On This September 15, 2016

By Leslye Joy Allen

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Today is my play big brother Walter Dallas’ birthday.  A brilliant director, playwright and composer, I was so glad to talk with him this morning. Today it has also been reported that Sandra Bland’s family has reached a settlement in the wrongful death lawsuit they filed against Texas police officers (Read: Sandra Bland’s Family Reaches $1.9 Million Dollar Settlement).  I can only say that her family fought valiantly for changes to be made at the jail where Sandra Bland died. Her family might have gotten a bigger settlement if Black women’s lives mattered half as much as the lip service we often hear that says that we actually matter.  Talk is cheap.

Today is also the 53rd anniversary of Birmingham, Alabama’s 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that snuffed out the lives of four young black girls named Cynthia Morris (later called Cynthia Wesley), Carole Robertson, Denise McNair, and Addie Mae Collins. Addie Mae’s sister Sarah Collins Rudolph survived the blast, but lost an eye and her sister. Two black boys were killed the same day near the church in additional acts of racial violence; they were Johnny Robinson and Virgil Ware. So how does one celebrate the birthday of a wonderful director, playwright, composer and all-around great guy while remembering the deaths of our children, and of those who died needlessly in police custody and much too soon?

On the surface no visible correlation exists between any of these events. Yet, a birthday is often a milestone to look back at what one has accomplished and what one wants to accomplish in the years ahead. These deaths, however, are painful reminders of the work still ahead of us, a reminder to pause and appreciate those among the living for who they are and what they do because no day is promised to any of us.

It is for me also a reminder of all those butterflies, the white and yellow clouded sulfur butterflies, and the orange and black monarch butterflies, that have followed me for the last two weeks, in my yard, in the street, and in parking lots that remind me of renewal and transformation, and that those who live with us for a long time and those who leave us too soon will return again. Àṣé!”

Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2016. All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

Advertisements

They Should Live Where You Live

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait,” Copyright © Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I am not going to rant about the deaths of unarmed Black men and women, and unarmed men and women of color killed by police or those who have unnecessarily died in police custody.  As someone who was once harassed by police, I need no convincing that this nation has a policing problem.  (And I’m too exhausted with the campaigns for President of the United States to make any commentary about that.)  Yet, as much as this nation has a problem about the often poor relationships between police and communities of color, I would add that it is dangerous to make or create a single national narrative about these relationships. We need several narratives and they need to be local.  Let me give you a scenario that paints one local picture about where I live.

On that rare occasion when I have called police, I typically got a quick response.  And I live in a 99.9% Black middle class Atlanta neighborhood.  Typically, the only time the police are called on the street where I live is when someone has a dog that barks late at night (this usually requires a phone call to Animal Control, as well), or when some kids are playing music too loud and late at night; but none of this happens with any real frequency.  Some homes are occupied by renters who often have to learn that some things are not tolerated in this subdivision.  Now, one of the key differences about my subdivision’s relationship to police is that there is a small group of neighbors, all of who are homeowners, who regularly speak with police about anything they see as out of the ordinary.  I also learned from these same neighbors to call the Non-Emergency Police Line and request that an officer come out to see you personally.  You do this when you want a small matter handled without getting someone arrested.  Let me give you an example.

A dog was barking continuously late at night.  I rarely saw the pet’s owner because she worked odd hours.  She was a renter, looked to be maybe twenty-something years old, but I did not know her, and I rarely saw her long enough to speak to her about the dog.  A neighbor had placed a note in her mailbox about the dog, but nothing happened.  I was awakened late at night and in the early morning to this barking dog for about two weeks.  Every night he would bark, I would go look out my windows to make sure there wasn’t some stranger or some intrusive animal lurking around the house.  I never saw anything.  I called Animal Control, first.

Animal Control said call the police because the owner of the dog was violating a Noise Ordinance by allowing the animal to stay outside and disturb the peace after 10:00 PM.  I called the Non-Emergency Police Line.  The officer that answered the phone asked if I had contacted Animal Control.  I told him that I had spoken with Animal Control, and then I asked him to send a police officer to my home so that I could speak with them.  Because it was not an emergency, he told me someone would come by in about two hours.  In roughly 45 minutes a police officer was pulling up in my driveway.  I walked outside and spoke to the officer, and told him about the dog.

“What do you want me to do?” he asked.  I said, “I want you to go over to her house and just tell her that she either needs to put the dog in the house at night or get the dog one of those collars that deters barking.  Let her know about the Noise Ordinance law because she might not know this. I don’t want anyone cited for anything.  I just need you to let her know that the dog is keeping people up late at night.” 

The police officer did exactly what I asked him to do.  He came back and told me he had spoken with the woman.  Since all backyards on my street are fenced in, it is quite typical for pets to remain safely outside in one’s backyard during the day or night.  I reasoned that because she worked odd hours, often at night, she probably never heard her dog creating a disturbance.  That same evening before she left for work, she put her dog inside her house so the pet would not wake up her neighbors.

Now, what I did to resolve this small problem here in Atlanta might not work somewhere else.  It might not even work in another section of Atlanta.  In a different town or neighborhood, I might have been harassed (or possibly, shot) because I dared complain about a barking dog; and the police might not have even bothered to come out to speak with me or with my neighbor about what the police considered a trivial matter.  In some scenarios, where you live matters almost as much as the color of your skin or the nature of the problem.  However, too often the narratives or plans of action, come from national leaders who do not have a clue about the relationships between police and citizens in any particular neighborhood or town.  Furthermore, what works in Atlanta might not work in New York City and then again it might work in New York City.  Yet, Atlanta is not New York City is not Ferguson is not Baltimore is not Chicago, and etcetera.

Many powerful public voices are speaking out against police brutality and the need for more meaningful dialogues between the police and people in the communities the police are supposed to serve.  They are right for doing so.  Yet, many of those national and/or regional voices do not live where you and I live.  In fact, many “so-called” local activists do not live where we live.  Every Black person I know, knows of at least one activist minister who only visits a particular neighborhood to preach on Sunday, while that same minister no longer lives in the neighborhood where the church is located, but rather lives in some distant suburb.  We all know at least one activist politician who is always speaking out about something that has gone terribly wrong in one of our communities.  The problem is that minister or politician often never sets foot in the neighborhood in question until there is a problem or until it is election time.  Their voices may be necessary, and much of what they have to say might be useful.  Yet, they should not be the only voices defining the narrative about how to address these problems.

If you want to find out more about the police where you live, you can and probably should stop by a nearby police precinct and introduce yourself.  You will find out rather quickly how cordial those police are to you in a few minutes.  It never hurts when a few police officers know you as a law-abiding citizen that tries to look out for your neighborhood.  Additionally, when there is a real problem in your neighborhood, you might get a much swifter response because of that relationship.

Yet, you should also carefully monitor and choose who should speak for you and your community.  Whoever it is ought to know the lay of the land, how the people who live there interact with each other and with law enforcement officials.  It ought to be someone that has a personal vested interest in where you live, not simply someone who shows up when a problem arises so that they can get some good press coverage.  It ought to be someone who lives where you live.

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

An Encounter with the Police on My Way to Latin Class

By Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Most of my encounters with police have been rare and routine.  Most of the police officers I have dealt with have been courteous and helpful.  I have made the occasional phone call about the neighbor whose dog has been running around the neighborhood terrorizing a few people.  The police come out, speak with the offender, and the matter is resolved.  Yet, I remember this incident…

A police officer discovered I had a “First Insurance Cancellation Suspension” on my driver’s license.  For those of you born late in the 20th century, let me explain.  An insurance cancellation suspension was common if you changed cars or changed insurance companies.  You used to get a form in the mail from the Department of Motor Vehicles instructing you to record your new insurance or new car.  Occasionally, however, you might not receive the form by mail, and you could easily forget about it.  Therefore, if your new car/new insurance data had not arrived at the Department of Motor Vehicles when you bought a new car or changed your car insurance, you could end up with this particular type of suspension.  You typically had to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles, show them your new purchase, along with your new insurance card.

In what appeared to be a routine road check for driver’s license and insurance, the Decatur Police held me for three hours only a few months after I purchased a car from my elderly uncle.  This happened in the spring of 1998 when I was back in college to complete my Bachelor’s degree at Agnes Scott College.  After checking my Driver’s License number the officer stated that I had a “First Insurance Cancellation Suspension” on the car I previously owned.  I showed him my new insurance card on the car I was driving.  I knew I would have to straighten out the suspension before I drove my car again.  Since I was about a mile from the campus, I asked him if he could radio the Agnes Scott College Police and have someone from that police department drive down the street, and pick me (and the car) up.

I explained that I would have my Mama come pick me up at Agnes Scott and we would go to the Department of Motor Vehicles and get the suspension problem cleared up.  “I’m not calling anybody,” he said.  I pulled out my student ID.  He said, “I don’t need that. Girl, get out of the car.”  I was a grown woman in my thirties; and while I might not have looked as old as my birth certificate said I was, I was no “girl.”  I kept my mouth closed, but I am sure he sensed my displeasure.

I got out of the car and he instructed me to lie down in the street.  When I asked why are you doing this?  He told me to shut up.  While I lay down in the street for over 30 minutes, he and another two officers pulled the back seat out of my car.  They searched the trunk.  If it had not been for the little old man that came out of his house to watch, I do not know what else might have happened.  I was terrified, but I suffer from something my Mama used to call, “Your Daddy’s Disease.”  She said my father never showed fear when under pressure.  He always looked fearless, even menacing, when some horrible event was going on.  Then later when everything was all over, he would fall apart, shaking and reaching for a good stiff drink.  “That kind of thing can get you killed, Joy,” Mama said, “When someone expects you to be afraid, sometimes the worst thing you can do is look like you have no fear.”

Eventually a female police officer appeared and asked me if I wanted to call my Mama using her phone.  The first police officer decided to write me a simple ticket for driving with a suspended license and left me standing there in the street.  He drove off.  That sweet little old man stood there and talked with me until Mama arrived.  He told me he thought the Decatur police were doing some kind of sweep.  “They’re looking for somebody that’s up to no good, and they’re tryin’ to find ‘em in these road blocks,” he said.  Mama arrived in about 30 minutes and picked me up.  My new best friend—that sweet observant little old Black man told me to leave my car where it was until the suspension problem was straightened out.  “Them SOBs are probably waiting somewhere watching and waiting for you to drive off so they can give you another ticket or take you to jail.  I’ll watch your car until you get back,” he said.

Mama asked me how my clothes got so dirty.  I lied and told her I slipped and fell.  She would have had a heart attack if I told her what really happened to her only child.  We headed to the Department of Motor Vehicles.  The clerk handed me a simple form that I filled out citing that I no longer owned the previous vehicle and therefore had no insurance on that vehicle.  I had to write down the serial number and model of my current car and provide my proof of insurance.  The clerk recorded my data and lifted my “First Insurance Cancellation Suspension.”  All of this took about 20 minutes.

I did argue my case in traffic court.  The police officer rolled his eyes at me as I explained in detail his refusal to call the Agnes Scott College police even after I showed him my student ID.  I told the judge every detail and showed him my insurance card, the purchase of my car, and the statement from the Department of Motor Vehicles that lifted my insurance cancellation suspension.  To add as much injury as I could, I said, “I missed my Latin Class because of this!”  The judge dismissed my case.  I paid no fine.  I was lucky.  Yet, I sensed that what happened to me was not rare.  This kind of treatment happens to women, and particularly Black women and women of color, with a frequency that many people do not want to admit.  Black women encounter more than our share of rudeness and physical intimidation from police.  

I consider myself to be an average size woman.  I finally managed to gain enough weight to make it to a whopping 135 pounds at 5 feet, 5 inches tall.  At the time of this incident, I weighed only 115 pounds.  That police officer was at least 6’ 2” tall and weighed over 200 pounds.  He called me a girl.  He told me to shut up.  He did not throw me to the ground, Thank God.  Yet, just imagine how easy it would have been for him to do so.

 

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

A Turk Talks Atlanta: Another Perspective of Race and America

Weary Self-Portrait 2

Wear Self-Portrait 2 (Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.)

By Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

On Wednesday, September 10, 2014, I boarded the MARTA train here in Atlanta heading home from teaching a morning class and having a brief meeting with a professor. When I entered the train station, the humidity was overpowering. A man in a business suit that appeared to me to be either Arab or Turkish, pulled off his jacket. He looked at me and smiled and said in a thick accent, “HOT-LANTA is not just a nickname, eh?”

We laughed and began to exchange pleasantries about the weather and the city. He informed me that he has to travel all around the United States quite a bit, but he said something that struck me.

He said rather seriously, “Your young people, the students and the school children, are so much more polite and friendly. They are nowhere near as noisy or ill mannered as I have seen in so many other cities around the country. I like Atlanta, except for these humid days.”

We laughed as we both boarded the southbound train. I asked him where he was from. He was originally from Turkey. Then I asked him why he thought Atlanta students were so much quieter. He said that in some places around the world, people consider Americans to be rather loud or at least that is the general stereotype. “In fact,” he said, “I saw a restaurant once with a sign that said, No Loud Americans, please.”

He saw a look on my face that suggested to him that I had another question. He said, “I am always flying in to the Atlanta airport and taking your train to downtown, and almost all the kids and young people I see are Black and polite. Some of them dress funny, but all have been friendly and rather quiet compared to what I have seen elsewhere.”

I had to scratch my head. For while I deal with large numbers of respectable, hard-working young Black students all the time, the perception from many quarters of Atlanta and throughout the United States is that to be in the company of young Black people means you will be constantly annoyed by loud music and loud conversation. Truthfully, I have encountered loud and rude behavior from young folks of all races and ethnicities right here in Atlanta, but it has not been nearly as severe or as often as some people might think.

This Turkish man taught me something about perspective and why I am glad I now strongly insist that my students and friends read foreign news reports as often as possible. The view from some place else is not the same as when you routinely see the same folks all the time, even when those folks are your own people.

Importantly, this Turkish man decided to look at Atlanta and Black people with eyes and ears that have not been trained to only focus on the disasters that are regularly reported on the six o’clock news. He has been observant enough to notice that when people encountered Americans overseas who were loud, that the loud American—stereotype or not—was not a racial stereotype, but a national one.

In the weeks and months ahead as we Black folk all process so much of the bad news about domestic abuse, gender discrimination, racial profiling, violence and war, I hope that we remember that perspectives about who and what we are as a people are not always as negative as the pundits would have us believe.  I hope we also realize that the constant worry about our image is unnecessary.  People here and around the globe are either intelligent enough and informed enough to form a reasonable opinion or they are not.  No degree of sugar-coating or covering up anything will change perspectives in the United States or abroad.

Yet, I also hope we remember that the perspectives of people who are on the outside looking in, who do not live with us constantly, have much to tell us if we bother to listen to and look for those perspectives. Yet, the only way to listen to those perspectives and look for those other opinions abroad is to make sure we are not the loud and brass Americans that only think our perspectives matter.  Peace.

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen & is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

A Dred Scott Moment About Trayvon Martin

By Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate, Doctoral Student

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

For even the worst student of American History, the case of Dred Scott v. Sanford remains one of the easiest to remember.  Many historians believe that this legal drama led to the American Civil War in 1860.  In fact, the name “Dred Scott” conjures up that infamous statement by U. S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (pronounced “Tawney”)*, who ruled that, Black people “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”  Anyone can use the name “Dred Scott” as a search term on the Internet and find hundreds, if not thousands, of accounts, including reproductions of the legal documents used in this tragic and pivotal court case.  If you need to read a quick summary of it, click here: Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857).

Visit any online bookstore, public or university library and you will find dozens of books on the subject.  There have even been a few fictionalized accounts of his life.  Yet, in the main, the textbook story about him is largely about the case he and his wife ultimately lost when the United States Supreme Court ruled against them in 1857 after this couple had trudged through eleven long years of litigation.  Yet, in spite of the notoriety of this Supreme Court ruling, information about Dred and Harriet Scott as individuals remains largely and primarily the interest of the serious historian or legal scholar.

Some extensive book accounts about the Scott family note certain characteristics of Dred Scott’s personality and his limitations (e.g. Like most slaves in the mid-nineteenth century, he was illiterate).  The textbook and encyclopedia accounts, however, stick to the main facts in the legal case.  Most people forget (or never knew) that after the Supreme Court ruled against him, Taylor Blow (a member of a family that once owned Scott) purchased him and set him free.  Yet, Scott only lived another year and four months—dead by May of 1858.  Even worse, his grave only received an “official marker” some ninety-nine years later when Blow’s granddaughter purchased one for his grave in 1957.**

I bring up these lesser known facts about Scott to make a point about this issue of “individuals,” and to highlight some real limitations often found in history, social commentary, and performance and visual arts—namely, that the human beings at the center of a storm often become transformed into causes, into ideas, into legends.  As much as we all need causes, great ideas and legends, there is the risk of losing the individual.  This is particularly true of the late Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teenager shot and killed in Sanford, Florida by George Zimmerman who is, at the time of this writing, about to stand trial for his murder.  I need not retell the details about the death of Martin here.  You can read my early commentary about this tragedy by reading the blogs in my Blog Archive.  I only ask you to remember a few things.

For the public, particularly the African-American public, Trayvon Martin is another painful reminder of this nation’s history of judicial and social obstruction and neglect; and a long and painful history of racially motivated violence.  With his face emblazoned on T-Shirts, special photos, and artwork, we do not really know who Trayvon Martin was as an individual save for what he now symbolizes to us in death.  We also do not really know Zimmerman, but he too is also now a symbol—Depending on which side you are on he is either the personification of the horrors that acute racist profiling can produce or he is a symbol of every person who ever shot someone in self-defense who was unjustly accused of murder.  Yet, neither Trayvon Martin (nor Zimmerman, for that matter) exists in their parents, extended family and friends’ memories in this manner.

Martin’s Mom and Dad remember his first baby steps, his first words, and yes, even the first time they scolded him.  They will remember birthdays and Christmases.  They will remember his favorite foods, TV shows, toys and gadgets.  They will recall his smiles and his mischief; and they will inevitably remember the first time he got into some potentially serious trouble—he was, after all, an adolescent at the time of his death.  Anyone with a teenager knows that those years are difficult precisely because the child is making that awkward transition from child into adult.  Martin might symbolize a lot to all of us, but he ultimately belonged to his mother and father.

I will not make any predictions about the trial of George Zimmerman.  I can only say that for Trayvon Martin’s parents in particular, this case is not just about fighting for the noble cause of ending racially motivated violence.  It is also and primarily about finding some sense of justice and closure for the loss of their son.  Yet, we must admit that with the passage of time, how most of us will eventually remember Trayvon Martin could easily mirror the way most of us remember Dred Scott.  Those of us who read about him in history classes know that we studied more about the political and social significance of the court case than we ever studied or knew about Dred Scott as a man, a husband and father.  We know even less about his wife Harriet Scott, an often forgotten and overlooked actor in this pivotal litigation.  Years after Zimmerman’s murder trial is over, no matter the outcome, Trayvon Martin’s parents WILL NOT see him as “that case about the Black boy who was wearing a hoodie, who got killed in Sanford, Florida,” but rather as their son who they lost too soon—It is this fact that we, the public, will too soon forget.  Yet, it is this fact that I hope we will somehow struggle to always remember.

Trayvon Martin’s Father Remembers

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

*          Daniel Walker Howe, What God Hath Wrought: The Transformation of America, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 379.

**         New York Times,  “Honor For Dred Scott:  Granddaughter of Man Who Freed Slave Places Marker,” 26 July 1957.

Leslye Joy Allen is proud to support the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.