My Crime and Punishment in Hennepin County and Metro Transit Discrimination

 

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Youth standing up. Minneapolis, May Day 2015.

 

I was the only professor arrested when students sat in at Morrill Hall at the University of Minnesota in 2006 to protest the closing of General College – a program that made the U of M accessible to working class kids, rural youth and urban students of color.  Admittedly I didn’t have much to lose.  I had just been laid off and had only a few weeks left of my ten-year stint teaching as a contingent faculty at the U.  Still it was ironic to be charged with trespassing at the place where I got my BA, MA and Ph.D. and worked for 25 years, scooping cones, selling sandwiches, grading papers, teaching classes.

But that is not why I am telling you this story.

I had no intention of getting arrested.  Philosophically, I support mass legal action over planned arrest as the preferred tactic for building social movements with the numeric heft to create social change.  Besides, as a rape and sexual assault survivor I had no desire to give a man with a gun on his holster the excuse to touch me in any way.   Finally, I believed getting arrested for a cause is a privilege,  when a criminal justice system discriminates based on race and class.   However,  it was precisely this knowledge of criminal injustice that led me to decide at the spur of the moment to join the students — mostly youth of color — some my current students —  getting cuffed.  I had this idea that my suit-coat, age and race might protect them when we got down to Hennepin County, outside of the sight of the public.

But that is not why I’m telling you this story.

We spent six hours  downtown. I’ve been arrested one other time since, but this was the only time in my life so far that I had someone remove my jacket, give me an orange top, take my mug shot. The thing that disturbed me the most however, was when they took the wedding ring off my finger. I got put in a cell with one other protester and a woman who was coming down from a meth high. The first thing the drug offender did when she walked in was take the stub of toilet paper near the open toilet and lie down on the cement, propping the roll under her head as  a pillow.”Tell them it’s gone — they’ll bring another,” she said.

There. A tip I hope you don’t need.  But it’s not why I’m telling  this story.

At our hearing, as I remember it, we were given three choices: plead not guilty and wait for a second hearing, pay a fine, or work off that fine. The others took choice one or two. I decided , since I was unemployed, broke and seeking employment for the fall, that I would work off the fine over the summer.

My work detail dates coincided with the two hottest and most polluted  days of that 2006 Minneapolis summer – so hot and polluted that the official recommendation was to stay indoors and do nothing.  I showed up at the Southdale Hennepin County library parking lot.  The first day we cut brush along the highway. The second day we mowed the lawn of a private suburban cemetery.

But I didn’t write this to expose the  Hennepin County work program for using its free labor to service private businesses.  

I made friends. There were about 30 different people who worked half or full days with me. Among them, I was one of two women, one of two people over forty-five, one of three white people, and the only person who was white, female and nearing fifty.  My comrades had me pegged right away.  I had to be DWI.  In addition to my demographics there was the clincher: I rode my bicycle to the van site.  As for them, the most common offense that caused these young African-American, Latino, and  Native youth to spend summer days providing free labor?

That is why I am telling you this story.  

Failure to pay for public transit. 

My story is anecdotal and ten years old.  The ACLU-requested study  released on December 17 2015, is new and data-driven. We both came to the same conclusion:  Metro Transit police target youth of color,  pulling them into the criminal justice system for the most minor offenses.

To have  peace in the Twin Cities we need judicial justice.  In the meantime, protests   continue.

Carolyn Holbrook, Limelight Sharer.

 

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I just came back from the second of the three readings  by women writers of the African diaspora, a series  conceived, curated and moderated by writer and educator Carolyn Holbrook.

The series is entitled “More Than a Single Story,”  to highlight the diversity of Black women’s stories. She was inspired by the Ted Talk by novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who notes that single stories are the stuff of stereotypes that disempower.

The first session on September 27, featured Minnesota African American women across the age spectrum: Tish Jones, Shannon Gibney, Andrea Jenkins, Lori Young Williams, Pamela Fletcher, and Mary Moore Easter.

Today’s session featured three Caribbean/Minnesota  writers: Valerie Deus, Beaudelaine Pierre and Junauda Petrus.

Holbrook used her own 2015 Minnesota State Arts Board Artists initiative grant to bring together 14 other women writers and shine a light on them. At today’s session I bought her book, Ordinary People, Extraordinary Journeys  a beautiful collection of stories of individuals who used a neighborhood grant to  build the commons in St Paul.  Like her More Than a Single Story series, Holbrook uses the book to shine a light and build power in as many  grassroots places as possible.

Holbrook is  a gifted writer.  She read an exquisite essay about being visited by an ancestor at a time when she was 50 and broke and had moved in with her parents. She is also deeply committed to feeding the tide, sharing the stage, advancing the work and telling the stories that extend the grants. In the ego-centered world of academia, writing and nonprofits that is rare and precious.

Carolyn Holbrook, Ph.D is an adjunct faculty at Hamline University and Minneapolis Community and Technical College. At the first presentation she talked about how the State Arts Board Grant gave her the opportunity to write everyday this summer. All I could think was: the Universities she works for  should be providing enough for her to do that every summer.

 

Love is a lot, but it’s not all there is.

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Philosophy Professor dies at age 61, destitute, from an untreated thyroid condition.  

First my condolences to all whose lives were touched by the late Dave Heller.

After reading the story of his untimely death, I could not sleep. Now, there have been many articles, including one featuring me, about low pay for faculty, professors living in dire conditions and even a couple about professors dying in dire conditions.   This one bothered me more than all the rest.

What bothered me about the article was the talk of love.

How Dave Heller loved his work. Between the lines was the implication —   he HAD to love his work, or he would not do it. After all there are lots of other jobs that pay better….

I don’t doubt he did love his work. I love my work. I love my students. Love my field. But look, its work, like other things people love — parenting, playing the violin in an orchestra,  being a stage actor, caring for the elderly, farming.

I talked about love when I was interviewed as well.  But last night I realized there is another aspect to how this all works — how the academic powers-that-be get away with impoverishing their faculty, endangering their lives, killing them with neglect, that is beyond love.

Those of us who spent many years in school feel an obligation to teach. A responsibility. As long as education is a privilege, not available to all, we feel a need to share what we learned.

Responsibility. Obligation. Need. These are different from love. Love may, or may not attend them.

Higher Ed also has a responsibility, an obligation, a need, to provide living wages and benefits to its employees.  They don’t have to love us. It would be nice, but it’s not necessary. They just need to be fair.

Rest in peace Dave Heller. Thank you for fulfilling your obligation to your students and society to share what you had. In your honor I’m going to take a mini-vacation– get on my bicycle on a Monday and ride out of town.  Then, in addition to grading my papers, planning my classes and meeting with students, I will recommit to getting our bosses to fulfill their responsibilities.