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Stop Police Terror DC And Black Lives Matter DC Condemn The Murder Of Deon Kay

Fri, 09/04/2020 - 23:20
Written by April Goggans and Sean Blackmon

Washington, DC — Months of protests against police violence here in DC calling for justice for #DQuanYoung, #MarqueeseAlston, #JeffPrice and so many more, have culminated in another name being added to that list — Deon Kay.

Eighteen-year-old Deon should be alive today. Deon was murdered in broad daylight by Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officer Alexander Alvarez on September 2, 2020, and nothing that DC Police Chief Peter Newsham and Mayor Muriel Bowser do to distort the facts, or to smear a teenager as a violent threat, will take away from that truth. Deon should be alive but on Wednesday he was murdered.  

“The same false, racist narrative that stole Deon’s boyhood and turned him into a full grown man out for blood is the same narrative we have seen from Mayor Bowser and MPD over and over again,” said Stop Police Terror Project DC organizer Natacia Knapper. “Don’t be fooled — Deon was a child, barely 18, hunted and gunned down through the deeply woven slave-catching tactics cops have been using since the birth of policing in America.”

“It seems everyone is committed to spending more perfect victim energy examining Deon’s life than the murderer that took it,” said April Goggans, a Core Organizer with Black Lives Matter DC. “Perpetuating the myth that ‘perfect victims’ exist is dangerous and reinforces the myth that only some Black lives matter.” As described by the Guardian, it is standard practice for district attorneys and prosecutors to dredge up negative details about victims of police killings and promote racist tropes, adding to families’ pain.

As Mayor Bowser is applauded for denouncing federal forces (with whom MPD collaborates) for using the very same tactics used by her own police force, and paints words she doesn’t mean outside the White House, her body count grows.

“We refuse to allow the mayor to continue to insult the intelligence of DC residents,” said Black Lives Matter DC Core Organizer Nee Nee Taylor. “Every action she has taken — from calling for prosecutions of unlawfully arrested protesters to ignoring the killings of Black people in DC — is antithetical to the idea that Black lives matter.”

Both research and the lived experiences of those who have familiarity with it have shown that intra-community violence is not solved through policing, which only further traumatizes communities. In fact, the police and DC government have caused or perpetuated the violent conditions many of our city’s residents experience every day. “Violence shows up in many forms — through gentrification, displacement, lack of food access, the school to prison pipeline and numerous other ways,” said Knapper. “The state creates the conditions to create a desperate and traumatic reality for many Black DC residents, particularly East of the River, and then responds to that desperation with murderous intent.”

“The idea that recovering a gun is worth the life of a child should be horrifying to every DC resident.” said Makia Green, a Core Organizer with Black Lives Matter DC. “Meeting violence with violence has never worked, yet the DC government insists on continuing that failed tactic — instead of providing well-funded resources and services like violence interruption, quality education, mental and physical health care, and housing.”  

It is no coincidence that community members were the first to respond to the shooting of Deon, communities learned long ago not to expect help from the DC government and have found their own ways of coming together and staying safe – including peace vigils, mutual aid, and neighborhood protests.

Mayor Bowser has shown she cares nothing for Black and POC communities. If she wants to change that she must immediately:

  • Fire MPD Chief Peter Newsham
  • Launch a fully independent investigation into the death of Deon Kay
  • Fire MPD Officer Alexander Alvarez
  • Defund the DC Metropolitan Police Department and fully invest in community-led resources

We also call on the entire DC Council to support these demands and in addition, to amend the extremely inadequate “Comprehensive Justice and Policing Reform Act to:

  • Require that all released videos include audit trails that show who accessed the video and how and if it was edited, so that transparency can reduce the risk that the videos are doctored.
  • Require that MPD explicitly clarify why officers’ faces in released footage are redacted, define who are considered “officers involved” before releasing footage, and include those officers’ names and faces in the footage.
  • Require that MPD state explicitly when naming “officers involved” which officer committed the act (rather than officers who were on the scene)

“Mayor Bowser, city officials, and DC councilmembers, all have Deon Kay’s blood on their hands because of their advocacy for right-wing law-and-order policies that maintain the police occupation of DC’s Black communities,” said Stop Police Terror Project organizer Sean Blackmon. “These so-called ‘progressives’ are responsible for the same police terror that has sparked months-long protests all over the country,” Blackmon continued. “As long as they continue to desperately avoid divesting from ineffective and brutal policing and investing in the health and safety of communities, police killings will continue and the crisis facing DC’s poor and working class Black people will only intensify.”

A vigil for Deon Kay will be held Saturday September 5, 2020 at 6:00PM on the corner of MLK Ave. SE & Mellon St. SE.

We are calling for all people of DC to sign our petition to Defund The Police and attend an upcoming event to help us build a world without police.

Black Lives Matter DC is a member based abolitionist organization centering Black people most at risk for state violence in DC, creating the conditions for Black Liberation through the abolition of systems and institutions of white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy and colonialism.
Black Lives Matter DCinfo@dcblm.orgTwitter: @DMVBlackLivesInstagram: @blacklivesmatterdcFacebook: @BLMDC

The post Stop Police Terror DC And Black Lives Matter DC Condemn The Murder Of Deon Kay appeared first on Grassroots DC.

COVID-19 Remains a Problem within Black and Brown Communities

Mon, 07/13/2020 - 09:04
The coronavirus pandemic has a greater impact on Black and Brown communities. Here’s why Black, Indigenous and People of Color need to take greater precautions.

COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, has created pandemonium globally.  All fifty states have reported cases of COVID-19.  According to CNN, the United States has 4% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s Coronavirus cases.   As of this writing, positive cases are on the decline in many states and on the rise in others.   In an attempt to counter the negative economic impact of the pandemic, many regions, including the District of Columbia, are attempting to “re-open.”   This unfortunately contributes to the idea that the pandemic is not serious.  Many continue to believe that the virus is man-made.  

An analysis of public genome sequence data from SARS-COV-2 found no evidence it was created in a lab.  Having monitored the transmission of infections, scientists believe this variation of the coronavirus originated in bats and jumped to humans.  There are literally millions of viruses, so it’s inevitable that some will mutate and jump from animals to humans.   This problem is likely to get worse as humans continue to move into habitats formerly dominated by animals.  And when it happens, it’s usually a bad thing because the human body doesn’t know how to deal with a novel or new viruses.    

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause mild to severe illnesses. There are hundreds of coronaviruses with 7 main variations that affect humans.   So far, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-2 otherwise known as COVID-19 have proven to be the most deadly to humans.  COVID-19 is particularly problematic because it has a long incubation period, during which carriers may be unknowingly spreading the virus.  It’s also difficult to contain because unlike viruses like HIV which is relatively difficult to contract, COVID-19 is highly contagious.

According to WebMD, the virus is spread when someone is exposed to respiratory droplets that are transmitted through the air as an infected person coughs, sneezes, or breathes. While it’s more common to become infected after being within six feet of an infected person, you can also come in contact with the disease by touching a surface that’s hosting coronavirus. If the viral particles from these droplets make their way to your mouth, nose, or even your eyes, the virus can attach to ACE2 receptors (a protein molecule on the surface of a cell with the ability to bind with another molecule) in the mucous membranes of your throat and infect the body.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms can appear as few as two days after exposure or as long as 14 days.  People of any age who have severe underlying medical conditions along with older people are the most at risk.   Those who don’t believe the virus is serious, are less likely to take the precautions necessary to protect themselves or limit the spread of the disease.  This unfortunately puts everyone at risk but especially Black and Brown people.

Systemic and institutional racism makes it very difficult for Black to acquire and accumulate wealth. As a result, the net worth of a typical white family is nearly ten times greater than that of a typical Black family. The stress associated with financial insecurity, difficulty accessing healthy food, or the time for adequate exercise is all factors that contribute to higher rates of diabetes, obesity, asthma and cardiovascular disease in low-income Black communities. All of these underlying conditions worsen COVID-19 outcomes. It’s not surprising that Blacks make up less than half of D.C.’s population but approximately 80 percent of Coronavirus deaths.

Proximity is another factor contributing to high rates of infection. Densely populated areas like Columbia Heights, where front line workers in the Latinx community also often live in multigenerational households, helps to explain high rates of infection in Ward 4.

Although infection rates are highest in Ward 4, deaths are highest in Wards 7 & 8. With the United Medical Center being the only hospital east of the Anacostia River, residents there simply have fewer healthcare options. On top of that, stories of bias in healthcare treatment against Blacks and Latinx are common, even after the onset of the pandemic.   Healthcare providers misinterpret, downplay, or ignore symptoms in Black and Brown patients.  They are also more likely to be turned away from medical facilities and refused tests.  All of this can lead to fatal results. 

For this reason, it is absolutely crucial that DC’s Black and Brown communities continue to follow CDC recommendations.  Face masks are essential.   A sneeze or cough sprays mucus, saliva, and viruses that can remain active for up to an hour. Traveling 50-100 mph and spraying 3,000 to 100,000 droplets in one go, is an efficient way to spread a virus.  Even with a mask, it’s important to keep at least 6 feet away from anyone when you’re out in public. This is especially important if you’re indoors where aerosolized droplets of the virus can remain active for more than three hours.

Being concerned about the economy, Mayor Bowser seems intent on reopening the city. As the city reopens and more demand is made for retail workers, delivery personnel and front-line health care workers many within DC’s African-American and Latinx communities will accept the additional risk. Even though the mainstream press has moved COVID-19 infections and deaths out of the headlines, the virus is still out there. Do what you can to provide for yourself and your family but please take as many precautions as you possibly can.

The post COVID-19 Remains a Problem within Black and Brown Communities appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Black Lives Matter DC Demands Change in the Name of Those Killed by Police in the District of Columbia

Tue, 06/09/2020 - 11:48

“Black people are allowed to be joyful or feel seen with DC renaming a street after Black Lives Matter. It’s also our responsibility to let you know what we are fighting for, who has the power to change things and that power concedes nothing without demand.”

– Kiki Green, a Core Organizer with Black Lives Matter DC

Today Black Lives Matter DC stands in solidarity with freedom fighters all over the world to honor the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Dreasjon Reed, and as always those we have lost to police here in DC: 

These are the names of the people that performative Black Lives Matter street art leaves out. These are the names that fuel our commitment to #DefundPolice and #StopMPD. We know that for some DC is the seat of power and imperialism, the symbolic representation of harmful systems but it is also home to hundreds of thousands of Black people who are oppressed by the very systems people claim to be against. It never fails that in the national discourse people ignore those killed right here in DC by police while protesting police brutality and muder in our city.

Image Credited to BYP100

We stand by our critique of the DC Mayor Muriel Bowser after the unveiling of the Black Lives Matter Mural and the renaming of Black Lives Matter Plaza. “Black Lives Matter” is a complete statement. There is no grey area or ambiguity. We hold that we have a duty to the loved ones named above to ensure that they are not forgotten and their deaths are not exploited for publicity, performance, or distraction. Mayor Muriel Bowser must be held accountable for the lip service she pays in making such a statement while she continues to intentionally underfund and cut services and programs that meet the basic survival needs of Black people in DC. 

To chip away at the investments in communities that actually make us safer while proposing a $45 million dollar increase in funding for the Metropolitan Police Department’s budget a few weeks ago is NOT making Black lives matter. Bowser justifies the over policing of Black bodies by pointing to the heartbreaking number of Black people who have died as a result of violence in our streets. Simultaneously she publicly admits that increased police presence has little effect on violent crimes, especially homicide. Homicides continue to increase despite the MPD budget growing every year and more and more officers on the streets. In a continuation of her intentional efforts to first not fund, then dissect, and now lie about implementing the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Act (NEAR Act), that threats community violence as a public health issue, she just proposed to cut $800k from the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement that the Act created and where the violence interruption program sits. Additionally, she still has not opened the stand alone Office of Violence Prevention also required by the Act. Stop Police Terror Project DC and Black Lives Matter DC were instrumental in the creation, passage, funding of the NEAR Act.

Although Black people make up 46% of D.C.’s population, they remain the subjects of the vast majority of all stops, frisks, and uses of force in the District. A January 2018 D.C. Office of Police Complaints OPC report found that of the 2,224 total reported uses of force in Fiscal Year 2017 (October 1, 2016 through September 30, 2017), 89% involved a Black subject. A February 2018 investigative report from WUSA9 analyzed pre-NEAR Act data and found that approximately 80% of the stops involved a Black subject. Just this week OPC released its FY18 Annual Report that revealed officer misconduct complaints are up 78% since FY16, 780 complaints were received (the second consecutive year of receiving a record number of complaints), 501 new investigations were opened (more than any other year since OPC’s 

We actively reject the false narrative that policing is necessary or safe. That the system of the system of policing and the injustice system are not broken, they are operating exactly the way that they were designed. 

Our anger and rage, our grief is justified. We rebuke the notion that we must celebrate crumbs the Mayor gives DC residents without engaging critically in why we settle for art but not housing, street signs but not investments in the actual things that keep communities safe. If our attempts to hold this administration accountable for what we believe are multiple failures of leadership turns people away then we will stand alone. We are clear in our commitment that liberation for all Black people and real change to the conditions that keep us locked up and out will not be swayed even if people disagree with our stance. 

While people celebrate this Mayor, our lawsuit against Bowser this week resulted in the DC curfew being lifted. That’s not it. While we are both taking it to the streets with direct action and support, we are also suing President Donald Trump for ordering the use of violence against protestors who were speaking out against police brutality and the murder of Black people by police. We do this because we know that both the federal and local government are complicit in the violence against protestors. 

While others may forget, we do not forget any of us. When we say Black Lives Matter, we mean ALL Black lives. We will work for the liberation of all Black people in DC when it is difficult, when we are attacked, when people are busy debating whether or not protestors are violent or peaceful, and until we are free.

Therefore WE DEMAND 

Black Lives Matter DC is a member-based abolitionist organization centering Black people most at risk for state violence in DC, creating the conditions for Black Liberation through the abolition of systems and institutions of white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy, and colonialism. 

We are dedicated to promoting strategies that: 

  • empower the most oppressed Black people; 
  • do not reinforce or legitimize systems and institutions that harm Black people including police, prisons, mass incarceration, and modern slavery. 
  • divest from people, institutions and systems that harm us and invest in the people, institutions, systems and other models that support our liberation and empowerment.
  • use a diversity of tactics to promote harm reduction, political education, and non-cooperation as strategic visions.

Black Lives Matter DC


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The post Black Lives Matter DC Demands Change in the Name of Those Killed by Police in the District of Columbia appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Are Shelters an Option for the UnHoused During a Pandemic? Is There a Better Way?

Wed, 06/03/2020 - 10:00

In the District of Columbia, there are people who have gone far too unnoticed in their community. They are some of the most brilliant and creative souls in the region. They are masters of innovation with the ability to weather extraordinary situations. These are the unhoused or homeless, as people want to call them. In a city where 46% of the population is African American, the homeless are 86% African American.  Dealing with housing instability is tough enough outside of dealing with health issues like the current Covid-19 Pandemic.

These men and women have a story to tell. People like Daniel Ball  who not only makes the best of the situation but also has strong ties to his  community. His mother used to live in DC  before moving to Addison Road in Maryland.  

Photo of Daniel Ball by Elvert Barnes / Flckr

As far as experiencing homelessness, “yes, some nights I stay up here in DC  and some nights I stay with my mother,” Ball said.  “I understand people experience homelessness.  It’s a good question and going to be a good question because people are experiencing homelessness.”  

Daniel Ball is just one of many who have found themselves homeless during the COVID-19 crisis gripping the globe.  “Yes sometimes I sleep outside.  Either I’m on a bench or either I’m up in Farragut West straight up the elevator, I sleep there,” Ball said. “Last night was an experience too.  Usually the man from the food court wakes me up.  Sometimes I’m already up.  A girl slept beside me scheming.  When I got up, I didn’t bother her because I know we going through the same change.  I usually jump on the Metro.  Today I rode the X2 and came up here.  But I love a good question like that you asked because it’s a good question. What are you experiencing?” 

Ball gave reasons why he chooses to come to the District of Columbia.  “It’s like home to me.  And my mama always asks, ‘why you keep running to DC?’  I keep running here, because my job is here,” he said, “and some people don’t have money to travel back and forth like that.”  

Ball then described his experience signing up for programs in the city.  “We do intake with the case worker.  They call them caseworkers.  I filed for food stamps.  I applied for my housing.  One thing right now with what’s happening is you can’t rush people.  You can’t be going there like, ‘give me my food stamps.’  You gotta have patience.  Everything has patience with it,” Ball said. “I ain’t going to knock nobody out.  My name is Daniel Ball and I am not going to do that.  As far as the government, there are people that are social. There are some that get involved.” 

Staying in Shelter

Those living in shelter during this unprecedented emergency are also finding it hard to deal with certain conditions. Forty-four year old, DC native, Donell Lowell used to be an auto mechanic but  has been homeless since July 2018.  Lowell also survived a stroke which occured on April 16,  2019, “a year and a day ago today,” Lowell says. “Social distancing is pretty much obsolete here.  Outside of here you can pretty much isolate yourself if you want,” he said.  “I’ve met some good people but there are some bad people out here, especially, these security guards.  They treat you like shit.  That’s my situation.  That happened to me.”  

Photo by Julie Gallagher / Street Sense Media

Lowell was assaulted while staying in shelter during the health emergency. “I complained that he bullied me, threatened me.  And he was still able to work here.  And I sustained injuries at his hands.”  The only time Lowell saw any disciplinary action came after he had been attacked by security. “After I got injured they fired him right away,” he said. “Other than that, we have no say. You gotta be hurt or something to be heard around here.”  

DC officials have been telling the community in weekly calls that they were providing rooms for self isolation. When I asked Lowell if he was provided any of these other services and did officials consider him vulnerable to the disease, Lowell said,“Yeah they do but they didn’t offer me nothing.”  

It may seem like during this crisis a large congregate setting may not be the ideal setting for mitigating the spread of COVID-19.  Before the crisis, DC had to deal with considerable disdain for providing emergency housing and spending more per capita than any major city in the United States on housing production.  Despite this, the District of Columbia has the tenth highest number of homeless in the United States.

Solutions Proposed by Unhoused Individuals

The unhoused in DC in particular are in a state of flux during the current health crisis and each day brings new challenges.  It seems like they are being ignored more than others who are receiving help from agencies, neighbors and local governments.  What do the homeless have to say about their situation? Are they being heard if they have a solution to address their current situation?  

Donell Lowell seems to have some solid recommendations on homeless prevention and how the city could better its response during the COVID-19 crisis. Problems with the courts after the death of a relative contributed to Lowell becoming homeless.  Lowell thinks now that more oversight of the probate courts would help.   “That’s unfortunately how I got here,” he says.   He also suggests that some people who are experiencing homelessness could benefit from better efforts from upstream services like rental subsidies and that would keep people from becoming homeless in the first place.  Lowell thinks that this kind of in-depth oversight could come from government officials–the mayor, city council and governors.

Lowell is hopeful about his plight once things get back to normal. He sees this as a way to potentially end his homelessness for good.  “If the city would open back up, I wanna go to school to learn how to become an information technology specialist.  With the city shut down and everything it seems like it’ll never open back up,” Lowell said. He also recommends and wishes that, ”there was more oversight for these security guards and all these shelters really. They do what the hell they wanna do.  The city should be considering the fact, we don’t really have a voice as homeless folks.” 

Living Outdoors

Many residents have taken to living through this crisis outdoors. Paul Infante is currently experiencing homelessness. He has been living in the region for three years and is originally from California.  “I think what makes most sense is if you stay (sleep) near a safe place that has services,” he said.  “You could get a meal in the morning or you could get a meal in the evening. A lot of places will give you social services and Items like toothbrushes and shaving stuff, you will need for hygiene. That is especially important if you’re trying to find a job and pull yourself out of homelessness,” he said. 

Photo by Petmyrhino / Flckr

Infante also has some pretty strong recommendations in terms of how DC could be serving those who have chosen to live outside. “The District of Columbia  could do more on its own rather than relying on federal aid to help residents who live on the street.  I would say it makes sense, without opening like a FEMA thing, would be to open up lots with showers and outdoor cots that abide by social distancing,” he said. I think it makes more sense than the opening of shelters that don’t have a lot of space.”  Infante also feels DC needs to provide more showers and bathrooms.  “You will find that people in general would say that they need more bathrooms and more showers,” he said. 

DC Government’s Response

Governments all over the place are trying to coordinate the best responses possible to this crisis.  The District of Columbia is no exception.  But the voice of the homeless and their recommendations to address their needs is currently in a state of flux. Communities that are most greatly affected by the national emergency of COVID-19 can only wonder how their concerns and suggestions will make it to the officials tasked with leading the various responses to the crisis 

I interviewed District of Columbia’s Director of Human Services Laura Zelinger on March 15th 2020.  She has been at the forefront of the city’s response to COVID-19 and the homeless community.  Zeilinger and her team have been convening weekly calls to help agency providers understand the current state of affairs as it pertains to their respective populations.  According to Zeilinger, “we have a very strong and important safety message that people need to isolate so we can stop the spread of this virus.”  

When asked specifically about permanent housing placement Zeilinger said, “It’s not realistic that people can be out putting together paperwork for their housing application or in a housing search.  Meaning, we can’t get people in the same room in this climate.  The District of Columbia chose to suspend its full housing placement process until it feels it can conduct certain business safety. The decision by the government in light of stay-home orders implies that people who may have a housing resource such as a voucher cannot use it to obtain a unit. We are very focused on our emergency operations to keep people safe.  In the immediate, as we are putting together and executing our response on our emergency activities, we are suspending the CAHP (Coordination Assessment and Housing Placement) system.”

The CAHP system uses a matrix of factors to determine which homeless individuals will be prioritized for available housing,  Those factors include:  age, history of homelessness, physical as well as mental health, and substance use.  With that process frozen, the Department of Human Services and its providers are looking into different ways of using the data to address concerns related to COVID-19 exposure.  “We are using that data to identify, as well as our understanding of medical information, to prioritize for housing, to ensure we are reaching out to and provide opportunities for safe placement and isolation of people who are most vulnerable should they be exposed to Covid-19,” Zellenger said.

Zeilinger was optimistic however, about when housing activities could occur:  “If we understand that we may be in this state for a prolonged period beyond a matter of days that may be longer than that, we will look to ways we can continue that key part of our work and move people from sites that they may be in isolation and in environments that provide opportunities to social distance particularly residents who are most vulnerable and have been identified for permanent supportive housing to be able to support their transition directly into housing as best as at all possible.”

Zeillenger also provided an overview of the city’s response to people who are currently homeless and what services they can expect to receive. “First and foremost what we want is that people are in a place that is safe and their exposure to this virus is limited.  So what we have done is taken our low barrier programs that were just overnight and made them 24 hours at all of our shelter sites. We are providing full meals.  And we have added additional outreach and meals in community so that people can have their needs met without having to travel and without having to congregate in lots of different places where we could increase the spread.   We’ve instituted screenings in our shelters and if people are showing any potential symptoms we’re moving them into spaces where they have the opportunity to social distance and have medical attention as well as testing when warranted,” Zellienger said. The District of Columbia has also considered making hotel rooms available for people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 crisis.  “We have secured 3 hotels for use that we are using for people who that have tested either positive so they can be in isolation and don’t need hospitalization, where they can be checked on by medical professionals same as people have homes would be isolating at home and have a nice place and not returning to shelter,” Zeillenger said.

The District of Columbia has confirmed 158 positive cases across the homeless community.  Having come into close contact with those who’ve tested positive, 249 people are in quarantine, 210 of which came from emergency shelter programs.  As of April 27, 2020, nine unhoused individuals have died.  

With housing placements frozen and public input at a stand still, people who are currently unhoused, could remain homeless for the duration of this unprecedented emergency.   Under these circumstances, can the District government call mitigating the spread of the Coronavirus amongst the homeless a victory?  It seems like we’re just cruising forward.  Without the input of those who are experiencing homelessness, we are being encouraged to normalize COVID-19.   As far as homeless people go, the CDC guidelines don’t seem to apply.  Doing this may lead our community into believing that what looks like success is success when it’s actually failure. 

The District of Columbia is just one of three or four jurisdictions in the nation that even have laws requiring emergency shelter.  It may not be the best setting in a crisis, but it is better than the alternative where most services for the poor are provided by churches which are also closed during this crisis. People need housing to advance their lives. If housing was not such a commodified asset and considered a privilege rather than a right, we would not be in this situation. Housing is healthcare.  If this country and this region believes that to be true, then more needs to be done immediately. If COVID-19 and the experience of the homeless has taught us anything, it would be that we have to do right by the poor. 

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Should Black and Brown Organizers Trust White Allies?

Tue, 05/26/2020 - 11:01

I originally started this blog post just after former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg dropped out of the 2020 presidential race, much to my relief. In the midst of editing and finalizing it, the coronavirus hit and the world turned upside down. At that point, it seemed ill-timed and irrelevant to publish this. But the coronavirus is not going away any time soon, and neither is gun violence. Or racism. In fact, systemic racism is causing the coronavirus to sicken, kill and impoverish Black and Brown people at a disproportionate rate. This unjust imbalance mirrors the impact that gun violence has on communities of color as well. Despite stay at home orders, as of May 22, 2020 homicides in DC are trending even higher than they were at this time last year. Tragically, the District has experienced multiple double and triple shootings in the past few weeks, many involving teenagers or young adults, with one ending in the death of a 17-year-old. That’s why I feel it’s important to publish this blog post. Especially now, we all need to work together, fight injustices and help each other. I don’t want any level of distrust to get in the way of working together for the greater good. So consider this a case study: “Should Black and Brown Organizers Trust White Allies?”

I didn’t become the DC chapter leader for Moms Demand Action for fame and certainly not for fortune. It’s a volunteer role- not paid- and there’s nothing glamorous about working to stop people from dying of gun violence. I became the chapter leader in 2018 because that year my husband’s hometown of Parkland, Florida, and my childhood neighborhood of Squirrel Hill both experienced mass shootings. I felt I had to do more. But it wasn’t just that. Firearms are the leading cause of death for children and teens in the District. I am also painfully aware that while 51% of DC’s residents are Black, approximately 96% of DC’s gun homicide victims are Black. In my experiences as a volunteer both before and after becoming chapter leader, I have met so many beautiful people here in DC whose lives are forever stained by bloodshed as either they were injured or they lost a loved one to gun violence here in DC. My uncle committed suicide by gun before I was born. I am all too familiar with the chaos and devastation that a tragedy of gun violence wreaks on a family for multiple generations. I’ve met so many survivors here in DC, I’ve listened to their stories, and I’ve built strong connections with many of them. I feel a moral obligation to them. I cannot turn my back on them. But I’m not here to save the day. I’m here to listen, learn and use my white privilege to assist however I can.

I felt immense relief when former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg dropped out of the presidential race in early March. My relief was not just because I vehemently disagree with his support for racist policies like stop and frisk and his callous and misogynistic comments towards women, but also because as the volunteer leader for the DC chapter of Moms Demand Action, his candidacy has sowed doubt about my volunteer-led organization with some of our partner organizations led by Black Washingtonians. 

Here’s why: Bloomberg partially funds Moms Demand Action nationally, but he did not create Moms, as he erroneously claimed during the Democratic debate in South Carolina in February. Stay-at-home mother Shannon Watts founded Moms Demand Action in 2012 after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary. (She had no personal connection to that shooting, but felt connected to the cause and emboldened to do something about it as she was raising her own young children at the time.) Shannon partnered with Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns in 2013 to create Everytown for Gun Safety, the umbrella organization for Moms, Everytown and the Everytown Survivor Network. Currently, he funds about 25% of the Moms budget nationally.

Moms Demand Action is an all-volunteer grassroots organization focused on passing common sense public safety measures to protect all people from gun violence. That means each chapter’s agenda is set by the volunteers and volunteer leadership who live in that city or state, with help from Everytown’s research and policy experts. (You can read more about Everytown’s national agenda here: Break the Pattern.) 

Moms was started by a white suburban mother in response to a school shooting, but the organization has evolved over the years to include research, education and advocacy for domestic violence, suicide and city gun violence, which together make up the vast majority of gun violence in our country. The organization has also worked very intentionally to become more diverse, equitable and inclusive in all aspects of the work, from people to policies. For example, Shannon Watts penned this blog, “We Have to Say “Never Again” to Police Violence, Too”, about police violence after officers shot and killed Stephon Clark in his own backyard in Sacramento. 

In DC, our chapter works hard to make connections with community organizations in neighborhoods most affected by gun violence and to uplift the too often overlooked and undervalued work that Black women and men have been doing in DC for decades to end gun violence. As someone who is white and who moved to DC as a young adult, I do not pretend to have that lived experience – or to have all the answers. I have learned so much from the Black and Brown people doing this challenging work, and I am grateful for their partnership and friendship. I am still learning – and Moms as an organization is still learning – about what being a true ally looks like. 

A little about our chapter: We have volunteers from all eight Wards, including Black, Brown and white individuals, men and women, young professionals, students, grandparents, parents, LGBTQ+ individuals, and people of many faiths. We each come from different backgrounds, but we are all working toward a common goal: to put an end to the public health crisis of gun violence locally, regionally and nationally.  Our annual DC chapter budget from Everytown is $2,400, and last year we raised an additional $18,000 to fund our local agenda and activities, as well as to support our local community partners, the majority of which are local non-profits owned and operated by Black people here in the District. We also submit grant requests to Everytown to provide additional support for the work of our local community partners, who are doing the important work of healing trauma, teaching conflict resolution skills, and addressing the myriad of root cause issues that contribute to gun violence in the District.

There are volunteers in our ranks who are vehemently opposed to Bloomberg, and there are others who supported his campaign because of the huge investment in gun violence prevention that he has made over the years. Bloomberg and Everytown spent a record $2.5 million in Virginia during the 2019 midterm elections to elect what we call “Gun Sense Candidates,” or candidates who have vowed to enact legislation that will reduce gun violence. We flipped the Virginia House and Senate in that election and the state is now starting to pass common sense gun safety laws. This will save lives in the District, as over 35% of the guns recovered in DC are traced back to Virginia. And it wasn’t just Everytown’s money that helped us win that election – Moms volunteers from DC, Maryland, and Virginia made phone calls and knocked on doors for months to help get out the gun sense vote.

I continue to be angered and saddened by the racism and sexism in our country – even within organizations and people who simultaneously support progressive work. I try every day to chip away at the systems that hold back my Black and Brown neighbors and friends.

We all want to see an end to gun violence in DC, but we know our work is only as strong as the community partnerships we have built. I welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues in person and together unravel this tension.

Rachel Usdan moved to DC in 1999 and is currently living in the District with her husband and two young children, who occasionally help her Demand Action. All opinions are her own.

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Coronavirus is Devastating the Homeless Community: DC Must Pivot Quickly to Save Lives

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 13:20

Cross-Posted from the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless

For decades, the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless has worked to break down the barriers that widespread poverty has created.  Since our inception, we have worked to affirm housing as a fundamental right—not a privilege.  Perhaps no moment more critically highlights the crucial importance of and need for housing and safe spaces than the current public health emergency. COVID-19 has ravaged the most vulnerable communities across this nation.  It has directed a spotlight onto the many injustices and inequities faced by those existing in spaces that society has cast aside, exacerbating the real and deadly effects of poverty and white supremacy.  It has pushed to the forefront conversations around health and economic disparities, income inequality, housing insecurity, and the inequitable allocation of resources.

While the disastrous effects of this pandemic are being seen throughout the country, people experiencing homelessness and in congregate settings are among those most heavily impacted.  With a lack of access to widespread testing or safe spaces to socially distance, these communities are seeing a massive spread of infection. Simply, streets and congregate settings are not appropriate environments to contain or control the spread of this virus.

Despite this widely accepted fact, there are still far too many DC residents on the street and in crowded congregate shelters.  Out of approximately 4,000 single adults currently experiencing homelessness in DC, less than three percent have been relocated to private spaces where social distancing can actually occur.  Tragically, nine homeless DC residents have died from COVID-19 and 152 have had confirmed positive results as of Sunday, April 26th.  During a five-day period last week, the spike in cases among the unhoused community was 2.5 times higher than the increase among DC’s general population. Without access to universal testing, the numbers of those affected are undoubtedly higher than the reported data reflects.

We know that the containment of this virus is a global undertaking.  Community members, nonprofit organizations, and local government officials have been working hard to figure out ways to protect the community with limited federal funding and constantly evolving public health guidance.  However, the District is certainly not alone in the challenges it faces to protect its homeless population.  When confronted with startling data, other jurisdictions shifted gears in order to respond with urgency and creativity in ensuring that shelter and street populations are widely tested and moved to non-congregate settings.  Many other jurisdictions have already placed thousands of homeless individuals in hotels.  Meanwhile, DC’s current hotel occupancy rate is less than ten percent, leaving nearly 30,000 rooms empty, in addition to thousands of vacant dormitory and housing units throughout DC.

Unfortunately, DC’s current initiatives are not enough to protect DC’s homeless community. The time has come to shift the DC government’s approach.

The Legal Clinic recommends that the DC government:

  • Immediately offer a COVID-19 test to every person who lives on the street or in a congregate setting.
  • Immediately offer a placement to every person who lives on the street or in a congregate setting into a private and non-congregate setting, such as a hotel room, a private dormitory unit, or a vacant housing unit. Develop a system to screen and place people who become homeless during this time into private settings. In these non-congregate settings, provide food, staffing, other basic needs, and medical assistance, as appropriate. Ensure that those residents are checked on regularly.
  • Retain non-congregate placements until COVID-19 is no longer a pandemic or epidemic and has been nationally contained by widespread access to a vaccine. Simultaneously work to quickly place people into safe, affordable housing to limit the number of individuals who will eventually return to congregate settings.

Last Friday, the Legal Clinic sent a letter to Mayor Bowser detailing the aforementioned concerns and recommendations for protecting the lives of community members experiencing homelessness and in congregate settings. People experiencing homelessness in DC are more likely to be elderly, Black, and suffer health conditions that place them at high risk of death or serious complications from COVID-19.  DC must act immediately to protect the lives of its vulnerable communities. DC must also further its expressed commitment to racial justice by creating and maintaining housing that is deeply affordable for those who need it to survive here, now and post-pandemic.

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The People’s COVID-19 Demands

Sun, 04/19/2020 - 13:06

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are looking for ways to help their communities or communities with less resources than their own come through the current crisis as undamaged as possible. As a result, community activists and organizers created the DC Mutual Aid Network. Although they take donations from anyone, Mutual Aid Network administrators and lead organizers are clear that they are not a charity. They are consensus-based rather than hierarchical. They build the leadership of the people most impacted by the problem. They also recognize that the current crisis is connected to wider issues of injustice and work to correct those injustices.

To further those goals, the DC Mutual Aid Network plans to present a set of demands to District Government regarding their response to COVID-19. Before they can do that, they must gather the thoughts, opinions and suggestions of those most impacted by the problem. To that end, they put together a People’s Demands Survey in both English and Spanish.

Information about the survey is posted below or can be found at the survey website If you’re reading this and you are a District of Colombia resident please consider filling out the survey, especially if you or someone you care about, is unable to socially isolate.

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Supporting COVID-19 Mutual Aid Efforts

Thu, 03/19/2020 - 13:07
As the spread of the coronavirus has accelerated over the past week, we are reminded yet again of one key truth: The state will not keep us safe—but we can keep each other safe.

We know now that the best way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus is social distancing. But we also know that many people in our communities will need help to make social distancing possible—elders, disabled people, and immunocompromised folks who can’t run errands without compromising their health; workers who don’t have paid sick leave; and people whose anxiety is triggered by isolation, among others. 

Throughout DC, people are organizing to help their neighbors through mutual aid.

Mutual aid  is a form of political participation in which people take responsibility for caring for one another and changing political conditions, not just through charity or symbolic acts or putting pressure on their representatives in government. Instead, this is about actually building new social relations that are more survivable. 

You can find out more about ongoing opportunities and sources for mutual aid at the DC Mutual Aid Network on Facebook or on Instagram.

If you are able to contribute time, energy, skills, or labor, we encourage you to fill out the forms linked below, which will connect you to groups organizing mutual aid throughout the city.

You can also use the forms to ask for help, if you need help cleaning, running errands, dealing with prescriptions.  Most of us will end up needing to ask for help during this crisis.

Mutual Aid Request and Volunteer Forms: 

  • Ward 1
  • Ward 7 and 8: Call the hotline – 202-630-0336 – for those needing support or looking to volunteer. 
  • Takoma/Ward 4
  • Ward 6

You can also support by donating to groups organizing mutual aid efforts, including:

If you know of additional organizing going on in DC, please email or hit us up on social, and we’ll amplify your work.

Above all, please take care of yourselves physically and mentally. We are literally all in this together.

Yours in struggle,


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Martin Luther King Explains the Three Evils of Society

Mon, 01/20/2020 - 14:12

Fifteen years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., President Ronald Reagan signed the bill that would make the third Monday of January a holiday in his honor. Like many if not most Republicans, Reagan opposed the holiday. They believed that King was a communist. They didn’t like that he opposed the war in Vietnam and then of course there was all that business with the Civil Rights. The law almost passed in 1979, but it wasn’t until 1983 that it passed in both the House and Senate by veto-proof margins which forced right-wing hero President Reagan to sign it.

For that reason alone, I love this holiday. But every good thing has its unintended consequences. One of those is the commercialization of the holiday and the very successful attempt by corporations, the media, most of our elected officials, etc., to whitewash the memory of Martin Luther King. By focusing only on the speeches and actions that do not criticize Capitalism or US Imperialism, most Americans have no real understanding of the depth of King’s critique of the United States and its policies. Sure overt bigotry is bad and it’s kinda crazy to think of not sitting next to a Black person at a lunch counter or on the bus but all that talk about poverty, his support for unions and the anti-war movement–do we really need to go there?

In the spirit of honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. in a manner that is true to his vision, here is one of his lesser-known speeches.

The Three Evils of Society: Racism, Poverty and War

King delivered this speech at The National Conference for New Politics, which took place in Chicago over Labor Day weekend in 1967. Around 3,000 people, from hundreds of organizations, attended the conference which featured MLK as the keynote speaker.  The goal was to unify political activists of all races who believed in civil rights and opposed the Vietnam War.  President Lyndon B. Johnson felt so threatened by the conference, he instructed the FBI to attempt to track the attendants’ movements and thwart any long-term plans of the NCNP. As the commentary Revisiting MLK’s speech, ‘The 3 Evils of Society, ‘ suggests that this speech is the most prophetic and revolutionary address to date on the questions of militarism, poverty, and racism.

The running time is 43 minutes. For those who prefer to read, a transcript of the speech can be found at the bottom of this post.

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Black Lives Matter Open Letter to the Board of the Women’s March

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 11:46

January 15, 2020

To the Board and Staff of the Women’s March,

As we approach the 4th Annual Women’s March this Saturday, and especially given our interactions with Women’s March staff and leadership over the last month, it has become apparent, again, that all of our efforts to call you in have failed. You have failed both to fulfill your agreements to acknowledge the harm you have caused, and to complete the reparations you have previously committed to. This failure is clearly evident in your planning of this year’s March, as you are continuing to ignore the communities in DC in your practice, when you claim to be standing in solidarity with us in your words. We have attempted, repeatedly, to call you into more accountability and to actively restore the relationship with us and the communities we work with.

On December 27, 2018 we sent you this incredibly important email which carefully detailed the history of harms perpetuated by the Women’s March and those associated with the organization. Some of these harms included a failure to center DC, the continuous exclusion of local Black Trans women, and the permanent damage done to the local ability to organize. We continue to impress upon you that more than one thing can be centered at a time, and poly-centrism is essential in this work. In this instance:

“D.C. is more than Congress and the White House. It is more than the DOJ and the National Mall. For large mobilizations that come into the District, this means holding the reality of D.C. as both the nation’s capital, the center of empire, a necessary place for national protests, and home to real life human beings with important local issues. Local D.C. is a domestic colony and the actions of national organizers have to recognize that.”

And we’ve said, “Here in D.C., these unstrategic mass mobilizations distract from local organizing, often overlook the Black people who actually live here and even result in tougher laws against demonstration being passed locally.”

Last year we worked closely with Rachel Carmona, Tamika Mallory, and Linda Sarsour. This work was facilitated by DC Action Lab (who pushed Tamika and Linda to meet with us). Outside of the public gaze, in meetings and calls, we made some progress that included this public letter, written by the Women’s March. Even though there was no apology or recognition of harms included in this letter, as the agreement was that they would be detailed in a second letter, the Women’s March did state:

“We commit to being intentional about reaching out to local BLM chapters and other local organizations to understand their needs and to hear how we can ensure our work in their cities is not a burden but an opportunity for amplification and collaboration.”

We want to be very clear, the Women’s March failed to fulfill this commitment to us and to other BLM chapters. BLM Los Angeles has also experienced the same failure to reach out. To that end, it was particularly frustrating to come across a picture of one of our organizers’ car and our contingent in the local DC MLK Parade being used to promote this year’s March on Instagram, knowing that you did not continue with the process we agreed to nor reach out to us about this year’s march at all.

The organizers, advocates, DC residents, and grassroots organizations we are in community with were very skeptical last year, even after the public letter from the Women’s March. We took a lot of personal hits, including having our politics deeply challenged as a result of us publicly working with you, agreeing to speak at the 2019 rally, and marching with you. At great risk to her own credibility, one of our Core Organizers April Goggans, did a radio interview shortly after the beginning of the accountability process, where she publicly named that there seemed to be a new path forward for the Women’s March that was intersectional, inclusive, and responsive to local organizers.

We had a call later with Carmen Perez, National Co-Chair. During the call Carmen agreed to write a public apology letter that would speak to the harms we had relayed, as well as specifically address her role in talking to DC organizers during the Justice League’s March 2 Justice in 2015. She was also supposed to address her remarks on Angela Rye’s podcast on July 9, 2017, when she publicly disparaged DC organizers by insinuating that they are comparable to COINTELPRO and agitators. Carmen never sent or posted this letter. In fact, we hadn’t heard from Carmen since that call, until she reached out to April Goggans via email on January 6, 2020. This is not the only apology letter that the Women’s March committed to writing but then failed to send. At our two week debrief after the 2019 Women’s March, you committed to sending a detailed apology letter that acknowledged past harms. It has now been a year and you have not released the letter or completed any of the other steps you committed to during that debrief.

You have been planning this year’s March for the better part of 4 months but AGAIN waited until December to reach out to BLMDC. By the time you reached out everything was finished, and you expected us to rush to tell you about specific issues, just so that you could rush to check them off your list. A quick check-in or heads-up to even tell us you were still having a March would have been nice, as we’ve told you that MLK Weekend is a historically busy weekend in DC for local communities and organizers. As we have mentioned in the past, checking in with us and other local folks would allow us to see how we can work together around the impact to public transit for DC residents (most directly impacting Black and brown folks), space, port-a-potties (AGAIN), and more. Not this time. The harms you are perpetuating now have not changed, and clearly the Women’s March has not either.

As always, in building the world we want, we remain committed to continuing to walk in our values and principles when it comes to co-creating accountability. BLM DC is led entirely by Black femmes and we want to name that we will not be putting further emotional or other labor into this process until the Women’s March fulfills the commitments it made last year at our two-week debrief. We look forward to seeing the Women’s March Board and Staff take public accountability, make public apologies, and take public steps to repair harm.

Toward Liberation,

Black Lives Matter DC

Twitter @DMVBlackLives
Instagram: blacklivesmatterdc
Facebook: BLMDC
Our mailing list.

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Sex Trafficking And DC’s Missing Youth – A Frightening Connection

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 22:00
The Sad Trend of Missing Black & Brown Kids

Approximately 300,000 children under the age of 18 are lured into sex trafficking each year. Girls are typically brought into the sex trade as young as twelve years old. Boys can be entrapped into the illicit trade at an even younger age. Sex trafficking tends to occur in impoverished neighborhoods, urban centers and along interstate highways. Most victims tend to be those associated with the foster care system, runaways or black. Forty percent of sex trafficking victims are African Americans. It is estimated that 62% of suspected victims are African American. In the District of Columbia over 2,500 cases have been reported as of 2017. It is reported that over 1,600 of these cases involve children. The same year in which controversy sparked over the amount of missing black girls in the District who received little to no media coverage. This form of modern-day slavery is prevalent in Washington, D.C. and is affecting our youth.

Sex trafficking is far from a victimless crime; it is, in fact, a multi-billion dollar industry that operates throughout the United States. Human trafficking is the act of recruiting, harboring or transporting for compelled labor or sexual acts. Human trafficking can also consist of forced marriages, organ removal, and domestic servitude. Sex trafficking can include but does not require movement. More than 2,000 children go missing each year in the District of Columbia. The Polaris Project study determined that the number of cases reported to a national trafficking hotline surged 25 percent. As of 2019, more than 100 children have been rescued from sex traffickers in the metropolitan area. When black and brown children are missing, little national attention is given to their plight. According to Natalie Wilson of the Black & Missing Foundation, black children who go missing, receive less media attention than white kids.

Communities of Color: Myths & Misconceptions

Youths who are victims of sex trafficking go through a process of manipulation. These kids are often targeted regarding lack of family support, bullying, and even struggling for social acceptance can make them targets. Often youth are groomed or tricked into false beliefs based on words told to them. The process can start off as innocent with toys, candies, compliments, etc and gradually began to escalate. By building a connection, sex traffickers begin to brainwash and manipulate their victims. Hallmarks of child sex trafficking can include unexplained absences from school, bragging about making or having a lot of money, evidence of physical abuse, sexualized behavior and acting withdrawn. Victims’ home life can revolve around violence, substance abuse, sexual abuse and more and will shape the perception of their predators as a saving grace. Boys can account for 13% of human trafficking.

Due to a lack of resources for male survivors, there are limited resources for them. Thus in which research regarding abused male survivors is scarce. Statistically, 0.4% of cases are identified, meaning the majority of cases are not. The representation of sex trafficking in the media warps the perception of who’s at risk. Any child who has been abused or abandoned no matter their gender can become a victim of child trafficking. The image the media shows of who a victim might be is often not who it is. Anyone can become a victim. Trafficking can take place anywhere as the main goal is exploitation and enslavement. Many common misconceptions and beliefs hinder us from being aware of our surroundings and noticing when these situations are out of the ordinary.

Sexually exploited youths do not have the freedom and are not able to escape. Victims of sexual exploitation often suffer from physical, emotional, and mental abuse. One of the least acknowledged facts regarding child trafficking is an alarming number of black victims. Black youth between the ages of 12-19 have or will experience higher violent interactions than their white counterparts. This is because the narrative of the topic is victim vs exploiter. Case in point, Cyntoia Brown-Long was sentenced as a teen to life in prison for killing her abductor. Black girls are often labeled as the perpetrator rather than a victim. This makes them easy targets for predators. In 2013 60% of prosecuted minors were arrested for prostitution.

Statistics show that African-American men kidnap and traffic the majority of America’s sex trafficking victims. However, these traffickers are marketing and selling the services of their victims to a largely white, affluent base. Most people who pay for sexual favors generally have disposable income. For example, Jason Rodger or DJ KID has trafficked 700 black females. His criminal history of kidnapping, harboring and forcing minors to perform sexual acts go back far as 2011. The white south Carolina promoter also has AIDS that wasn’t reported to other parties until a 13-year-old victim revealed it. Rodgers is in custody but the story receives no coverage from mainstream media. This is because black victims are ignored. The suspects’ page is still active in which he boasts about his triumph: “I’m 36 with 693 BODIES (All Black females), WBU?”
Social and economic impacts on society can contribute to why certain areas are a hotspot for trafficking. The rise of social media has allowed it to become more accessible to order sex. While this can reduce violence among adult sex workers who work for themselves, the Internet has not been positive for young victims. Websites such as Backpage, Kik, Snapchat, and Instagram distribute services of young minors globally. Backpage CEO was even arrested in 2016 for conspiracy to commit pimping and other charges. The apps have been involved in over 1,000 child abuse cases. Youtuber Matt Watson’s video explained how predators even time stamp videos and comment when minors appear in a sexually explicit manner. These operations can be hidden under ordinary business establishments. To help put a stop to human trafficking the District of Columbia passed the Prohibition of Human Trafficking Act of 2010.

What Can Be Done?

Tina Frundt, Executive Director of Courtney House created the Washington, D.C. organization to help children who have gotten out of the illegal industry and to educate others to recognize indicators of possible sex trafficking. The organization encourages citizens who suspect children are being victimized to report their suspicions to law enforcement and in doing so possibly save lives.

Sex trafficking has been reported in hotels, brothels and massage parlors but victims can be recruited anywhere. There is no specified region for human trafficking as it is a global business. Workers and bystanders are being trained to recognize victims of child trafficking and online predators.

Gentrification and the rise of tourism in DC has made the city a sex tourist destination. The DC Bill Community Health and Safety Act of 2019 will also make it harder to find victims. By removing criminal penalties for engaging in sexual exchange trafficked victims are at risk. A better solution would be the Equality Mode as it would not hold the sex workers accountable but it would reprimand buyers. By providing options for victims to exit the lifestyle, this approach would make buying people a criminal offense. The model would help reduce the demand for sex trafficking. Becoming more educated on the topic can help save a life. Report any pages, threads or profiles that mention, discuss and engage in fetishizing lascivious acts with minors. Social media has helped these acts to spread through online feeds featuring child pornography and snuff films. Educate minors to become more aware of online predators, child exploitation and sex trafficking. The main goal of sex traffickers is to find the means to exploit the victim or have the victim leave home to engage in sex. As a reminder child sex trafficking is a genderless crime and can target anyone.

How To Report :

To help defend human dignity and end child exploitation the following options to report are listed below:

Report child abuse/neglect hotline: 202-671-(SAFE) or 7233. Representatives will ask for the following: General information regarding minors such as their name, gender, address, etc. The extent of abuse witnessed and any additional information.

Some people in specific professions, teachers, chiropractors, dentists and more can take FREE training classes. To access these free training courses click here. To report sexual implicit videos, images, text messages, etc involving minors please visit:

Baylor University offers recommendations to discuss the conversation and educate youth here. By noticing these signs and spreading awareness, you can help at-risk youth and save a life.

To contact safe havens for victims: The Courtney House: call 202 525 1426. The Black and Missing Foundation can be reached at 877 972 2634.

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What Is A Dyke March?

Mon, 11/04/2019 - 08:05

A Dyke March is a lesbian visibility protest designed to promote activism within the LGBTQ community and bring awareness to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LBGTQ) rights. The First Dyke March took place April 24, 1993, as part of the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal rights and Liberation. 

During the 1990s, the LGBTQ community faced far more hate crimes than they do today. Many laws we have now that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation simply did not exist. We would not be where we are today, were it not for the activism that took place before and after the original Dyke March.

According to the Urban Dictionary, a dyke is a slang word used to refer to lesbians that was originally meant to be a slur. There are many theories surrounding the origins of the word and how it became used as an anti-lesbian slur. Scholars debate whether or not the origin came as a shortening for words such as morphadyke or hermaphrodite. In an earlier English dialect, the word was simply a contemporaneous term for women.

Regardless of its origin, a dyke describes a masculine tomboy or androgynous female. In recent years, the term has been re-appropriated by many lesbians who use it to identify themselves. Many people who identify as LGBTQ have been ridiculed by such words. For this reason, it is considered rude to use the word dyke unless you self-identify as one.  

By stripping the negative aspect of the word, lesbians reclaim the power of the word and own our own identity.  Transgender activist Jessica Xavier says, “Dyke is political. It’s an identity queer women could use as a means of our own empowerment, and having the march was this way to share in our queer sisterhood together.” Whatever words we use to describe ourselves our individuality and self-representation should be respected. 

Grassroots DC reporter Billie Mckelvie interviews fellow marcher Shelby Bass on why she attended the march.

The DC Dyke March is returning after a 12-year hiatus. It returns as an act of queer liberation. It is led by self-identifying dykes and as a protest for different issues regarding the LGBTQ community.  The DC Dyke March is an inclusive community that supports marginalized groups that are often ignored by mainstream media when reporting on LGBTQ issues. For more information visit:

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It Takes a Village: A Celebration of the Life of Gary Hopkins, Jr.

Wed, 09/11/2019 - 20:12

On November 27, 1999, my son Gary Hopkins, Jr., was gunned down by an Prince George’s County police officer. This was years before smartphone videos made it possible for us to watch unarmed Black folks die at the hands of police on our social media feeds every week or so.

Along with mothers from across the nation who’ve lost their children to what is essentially state-sanctioned violence, I have been fighting to change the criminal justice system for the last twenty years. On October 26, 2019, we plan to celebrate the life of Gary Hopkins, Jr and those of other loved ones lost. It will be a day of healing, storytelling, performances and activism.

Grassroots DC is a partner in this event and will be presenting a short video about Gary Hopkins, Jr., one that we hope to eventually turn into a feature-length documentary. Below is the budget for the event. If you can support this effort, please go to our GoFundMe page and make a donation. You can also send a check to the Coalition of Concerned Mothers, 3304 Asher Street, Upper Marlboro, MD 20772. If you can’t support, please share this post with those who can. Thank you.



Gary Hopkins Jr. was an artist, writer, and a full time college student, whose life was taken by the police in 1999. Marion Gray-Hopkins, Gary’s mother, is hosting the first commemoration event after 20 years since his death, with the hope to (i) celebrate Gary’s life and achievements, (ii) bring together families who were affected by state violence locally and nationally to grow the movement against police terrorism, and (iii) collectively heal through this weekend long event, centering around an artistic ceremony and installation.

II. ABOUT A. Context:

Gary Hopkins, Jr., at the time of his death, was 19 years old, the youngest child of Gary Hopkins, Sr. and Marion Gray-Hopkins. Gary was the brother of Tahlita, Antwon and Tashia; he was also an uncle, cousin, nephew, and friend to many. Gary was also an aspiring rapper, writer, and producer, who was a full time college student majoring in mass communications with a business minor. On the night of November 26, Gary attended a dance where one of his friends got into a verbal altercation with another young man. Following the event, on early morning November 27, 1999, after breaking up the altercation and getting everyone into their cars, Gary was sitting on the window ledge of the lead vehicle when a police officer used his patrol car to block them from exiting the venue. The police officer got out of his car with his gun drawn, went up to Gary and placed the gun to his temple. The officer then pulled him off the car by the collar of his shirt when Gary stumbled backwards another officer, who was moonlighting at the dance, shot Gary in the chest killing him.

The officer who shot Gary was charged with manslaughter, which, following a bench trial, was acquitted by the judge. No charges were filed against the officer who precipitated the incident, although he was under investigation for several excessive force violations.

B. After Gary’s Death

Gary’s murder at the hands of law enforcement and the failure of the State to restore justice to him and his family have led Marion Gray-Hopkins, his mother, to become an activist against police terrorism, advocating for policy and legislative changes. Marion began her activism work with Prince George’s County People’s Coalition against Police Brutality and later began to partner with ONUS Inc.; Families United 4 Justice; American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); Code Pink; Progressive Maryland; Campaign for Justice, Safety, and Jobs (CJSJ); A Mother’s Cry; Black Lives Matter DC; and Amnesty International.

Marion’s activist work has led her to speak out against police terrorism locally, nationally, and internationally. Marion spoke at Rio De Janeiro, Brazil to support the “Beyond Borders” Conference; and Kingston, Jamaica for the “Broken but Not Destroyed Campaign.” She currently serves as a board member with ACLU Maryland, and co-founded and serves as the President of the Coalition of Concerned Mothers (COCM).

III. Case for Support

We appreciate you and your willingness to support the movement against police terrorism and specifically this event to commemorate the life of Gary Hopkins Jr.. With you support, we hope to achieve:

  • –  Bringing ​20 mothers​ from out of state and ​20 local mothers​ who were affected by police brutality to Washington, DC to attend the full day event.
  • –  Having ​150 participants​ (including mothers) at the commemoration ceremony for the evening program.
  • –  Reaching ​7000 people ​on social media, before and after the event.
  • –  Strengthening the foundation of this work: (i) healing: centering impacted mothers and families and creating a space for them to share their experiences, move through trauma and grief with community; we believe that impacted mothers need to be cared for and be well before they advance the work of the movement; (ii) building: when individuals are well, the community can be well; we believe the healing and collective sharing of mothers will set a strong foundation for trust building, relationship building, strategies building and thus, movement building; (iii) outreaching and modeling: police brutality and racial profiling of young black men have historically contributed to the enactment of white supremacy in America; by creating this space to share and grow together, this commemoration event will not only center Gary’s life, Marion’s experiences and those of local mothers, but also serve as a model for other spaces to be created nationally with the same purpose: taking steps to heal from white supremacy and fighting for collective liberation.


1. General Programming

The event is expected to take place from the evening of ​October 25 to end of evening October 26, 2019​ (location TBD), with the bulk of activities taking place on Saturday, October 26. Below is a break-down of the key parts of the program:

2. Artistic components

Art has long been the tool that uplifts our collective voice, helps us reimagine our reality, and inspires us to create a liberatory future. For this event, the programming heavily relies on the arts to achieve Marion’s vision and objectives to heal and find collective power with local and national mothers who were affected by police terrorism.

Our program has been in touch with friends, families of Gary Hopkins, Jr., as well as local artists in the DMV to tap into the resources and power within our community.

a. Performances

During the official commemoration ceremony on October 26 evening, there will be various performances to celebrate the life of Gary Hopkins, Jr., including:

  • –  Spoken Word performance.
  • –  Gospel singing performance.
  • –  Dance performance.

b. Art Workshop

After the Emotional Healing session, an art workshop will be offered for mothers to reflect and create arts on their own experiences; drawing from their personal story and adding to the collective voice and vision of the movement.

c. Art Installation

Our programming will be centered around an artistic installation, hereby referred to as an artistic altar (references and inspirations below). The altar is inspired by various religious and spiritual practices, where the altar is believed to be a sacred place where we can connect to the spirits of our deceased beloveds. It’s also a place for family members, friends, and acquaintances to show love and respect for people who passed away through prayers and offerings.

This altar will: (i) serve as a visual celebration of Gary’s life, as the artists will create both 2D and 3D suspended and installed art pieces that represent Gary’s dynamic personality, yearning for social change, loving compassion as well as his own artistic passion; (ii) an interactive altar where folks can give offerings in multiple ways throughout the event.

*These images serve as the centerpiece’s inspiration only – the final installation will be created by our artists as it pertains to Gary Hopkins Jr. and the current movement against police terrorism.

d. Artistic Offerings

There are two formal sessions of artistic offerings:

(i) after the art workshop: all art created during the art workshop will be installed by mothers onto the altar to showcase and build collective narratives on the effects of police terrorism on families as well as share their healing process.

(ii) at the end of the commemoration (after dinner), mothers, general participants as well as donors, sponsors will have their own rounds of offering. See section V for details.

There are also opportunities for participants and mothers to give offerings at any convenient time, either through prayers or written notes that can be installed on the altar.


VI. Donation Options

Our work in this movement heavily relies on the support of donors and sponsors. We deeply appreciate any support we get, and want to include our donors and sponsors in our programming as much as we can. Donors and sponsors will get their own round of acknowledgement and offerings: each support, regardless of the amount, comes with a candle. Donors will take part in our offering ceremony and place their candles on the altar to celebrate and honor the life of Gary Hopkins, Jr. along with family members and friends (other participants are also asked to donate a minimum of $20 to attend the evening program and will also participate in the offering sessions with their candles). Additionally, we have three suggested levels of donations with additional benefits outlined below:

The Visionary:​ $10,000 and above

The Change Agent: ​$5,500 – $9,500 The Collaborator: ​$1,000 – $5,000

Thank you very much for your time and support for this event and the movement against police terrorism. We look forward to working with you!

The post It Takes a Village: A Celebration of the Life of Gary Hopkins, Jr. appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Reparations: A Very Basic Primer

Thu, 06/20/2019 - 12:53
Reparations: a process of repairing, healing and restoring a people injured because of their group identity and in violation of their fundamental human rights by governments, corporations, institutions and families

On June 18, 2019, Stop Police Terror Project-DC hosted “If Not Now, When? A Discussion on Reparations” at the Peace Fellowship Church in Deanwood. One of the speakers was Mélisande Short-Colomb, a descendant of the slaves sold by Jesuits to save Georgetown University from bankruptcy in 1838. Anyone who thinks that reparations for African-Americans is impossible should listen to her story. The video below was shot by Grassroots DC Media Collective member Miheema Goodine.

Event participants agreed that most Americans do not have a clear understanding of reparations or indeed just how lasting and impactful the legacy of slavery has been. For example, Blacks owned 15 million acres of land at the turn of the last century, without reparations. Racist government policies, lack of access to capital and training, has dwindled that number to less than 1 million acres today. The few facts below, all researched by Stop Police Terror Project organizers, scratch the surface of the history that should be known when considering the issue of reparations.

1862: April 16, slavery is abolished in Washington, D.C., eight months before the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. The District of Columbia is also the only place in the United States where slave owners were compensated for having lost their human property. In other words, D.C. paid reparations to slave owners, but not to the slaves themselves.

1865: After The Confederate States of America were defeated in the American Civil War, General William Tecumseh Sherman issued Special Field Orders, No. 15, to both “assure the harmony of action in the area of operations” and “to solve problems caused by the masses of freed slaves, a temporary plan granting each freed family forty acres of tillable land in the sea islands and around Charleston, South Carolina for the exclusive use of Black People who had been enslaved.” The army also had a number of unneeded mules which were given to settlers. This is where the term “40 acres & a mule” originates.

Around 40,000 freed slaves were settled on 400,000 acres in Georgia and South Carolina. However, President Andrew Johnson reversed the order after Lincoln was assassinated, and the land was returned to its previous owners.

1867: Thaddeus Stevens sponsored a bill for the redistribution of land to African Americans, but it was not passed.

1877: Reconstruction came to an end in 1877 without the issue of reparations having been addressed. Thereafter, a deliberate movement of segregation and oppression arose in southern states.

1948: The Japanese-American Claims Act was passed, a law which authorized the settlement of property loss claims by people of Japanese descent who were removed from the Pacific Coast area during World War II.

1968: Founding of the Republic of New Afrika, a Black nationalist group that called for several states in the Deep South to be set aside for the establishment of a Black nation. The RNA demanded that the U.S. government pay $400 billion in reparations to Black people for centuries of systemic oppression during and after slavery.

1974: The U.S. government reached a $10 million out of court settlement with the victims of the Tuskeegee experiment —in which 399 Black men with syphilis were left untreated to study the progression of the disease between 1932 and 1972—and their families, which included both monetary reparations and a promise of lifelong medical treatment for both participants and their immediate families.

1987: Founding of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA), a coalition of groups that advocate for reparations for the African diaspora in the United States. They define reparations as “a process of repairing, healing and restoring a people injured because of their group identity and in violation of their fundamental human rights by governments, corporations, institutions and families. Those groups that have been injured have the right to obtain from the government, corporation, institution or family responsible for the injuries that which they need to repair and heal themselves,” and see the reparations issue as one of international human rights.

1988: The Civli Liberties Act of 1988 was passed, a federal law that granted reparations to Japanese Americans who had been interned by the United States government during World War II.

1989: Michigan Representative John Conyers introduces for the first time H.R. 40, a bill that, if passed, would establish a commission to analyze slavery in the U.S., its impact, and ways to address its lasting affects. This bill was re-introduced multiple times in the intervening years, most recently in January 2019. A hearing on the bill was held on Wednesday June 19, 2019–Juneteenth. A link to the video is at the bottom of this page.

1994: The state of Florida agreed to a reparations package for the Rosewood Massacre of 1923 – where the primarily Black town of Rosewood on the Gulf Coast of Florida was destroyed in an uprising that had been triggered when white men from several nearby towns lynched a Black Rosewood resident because of unsupported accusations that a white woman in the nearby town of Sumner had been beaten and possibly raped by a Black drifter. The package was supposed to compensate the 11 or so remaining survivors of the incident, those who were forced to flee the town, and for college scholarships primarily aimed at descendants.

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Does the Mayor’s Budget Put People First?

Mon, 04/15/2019 - 10:16

“We are only as strong as a city as the ward that struggles the most. You cannot represent the District of Columbia as a whole and not reflect that in your words, actions and budget decisions.” 

These were Mayor Muriel Bowser’s words during her State of the District address. The chart below, researched and constructed by the Fair Budget Coalition, may help you determine if her words align with her proposals.

The post Does the Mayor’s Budget Put People First? appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Health and Beauty Expo and Black-Owned Sip and Shop

Fri, 04/12/2019 - 13:38

Each year, black consumers circulate $850 billion through the economy; 90% of those dollars are channeled to non-black owners.  Many Black-owned businesses are opened out of necessity for the community. The economic state of any community is partially related to the amount of money spent within it.  

Unfortunately, money is not put back into the black community as black-owned businesses are not supported.  This stigma derives from the thought that Black-owned merchandise is not as valuable or as high quality as products provided by big companies.  Instead of supporting multimillion dollar corporations that do not care about those who support it financially like Gucci, H&M, etc, we should discover businesses that support people of color.

To that end, Grassroots DC is hosting a Health and Beauty Expo at the Black Worker’s Center this Sunday, April 14 at 2500 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, SE, from 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm.

It’s particularly important that we support black-owned businesses that provide health and beauty products because Black people spend a disproportionate amount of their income on those products. Despite this, the beauty industry overlooks many people with rich skin tones and thick hair textures and does not provide a variety of diverse products aimed at people of color.  This shouldn’t be unexpected.

Thanks in large part to the media, it is unacceptable to wear many natural hairstyles to school or work.  In fact, the United States has a long history of banning Afrocentric hairstyles.  The history of the tignon (a hairdresser to conceal hair) was worn by free slave creole women, the law enacted by Governor Esteban Rodriguez Miro. This law was created so men can pursue affairs with Creole women.  Even today, many brands promote white standards and perpetuate racist stereotypes that black hairstyles are unprofessional.  People of color continue to be humiliated, shamed, and banned for their hair styles even when they are trending

The booming market of $2.56 billion dollars that people of color spend on products has caused many companies to began to cater to them. You also must be aware that brands do use dark skin women as props to show they are inclusive.  An example of advertising “light is bright” notion is the 2017 Dove commercial ad. The implication of a Black woman changing into a white woman represents “clean” shows that many big companies have hidden racism.

Even when a company like MAC Cosmetics offers a wide range of products, they’re not really designed with all of the issues brought about by darker complexions.  In order to create a custom foundation many people of color mix two colors for the perfect blend. Hormones, stress levels, climate, diet and lack of sleep all affect how your foundation no longer blends with your skin.  To address this, many brands that market to women of color create dark shades in order to attract customers.

Brands such as Fenty, Bobbi Brown, Smashbox, appear to be challenging stereotypical and regressive notions of beauty by creating color swatches they claim will create.  But hexadecimal color codes show how many of these companies shades that are for dark skin people are not.

In the commercial world, brands like Fenty have Photoshopped swatches in order to create the illusion of diversity.

All this “inclusive” marketing by major corporations leaves small, black-owned companies in peril. Major corporations with unlimited resources successfully tap into the buying power of people of color without ensuring their needs.  Beauty brands are becoming inclusive because it is now mainstream, but is this a good thing?

Many products that have been advertised to African Americans actually contain hazardous chemicals that can lead to cancer. The Environmental Working Group analyzed 1,177 beauty, personality, and hair care products that are marketed towards people of color. Out of those products only, 25% were considered low hazard compared to the 40% marketed to the general public.  Hair products that are used to straighten hair actually promote hair thinning and loss. Toxic ingredients such as lye have been found in hair relaxers while formaldehyde has been found in straightening treatments.  But even products that contain no lye can cause chemical burns. Other health issues associated with beauty products include hormone disruption, allergies, reproduction damage, and even cancer.

The federal food, drug and cosmetic act of 1938 and the fair packaging and labeling act of 1967 is a government safeguard that is supposed to protect people from misbranding. Neither of these acts requires cosmetics to be approved by the FDA before hitting the market.  The gap between Black and whites health outcomes reflects a disparity of Black doctors.  By including more Black people into these professions, industries, and research, Black needs are more likely to be met.

The Health and Beauty Expo will be covering and talking about these discrepancies and products that are aimed for black women but do not hit the mark.  The goal of the Expo is to educate and uplift the community by highlighting local black owned businesses that specialize in our health and beauty needs.  The “Sip and Shop” will feature a variety of black-owned businesses that sell everything from Beauty, Hair, and Make-up services to vitamins, holistic healing, and plants, & more. Please come prepared to shop as vendors will be offering deals and you don’t want to miss! We will be discussing the “Pros and Cons of the Beauty Industry: How it Affects our Community and How can we Build.” The panel will include 5 specialists from cosmetologist to doctors that are licensed and certified. The Panel will also include you, you read it right “you”. Everyone is encouraged to join in the conversation. Topics will include colorism, common health issues in the black community, generational wealth and entrepreneurialism. The closing of the event will feature a stress-free hour to mix and mingle with other attendees and see some work showcased by some on the vendors.  This event is free and all ages are welcome.  Everyone in the community is encouraged to come.  We really hope to see you there.

Get Your Tickets:

The federal food, drug and cosmetic act of 1938 and the fair packaging and labeling act of 1967 is a government safeguard that is supposed to protect people from misbranding. Neither of these acts requires cosmetics to be approved by the FDA before hitting the market.  The gap between Black and whites health outcomes reflects a disparity of Black doctors.  By including more Black people into these professions, industries, and research, Black needs are more likely to be met.

Health and Beauty Expo will be covering and talking about these discrepancies and products that are aimed for black women but do not hit the mark.  The goal of the Expo is to educate and uplift the community by highlighting local black owned businesses that specialize in our health and beauty needs.  The “Sip and Shop” will feature a variety of black-owned businesses that sell everything from Beauty, Hair, and Make-up services to vitamins, holistic healing, and plants, & more. Please come prepared to shop as vendors will be offering deals and you don’t want to miss! We will be discussing the “Pros and Cons of the Beauty Industry: How it Affects our Community and How can we Build.” The panel will include 5 specialists from cosmetologist to doctors that are licensed and certified. The Panel will also include you, you read it right “you”. Everyone is encouraged to join in the conversation. Topics will include colorism, common health issues in the black community, generational wealth and entrepreneurialism. The closing of the event will feature a stress-free hour to mix and mingle with other attendees and see some work showcased by some on the vendors.  This event is free and all ages are welcome.  Everyone in the community is encouraged to come.  We really hope to see you there.

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Honoring Marion Barry: A Recollection

Wed, 03/13/2019 - 15:18

A young Barry with Dr. King*

Following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, Black people throughout the United States snapped. Witnessing a man nationally considered a symbol of peace and hope brutally murdered became the trigger for what is known as the ‘King assassination riots’. In major cities, from Baltimore and Chicago, to smaller cities like Wilmington, Detroit, Black people across the nation unleashed their pent up rage regarding racism in the United States.

In DC in particular, there was an estimated $25 million in property damages, and innumerable businesses were forced to close. Black residents made up 50% of the city’s population in 1960, that number sky-rocketed to over 70% in 1970, due in part to the flight of white residents following the 1968 rebellions.

With certain sections of DC in a ruin-like state, millions of dollars in property damage, and the resultant injuries and deaths following the rebellions, the city was in desperate need of a strong Black leader.

Enter Marion Barry, a man who would become as beloved as he became notorious, whose vision set in place many of the safety nets low-income residents in DC are able to use to their benefit now.

Once, when speaking with a former colleague about Marion Barry, she decided Google search the phrase ‘DC mayor’. One of the search options in the bars below went on to read ‘DC mayor smokes crack’. Anyone who is remotely aware of the sting operation the FBI orchestrated with Barry’s ex-girlfriend Hazel ‘Rasheeda’ Moore would immediately understand this search option had been referring to Barry.

Before going into Barry’s history, I’d like to write my personal experiences with Barry; I’ve had the opportunity to cross paths Barry twice in my life.

Once, when David Catania set out to enact laws that would potentially have parents arrested for the accumulative tardies and absences of their children from school, I, alongside a cadre of young people in a youth program I had been apart of during my teens, decided to testify against this law before the DC Council.

While in support of the law initially, after hearing the testimony of four young Black men, Barry became vehement in his opposition to Catania’s law, changing his opinion immediately after our testimony.

Then, as an eighteen year-old just stepping into the political sphere, having my voice acknowledged by, both, a politician and an elder was a foundational moment in such a strange, turbulent, and developmental time in my life.

What may have been a year later, I attended a community gathering about the injustices the US government had committed against a group of men known as the Cuban Five.

Held at St. Stephen’s church in Columbia Heights, the drawing point for this gathering was the opportunity to hear legendary activist Angela Davis speak. People of various backgrounds participated in that evening’s event, filling the church and enduring DC’s infamous humidity to get a chance to share

Photo of Barry with wife and child being honored at the gala of the Gertrude Stein Democratic club, a gay political organization*

space with Davis.

After Davis spoke, Barry revealed himself to the crowd; strutting to the podium area in a full suit in spite of the heat. At the sight of Barry, the event’s attendees exploded into hand claps, cheers, and camera flashes. Standing beside Davis, Barry seemed content and majestic.

Of course, me at eighteen had no knowledge of Barry outside of stories I had been told by my mother and other adults. Me at seventeen had no ability to comprehend the significance of the man before me.

Born in Mississippi and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, Barry was raised by his mother and step-father alongside nine other children. Demonstrating an aptitude for political organizing and resistance early on, Barry, in his memoir, recalls rallying his fellow Black paper boys to hold their employer accountable to taking them on a trip for meeting a sales quota.

Not only did Barry possess a knack for political action and leadership, Barry also harbored a deep hunger for education. Graduating from LeMoyne-Owen College in 1958, Barry acquired a Master of Science degree from Fisk University and went on to pursue a Ph.D in chemistry from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. A dissertation away from receiving his doctoral degree, Barry, experiencing discrimination as the only Black person in his program and sensing the political urgency of the times,

gave up pursuing his studies to take on more responsibilities with SNCC and other civil rights organizations.

SNCC, also known as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, is regarded as one of the most influential political organizations active during the Civil Rights era. Birthed from student-sit in protest and a meeting organized by activist Ella Baker, SNCC had been involved in nearly every historical political action against injustice in the South during its time.

From 1960 to 1961, Barry operated as chairman of SNCC, in fact, Barry was the organization’s first chairman. Familiar with positions of leadership, Barry had also been appointed the president of his college’s chapter of the NAACP. It is likely that Barry’s tenure as president of the LeMoyne Owen’s chapter of the NAACP allowed him to develop the skills necessary to work as chairman of SNCC.

Following his eventual departure from his Ph.D program, Barry held leaderships positions within numerous organizations in the field of racial justice, his work eventually taking him up North. At the request of Civil RIghts leader James Forman, Barry moved to DC to begin, and manage, the city’s chapter of SNCC.

While often considered Washington, DC’s first Black mayor, Barry doesn’t actually hold that official title. Before Barry’s term as mayor of the District, Walter Washington, holding a law degree from Howard University, became DC’s first Black mayor in 1971.

Before his mayoral campaign in 1978, Barry co-founded an organization known as Pride Inc. Pride Inc. gave jobs to people of all ages work opportunities in the field of public sanitation. Some sources report that Pride Inc. employees were being paid the equivalent of more than $700 per week for their labor. Pride Inc. was, essentially, the prototype for Barry’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), often cited as the first job experience for many DC youth.

Not only did Barry create groundwork for DC youth to acquire opportunities to work during, and before, his tenure as mayor, Barry also enacted legislation that would benefit poor and working-class DC resid

A photo of Barry bearing his autograph*

ents as well. Barry signed into law the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA laws), which, after a change made by the DC Council last year, only gives the tenants of multi-family apartment units the right to purchase a property once the owner decides to sell the unit.

Often overlooked is Barry’s enthusiastic support of the LGBT community during the early years of his political career in Washington. Amidst cultural myths of heterosexual Black men being the ‘most homophobic’ members of our society, I believe it important to place Barry in league with Dr. Huey P. Newton and other heterosexual Black men who have spoken out against homophobia.  

None of this is to say Barry deserves a pass for some of the more disturbing allegations against him, such as stalking and, even, multiple accounts of sexual assault dating back to his time at SNCC.

What I am attempting to do is create space of all of Barry’s personas to be held and considered; Barry the ‘rapist’’, Barry the ‘good samaritan’, Barry the ‘mayor for life’, Barry the ‘civil rights activist’, and Barry the ‘substance abuser’. Before we apply any values judgement upon Barry’s character, may we first ask ‘Who was Marion Barry?’


*I am grateful for the Special Collections Office at George Washington University’s Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library for allowing me the opportunity to look through their archive of Marion Barry’s 1978 mayoral campaign

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Martin Luther King Peace March in 2019

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 07:03

February may be the shortest month of the year, but Black History Month really begins on the third Monday of January, which is the day we honor Martin Luther King, Jr.  The federal government encourages citizens to celebrate the day through volunteerism, calling it a “day of national service.”  But many District of Columbia residents understand that we truly honor Martin Luther King, Jr. through political activism and not volunteerism.

Today, every elected official wants to hang their hat on the mantle of Martin Luther King, but many can’t claim that position without some hypocrisy.  In the fall of 2018, an overwhelming majority of District of Columbia council members overturned Initiative 77, a proposal placed on the ballot by District residents that would have gradually raised the minimum wage for tipped minimum workers from $3.89 to $15 per hour in eight years time.  Would Martin Luther King, Jr., have backed Initiative 77?  His support for Memphis sanitation workers, right before his assassination, suggests that he would have.

Most of the citizens who showed up in Anacostia to participate in this year’s Martin Luther King Jr Peace March despite this year’s frigid cold, were to honor King’s activism.  The video below is a testament to the continuing struggle not only for civil rights but also human rights in the District of Columbia.

Props to Di Luong, first-time Grassroots DC videographer, and John Goodine, whose editing skills get better and better every day.

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A Timeline of Events Leading Up to The “Revitalization” of Barry Farm

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 14:57

With the deconstruction and rebuilding of Barry Farm (most commonly referenced as Barry Farms to residents and longtime D.C citizens) under way, it is important to understand some of the key factors of this process, what led up to it and how it has been affecting the existing community. Here is a somewhat concise timeline of events to provide context and stay updated on the fast-changing neighborhood.








Image credits: Joy Sharon Yi



  • The HOPE VI program was created in 1992 by the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development to redevelop public housing across the U.S into mixed-income housing. The goal of HOPE VI was to renovate and revitalize public housing to reduce crime and diversify living conditions. The intention was to create less dense living environments.
  • Many residents across the U.S that were affected by the reconstruction found problems with HOPE VI, seeing it as a process of gentrification. According to “The Urban Institute”, less than 12% of existing residents were able to move back into the renovated homes. Because HOPE VI did not require a 1 to 1 replacement for lower income residents, the program did eventually end up weeding out a lot of those residents altogether.
  • Through HOPE VI over 96,000 public housing complexes were destroyed and a little more than 107,000 were created; only 56,800 of those being affordable housing.
  • Arthur Capper and Carrollsburg Gardens were among the affordable housing in DC (formerly located in Navy Yard) that were lost as a result of HOPE VI.

New Communities Initiative (NCI):  

  • NCI was brought forth in 2005 as a response to budget cuts directly impacting D.C.’s public housing complexes and the maintenance of them.
    • Resident pushback was one of the many reasons that this process was delayed until 2014.
  • NCI was meant to be a revamped and more effective version of HOPE VI with a promise of 1 for 1 replacement for affordable housing tenants and units; an effort to make sure current residents could stay in their neighborhoods and have priority for the newly developed units.
  • Much like HOPE VI, NCI was created to redevelop public housing in D.C., to decrease crime, reduce concentrated poverty and eliminate economic segregation in neighborhoods in an effort to reintroduce the idea of mixed-income communities.
    • There is a common theory that concentrated poverty is why public housing is not as effective as it should be (as opposed to lack of funding being put towards the housing properties and overall negligence).
  • In addition to the idea of having a diverse community in terms of population, NCI plans on the new buildings looking diverse; ranging in size and style.
  • The initiative is specific to four DC neighborhoods; Barry Farm (located in Anacostia), Lincoln Heights (located in N.E), Northwest One (located in N.W in ward 6) and Park Morton (located in N.W in ward 1).

Barry Farm:

  • Barry Farm is a historic landmark in D.C, it started off as a settlement area for newly freed Black people after the Civil War in 1867. Barry Farm became the first public housing during WWII.
  • Barry Farm is located in Anacostia and (before deconstruction) had about 432 public housing units
  • The application for the first stages of the Barry Farm redevelopment were approved by the zoning commission in October 2014.
    • The plan would tear down any existing properties in Barry Farm and create 1,400 new housing (from low/mid rise buildings, townhouses and retail spaces).
  • In December of 2014 the Barry Farm aquatic center was opened (a part of NCI). This was the first stage of a larger process to renovate the Barry Farm recreational center (an estimated $26 million project). Many Barry Farm residents were unsettled by the renovated rec center as it is only available to residents with an ID which requires certain documents and resources that some families no longer have access (or easy access) to.
  • March 2016 the DC Housing Authority passed Resolution 16-06 “right to return”, which was meant to protect existing residents and their places within the community. This would make sure there was no confusion about the residents’ eligibility status and protect their entry into the newly renovated developments.
  • June 2017 “Resident Design Workshop” held by DCHA and DCMPED. Intended to get community feedback and input about plans regarding development features and layout.
  • August 2017 residents from Barry Farm filed a class action lawsuit against DCHA. The lawsuit was created in a pursuit to stall the redevelopment process and ensure that there would be enough housing for all of the current residents of Barry Farm. The lawsuit also mentions the horrid conditions of Barry Farm currently.
  • April 2018 Barry Farm is nominated to become an Opportunity Zone which would allow “tax incentives for investments in new businesses and commercial projects in low income communities” with the goal to help promote investments in new public infrastructure, affordable housing, businesses and capital improvement”
    • Many Barry Farm residents have talked about the need for prioritizing grocery stores (as there are VERY few in wards 7 and 8) over opening luxury retail stores.
  • In May 2018 residents push to preserve the beauty of their neighborhoods, as a response NCI commissioned art pieces to be made that represent the Barry Farm neighborhoods.

**Since news broke of the redevelopment of Barry Farm, over 70 residents have since relocated to Highland Dwellings and Sheridan station. The specific location of the other residents who have relocated have been unaccounted for.


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Initiative 77 & The Crisis of The Tipped Minimum Wage

Wed, 01/23/2019 - 11:43

The current minimum wage for most hourly workers in the District of Columbia is $13.25, which is set to increase to $15 come 2020. Tipped workers, however, receive a fraction of that amount per hour.  As of July 1, 2018, tipped workers (which can include servers, valets, and bartenders) receive $3.89 per hour, with an anticipated increase to $5.00 by 2020. The justification for this low hourly wage is the understanding that, in the case that an employee is unable to meet DC’s minimum wage with their tips, the employer will cover the difference. Therefore, a tipped worker who is unable to make $13.25 per hour in tips will have their wage supplemented by their employer under the Fair Shot Minimum Wage Amendment Act of 2016. However, restaurants in the DC area have been under fire for charges of wage theft, putting into question workers’ lived experience of this law.

Research done by the United States Department of Labor reveals that, nationally, the US food service industry has had higher rates of wage violation than any other low wage industry since 2008. In fiscal year 2018 alone, over 41,000 food service workers reported nearly $43 million in thefted wages.

Research done in 2011 by the Washington, DC chapter of the Restaurant Opportunities Center (also known as ROC), a non-profit based in Manhattan whose stated mission is to “improve wages and working conditions for the nation’s restaurant workforce.”, gives us a local perspective on wage violations in the restaurant industry. Following a year’s worth of research, ROC’s DC chapter released a 76 page report on DC’s restaurant industry. Table 7 (which can be found on page 25) of the report reveals that 33.5% of restaurant workers in DC report having experienced overtime wage violations and 11.4% report having experienced minimum wage violations.

As further detailed  in ROC’s report:


  • 11.4% of the workers spoken with reported earning less than $8.25 per hour, which violated DC’s 2011 minimum wage laws
  • Only 18.5% of tipped workers were able to correctly recall the correct minimum wage and only 9.7% knew the amount of the tipped minimum wage, even though it is the employer’s responsibility to post bilingual signs in the workplace detailing this information

A briefer report published by the Economic Policy Institute further reveals that:


  • Tipped workers in DC are largely people of color (70% of the tipped workforce while only 55% of the general workforce)
  • The median annual wage for servers and bartenders in DC is $22,763.
  • 13.7% of tipped workers live below the poverty line

Of course, given the unsavory conditions tipped workers were experiencing in the restaurant industry, movement to make change was inevitable.

In the spring of 2018, a campaign promoting Initiative 77 began. Initiative 77 was a ballot initiative (meaning that an adequate number of registered voters signed a petition to get a statute or amendment voted on publicly) that would rework DC’s minimum wage laws for tipped workers. Under Initiative 77, the tipped minimum wage would increase each year so that, by 2026, tipped workers would be making $15 an hour, the same as other workers in DC receiving an hourly wage. It seems that, in the frenzied coverage of the Initiative, many people assumed that tipped workers would begin receiving the minimum wage immediately, not understanding that employers would have 8 years to pay their employees the eventual $15 minimum wage.

The Washington, DC chapter of ROC became the primary driving force in support of Initiative 77 in DC. Faced with opposition from, both, restaurant owners and tipped workers themselves, Initiative 77 became one of the most discussed and controversial political topics in DC during the 2018 local election season. The proposal of Initiative 77 left the city cleaved into two camps; those in support of the initiative and those against it. A cursory glance through a DC area resident’s Facebook or Twitter feed from that period of time would very likely contain at least one charged debate over the initiative.  

Alongside the business owners and tipped workers opposing Initiative 77, Mayor Muriel Bowser and various members of the DC Council publicly opposed the Initiative as well. It must be stated, however, that many of the politicians in opposition to Initiative 77 have, at various points, received money from restaurants for their campaigns.

After being passed by voters by a more than 10% margin, Initiative 77 was repealed by eight members of the DC Council on Oct. 2nd, 2018.

I find myself clearly seeing the concerns raised by both parties regarding the pros and cons of Initiative 77; working as a cashier in an independent restaurant, I reap the benefits of the current minimum wage as well as tips. As a cashier, my job is far less complex than that of a server, however, I have far more security and ease regarding my wage. This level of security regarding pay is something I desire for each of my fellow restaurant workers, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet. As stated by the anonymous author of this Vox article “Living on tips does not guarantee me a sufficient income or economic security. Tipped workers experience a poverty rate nearly twice that of other workers. Currently, the median hourly wage for servers in DC is only $11.89… Relying on customer tips results in unpredictable income and makes workers more vulnerable to being sexually harassed or discriminated against by the very customers on whose tips we depend.”


This said, my very strong relationship with my employer in the restaurant I work in makes me consider concerns raised by restaurant owners about keeping their establishments open as well. While I don’t want to disregard the reality of greed our culture intentionally cultivates in each of us, I would like to believe that most business owners would choose to give generously to their employees if the resources were available.

Compass Coffee, a local coffee shop with a number of locations throughout DC, pays its starting baristas $13.25 an hour, and, once they’re passed the apprenticeship stage, they go on to receive a 25¢ raise. This pay is received alongside tips, which, based on information in this article from the dcist, averages around $5.71 an hour.

More prominently, in the same article, the author discusses changes Dolcezza Gelato has had to make to their payment structure in order, according to their owner, to continue to do business in DC. Now categorizing their hourly employees as tipped workers, Dolcezza’s baristas receive $10.50 an hour while the company’s gelato scoopers make $9.75 an hour, these wages being supplemented by tips.  

Robb Duncan is reported as saying “It totally, totally sucks. If I could pay my employees twice the minimum wage and give them health benefits, I would do it in two seconds. But for any small business, especially in D.C. right now, one needs to make adjustments. We’re doing what we feel is necessary to stay strong in D.C.”

Sips of Seattle, a family owned coffee shop located in downtown DC, shut down its business on on the 14th of December due to increases in rent, after 22 years of being a favorite of many DC residents. One of the co-owners of Sips of Seattle has a Spanish last name; Escobar. While I do not know the racial or ethnic origins of this particular business owner, I would like to use this information to highlight the reality that the businesses that are most vulnerable to increases of rents and wages are those owned by people of color. Even though Initiative 77 hasn’t passed, I’d be concerned about the ability of business owners of color to stay afloat amidst rising rent and labor costs.

Rents for businesses are based upon the square feet of the establishment multiplied by a dollar amount that averages somewhere between $50 – $80. The annual rent of a space of 800 square foot, priced at $55 per square foot, would be $44,000 a year, requiring monthly payments of $3,666 to maintain usage of the space.

Ultimately, I find myself disappointed by this entire debate. When this issue over whether a minimum wage or a lowered tipped wage is best for DC’s restaurants is boiled down, we are, essentially, choosing one group of people’s livelihoods over another. Another point of contention for me is the responsibility of this decision placed into the hands of DC residents, many of whom have never worked in restaurants and know little-to-nothing about the industry. In an act of compromise, Mary Cheh, Councilmember of Ward 3, suggests that the the increase in tipped servers’ minimum wage take place over a 15 year period; increasing the tipped minimum wage by 66¢ per year as a way to safely gauge any burdens the increased wage would bring upon restaurant owners.

While I am appreciative of Councilmember Cheh’s attempt to consider the needs of all parties involved, I believe that this compromise fails to consider the reality of rising rents, nor does it center the experiences/demands of restaurant workers. The issue of Initiative 77 ties into much larger issues regarding affordable housing and living wages that are affecting every major city across the country.

In the long run, tipped workers on both sides of the Initiative and restaurant workers must understand that if they’re going to remain in a city with increasingly high rent prices, than they’d do well to band together with organizers working on affordable housing initiatives in their neighborhoods. Some organizations working on affordable housing campaigns across the city are Empower DC, One DC, and Keep DC 4 Me. Alongside participating in political action in the city, tipped workers should also rally together to ensure their employers comply with DC’s minimum wage laws.  As individuals, tipped workers can also contact the District’s Restaurant Opportunities Center if they have questions about their rights or join them on the third Thursday of every month for their Legal Clinic for Restaurant Workers.

Recently, new energy has begun to surge around Initiative 77; upset with the DC Council’s decision to repeal the Initiative, a DC bartender filed a lawsuit intending to delay the execution of the proposed repeal. Senior pastor of DC’s Plymouth United Church of Christ, Rev. Graylan Hagler, a supporter of this recent push, is reported to say “The restaurant industry filed a petition challenge at the eleventh hour. It’s their latest effort to thwart the democratic process. We will fight this delaying tactic in court, and will prevail in the end. We are not the kind of people to give up on D.C. workers who need a raise.”

Shockingly, on December 12th, DC judge Neal E. Kravitz ruled that efforts to place Initiative 77 on the spring ballot were invalid as a result of a mishap on the DC government’s part. As writer Gabe Hiatt states in the Eater article “Despite the work of petitioners to gather more than 25,000 signatures in a week, judge Neal E. Kravitz cited a procedural mistake by the D.C. Board of Elections… The elections board did not post public notice for a hearing on the referendum far enough in advance, Kravitz found, dooming the signature-gathering process from the start.” Meaning, essentially, that due to a procedural error on the part of the DC Board of Elections, the petitioners’ work was futile from the start.  

We shall see how pro-77 organizers will rally against Judge Kravitz’s ruling, however, the debate of whether Initiative 77, and the larger socio-economic contexts surrounding the debate, is far from over.

The post Initiative 77 & The Crisis of The Tipped Minimum Wage appeared first on Grassroots DC.