When police start body slamming Indian grandfathers to the ground for having the audacity to walk slowly down public streets, can we finally agree that enough is enough?

    By now, I suspect you’ve seen the video of Sureshbhai Patel, the 57 year old grandfather from India who was left partially paralyzed after being stopped and slammed to the ground by police officers in Madison, Alabama while going for a walk around his son’s suburban neighborhood on the morning of February 6. (Patel had just arrived in Alabama, where he was intending to help look after his one year old grandson.) Things apparently escalated quickly once police, who had been alerted to the presence of a skinny, dark-skinned man walking slowly down a residential street, became frustrated by Patel’s inability to say more than “India” and “no English.” Well I was thinking about this case, struggling with what I’d like to say about it, when I happened across the following quote from Michigan expatriate Brandon Zwagerman, which I thought summed things up pretty perfectly.

    “Is this now the endgame when suburban landscape and attitudes (simply being a pedestrian is “suspicious” in this community which is the fastest-growing city in Alabama, 75% white, $90,000 median income) intersect with racist attitudes (especially if a pedestrian is “black”) and militarily blunt and aggressive police training? Disgusting.”

    The answer, it would seem, at least judging from this video of the incident, is “Yes.”

    One wonders what it will actually take for us, the people of the United States, to finally start to take the subject of excessive police force seriously. If this most recent incident isn’t enough to bring about serious change, what has to happen to get us to that point? Apparently seeing a 12 year old with a toy gun shot to death by police wasn’t enough. And neither was seeing an unarmed man choked to death by police. So, what will it be? Do we need to see an old woman being stomped to death by riot cops? Do we need to see a child thrown out of a window and killed during a raid? What the fuck has to happen before people take to the streets and demand real, substantive change?

    [Thankfully, it would appear that, due in large part to the outcry from the Indian government, things have taken a positive turn in this case, and Eric Parker, the officer who threw Patel to the ground, has been arrested. Let’s hope that this is just the first step of many.]

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

    Valentine’s Day on the Saturday Six Pack… the “Classy Vagina” episode

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    As last week’s drunken mess of a show was a little too male-centric, I made a concerted effort to bring more women into the studio this past Saturday. Naively, I expected that doing so would result in less bawdy, more family-friendly show. I was wrong. The show was pretty filthy. But it was also super fun. If you’d like to check out the archived recording, you can do so either by way of Soundcloud or iTunes. Or, of course, you can listen to it right here.

    [If you do listen on iTunes, do me a favor and leave a review, OK? As it is, they say they’ve “not received enough ratings to display an average” and I really want to know if we’re knocking ourselves out to make a one-star program or a three-star program.]

    Here, for those of you who refuse to listen, are my rough notes as to what was covered during this, our fifth episode of The Saturday Six Pack.

    We started the show off by opening a few Bell’s Two Hearted Ales with local pianist Ann Dahl, a whiskey-drinking lover of honkey tonk, who, when she’s not playing host at the Mix Studio piano lounge, enjoys “going down rabbit holes” with various men she meets around Ypsilanti. Among other things, Dahl told us the best and worst places in Ypsi to pick up men. (Sidetrack and Wurst Bar topped one of those lists. Smarty Katz and Maidstone topped the other.) Dahl recounted several of her adventures, which included a date with a prominent Ann Arbor attorney who liked to have intimate relations with butternut squash. We took calls, doled out Valentine’s Day advice, and encouraged people to be happy with themselves. Here’s Ann talking about the best part of Ypsi being EMU’s ability to keep brining new, young college boys to town for her enjoyment.

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    At the 29-minute mark, Linda Ann Jordan, Caleb Elijah-Molejo Zweifler and Jim Cherewick, who perform together as Best Exes, came in to wish us a happy holiday and play a few lovely songs for us. We discussed what it means to be a good ex, the fleeting nature of love, and, for some reason, the career choices of Nicholas Cage. They couldn’t stay long, as they had to hustle across the street to Beezy’s, to perform at the Bleeding Heart Bonanza, but it was nice while it lasted. (The two songs they performed were “Friends” and “Cactuses.”) Oh, and we talked for quite a wile about the evolution of the local music scene in the wake of Woodruff’s having closed… Here’s Jim making some beautiful music.

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    One of the best things about this show, I think, was the number of calls that we had. One of the best came at the 45-minute mark, while Best Exes was still in the studio. A man called to tell us about a date he’d gone on with a dominatrix that he’d met on MySpace. After taking him to K-Mart and forcing him to buy a razor and shave, because she didn’t like his stubble, she slapped him in the face, kissed him, and grabbed his balls so tightly that he had no choice but to end the date. I don’t know if he took Jim up on the offer, but Jim asked him to come to Beezy’s for a hug. (Jim says he wants to stop by the show again in the future, so we’ll have to ask him if the guy actually came out for his hug.)

    And here’s Linda, drinking beer from a dixie cup, and telling us about how, earlier in the evening, she thought she may have been mistaken for a drag queen.

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    Then, at the 50-minute mark, we played the most recent song by our friend Pete Larson, who is currently doing research on the transmission of livestock diseases in Kenya. It may be the first love song ever written by Pete Larson.

    At the top of the second hour, I talked with Heather Steenrod from Ozone House. She was supposed to come into the studio, but, after half an hour of trying to dig her car out, she gave up and called in. We talked about homelessness within our local LGBT youth population, and what Ozone house was doing to help. She also offered two free tickets to Ozone’s upcoming February 18 wine, cheese and chocolate fundraiser at Vinology, which we awarded later in the show to Paige Briana, who I’m hoping will call in this coming weekend and tell us how it went. (Did you know that, while just one in ten kids identify as being LGBT, LGBT kids make up 40% of the homeless youth population in Washtenaw County?) Heather, before hanging up, also mentioned that she loved my wife, which led, in turn, to a number of texts, calls and tweets from folks who apparently also love my wife. (Linette, among other things, does graphic design work for Ozone House.)

    Then, at 1:05, Brigid Mooney came in with Moragh Goyette, one of her favorite customers from the Wurst Bar. Moragh and I chatted for a while about kilts, swords, and the like, until finally hitting on the subject of vaginas, at which point things kind of got out of hand. Here’s Goyette asking a flushed and screaming Brigid Mooney if she’d “classed up” her vagina for Valentine’s Day. It was hilariously funny, but I felt terrible for Brigid. (We also talked about the possibility of classing up a penis with a monocle and a tiny top hat.)

    SixPack5Moragh

    If you’d just like to hear Brigid screaming, fast forward to 1:29. For what it’s worth, I talked with Brigid afterward, and she says she had a great time, and plans to return next week with another one of her favorite, funny customers from the Wurst Bar… Oh, and for what it’s worth, I was just joking when I suggested that people should send in songs they’re written about Brigid and her classy vagina.

    And lots of other stuff happened… At 1:21, we called a woman named Sue in Brighton about her online dating horror stories. At 1:34, we played the song “I Love You” by Prehensile Monkeytailed Skink. At 1:37, Ann Dahl and I began the process of winding down the show, comparing notes on what had been covered and exploring the possibilities of what the show could become. At 1:48, it occurred to me that I don’t have to really be in the studio to host the show, as long as the studio phone is working. I could just call the studio on my cell phone and then go wherever I want, I said. I could walk across the street to Beezy’s and order soup while on the phone, and then I could go next door to Deja Vu to ask about their plans for this summer’s big Mellonfest event… while slurping soup. It was truly a revelation, and I can’t wait to explore the possibilities. And, at 1:58, after saying that I’d like it if someone would call in and read Fifty Shades of Grey to me, the phone rang, and a woman who, for obvious reasons, chose to remain nameless, began reading. It was truly wonderful… especially as she had an animal of some kind on the background screeching. (She said it was a bird, but I think it was a monkey.) Oh, and at some point D’Real Graham popped in to drop off a bag of gifts for me, which was really sweet.

    All in all, I’d say it was a good show… We even had two visits from the guy who just calls and plays songs by the Who.

    Oh, I didn’t mention it on the air, but one of my kids, as I was leaving the house to go to the show, asked if I would be “mating” with people during the program. I assured everyone in my family that I would not. (It turns out, this child of mine meant to ask if I’d be matchmaking.)

    A big thank you to Brian Robb who makes sure that the station’s bills are paid, and to my AM 1700 co-worker Kate de Fuccio, who took all of the photos above.

    Tune in this coming Saturday for episode six… And do leave a review on iTunes if you get a chance.

    Posted in Special Projects, The Saturday Six Pack, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 35 Comments

      Judge Carlton Reeves, sentencing three white men to prison for the murder of a black man in Mississippi, delivers a powerful speech on the legacy of lynching

      In the early hours of June 26, 2011, 18-year old Deryl Dedmon, who had been drinking with friends, drove his pick-up truck over a man by the name of James Craig Anderson in Jackson, Mississippi, killing him. Dedmon was white. Anderson was black. Dedmon fled the scene of the crime, but, thanks to surveillance camera footage, which showed his truck speeding away, he was eventually brought in for questioning by police. He told officers that he and his friends had witnessed Anderson trying to break into a car, and, when they pulled into the lot to confront him, one thing had led to another. It didn’t take long, however, for detectives to figure out what had actually happened. The young men did see Anderson attempting to get into a car, but they hadn’t simply pulled over to stop what they thought could be a car theft in progress. They pulled over because, in their own words, they’d set out that night looking for a “nigger” to “fuck with.”

      These young white men, as the jury would later hear, had been drinking in the small town of Puckett, Mississippi, about 15 miles outside of Jackson, when they decided to leave and purchase more beer. And it was at this point that Dedmon, according to multiple witnesses, suggested that they also look for a black victim or two while in the city. (This was something they’d apparently done on other occasions.) “Let’s go fuck with some niggers,” Dedmon was heard to have said. And, it would seem, this resonated with his friends, who loaded into Dedmon’s 1998 Ford F-250 truck and the Jeep Cherokee of another young man.

      And, unfortunately for James Craig Anderson, who was attempting to get into his car in the parking lot of Jackson’s Metro Inn at approximately 5:00 AM that morning, he was the man they selected. According to the testimony of those involved, the young white men robbed and repeatedly beat Anderson, eventually running him over and leaving him for dead. What’s more, one of the perpetrators, during this assault, was heard to yell, “white power” as he walked away from the victim.

      Thankfully for these young white men, Anderson’s family asked that they be spared the death penalty. “(These men) have caused our family unspeakable pain and grief. But our loss will not be lessened by the state taking the life of another,” said Anderson’s sister in a letter to the court. “We also oppose the death penalty because it historically has been used in Mississippi and the South primarily against people of color for killing whites. Executing James’ killers will not help balance the scales. But sparing them may help to spark a dialogue that one day will lead to the elimination of capital punishment”… Here’s hoping that she’s right.

      Just a few days ago, on February 10, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves [seen below] sentenced Dedmon to 50 years in prison; John Rice to 18.5 years; and Dylan Butler to 7 years for their respective roles in the beating and killing of Anderson. (These federal sentences, as I understand it, are in addition to the state sentences handed down for the three, but all sentences will be will be served concurrently.) In his remarks from the bench, Judge Reeves had the following to say about Mississippi’s violent past, the state’s “infatuation with lynching,” and what we should take away from this most recent murder. It’s long, but it’s well worth the time. [Following are the Judge’s prepared statements, which he read from in court during sentencing, after asking the young defendants to sit down and pay attention. You will find a version with footnotes here.]

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      One of my former history professors, Dennis Mitchell, recently released a history book entitled, A New History of Mississippi. “Mississippi,” he says, “is a place and a state of mind. The name evokes strong reactions from those who live here and from those who do not, but who think they know something about its people and their past.” Because of its past, as described by Anthony Walton in his book, Mississippi: An American Journey, Mississippi “can be considered one of the most prominent scars on the map” of these United States. Walton goes on to explain that “there is something different about Mississippi; something almost unspeakably primal and vicious; something savage unleashed there that has yet to come to rest.” To prove his point, he notes that, “[o]f the 40 martyrs whose names are inscribed in the national Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, AL, 19 were killed in Mississippi.” “How was it,” Walton asks, “that half who died did so in one state?” — My Mississippi, Your Mississippi and Our Mississippi.

      Mississippi has expressed its savagery in a number of ways throughout its history — slavery being the cruelest example, but a close second being Mississippi’s infatuation with lynchings. Lynchings were prevalent, prominent and participatory. A lynching was a public ritual — even carnival-like — within many states in our great nation. While other States engaged in these atrocities, those in the deep south took a leadership role, especially that scar on the map of America — those 82 counties between the Tennessee line and the Gulf of Mexico and bordered by Louisiana, Arkansas and Alabama.

      Vivid accounts of brutal and terrifying lynchings in Mississippi are chronicled in various sources: Ralph Ginzburg’s 100 Years of Lynchings and Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America, just to name two. But I note that today, the Equal Justice Initiative released Lynching in America: Confronting the Terror of of Racial Terror; apparently, it too is a must-read.

      In Without Sanctuary, historian Leon Litwack writes that between 1882 and 1968 an estimated 4,742 Blacks met their deaths at the hands of lynch mobs. The impact this campaign of terror had on black families is impossible to explain so many years later. That number contrasts with the 1,401 prisoners who have been executed legally in the United States since 1976. In modern terms, that number represents more than those killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and more than twice the number of American casualties in Operation Enduring Freedom — the Afghanistan conflict. Turning to home, this number also represents 1,700 more than who were killed on 9/11. Those who died at the hands of mobs, Litwack notes, some were the victims of “legal” lynchings — having been accused of a crime, subjected to a “speedy” trial and even speedier execution. Some were victims of private white violence and some were merely the victims of “Nigger hunts” — murdered by a variety of means in isolated rural sections and dumped into rivers and creeks. “Back in those days,” according to black Mississippians describing the violence of the 1930’s, “to kill a Negro wasn’t nothing. It was like killing a chicken or killing a snake. The whites would say, ‘Niggers jest supposed to die, ain’t no damn good anyway — so jest go an’ kill ’em.’… They had to have a license to kill anything but a Nigger. We was always in season.” Said one white Mississippian, “A white man ain’t a-going to be able to live in this country if we let niggers start getting biggity.” And, even when lynchings had decreased in and around Oxford, one white resident told a visitor of the reaffirming quality of lynchings: “It’s about time to have another [one],” he explained, “[w]hen the niggers get so that they are afraid of being lynched, it is time to put the fear in them.”

      How could hate, fear or whatever it was that transformed genteel, God-fearing, God-loving Mississippians into mindless murderers and sadistic torturers? I ask that same question about the events which bring us together on this day. Those crimes of the past as well as these have so damaged the psyche and reputation of this great State.

      Mississippi soil has been stained with the blood of folk whose names have become synonymous with the Civil Rights Movement like Emmett Till, Willie McGee, James Cheney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, Vernon Dahmer, George W. Lee, Medgar Evers and Mack Charles Parker. But the blood of the lesser-known people like Luther Holbert and his wife, Elmo Curl, Lloyd Clay, John Hartfield, Nelse Patton, Lamar Smith, Clinton Melton, Ben Chester White, Wharlest Jackson and countless others, saturates these 48,434 square miles of Mississippi soil. On June 26, 2011, four days short of his 49th birthday, the blood of James Anderson was added to Mississippi’s soil.

      The common denominator of the deaths of these individuals was not their race. It was not that they all were engaged in freedom fighting. It was not that they had been engaged in criminal activity, trumped up or otherwise. No, the common denominator was that the last thing that each of these individuals saw was the inhumanity of racism. The last thing that each felt was the audacity and agony of hate; senseless hate: crippling, maiming them and finally taking away their lives.

      Mississippi has a tortured past, and it has struggled mightily to reinvent itself and become a New Mississippi. New generations have attempted to pull Mississippi from the abyss of moral depravity in which it once so proudly floundered in. Despite much progress and the efforts of the new generations, these three defendants are before me today: Deryl Paul Dedmon, Dylan Wade Butler and John Aaron Rice. They and their coconspirators ripped off the scab of the healing scars of Mississippi… causing her (our Mississippi) to bleed again.

      Hate comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, and from this case, we know it comes in different sexes and ages. A toxic mix of alcohol, foolishness and unadulterated hatred caused these young people to resurrect the nightmarish specter of lynchings and lynch mobs from the Mississippi we long to forget. Like the marauders of ages past, these young folk conspired, planned, and coordinated a plan of attack on certain neighborhoods in the City of Jackson for the sole purpose of harassing, terrorizing, physically assaulting and causing bodily injury to black folk. They punched and kicked them about their bodies — their heads, their faces. They prowled. They came ready to hurt. They used dangerous weapons; they targeted the weak; they recruited and encouraged others to join in the coordinated chaos; and they boasted about their shameful activity. This was a 2011 version of the Nigger hunts.

      Though the media and the public attention of these crimes have been focused almost exclusively on the early morning hours of June 26, 2011, the defendants’ terror campaign is not limited to this one incident. There were many scenes and many actors in this sordid tale which played out over days, weeks, and months. There are unknown victims like the John Doe at the golf course who begged for his life and the John Doe at the service station. Like a lynching, for these young folk going out to “Jafrica” was like a carnival outing. It was funny to them – – an excursion which culminated in the death of innocent, African-American James Craig Anderson. On June 26, 2011, the fun ended.

      But even after Anderson’s murder, the conspiracy continued… And, only because of a video, which told a different story from that which had been concocted by these defendants, and the investigation of law enforcement — state and federal law enforcement working together — was the truth uncovered.

      What is so disturbing… so shocking… so numbing… is that these Nigger hunts were perpetrated by our children… students who live among us… educated in our public schools… in our private academies… students who played football lined up on the same side of scrimmage line with black teammates… average students and honor students. Kids who worked during school and in the summers; kids who now had full-time jobs and some of whom were even unemployed. Some were pursuing higher education and the Court believes they each had dreams to pursue. These children were from two-parent homes and some of whom were the children of divorced parents, and yes some even raised by a single parent. No doubt, they all had loving parents and loving families.

      In letters received on his behalf, Dylan Butler, whose outing on the night of June 26 was not his first, has been described as “a fine young man,” “a caring person,” “a well mannered man” who is truly remorseful and wants to move on with his life… a very respectful… a good man… a good person… a loveable, kind-hearted teddy bear who stands in front of bullies… and who is now ashamed of what he did. Butler’s family is a mixed-race family: for the last 15 years, it has consisted of an African-American step-father and step-sister plus his mother and two sisters. The family, according to the step-father, understandably is “saddened and heart broken.”

      These were everyday students like John Aaron Rice, who got out of his truck, struck James Anderson in the face and kept him occupied until others arrived… Rice was involved in multiple excursions to so-called “Jafrica”, but he, for some time, according to him and his mother, and an African-American friend shared his home address.

      And, sadly, Deryl Dedmon, who straddled James Anderson and struck him repeatedly in the face and head with his closed fists. He too was a “normal” young man indistinguishable in so many ways from his peers. Not completely satisfied with the punishment to which he subjected James Anderson, he “deliberately used his vehicle to run over James Anderson – – killing him.” Dedmon now acknowledges he was filled with anger.

      I asked the question earlier, but what could transform these young adults into the violent creatures their victims saw? It was nothing the victims did… they were not championing any cause… political… social… economic… nothing they did… not a wolf whistle… not a supposed crime…nothing they did. There is absolutely no doubt that in the view of the Court the victims were targeted because of their race.

      The simple fact is that what turned these children into criminal defendants was their joint decision to act on racial hatred. In the eyes of these defendants (and their coconspirators) the victims were doomed at birth… their genetic make-up made them targets.

      In the name of White Power, these young folk went to “Jafrica” to “fuck with some niggers!” – – Echos of Mississippi’s past. White Power! Nigger! According to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, that word Nigger is the “universally recognized opprobrium, stigmatizing African-Americans because of their race.” It’s the nuclear bomb of racial epithets – – as Farai Chideya has described the term. With their words, with their actions – – “I just ran that Nigger over” – – there is no doubt that these crimes were motivated by the race of the victims. And from his own pen, Dedmon, sadly and regretfully wrote that he did it out of “hatred and bigotry.”

      The Court must respond to one letter it received from one identified as a youth leader in Dylan Butler’s church, a mentor, he says and who describes Dylan as “a good person.” The point that “[t]here are plenty of criminals that deserve to be incarcerated,” is well taken. Your point that Dylan is not one of them — not a criminal… is belied by the facts and the law. Dylan was an active participant in this activity, and he deserves to be incarcerated under the law. What these defendants did was ugly… it was painful… it is sad… and it is indeed criminal.

      In the Mississippi we have tried to bury, when there was a jury verdict for those who perpetrated crimes and committed lynchings in the name of WHITE POWER… that verdict typically said that the victim died at the hands of persons unknown. The legal and criminal justice system operated with ruthless efficiency in upholding what these defendants would call WHITE POWER.

      Today, though, the criminal justice system (state and federal) has proceeded methodically, patiently and deliberately seeking justice. Today we learned the identities of the persons unknown… they stand here publicly today. The sadness of this day also has an element of irony to it: each defendant was escorted into court by agents of an African-American United States Marshal; having been prosecuted by a team of lawyers which includes an African-American AUSA from an office headed by an African-American U.S. Attorney — all under the direction of an African-American Attorney General, for sentencing before a judge who is African-American, whose final act will be to turn over the care and custody of these individuals to the BOP — an agency headed by an African-American.

      Today we take another step away from Mississippi’s tortured past… we move farther away from the abyss. Indeed, Mississippi is a place and a state of mind. And those who think they know about her people and her past will also understand that her story has not been completely written. Mississippi has a present and a future. That present and future has promise. As demonstrated by the work of the officers within these state and federal agencies — black and white; male and female, in this Mississippi, they work together to advance the rule of law. Having learned from Mississippi’s inglorious past, these officials know that in advancing the rule of law, the criminal justice system must operate without regard to race, creed or color. This is the strongest way Mississippi can reject those notions — those ideas which brought us here today.

      At their guilty plea hearings, Deryl Paul Dedmon, Dylan Wade Butler and John Aaron Rice told the world exactly what their roles were… it is ugly… it is painful… it is sad… it is criminal.

      The Court now sentences the defendants as follows: [The specific sentences are not part of the judge’s prepared remarks.]

      The Court has considered the advisory guidelines computations and the sentencing factors under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). The Court has considered the defendants’ history and characteristics. The Court has also considered unusual circumstances — the extraordinary circumstances — and the peculiar seriousness and gravity of those offenses. I have paid special attention to the plea agreements and the recommendations of the United States. I have read the letters received on behalf of the defendants. I believe these sentences provide just punishment to each of these defendants and equally important, I believe they serve as adequate deterrence to others and I hope that these sentences will discourage others from heading down a similar life-altering path. I have considered the Sentencing Guidelines and the policy statements and the law. These sentences are the result of much thought and deliberation.

      These sentences will not bring back James Craig Anderson nor will they restore the lives they enjoyed prior to 2011. The Court knows that James Anderson’s mother, who is now 89 years old, lived through the horrors of the Old Mississippi, and the Court hopes that she and her family can find peace in knowing that with these sentences, in the New Mississippi, Justice is truly blind. Justice, however, will not be complete unless these defendants use the remainder of their lives to learn from this experience and fully commit to making a positive difference in the New Mississippi. And, finally, the Court wishes that the defendants also can find peace.

      I know this might be something of a tangent, but, as I read this, and reflect on the comments of Judge Reeves, I’m reminded of just how important it is that we have black men and women serving on the bench… and one wonders how things might be worse on that front with the recent Supreme Court decision on affirmative action directed against the University of Michigan. It’s a discussion we’ve had here before, but I think it’s worth having again.

      Here, with a bit of the background, is a excerpt from our last conversation on this subject.

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      Given this fact, and the subsequent decline we’ve seen in black students entering law school, one wonders if a judge, in another decade or two, could say, as Reeves did a few days ago… “(E)ach defendant was escorted into court by agents of an African-American United States Marshal; having been prosecuted by a team of lawyers which includes an African-American AUSA from an office headed by an African-American U.S. Attorney — all under the direction of an African-American Attorney General, for sentencing before a judge who is African-American, whose final act will be to turn over the care and custody of these individuals to the BOP — an agency headed by an African-American.”

      [note: Judge Reeves, in his comments, referenced recent work to map incidents of lynching (acts of premeditated murder carried out by at least three white people against black victims) in 12 Southern states between 1877 and 1950. If you’d like to know more, you’ll find an interactive map of the states in question, showing the locations of these lynchings, at the website of the New York Times.]

      Posted in Civil Liberties, History, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

      On a very special Valentine’s Day episode of the Saturday Six Pack with Mark Maynard

      I’ve never been a huge fan of Valentine’s Day.

      Maybe I would have felt differently if I’d had a girlfriend at a young age, but, by the time I came to experience the holiday as part of a couple, I was already pretty much grown up, and cynical way beyond my years. The holiday, I thought, was for saps… people who were either didn’t have enough sense to recognize that they were being manipulated by those with a financial interest in the holiday, or were too weak to stand up to the societal pressure to conform. And, to be honest, I pretty much still feel that way. I still feel that it’s a holiday intended to make those of us in relationships feel insecure, and those of us not in relationships feel as though we’re worthless. So I don’t think I’m necessarily the best person in the world to host a local radio program on Valentine’s Day. But, alas, that’s what’s going to happen this coming Saturday night on Ypsilanti’s historic AM 1700.

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      So, if you’d like to talk about sex, love and relationships with someone who isn’t terribly good at human relationships, give me a call. We go on the air at 6:00 PM, and the studio number is 734.217.8624.

      As for what we’ll be doing, I’m not exactly sure. I’ve got a few things scheduled, but I’m still looking for ideas as to how we might fill the time that it takes for me and my guests to drink a six pack. Here’s what I know as of right now.

      At 6:00, I will start the show with with a guest. Local pianist Ann Dahl will be stopping by to talk about the local dating scene. I don’t know this to be true, but, as Ann claims to have dated nearly everyone in Ypsi, I thought that we could talk about her experiences, and perhaps learn from them. (Don’t fear. She tells me that she will not be naming names.) Furthermore, she’s offered to join me in taking calls and offering relationship advice, which, I’ve heard from various sources, she’s quite good at. So, if you have questions about sex, dating or love, or even if you’d just like to vent about local dating experiences, or ask advice as to how to approach people at your local bar or coffee shop, call in. We’ll be taking calls throughout the entire first half hour of the show, and perhaps even longer, depending on how things are going.

      At 6:30, Ann and I will be joined in the studio by Linda Jordan and Jim Cherewick, who perform together as Best Exes. According to Linda, the band’s name was inspired by a conversation with a former boyfriend, in which he referred to her as his “best ex.” I suspect they’ll play a song or two for us, and talk, among other things, about breakups, and what it means to be a good ex. And, if you like what you hear, you can head across the street to Beezy’s, where Best Exes will be taking the stage at 7:00, as part of what’s being called the Bleeding Heart Bonanza. (After Best Eexes, Truman will perform. Then, at 9:00, the film Wild at Heart will be screened.)

      At 7:00, I’m told that Brigid Mooney will be bringing in another “shy comedian” for us to meet. And, after that, Heather Steenrod from Ozone House will be dropping by to tell us about their February 18 wine, cheese and chocolate fundraiser at Vinology for homeless LGBT youth, and drop off a few free tickets for a lucky listener. (We still need to figure out how we’re going to decide who gets them, but I’m sure we’ll come up with something.)

      Also at 7:00, we’ll open up the studio phone lines for people with online dating stories that they’d like to share. The more disastrous, the better. And we may even hand out prizes for the best stories.

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      And, other than that, I’m not so sure. I have ideas I’m kicking around, but I’m not sure how practical they are. Here are a few of the ones I feel are most promising.

      1. We somehow get a couple of people unknown to one another to come in and have dinner in the studio by candlelight as we listen in and occasionally interrupt with questions. I’ve got a little card table at home, and a white tablecloth, and I’m thinking that I could probalby cobble somewhat romantic meal togehter by calling on local restaurant owners to contribute an item or two. The question is, how would we get the people to actually do it?

      2. We could host a live, on-air dating game. The setup would be relatively simple. We’d just interview someone in the studio, and take calls from would-be suitors. Then, at the end, if we think we’ve found a promising match, we could send them on a date. (Maybe, I’m thinking, we could send them to the Ozone fundraiser together.)

      3. We could have a doctor on to talk about STDs. (My first thought was to have a doctor in the studio, performing live STD screens for people on dates, but I doubt that any even remotely good doctor would go for it. I do, however, love the idea of standing outside the studio, with a bullhorn, encouraging people to come in for a free holiday crab check.)

      4. We could send an emmisary into a local bar to find single people and bring them back to the studio to talk about being single on Valentine’s Day… and, maybe, just maybe, we could see if we could do a little matchmaking between them.

      5. We could do something on Craigslist… just post that we’re looking for two single people to come out for a social experiment on Valentine’s Day, and then send them on a date together, along with a reporter from the Saturday Six Pack staff who would call in from their cell phone and give us updates on how the couple is doing.

      If you have other thoughts, let me know. We still have a few days to make this great.

      Oh, I should add that I asked Linette to co-host the Valentine’s Day show with me, but she refused. I thought that it would be romantic. She disagreed… Speaking of Linette, our first date… drinks at the old Tap Room… took place 22 years ago today.

      As for listening to the show, unless you live really close by, I’d recommend streaming the show online, which you can do either on the AM1700 website or by way of TuneIn.com.

      Click here for this week’s Facebook event page, where you can see who else in the community will be listening, invite your friends, etc. (As of right now, we only have a confirmed listeners, so we still have a few milliwatts to spare. Reserve yours now.)

      Oh, and if you want to get caught up on back episodes of the show, you can find The Saturday Six Pack with Mark Maynard archive on iTunes.

      Posted in sex, Special Projects, The Saturday Six Pack, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

      Telling shit from Shinola… It’s not as easy as you might think

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      I don’t think I’ve ever weighed in one way or the other on Shinola, the somewhat controversial Detroit-based marketer of expensive watches, bicycles and notebooks. As I recall, I may have once noted how incredibly douchey I found the spectacle of four economic development professionals, at some point during a public forum on the future of Detroit, all pulling back their sleeves in turn, and pointing toward their $675 Shinola watches – watches which they clearly saw as signifiers of the new, more dynamic, brand-savvy Detroit they’d helped to create… But, douchiness aside, I don’t think I’ve ever really come out swinging against Shinola. As much as my gut might tell me that I should join the chorus of people calling them out as opportunistic carpetbaggers looking to cash in on a “Made in Detroit” brand that they didn’t help to create (by selling items that are merely assembled in Detroit, and not actually made here), I’ve never been able to convince myself that, all things being equal, their existence in Detroit isn’t a net positive, given the fact that the company employs a few hundred people a city that could very much use the jobs.

      As for the number of jobs that Shinola is responsible for, it’s hard to tell. According to a late 2014 article in the Washington Post, the company employs 320 in Detroit, but lower numbers cited elsewhere would seem to indicate that those might not all full-time employees. Regardless, the company is either hiring citizens of Detroit, or bringing new workers into Detroit, in numbers far greater than other startups that have set-up shop downtown over the past decade, and I feel as though that should count for something… even if their list of offenses is long.

      With all of that said, however, I’d like to share a very thoughtful analysis of Shinola by artist Rebekah Modrak, who, as you might recall, we talked with not too long ago about the marketing of perceived authenticity to the wealthy, who are apparently starved for meaning in their lives. The following clip from Modrak’s article, titled Bougie Crap: Art, Design and Gentrification, comes from Infinite Mile Detroit. If you find it at all of interest, I’d encourage you read the entire piece on the Infinite Mile Detroit site, where Modrak has gone to a lot of trouble to extensively reference her comments and provide links to other sources.

      Start with a neighborhood or city that lacks economic incentives or that is populated by minority groups, which are underserved by municipal services including education, transportation, street lighting, police response time and maintenance. Enter a mainly white, middle-class population. Investors clamor to underwrite new businesses, sponsor grants or to secure real estate. This triggers a spike in real estate prices and a flood of new commercial ventures that sell expensive bougie crap that only the new residents can afford. Services are improved and capital investment flows, directed primarily to the now “safe” and shoppable neighborhoods.

      In this scenario, one of the first signs of gentrification is the bougie crap. If you use the term, we may have different definitions, and mine is entirely subjective and, regrettably, intimately linked with art and design.

      Bougie crap is expensive consumables that evidence wealth, power and discriminating taste under the pretense of an evolved palette, a demand for higher quality and the development of a social conscience that values local goods. Bougie crap contributes to the economic strength of the bourgeoisie and distinguishes this group because the failure to consume such elaborate products would be, in the words of Thorstein Veblen (speaking of conspicuous consumption), a “mark of inferiority.” The brands encourage us to see these products as an extension of our worth; though the exorbitant expense is profit driven, paying the high price deepens our sense of self. Bougie crap uses the design aesthetic of “calculated authenticity” and elements of hand-craft or personalization to suggest that the product is motivated by these values and not by crass economic gain.3 Bougie crap often claims connection with rural or urban traditions of manual labor and work, evoking the mirage of the artisan in his studio, the farmer hard at work, the pioneer tending his wilderness campfire or the grittiness of life in Detroit. For that reason, Bougie crap isn’t the Rolex watch or the Gucci bag, luxury items that act as luxury items. This is key for me in defining bougie crap. Bougie crap sells itself as a product inspired by manual labor, either related to the work of a craftsman, artist or designer or to the physical exertion of, say, a farmer, woodsman or rancher. Yet, bougie crap’s high sticker price ensures that only those with significant discretionary income may participate.

      Bougie crap uses the pretense of “quality” to create a two-tiered system: the people who can afford to buy these products and the people who can’t. In that sense, bougie crap is a “means of laundering privilege,” of determining who has access and who does not. When immigrants move to a new country and neighborhood, they bring with them the products of their culture, which, eventually, everyone partakes in, and the city is a more enriched place. When middle-class people move to a lower-class neighborhood, they bring bougie crap that is accessible only to themselves.

      One of the scary parts of this equation is the increasing mutual dependence between bougie crap and aritsts/designers. What you’re really buying is the mirage of a “special,” “authentic” experience created by savvy, contemporary design.

      A prime example of bougie crap is Shinola’s products, especially their watches ($500 – $1500) and bikes ($1950 – $2950) that undergo “precise, custom-level assembly by experts in our Detroit Flagship retail store…. Because we believe there’s only one way to properly build” a watch or bicycle and that’s “one at a time, by hand, with rigorous attention to detail and using only the highest quality components available.” Shinola’s French style bicycle (with American-made frame and fork) is designed for “urban riding, commuting and running errands … in any weather” and costs $757 more than the $2,193 Detroit 2013 median household monthly income. But, they reassure you, if you care for your bike, you can “pass it on to your children and grandchildren”; bougie crap promises a legacy of permanence via consumer culture in contrast to the decay of Detroit.

      Wandering through a new independent bookstore in New York City a few months ago, I looked down to see stacks of stylish black journals emblazoned with the words “SHINOLA … DETROIT.” The surprise of this union froze me for a second. In the sixteen years that I’ve been visiting family in New York, this was the first time I’d seen the word “Detroit,” and, now, here it was, as part of Shinola’s branding. Texas-based Bedrock Manufacturing notoriously attached their Shinola venture to Detroit after test studies showed that consumers would pay three times as much for a product associated with the tenacity of a bankrupt city. What do you call the adoption of one culture by a second group whose only culture is profit? “Cultural appropriation” sounds too innocent and even potentially transformative (like a cool mash-up) and doesn’t convey the imperialism at play. A better description is consumer culture scholar Jeff Pooley’s “the colonization of the apparently earnest”…

      And Modrak goes on from there to talk about the impact of Shinola on the cultural landscape of Detroit. It’s fascinating stuff, and I’d encourage you to read it from start to finish.

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      For what it’s worth, Modrak isn’t exaggerating when she says that Shinola chose to locate their assembly operation in Detroit as a result of market research showing that people would pay a premium for the sense of authenticity that comes with a product made by the hardworking people of Detroit. The following clip comes by way of Wikipedia: “In 2001, the name, Shinola, was acquired by Bedrock Manufacturing, a venture capital firm based in Dallas, Texas. The management at Bedrock Manufacturing chose the name ‘Shinola’ when the World War II era colloquialism, ‘You don’t know shit from Shinola,’ surfaced in a conversation. Unexpectedly, the joke generated a serious discussion about restoring the Shinola brand. Market surveys established that consumers—when faced with a choice of paying $500 for a product from China, $1,000 for one made in the United States, and $1,500 for one made in Detroit—would be willing to pay a premium for the latter.” And, it would seem, Tom Kartsotis, the founder of the company (who had also founded the watch company Fossil in 1984), was right. Shinola produced 55,000 watches in 2013, 170,000 in 2014, and plans is to sell 250,000 this year, though an ever-expanding network of company-owned boutiques and high-end stores like Barneys New York, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus. The handmade in Detroit brand, it would appear, does have monetary value… at least when articulated by a high-dollar marketing operation willing to take out multi-page ads in Vogue featuring the lovely, hardworking, now-saved artisans of Detroit assembling watches.

      One more thing… while it’s true that Shinola is presently importing almost 100% of their watch parts from oversees, that doesn’t mean this will always be the case. Just a few months ago, Shinola’s parent company announced that they would be opening a watch dial factory in Detroit, allowing them to stop importing watch dials from Asia. Again, this may not, in the minds of many, sufficiently offset the cultural appropriation of Shinola, and the wave of increasing gentrification we’re seeing in the wake of their setting up shop in Detroit, but I think it’s worth at least acknowledging that their continued success could mean bringing more manufacturing back to Detroit.

      In conclusion, I’d like to say that it’s a damn complicated issue… and I still don’t know where I stand. I can see arguments both for and against them. Would Detroit be better off without them, though? I’m not so sure.

      Regardless of where you might fall on the “Shit or Shiola” continuum, though, I think this is a good conversation for us to be having. And I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

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      Posted in Art and Culture, Detroit, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

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