The upcoming Labor Day weekend marks the first in-person West Indian Day parade in three years, and longtime residents of Little Caribbean in Flatbush and neighboring Crown Heights find themselves facing a drastically different Brooklyn than the one they have come to call home.
Rapid gentrification has shifted the natural rhythm of a bustling working-class community in Flatbush and its slow buildup into parade season. The parade is an export of Caribbean carnival culture that has been preserved by their multigenerational immigrant communities since the early 1900s, and ultimately integrated into an indelible part of Brooklyn’s Black infrastructure. What was once a universally anticipated culmination of a magical Brooklyn summer in the community is now the source of ongoing anxiety. Noise complaints have been on the rise in the last decade and violent incidents on Labor Day tend to lead stories about the weekend’s events, which residents say stigmatizes the long-standing celebrations and dampens excitement around one of the biggest parades in the city.
On February 24, Russia breached the Ukrainian border, invading the country from four directions. Immediately, the western world mobilized in support of the Ukrainian people: #IStandWithUkraine trended globally, and brands everywhere shared messages of solidarity, sporting the Ukrainian flag. In a rare first, people seemed to be mostly united on a topic of international affairs: the Ukrainian people needed support, and anyone fleeing the casualties of war should absolutely have the right to be afforded shelter and protection. Unfortunately, the hidden caveat of international diplomacy is that it is predicated on a global framework of anti-Blackness, and the current conflict is no exception.
2020 has been a year plagued by a lack of clarity and direction, with great loss exacerbated by deep systemic inequalities. The troubling conditions, in America, have been buttressed with recent audio confirming that the executive office knew about the ruinous potential of COVID-19, and willfully misled the public. So far, the death toll from the virus has crossed 200,000. Deep fissures in the country’s fabric have been exposed, revealing the urgence of policy around healthcare, immigration, housing, and policing. Amongst all of the noise, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro has been at the vanguard, facilitating these conversations on the national stage.
Despite not being a front-runner during primary season, Castro has made waves for framing the immigration conversation around policies such as Section 1325 and 287(g), which criminalizes illegal entry and enforces compulsory collaboration with local law enforcement. Castro focuses on repositioning the narrative of the “American Dream” as one that should be reformed and enabled rather than obstructed, considering the amount of national investment in the flawed precept that we are a country built on the backs of immigrants.
From Despondent To Defiant, Dua Saleh’s ‘body cast’ Stomps On Everyday Injustice
May 30, 2020
Dua Saleh — Black, nonbinary, Sudanese and Minnesotan — is driven by the generative work within their communities. They released “body cast” at the close of May, stating that they “intended to save it for a project in the future, but I can’t wait that long with what is happening in my city of Minneapolis.” Over sparse production, they pack in dense couplets, wailing, “Lately I’ve had plaster on my mind / County ain’t on s*** they got bodies on the line / Lately I’ve been analyzing time / Y’all been dodging cameras like they bullets over crime.” In the course of two and half minutes, they veer from despondent to defiant, sinking into angst only to rise back up in rage. The final moments include audio from a viral video of Angela Whitehead asserting her right to refuse the police entry into her property — a vignette that is breathtaking for its utter recalcitrance and almost mythic in its seeming implausibility.
Originally published for Complex on. August 28th, 2020
A little over five years have passed since Bree Newsome commanded the nation’s newsfeeds with the insurgent act of stripping the South Carolina State House of its Confederate adornments. Despite a shift in administration, a viral pandemic and media cycles that have wildly accelerated in the wake of record unemployment and quarantine, as Newsome herself does not hesitate to point out, the more things have changed, the more they stay the same. “The system itself is the problem,” she explains. “I don’t think that the existing system can bring solutions because it’s not broken.”
In the time since her arrest, Newsome has remain unbowed, committing to coalition work in her current residence of North Carolina—such as the Housing Justice Coalition in Charlotte and its state-level campaigns such as #NeedAHome2StayAtHome. She continues to use her social and digital platforms to try to effect grassroots disruption. Simultaneously, monuments around the country—Stonewall Jackson in Richmond, Virginia, and Christopher Columbus in Boston, for example—are toppling at a much higher rate than when Newsome initially made headlines. For some, this was a harbinger of an uprising that has yet to fully materialize, while the ever-looming conversation around the November 2020 election casts its shadow over daily protests and steadily increasing unemployment numbers.
When George Floyd’s life was brutally ended under the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, he repeatedly pleaded for his life, uttering the phrase: “I can’t breathe,” a painful déjà vu that hearkens many New Yorkers’ memories back to the death of Eric Garner via police chokehold in Staten Island just under six years ago.
Eric Garner’s killing brought to the national forefront the brutal truth of what New Yorkers had long contended within our neighborhoods and enclaves — that Black and POC communities in New York City were at the mercy of an unchecked police state, in all of its iterations, from the punitive shadow of immigration enforcement to the coded criminalization of Black neighborhoods in the form of broken windows policing.
The tragedy of Eric Garner however, was far from the first time that an incident of this scale reached national attention;15 years earlier, Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo was killed at the hands of four plainclothes police officers with 41 bullets, claiming that he met the description of a rape suspect and seemed to have a weapon on him (it was later confirmed that he was reaching for his wallet). Two years prior, Haitian immigrant Abner Louima was assaulted and sexually abused by 4 police officers in the 70th precinct of the NYPD after being picked up outside of an East Flatbush nightclub.
Presently, the neighborhood of Flatbush is reinvigorated in a new crusade against the police – a rush of organizing that has been inspired by the wave of protests that began in Minneapolis in the wake of George Floyd’s death, as well as the ongoing tensions with the increased police presence in the subways and streets that have already caused several violent conflicts with young teens. There are long-standing disruptions as well, as Emily Batista, organizer for Equality for Flatbush points out, “in Caribbean communities in Brooklyn, the informal economy and means of making money as a result of being systematically pushed out of the formal economy is criminalized by the NYPD,” adding “we know that the NYPD targets dollar van drivers, local street vendors, and the Caribbean owned businesses with harassment and violence. That is why we organize Black and Brown people across Brooklyn.”
Black New York residents have had to accept empty promises of pathways for reform. Organizations like Equality for Flatbush, as a result, have been proactively involved in organizing efforts, expanding their anti-policing actions into dedicated protests against police brutality. “When fighting for police and prison abolition, we are fighting the oppressive systems that criminalize Black Caribbean lives,” Batista says. “The police work with ICE to capture, detain, harass and intimidate people because of their possible immigration status. Fighting against white supremacy means fighting towards the liberation of all Black and Brown people from all forms of incarceration and prosecution.”
Neighborhoods with large African and Caribbean immigrant populations were also disproportionately targeted in stop and frisk. In a 2019 report, The New York Civil Liberties Union listed the precincts in New York City where force was most likely to be used by a police officer during a stop and frisk encounter between 2014 and 2017. At the top of the list were precincts in the neighborhoods of Concourse and Highbridge; Hunts Point; East Tremont and Belmont; Eastchester, Wakefield and Williamsbridge; University Heights and Morris Heights. All have large African and Caribbean populations, according to data from the American Community Survey.
For instance, force was used in 55% of the stops at the 44th Precinct in the Bronx neighborhoods of Concourse and Highbridge. They’re encompassed by Community District 4 where 41.6% of the population is foreign-born. Of that population, 63% were born in the Caribbean and 14.5% were born in Africa.
The five community districts where force was most likely to be used during a stop by the police were all in the Bronx. All had foreign born populations above New York City’s average, and are comprised mainly of African and Caribbean immigrants.
For the communities that organizers and activists such as Equality for Flatbush serve, which often have high densities of immigrants of all statuses, this presents a unique risk. Regardless of documentation status, present immigration policies, their enforcement and administration mean that any interaction with police, even in “sanctuary cities” like New York, can alert Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
ICE has reportedly evaded sanctuary rules by using police fingerprint records to send letters to arrested immigrants — usually for low-level misdemeanor offenses such as fare hopping — and asking them to come into the agency’s Manhattan offices, which presents a concern for the levels of violent arrests that have been ongoing during the protests. In a notable recent night of protests in late May, over 300 people were arrested while documented instances of violence against civilians at the hands of police were made viral throughout social media.
This added risk for the violent clashes that happen between protesters and police in communities like Flatbush in Brooklyn or Mott Haven in the Bronx is not insignificant. Peaceful protests in those neighborhoods were recently met with an NYPD tactic called kettling, which often provokes conflict. Black immigrants make up a disproportionate number of criminal-based deportations. According to the advocacy group Black Alliance for Just Immigration, 76 percent of Black immigrants are deported on criminal grounds, compared to 45 percent of all immigrants. Despite making up only 7.2 percent of the noncitizen population in the US, more than 20 percent of people facing deportation on criminal grounds are Black.
The double-bind of being Black and an immigrant in working-class predominantly Black neighborhoods, such as Concourse village in the Bronx and Canarsie in Brooklyn, places you at an added risk of being churned through both the criminal and immigration court system without much of an escape route. This creates a prison-to-deportation pipeline, the likes of which has become increasingly difficult to evade, as outlined here. Despite this, immigrants continue to fight for the future they believe Blacks in America deserve. Inside detention facilities, they are organizing hunger strikes in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement; calling attention to the terrible conditions where they’re being held and highlighting how immigration court systems continue to uphold the exploitation of Black lives while they’re in detention.
As much as ICE labels their holding spaces “civil” detention, there is very little that is materially different between their facilities and a standard prison, except for a denial of a guaranteed right to a lawyer and free reign for indefinite holds. “Abolishing police is basically essential to break the deportation machine. This is why we talk about the prison industrial complex,” New York City-based immigration lawyer Sophia Gurule said.
As the protests continue, the wide diaspora of faces continue their rebellion all in lockstep, bravely challenging a common enemy; the overarching scepter of the police brutality, the prison industrial complex, and all of the forces that justify fund, and absolve it. There is an unyielding pain that has taken hold in the streets of New York, accrued over decades of unacknowledged injustice – and regardless if your Black life was born as a direct descendant American chattel slavery, its close relative in the West Indies or across the Atlantic ocean on the African continent, the sentiment of “enough is enough” has gripped and unified these varied experiences into pushing for dismantling the oppressive boot of police forces within the five boroughs. Hopefully, this solidarity extends throughout the continued fight for Black liberation.