My inherent issue with Facebook solidarity

So I didn’t change my Facebook profile picture for Paris. Or Beirut, or Syria, or Kenya, or anywhere else. Nor do I have strong feelings about what people should or should not do after a tragedy, as long as it’s not rooted in bigotry. For me, I have an issue because I know Facebook solidarity is incomplete, and that my friends only focus on certain types of events.

First, as people have pointed out before, there are many places on Earth in perpetual crisis. Syria recently, but also the Rohingya refugee crisis that extends from Burma into Bangladesh and various surrounding territories. Central Africa has been in a series of ongoing conflicts where rape is a major weapon of war. Billions of people are in varying degrees of poverty, most of which is long-standing. There is something ethically troubling about showing visible solidarity with other people when there is an acute incident. Haiti has never recovered from the earthquake several years back- we had a brief period of solidarity, money was raised, and much of the humanitarian crisis was not solved. It still hasn’t been, but our Haiti Facebook pictures have long since been taken down.

Second, since I am an American (along with my race, class, sex . . ) I have a bias towards places and people I can directly relate to. I’ve been to Paris, I’ve never been to Beirut or Nigeria. The entire way I receive information about the world is skewed, and even with wonderful outlets like Al Jazeera English, the lack of coverage of Africa, south Asia, etc. creates an unconscious tendency to think that even when atrocities are reported from there, they aren’t as important as events of a similar magnitude in the developed world.

Which is a long way to say that I feel not changing my profile picture is not a signal that I don’t care about terrorism and imperialism. Rather, it’s an acceptance that the world is immensely fucked up all the time, and only recognizing a tiny portion of the new evils introduced to the world seems somehow wrong. It goes without saying that ultimately fighting global problems on an individual level is about donating money, donating time, and standing against imperialism and exploitation. But don’t lose the past when the unpleasant present roars into view. Because the Haiti crisis is still here, and they don’t get their flag on social media anymore.

Posted in Conflict, Justice, Poverty | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I need a dollar: free college and artificial scarcity

So the Million Student March was held in more than a hundred locations last week (UC San Diego had a march that I helped organize). #StudentBlackOut occurred today, as students of color added their own demands about representation in faculty, in the student body, and serious mandatory education on race for students, faculty, and administration. The larger social reaction to these movements and their demands indicates how narrow the debate is about social justice and investment in youth and people of color.

The reaction to the Million Student March- among conservatives and old ‘I paid my way through college working at the soda fountain’ liberals, is that there is no money for free education, and any more money into higher education will come from the pockets of hard-working Americans.

The debate is defined by artificial scarcity. Making higher education free is possibly the cheapest thing the United States could do to increase long-term GDP growth. The actual figure- somewhere between 62 and 40 billion a year – is a minuscule fraction of defense spending and could be met by canceling dumb ideas like the F-35 (1.45 trillion total projected cost), stop making equipment like tanks the military doesn’t even want, and not approving new dumb ideas.

Within the University of California system, senior administrative bloat, the product of a corporatized hierarchy where education went from the focus to a way to mine students for money to pay big salaries, is $1.1 billion a year total. The whole student population pays $3 billion, so over a third of their tuition is spent on excess administration!

Higher education is one of many programs put into a zero-sum bucket. More money is not coming from a financial transactions tax or cracking down on overseas stashes of corporate earnings (if Apple brought its cash hoard back into the US they would owe almost 60 billion in taxes– one year of free higher education by itself). Money comes from Medicaid, veteran’s benefits, food stamps, subsidized housing, and all the other non-university levels of education. As long as the scarcity is believed, then poor and vulnerable people fight with each other.

Immense wealth and immense poverty exists- both within and between countries. The political and economic elite has constructed an adversarial system where the only visible enemies are others just trying to survive. A 40 hour job is divided so that no one qualifies for benefits, and there are no stable hours and schedules. The conflict is kept at the individual level, so corporate profits and shareholder values are preserved.


With the Million Student March and the Mizzou movements converging, the question of economics versus identity has come to the forefront. When I went to a town hall meeting about campus racism and lack of diversity, I heard a lot of cutting personal stories. I heard about bigoted TAs, professors, and administrators. Racist publications and campus police. I did not hear about the system that benefits from racism and utilizes it- capitalism. The intersectionality of oppression is vital in any analysis of society, but ultimately the ruling class is that- a class. And it is its own mixture of race, nationality, sexual orientation, and religion. Oppression is itself not a zero-sum game- poor whites can be oppressed, albeit to different degrees and ways than people of color.

I’ll put it this way: when you leave an event, class, or debate, ask if the elite that control the police, military, and economy are glad that you didn’t mention them.

Posted in capitalism, corporations, Economics, policy, Protest | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Worth and dignity, even the condemned

Yesterday Kelly Gissendaner was killed by the state of Georgia. She was a member of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, the Unitarian Universalist organization for the imprisoned, isolated, and far-flung people searching for truth and meaning. Her history and beliefs are very different from my own, but she is one of many people convicted of serious crimes who devoted herself to transformation in part due to the publications and work of the CLF.

As a Unitarian Universalist, the first principle of the faith is “the inherent worth and dignity of every person”. That includes those condemned to die. There is no justice to be won by the State engaging in murder and calling it justice.

Posted in Justice, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

San Diego Sheriff hate mail III: Media reports, department takes things “very seriously”

Following the press conference by United Against Police Terror and its allies this morning, news coverage is pouring in. The conference was followed by a perfunctory statement by the department stating that they were taking the matter of hate email coming from the Sheriff’s Department IP address “very seriously” and were conducting an internal investigation.

NBC 7 San Diego: “Sheriff’s Dept. Launches Internal Investigation After Activist Group Receives Hate Email”

From NBC 7 San Diego newscast, 9/22/15. Shows excerpt of hate mail.

From NBC 7 San Diego newscast, 9/22/15. Shows excerpt of hate mail.

The email says, in part, “The police aren’t the problem. It’s the criminals out there victimizing the real citizens of the country that are the problem.”

Much of the email is too profane to broadcast on TV or copy in an article.

Mendonça said perhaps the most troubling part of the email was where the writer described Ferguson protesters as “animals.”

“It just perpetuates that ‘lesser of a being’ (stereotype), and it highlights how much racism is still present to this day,” [Catherine] Mendonça said. “There’s still hundreds of years of racism that we still need to overcome.”

San Diego Union-Tribune: “Sheriff’s probe origin of hate email to activist group” by Pauline Repard

The email rant that referred to Ferguson, Mo. protesters as animals and said “real citizens” of the county love the police was sent Sept. 16 to the website of United Against Police Terror San Diego, its spokeswoman, Cat Mendonca said.

Mendonca held a news conference outside the sheriff’s Kearny Mesa headquarters on Tuesday to say her organization had filed a complaint with the Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board, which handles complaints against sheriff’s deputies.

CBS 8 News: “Sheriff’s Department Investigating Profane Email”

Jeff Olson of Socialist Alternative San Diego speaks at the press conference. 9/22/15

Jeff Olson of Socialist Alternative San Diego speaks at the press conference. 9/22/15

Protesters are calling on Sheriff Bill Gore to take action after a profane email traced back to sheriff’s headquarters was sent to an activist group critical of law enforcement policies.

Univision San Diego: Organización recibe correo amenazante y lo rastrean hasta el Departamento del Alguacil (Organization receives threatening mail tracked to the Sheriff’s Department)”

Press conference at Sheriff's Dept. 9/22/15

Press conference at Sheriff’s Dept. 9/22/15

En un comunicado de prensa señalaron que el mensaje fue recibido el miércoles 16 de septiembre con insultos, defendiendo a la policía y llamando a los protestantes de policías de Ferguson “animales”.

Mencionaron que en esta era de anonimato en internet, el recibir este tipo de correos es algo común para la organización, lo que no fue común, fue que supuestamente lo recibieron del Departamento del Alguacil.

Frontera San Diego: “Carta de odio enviada a activistas desde oficina del Alguacil” by Ana L. Gómez

A copy of the complaint filed against the Sheriff's Department by United Against Police Terror San Diego. 9/22/15

A copy of the complaint filed against the Sheriff’s Department by United Against Police Terror San Diego. 9/22/15

The Anti-Media: “Email Traced Back to San Diego Sheriff’s Shows How Cops Really Feel About Protesters” by Derrick Broze

This latest saga between police accountability activists and the police is yet another example of the divisions gripping the country. Without a doubt, individuals who threaten violence against other free humans should be held accountable. However, we should not allow ourselves to be sucked into a false paradigm of the people versus the police.

Any good-hearted police officers remaining within the ranks of the increasingly militarized local police departments should quickly leave as conscientious objectors. Only by making it clear that their intention is to support the community — not defend the state — will officers gain the support of the people. At the same time, the activists in the streets should make it clear they are against violent criminals, not misguided individuals who joined the police force in an effort to serve and protect.

We can find common ground and strengthen our bonds and unity by recognizing the way this system is dividing us along lines of race and profession, among other things. We are one and it’s time we start organizing and acting like it. Let’s not further divide ourselves. Instead, let’s work towards the harmony and unity of all people and focus our energies on our mutual enemies.

The Raw Story: “Someone in the San Diego sheriff’s office thinks police protesters are drug-addicted ‘animals'” by Travis Gettys (Sept. 24)

The San Diego sheriff’s department launched an investigation after someone sent obscenity-riddled hate mail to an activist group protesting police brutality.

But investigators soon learned, like the babysitter in the urban legend, the calls are coming from inside the house.

Mediaite coverage by Ken Meyer (has mistake- this was the county sheriff not the San Diego PD)

spokeswoman Cat Mendonca and Lt. Marco Garmo held a press conference on Tuesday where they said that an internal investigation was underway, acknowledging that the IP address did, indeed, come from their computers.

Copblock: “San Diego Activist Group Tracks Hate Mail to Sheriff’s Department” by Dylan Donnelly

This message isn’t anything new for police or the internet.  The author illustrates a common “Us vs Them” mentality among police officers that dehumanizes the people they claim to serve.  The “thin blue line” culture is intolerant of dissent, drawing a line between the “real citezens [sic]” and those not worthy of police protection, common decency, dignity or life.

Catherine Mendonca of UAPTSD said, “I really do hope that the broader discussion of why we’re a target can happen #SDSTOLENLIVES need #Justice“.

Posted in Justice, Media, police | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

San Diego Sheriff hate mail II: activists take it to the media

Catherine Mendonca speaks to the media about hate mail traced to police computers.

Catherine Mendonca speaks to the media about hate mail traced to police computers. Credit- Birdie Gutierrez

A press conference was held outside a San Diego County Sheriff’s Department administrative building this morning, concerning the September 16 hate mail received by police watchdog group United Against Police Terror. The unsigned email had an IP address that matched a Sheriff’s Department building in San Diego. Full info and commentary at an earlier post here.

Five San Diego TV channels covered the rally, so check the local news tonight for coverage of an episode of appalling police behavior in San Diego.

Rafael Bautista speaks to Univision regarding police threats to San Diego activists. Credit- Birdie Gutierrez

Rafael Bautista speaks to Univision regarding police threats to San Diego activists. Credit- Birdie Gutierrez

Posted in Justice, police, Protest | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

All Lives Matter? Like when the Founders said “all men are created equal”?

Tweet from

Tweet from

The rhetoric of “all lives matter” in response to “black lives matter” is one of the most tired, toxic debates of the past year. My own opinion is relatively common- the latter is clearly not true in our society, and thus the former is clearly not true until things change.

“All lives matter” is the cry of people who in one way or another don’t see black Americans as equal to themselves. This stretches from dime-a-dozen racists to immensely powerful people. A politician can say “all lives matter”, then go to the floor and vote for mass incarceration, for cuts to social programs, against police accountability, and all matter of policies that reinforce white supremacy and create second-class semi-citizens. The victims of the War on Drugs are not only caught in a cycle of poverty, they have an inferior set of civil rights. American political and social leaders exalt freedom and liberty, but draw clear lines on who is to receive them and who is not deserving.

As the tweet states, perhaps my favorite summary of the issue, we should not be surprised by the disingenuous use of “all lives matter”. The United States is built upon hypocrisy. Of promising one thing and delivering another. Just like “all men or created equal” was based on a very narrow definition of who is a person- male, free, and white- it is abundantly clear that in 2015 the lives of people of color are not worthy of consideration. My previous post about police intimidation of activists saw a law enforcement official create a line between “true citizens” and those that challenge the system. I doubt the author of the email thinks that all lives matter equally.

Liberty and justice for all? Hardly.

Courts are a model of efficiency when they impose mandatory minimums for crimes of survival, but have no interest in capitalist looting of society. Property is valued higher than certain types of people. A CVS was damaged in Baltimore? Clearly people of color can’t control their anger. An irate officer tackles Sandra Bland after arresting her for nothing? Well, she should have just cooperated with the officer- the officer didn’t do anything wrong!

This is the latest of many episodes where the core hypocrisy of the American state is exposed- a state built on the bones of indigenous people, and fueled by the forced labor of people deemed unworthy of being included in the statement “all men are created equal.”

Posted in police, racism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

San Diego Sheriff’s Department sends not-so-anonymous hate mail to activists

The toxic atmosphere between San Diego law enforcement and the activists looking to hold police accountable for unjust and illegal actions took another hit Wednesday, as an organization received a threatening email that appears to come from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.

United Against Police Terror San Diego (UAPTSD) received an email through the contact page of their website at 6:19 PST on September 16. Posted in ALL CAPS, the email ridiculed UAPTSD and their mission. The sender praised gang injunctions and referred to protestors in places like Ferguson as “animals.” They drew a line between activists and “the real citezens [sic] of this county and the nation” who “work hard” and “dont [sic] accept government welfare”. The email ends by stating “the good people of this county and country will always prevail over scum like you. Good luck. Your [sic] going to need it.”

Threatening email sent to United Against Police Terror San Diego.

Threatening email sent to United Against Police Terror San Diego.

The email is unsigned, and comes from the address “”. It is clear that the individual believed their hate mail to be anonymous.

However, email sent through the UAPTSD website contact page logs the IP address of the sender. Using a IP lookup service, the email seems to come from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department- in particular the Communication Center located at 5555 Overland Ave, in Building 12.

Full information about the IP address that sent the email.

Full information about the IP address that sent the email.

This is corroborated with the text of the email itself- the author uses “county” again and again rather than “city” or “state”, indicating an origin within county law enforcement.

Hatred and juvenility from San Diego law enforcement organizations is nothing new. This email is the product of a culture rooted in racism and inability to tolerate dissent. When the author separates protestors from “real citezens [sic]”, it makes sense why San Diego police treat some people with dignity and others as lesser beings. This email also emerged from a facility paid for by residents of the county, reinforcing the activist claim that more police funding doesn’t lead to safer societies. It’s not just the weapons and technology that’s been militarized, it’s the wartime outlook that divides everyone into allies or enemies.

The Guardian lists 174 unarmed people killed by police in the United States so far in 2015. That’s only the tip of a much larger system of violence, profiling, detention. A county law enforcement official calling those that want justice “scum” is not one bad apple. These people emerge from a rotten system, with a thousand different symptoms. Using a police network to threaten activists is just one.

There will be a press conference about this on Tuesday, September 22 at noon. Updates about the precise location and other info will be at the Facebook event page here.

Posted in police, Protest, racism | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments