

When questioned about whether the agency’s training procedures were “culturally competent”, Farrow showed a three minute video clip showcasing stats which underscore the gravity of the state’s mental health crisis. Mentally ill folk are more likely to die at the hands of law enforcement. Over 1/3 of the homeless suffer from mental illness, and, shamefully, the L.A. County jail system is the region’s largest “mental health” facility. It is no coincidence that a significant number of those housed in county jails are African Americans afflicted with some form of post-traumatic stress and/or mental illness.
After the beating Pinnock was arrested, put on a 72-hour hold and is currently at the hospital. Despite the CHP’s claim that she did not suffer any injuries from the assault, her family says that she is recovering from severe injuries. The officer is currently on paid desk duty. And as the history of excessive force investigations have shown, law enforcement thugs and criminals have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting prosecuted much less convicted.

The public can keep the pressure on the CHP for full transparency in its investigation by pushing for the creation of a citizen’s advisory panel. It can also join the call for a federal probe of the beating and the appointment of a special prosecutor. Finally, it can push the CHP to make good on Farrow’s claim that the agency wants help recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce comprised of more people of color, white women, disabled and LGBT folk.

CHP Commissioner Joseph Farrow (c/o Chief Calvin Aubrey, 916-843-3002)
U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte (c/o Bruce Riordan,

Friday, July 4, 2014

Atheists and Humanists Condemn Human Rights Crisis at the U.S. Border and Nativist Attacks against Undocumented Immigrants

To sign go to:

The influx of Central American families and unaccompanied minors at the U.S. border has escalated into a human rights crisis which some have exploited to make xenophobic, racist and nativist attacks against undocumented immigrants and refugees. Over the past few months, thousands of underage youth fleeing violence and instability in their native countries have been warehoused in substandard Homeland Security facilities. According to the ACLU some have suffered abuse at the hands of border officials. This week, angry protestors stormed and turned away buses full of predominantly women and children detainees in Murrieta, California. These attacks will only increase, as they are part of a national climate of hatred, hostility and discrimination against undocumented individuals and their families (which are often of mixed citizenship status) and communities. These attacks have been encouraged by the Republican-controlled House’s refusal to pass a comprehensive humane immigration bill that is informed by the progressive legacy of civil and human rights resistance forged by disenfranchised communities in this country.

As humanists and atheists of conscience, we find this climate of demonization morally and politically reprehensible. We categorically condemn the anti “illegal” immigrant and anti-human rights vitriol promoted by Republicans like California Congressman Darrell Issa who has called for the Obama administration to rescind its Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. We fundamentally oppose the Obama administration’s escalation of deportation on the grounds that it is inhumane, breaks up families, and exposes both undocumented and citizen youth to sexual exploitation, foster care placement, homelessness and incarceration...


Maggie Ardiente, The American Humanist Association

Toni Achebe Bell, Black Skeptics Group

Richard Carrier, Author

Greta Christina, Author/Activist

Rebecca Hensler, Grief Beyond Belief

Sikivu Hutchinson, Black Skeptics Los Angeles

Yvonne Divans Hutchinson, Educator

Anthony Pinn, Professor and author

Amy Roth, Los Angeles Atheist Women’s Group & Skepchick

Secular Woman

Aishah Shahidah Simmons, Spiritualist in Solidarity & Filmmaker/Activist

Hilaire Sobers, Skeptically Speaking

Frederick Sparks, Black Skeptics Group

Kimberly Veal, Black Freethinkers Network/POCBF

Donald Wright, Houston Black Non-Believers

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Not Just Christian Fascism: Economic Justice & the Hobby Lobby Atrocity

By Sikivu Hutchinson

The myth of American exceptionalism has always been impervious to data and empirical evidence. Despite being the richest most prolific jailer in the world, the U.S. is fond of swaggeringly comparing itself to Western Europe with its evil big government social welfare safety net and waning capitalist moxie. Despite allowing Christian fascists to control its public policy it is fond of denigrating Muslim theocracy while touting its status as a beacon of secular democratic rights. Despite telling American women that they are liberated, post-feminist and beyond all that affirmative action shit, it is beholden to a medievalist court blazing a “new” trail of misogynist jurisprudence.

The Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision is staggering in its criminal disregard for individual liberty, women’s self-determination and economic justice. It is indicative of how much the political ground has shifted in eight years that the seemingly modest requirement that all employers be mandated to provide birth control coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has emerged as a pitchfork clarion call for the radical right. As commentator Sally Kohn pointed out recently on CNN, the cost of birth control meds like Plan B is prohibitive for women who are making at or below minimum wage (HL apparently funded Plan B and other contraceptives it disingenuously labels “abortifacients” before the passage of the ACA). The absence of this coverage will have an immediate impact on their families and day-to-day livelihoods. But this endorsement of Christian fascists cannot be separated from the broader context of GOP assaults on worker rights and racial justice. In addition to subverting reproductive rights, the GOP has consistently opposed raising the federal minimum wage and fought tooth and nail against minimum wage increases in state legislatures like California. SCOTUS’ ruling against a requirement that home care workers in Illinois pay union dues was another salvo in the radical right’s campaign against public employee unions like SEIU. SEIU’s membership is fifty six percent female and forty percent of color. Nationwide, working class and low income women of color disproportionately rely on public employee unions to fight for benefits and higher wages.

These assaults have particular relevance for black women because women of color have seen their wages plummet, benefits disappear and job prospects shrivel. While there has been much focus on skyrocketing unemployment among black men, black women’s unemployment has increased significantly. As Jenn Jackson writes in Ebony, according to the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) “black women only made up 12.5 percent of all female workers in June of 2009, yet accounted for over 42 percent of job losses for all women between June 2009 and June 2011. Black women’s unemployment rate increased 2.1 percent in the same period—three times the increase of the next highest unemployment rate (black men).” In 2013, “Black women were the only subgroup of women who did not see a decline in unemployment rates. As other racial, ethnic, and gender groups have seen improvements in their employment status, black women continue to lose jobs at disturbing rates.” Similarly, as the lowest paid group of women in the workforce Latinas also have the lowest rates of workforce participation. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Latinas make a lowly 61.2% to the dollar of white men while black women make 68.6%.

Just as recent Supreme Court decisions on corporate “personhood”, voting rights and affirmative action have further eroded the right to self-determination for poor and working class people, the Hobby Lobby decision is ultimately about power and authoritarian control over women’s lives, families, destinies and communities. And the only way to beat back the fascist anti-democratic tide is to organize.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The White Family: A Case for National Action

The White Family: A Case for National Action

By Sikivu Hutchinson

In the recent swirl of epic violence, mayhem and gun-besotted hysteria that has become the lifeblood of corporate media, no one is asking about the problem of white families.

In 1965, then Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan published a landmark study on the “problem” of the black family. It was the year of the Watts Rebellion and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, two events that shook the core of American apartheid. Drawing from the work of black sociologist E. Franklin Frazier, Moynihan argued that the structure of black families contributed to the underdevelopment of black communities. According to Moynihan, "The gap between the Negro and most other groups in American society is widening. The fundamental problem, in which this is most clearly the case, is that of family structure." Perhaps more than any other public policy paper, the Moynihan Report, titled “The Negro Family: A Case for National Action,” indelibly framed the black family as a permanent category of crisis and an object of investigation. For Moynihan, the stabilization of black families was a matter of national importance because their abnormality threatened to undermine U.S. domestic stability.

True to the national stereotype, black women’s outsized role in black families was the culprit. For Moynihan black families exhibited “a tangle of pathology” due to a topsy turvy “matriarchal” structure which emasculated black men by robbing them of their “natural” head of household role. Put bluntly, “Negro children without fathers flounder and fail.” As a result, unemployment, crime, violence, poverty, babies having babies and low education levels all stemmed from the fundamentally aberrant nature of black families. In Moynihan’s world, black dysfunctionality and the insidious effects of chronic poverty could be remedied by allowing blacks equal access to “normal” family structures—i.e., straight, white, middle class and nuclear; the tribe of Dick, Jane, Father, Mother, and Spot which has harbored many of America’s white mass murderers.

Post-Moynihan, the normalcy of the white family, as an invisible standard of racial, gender and national identity, was implicitly understood within the context of the pathological black family. The ghost of the Moynihan Report hovers over every discussion of violent “pathological” out of control black youth. From Cosby, to Obama, to Paul Ryan, to Bill O’Riley, the supposedly criminal inclinations of black youth elicit shrill pro forma condemnations of black parenting, single mothers and absentee fathers. Predictably, the recent rash of school and public shootings largely committed by white youth of the Millennial generation have not led to any mass appraisal of the state of white families. While the parade of angry “disaffected” white male shooters and mass murderers increases weekly, public policy mavens have not convened to diagnose the failings and afflictions of the white family. In the aftermath of each act of epic carnage, white parents have been called on to reflect on the behavior of their children, often expressing bewilderment over the motivations for Johnny’s rampage while pointing the finger at mental illness, wayward peers or violent video games. Case in point is the family of Las Vegas murderer Amanda Miller. Despite her cold-blooded point blank murder of two policemen and an armed Walmart customer, Miller’s parents blamed her shiftless white nationalist husband for corrupting their sweet impressionable “little girl”. Similarly, numerous analyses have been written on the short, “troubled” life and privileged upbringing of Newtown mass murderer Adam Lanza (most notably an extensive, sympathetic piece on Lanza’s father in the New Yorker).

Writing recently on “white guy killer syndrome” Britney Cooper argues, “We seem wholly uninterested in talking about pathological white masculinity, which continues to assert itself in the most dangerous and deadly of ways.” Yet, what is it about the structure of 21st century white families that promotes these acts of epic violence? Relative to black and Latino youth of all class backgrounds, white youth are more likely to receive counseling, therapy, medication and parent/teacher intervention rather than suspension, expulsion or jail time when they commit violent crimes at school. This culture of second, third, and even fourth chances extends to the criminal justice system, where white felons are less likely than African Americans to receive mandatory minimum sentences. It is worth noting that the majority of these young white killers came from intact heterosexual families—or families with a present father—that spanned the economic gamut. Even those that didn’t come from nuclear families benefited from the presumption of innocence, as well as the extension of patriarchal protection that the white family, as a vehicle of state power, gives to white youth. Earlier this year, police visited Amanda Miller and her convicted felon husband after they made threatening anti-government remarks but decided that “they weren’t a threat.” Similarly, the white-identified biracial Elliot Rodger was given the benefit of the doubt by school officials and law enforcement when he “acted out”. As has been well publicized, Rodgers’ parents were divorced yet concerned about his welfare. Narratives about the evils of “broken” white homes seldom surface in national considerations about epic violence committed by white youth. Conversely, when white youth commit mass murder it is accepted that something has gone very wrong with mental health care, firearms background checks, bully-infested school climates or unfettered access to violent video games.

Contrast this with the vilification of black parents (usually black mothers) whose children have committed heinous crimes. And, in yet another form of racist policing and criminalization, the families of juvenile offenders are increasingly being required to assume the expense of their child’s court fees and incarceration. Because white youth and families of all class backgrounds benefit from racist disparities in sentencing and incarceration these burdens are disproportionately shouldered by families of color.

Generations after the Moynihan Report, the socioeconomic outlook for African American families is even bleaker than it was during the civil rights era. And although many white working and middle class white folk have been negatively impacted by the recession, unemployment, declining home values and outsourcing (to name a few), the intense criminal policing of communities of color has buttressed white upward mobility. These entitlements are part of the nexus between the state and the patriarchal ideal of white families, in which white violence has always been fatally disguised as white innocence.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Obamas' Race to the Bottom

By Sikivu Hutchinson

During her commencement speech at a Topeka Kansas high school commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the 1954 Brown vs. Board ruling, Michelle Obama launched into a pointed critique of structural racism and injustice. Her comments were among the most frontal she’s ever made about the connection between racist stereotyping, public policy and systemic oppression. According to the First Lady, “Many young people in America are going to school largely with kids who look just like them…Too often, those schools aren’t equal; especially ones attended by students of color, which too often lag behind, with crumbling classrooms and less experienced teachers.”

Some cheered her stance as a welcome acknowledgment of racial politics in a terminally gutless administration. Yet the loving pass many in black America continue to give the Obamas—especially Michelle, one of the most powerful black women on the planet—on the race/gender disparities of economic apartheid smacks of complicity.
Hand-wringing from her ivory tower, Obama’s lament about the tattered legacy of Brown would have been comical if it weren’t so bitterly ironic. Over the past several years, the Obama administration has been a leading architect of the kind of pernicious re-segregation that Michelle Obama assailed in her speech. Ganging up with the neo-liberal free market evangelists of the Right, the administration has all but ravaged public education. Its 2009 Race to the Top policy opened the floodgates to privatization, dumbed-down curricula, and a permanent regime of high stakes testing which undermines teacher creativity and guts teachers’ unions. Nationwide, public schools are being systematically targeted by foundations, corporations, and hedge fund managers who’ve brokered multi-million dollar charter conversion deals with corrupt politicians in big city school districts like Newark, Los Angeles, New Orleans and Chicago. The neo-liberal magic bullet for “reforming” K-12 education is carving up schools for the highest corporate bidder. As a result special needs students, foster care students, English language learners, and other “problem child” demographics are shunted out of the schoolhouse and into the jailhouse.

After pursuing policies that have deepened racial segregation the Obamas’ eleventh hour “awakening” to racial inequality is yet another kick in the teeth to people of color staring at the brutal mirage of economic “recovery”. While income, wealth and employment outcomes for affluent white households continue to improve, African American employment rates have stagnated. A recent New York Times article zeroed in on the race and gender paradoxes of declines in unemployment. Increasingly, lower unemployment figures reflect the “disappearance” of workers who have simply dropped out of the labor force due to a lack of education, inadequate child care, and chronic frustration over diminishing job prospects. Moreover, because of the disproportionate impact of mass incarceration on communities of color, many African Americans and Latinos are virtually unemployable due to employer discrimination against ex-felons. Following the lead of Michele Alexander’s male-centric book The New Jim Crow, much of the mainstream literature on prison re-entry has focused on the dismal job prospects of male offenders. Yet black women are three times more likely to be tried, convicted and incarcerated for felony offenses than are white women. And because over fifty percent of black women are the primary earners in their households, employment discrimination against ex-felons should be a source of feminist human rights outrage.

But these are issues that President Obama and company appear to be nominally become aware of. Last ditch efforts like the administration’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which seek to pump millions of private dollars into youth leadership projects for black and Latino males, don’t address the structural issues highlighted in Michelle Obama’s earnest speech. As the Times reports “Income for households in the exact middle of the income distribution declined 4.26 percent from 2009 to 2012…For white households, mean income declined by 2.2 percent. For black homes, the decline was 4.5 percent; for Hispanics, 4.2 percent.” Job stats also showed that African Americans and those with no college education have comparable employment rates—further underscoring the toll the prison economy has had on African Americans of all class backgrounds. Despite the anti-feminist myth of black women’s economic ascendancy over black men, women in general and black women in particular have taken big hits. According to the Center for American Progress, “African American women only earned $610 per week, whereas African American men made $666 and white women’s median usual weekly earnings were $718 in the second quarter of 2013”. Further, black women are more likely to be earning the minimum wage than are white women and their employment rates have languished since the 2010 midterm elections.

Clinging to the bromides and symbolic allure of a Talented Tenth presidency has had devastating consequences for African Americans. As the gilded glow of the Obama era fades, black America approaches 2016 joined at the hip with a Party which banks on shoving yet another corporate imperialist dynasty down its throat.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels and Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Bring Back Our Girls: May 5 Protests/Events

Bring Back Our Girls demonstration:
We ask you to join on on May 5th, 2014 at 6pm, on the corner of Crenshaw Blvd and King Blvd (by the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Mall) to stand in solidarity. These girls are daughters, sisters, and friends and we need to show them that we care and will not turn a blind eye towards them.

Please wear the color red, and wear your gele if you have one.
Location: King Blvd & Crenshaw in South Los Angeles
Time: 6pm PST

Black Freethinkers Podcast: Crisis in Nigeria with Anthea Butler (Penn U), Kamela Heyward-Rotimi (Duke U) and Teka Lark-Fleming (Morningside Park Chronicle)
Time: 5pm PST

Passionate Present: Protecting Black Girlhood with bell hooks & Salamishah Tillet
Location: Eugene Lang College, New School for Social Research, NYC
Time: 4pm EST

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Sterling Shuffle: Unpacking White Jewish Racism

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Every Sunday for the past several years the mug of real estate mogul and L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling has commanded prime ad space in the Los Angeles Times. Touting Sterling’s philanthropy, these ads often feature grinning photos of prominent African American politicians, religious leaders and other glad-handing public figures who’ve received hefty donations from his financial empire. After TMZ revealed a recording of Sterling’s racist comments about black people to girlfriend V. Stiviano, President Obama and other dignitaries were swift to condemn him. On Monday it was “shockingly” revealed that Sterling, who is Jewish, went the extra mile with his racism in the recording, contending that “the blacks are treated like dogs” in Israel to Stiviano. Responding to her criticism of this claim, Sterling reiterated that “the black Jews” are “less than” white Jews and that that is the way it should be.

Anti-black racism among white Jewish people is a seldom discussed aspect of the complicated arc of black-Jewish relations in the U.S. Yet Sterling’s comments are noteworthy because they not only highlight the white supremacist bent of Israeli anti-African sentiment but the social construction of Jewish whiteness. Echoing rancher Cliven Bundy’s recent references to blacks thriving under slavery, Sterling expressed the paternalistic view that he “supports” blacks on the team by giving them clothes, houses and cars. He then blasts Stiviano for comparing anti-black racism and discrimination to the Jewish Holocaust. Implicit in this shutdown is the notion that Jewish suffering under the Holocaust precludes consideration of how white Jews have benefited from institutional and systemic racism.

The illusion of lockstep black-Jewish solidarity on liberal political coalition-building has long masked the reality of white Jewish privilege and investment in white supremacy. This is especially relevant to Sterling (who tellingly changed his name from Tokowitz to the more Anglicized Sterling) because he is a multi-millionaire developer who has also been the subject of two federal racial discrimination lawsuits involving tenants of color. In her book How Jews Became White Folk, Karen Brodkin notes that Jews contrasted themselves with the specter of a “mythic blackness”. Deeply ingrained racial stereotypes of shiftless, lazy, culturally pathological and mentally enslaved blacks—versus “hard working” immigrants streaming through Ellis Island in search of opportunity—have always been a subtext of the American dream. Hence, “mythic blackness” implicitly signified social dysfunction and downward mobility—i.e., the antithesis of American notions of rugged individualism and bootstraps uplift. This divide allowed Jewish, Irish and other reviled, provisionally white ethnic immigrants to highlight and capitalize on their (relative) whiteness. As Salomon Gruenwald notes in a review of Brodkin’s book, “Jews did not become white because they succeeded in spite of racism, rather, they succeeded because of white racism. Economic and social shifts following WWII reconfigured whiteness in such a way as to allow them—particularly Jewish men—the entitlements that being white brought (like the G.I. Bill and access to the suburbs).”

The long term economic legacy of these entitlements has been amplified in the post-civil rights era. African Americans of all income levels are hyper-segregated in urban communities heavily impacted by foreclosure, joblessness, predatory lending, subpar schools, racist policing and mass incarceration. And, relative to white working class homeowners, even the most wealthy African Americans are segregated into neighborhoods that have high poverty rates. As the most segregated racial group in Los Angeles, the socioeconomic divide between blacks and white Jews couldn’t be more profound. Like other European Americans in the post-World War II era, Jews took advantage of New Deal FHA, VA and GI Bill loans (which were denied to African Americans) to flee South L.A. and East L.A. neighborhoods and move to wealthier enclaves in West L.A. and the Valley. Once upon a time, predominantly Mexican American Boyle Heights was a thriving Jewish enclave. New Deal era affirmative action policies for white people, coupled with the Great Migration of African Americans from the South, facilitated white Jewish upward mobility and assimilation. As Ryan Reft writes on the transformation of Boyle Heights, “the Great Migration led others to rewrite the rules that kept whites separated from non-whites. As a result, definitions of whiteness shifted. Jews now found themselves increasingly included as part of the metropolitan area’s…conception of whiteness, and many took advantage of new housing opportunities.”

Sterling’s racist references to shiftless black untouchables are simply yet another snapshot of how caste, ethnicity and the bootstraps mythology play out in “post-racial” America. And in a country in which the racial wealth gap is most powerfully reflected in corporate real estate and apartheid-level access to private space people of color in particular shouldn’t be shocked or surprised.