Toledo Democracy Day Testimony: Focus on Racism, White Supremacy

Below is the testimony I delivered today before Toledo City Council, or rather the three council members who showed up.  The mayor also showed up for part of the testimony.

Democracy Day Testimony

March 5, 2018

Hi, my name is Dan Rutt.  Today, I want to focus on one thing: that is, racism, or more precisely, white supremacy.

I am trained professionally in public health and I can attest to the effects of racial disparities across a sweeping array of health issues.  It is key to note that these racial disparities cannot be explained away by differences in income, education or the like.  Racism and white supremacy are baked into our system.  Less than two weeks ago, the Center for Investigative Journalism released a massive, nationwide study of access to housing finance, for home mortgages and home improvement loans.  Blacks were 2.7 times more likely to be denied loans than whites.  Again, this is comparing loans for people with the same credit scores, financial ability to pay, and even for loans in the same neighborhoods.  Of particular concern, this racial disparity is larger than during the Jim Crow era.  Racism is not receding into the distance.

Today, I would like to further focus on the criminal justice system, which is perhaps the most palpable manifestation of racism in our society.  At every stage of the criminal justice system, people of color are more likely than whites to be harassed by police, arrested by police, subject to bail or larger bail by judges, given harsher prison sentences by judges, and less likely to get parole.  And please note again, that this is comparing for the same crimes.  The treatment of people of color by the criminal justice system raises inescapable questions of what is criminal, what is justice, and what is the true nature of the system.

Within the last couple of weeks, Danny Brown, who was wrongly convicted of a murder in 1982, exhausted perhaps his last legal recourse to exoneration and access to just compensation for his nearly two decades in prison.  As he enters his fourth decade of this criminally just nightmare, Julia Bates, the county prosecutor, continues her intransigence, in keeping Danny on a suspect list, so he cannot be cleared.  The illusory case that she has held open for so many years denies Danny his chance at justice.  The last time I saw Julia Bates on TV about Danny’s case she spoke about her concern for the money he might get if he is fully exonerated — speaking of valuing money over human life.  Is anyone surprised that Danny Brown is a black man?  Is anyone surprised that a hugely disproportionate amount of people across the country in similar situations are black men?  Today, I call, again, for Julia Bates to close the case on Danny Brown or retry him.

Last year, U.S. Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, visited our fine city and had a meeting closed to the media and the public, securing an entire block to keep him safe from looming democratic forces.  He came promoting his initiative, unfunded initiative, to ramp up the failed drug war and get prosecutors to charge defendants with the maximum charges they can. This initiative is in direct opposition to an ongoing effort by our criminal justice system to seek ways to minimize sentences, particularly for nonviolent offenses.  This Sessions initiative has been plagued by secrecy, including foremost, by our own Chief-of-Police, George Kral, who has been less than forthcoming about how Toledo got roped into this initiative, and what exactly does this initiative mean for Toledo.  Does Chief Kral really expect that this hard-edged, law-and-order Sessions initiative won’t magnify existing racial disparities in our criminal justice system?

I am here today because I witness again and again evidence from top to bottom in our community that white supremacy is, at a minimum, poorly understood, and more importantly, in practice, widespread.

A view from the top may be most illustrative.  During the recent mayoral race, CSRN, The Community Solidarity Response Network, our local Black Lives Matter group, held a mayoral candidates forum. The first question was, “How do you define white supremacy?” None of the four candidates defined white supremacy as institutional racism or society-wide systems of injustice against persons of color.  This included our former mayor and our new mayor.  The answers touched on white supremacy as neo-Nazis or the like — the worst of the worst.  There were several versions of “a few bad apples” within society and some of our public institutions.  And there was the issue of implicit bias, a polite term for subconscious racism.

All in all, I was left with the distinct impression that racism was a peripheral issue, largely something in the past, that the still-existing remnants needed some sweeping up; though, alas, there was plenty of regret for the occasional but rare racist that still managed to survive into our largely post-racial society.  I was struck by the seeming apologetics around implicit bias, as if not intending to be racist largely mitigated the real-life effects of racism.  I was left with the impression that racism was more about impropriety than injustice.  Please remember that their answers were at a mayoral candidates forum within the specific context of the sponsoring group being an anti-racism group.  I am hard-pressed to believe that they were caught unprepared to answer such questions, and I strongly suspect that their weak answers came close to their best effort.

I must confess that I was particularly struck by such a weak response of our then-Mayor, the African-American holding the highest elected office in our city.  Yet, on further reflection this seemed less as some personal failure of hers than, in fact, as a rather apt example of how the powers that be, the status quo, is better characterized by the strictures and limits set by white supremacy in our body politic than by the life experiences of any given politician with a black body.

Our community is currently in the process of planning how to rehab our county jail.  I have heard much about location, dominated by “not-in-my-backyard” attitudes, and about cost — not the disproportionate human cost borne by communities of color, but money, money, money.  This is the present nexus and test regarding our true valuing of human persons over money.  We may not have confederate statues to remind us of our racist heritage, yet, if a new jail is built without a bold plan to combat the racism inherent in our criminal justice system, then the new jail will be a very expensive monument to our racism.  This is the $100 million question of the day.  Many of us may take some comfort, even pride, in areas where Toledo may do better than other communities, but let us assure that this in no way dampens a bold resolve to end white supremacy in Toledo.

To that end, I call upon our mayor, Toledo City Council, and the Lucas County Commissioners to come up with a comprehensive plan to eliminate racism from our criminal justice system.  THANK YOU.

POEM: What If Everybody Did That?

Such sophistry
Firmly on the bench
But
What if
Everybody did that
Judging propriety
Smudging property
An intolerable act
My conscience
He decreed
Must fall
Into line
With Kant
Where every reason
Reduced to rant
It’s the leash they can do
In such a fine whirled
Of ethical confinement
And duly deputized
Might be right
As I thought
With unparalleled infection
Of making love to my wife
Only to arrest my life
At the notion
What if
Every body did that
And the orgy in suing
As just us
Endures a courtly rendition
Sow evident
Out of the question
As signs everywhere
Of legal violation

This poem was inspired by my encounter this mourning with a Toledo Municipal Court judge.  I appeared in court to address putting address labels on light poles.  The labels called for justice for Danny Brown, a local man who has endured 32 years of legal violation, including 19 years in prison for a crime he did not commit [see Justice for Danny Brown].  Also not having committed that crime, I feel as a kindred spirit to Danny.  Putting labels on light poles incited a criminal mischief charge, a third degree misdemeanor.  I was definitely more guilty than Danny Brown for this crime.  I made a statement that whatever cost may be associated with label residue on poles, it pales in comparison to the outstanding injustice Danny brown endures.  In simply monetary terms, compensation for his wrongful imprisonment would be over $900,000.  Interest alone, at 3%, would be $27,000 each year.  However, since Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates continues to hold Danny on a person of interest list, linking him to an “active” (sic) case, he cannot apply for due compensation.  Danny is living in this legal, yet immoral, limbo indefinitely.  I consider my stickering a simple act of civic responsibility, working for justice for Danny brown as a person of interest in this case.

In a stunningly predictable statement, the judge asked the rhetorical question, “What if everybody did what you did?”  My poem is one answer to this question.  I can sleep well at night meditating on the question: what if everybody took risks for one another in working to ensure justice for all?

The judge’s Kant do attitude, whether knowingly or unknowingly, is a reference to the German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s best known contribution, that of the moral imperative, of universalizing a proposition to see what would happen, and making a judgment informed by that perspective.  Of course, if everybody fined me for a low level misdemeanor, then I would be in financial ruin — hardly proportional to the so-called crime.  I am not mocking Kant so much as the poor application of such logic by the judge.  In any case, and there will probably be more, while the judge is firmly on the bench dispensing with justice, I’ll be in the streets addressing justice for Danny Brown.

P.S. the reference to “my wife” represents poetic license, not a marriage license.  My sweetheart of 17 years is still my official muse, though unofficial “wife.”

POEM: A Wrench In The Machine

He was having one of those lives
Where he woke up
Only to find himself
A wrench in the machine
Threw and threw
Putting his whole life into question
What kind of tool are you?

This poem was triggered by a recent conversation with my lawyer about a pending criminal mischief charge (for stickering poles downtown Toledo in the criminal justice district with stickers reading “JUSTICE FOR DANNY BROWN .COM”). In this conversation, I used the metaphor of a wrench in the machine. There is a growing realization in my life that jail time is in my destiny. Eugene Debs, perhaps said it best in his statement to the judge prior to his sentencing for resistance, stating:

Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free. [see full speech here]

Quite a few years ago, I had a dream. In this dream, there was an image that has stuck with me: I was dancing effortlessly amidst the huge, moving cogs and gears of a giant machine. I was unhurt and at peace, even joyful. This image reminds me of the possibility of being at peace in the dance with the machine. Of course, this image does not include the pain and death of being ground up in the machine, a reality every moment. I believe that the best meshing of these two realities is to practice disciplines cultivating joyful dancing as we throw our whole beings into resistance of the machines of death and into the reawakening of the deadened souls who find necessity in siding with death.

Power requires consent. Our consciousness of this helps free us to choose to better align with the forces of life than the forces of death. My unofficial motto is “Screw ’em,” as modeled by the character Col. William Ludlow, played by Anthony Hopkins, in the movie, Legends of the Fall. This may seem unduly negative, or even juvenile, to some; but, the impulse to withdraw consent from unjust authority is divine. While such rebellion may only be a first step, it is a necessary first step to confront the powers that be and to speak truth to power. Either way, without consent, aka complicity, humans cannot multiply their worldly power beyond their own, short, God-given reach. People do bad things, though having their reach limited to a relatively small human scale mitigates the worst of it. When living a human-scale existence we find our kin within grasp — a grasp of hands, minds and hearts. This is enough. To want more, is to trade our humanity for mere stuff. Consent and complicity is required for technologies of death to persist, whether they be armaments or corporations. Let us examine our lives for where they are forged as tools, not as artisans and creators made in the image of God, but as artifacts to be bought and sold. Let us withdraw our consent to such dehumanization and create a joyful dance in which all can freely participate. May you be joyful in your resistance.

Justice For Danny Brown $149.02

Today, I have to go down to the Toledo Municipal Court and pay my fine and court costs of $149 for “illegal posting” of Justice for Danny Brown stickers and Julia Bates WANTED posters all over downtown, surrounding the Lucas County Courthouse, where Julia Bates, Lucas County Persecutor, holds the fate of Danny Brown within her poor judgment, blocking his exoneration and access to civil compensation for over 19 years of wrongful imprisonment.  Ms. Bates has stated that at this point it’s really about the money. Maybe she should run for treasurer rather than prosecutor.  As an act of poetic justice in the face of her intransigence, I will pay my fine and court costs with bills marked with “Justice For Danny Brown .com”, as pictured below:

Justice for Danny Brown marked bills

I couldn’t resist adding my two cents, as a tip, in case my main plea for justice is declined.  Typically, I write “Money is NOT Free Speech!” on my paper bills, but in this case, since it is “all about the money”, I will pay for my not-so-free speech this way.

For better or worse, my stickering may not be a gateway crime (simply an escalating misdemeanor) — I see a lot of stick-ups in my future…

POSTSCRIPT: With three armed guards protecting my lone self entering the Toledo Municipal Court, a fortress of law, I knew that evildoers would scatter from their inevitable cross-fire should freedom get out of hand.  When I handed to the clerk my stack of marked bills topped off with my shiny two cents, she proferred a blank look, as if a 5 gram copper monkey wrench had been thrown into the works.  Apparently, in the give and take of life, the court is adept at take, but unfamiliar with give.  With all the tender that is legal, she rendered another blank look when I added, “I prefer to offer my two cents, literally and figuratively, in these types of transactions.”  I saved her from further trauma by re-claiming the two cents.  A wiser guy might open an IRA or something, but I’m going to continue searching for venues where my two cents is welcome.

I have now paid my debt to society, though my rent of activism for living on this plant is still overdue.

Julia Bates Retirement Party, Mock Award

Today a few dozen people descended upon the Lucas County Courthouse in downtown Toledo, Ohio, to wish Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates a happy retirement and demand justice for Danny Brown

Occupy Toledo had a cake, party hats, noisemakers, and a card to sign.  Several persons went into the courthouse to deliver the card to Julia Bates and chant, “Exonerate Now, Clear Danny Brown’s Name!”  They were escorted out of the courthouse under threat of arrest, continuing to chant.  They were joined by those outside, and soon Julia Bates, under armed escort made her way to cocktails and lunch at a nearby drinking establishment.  The crowd followed her there and protested outside chanting.  Some of the favorite chants were: “Cocktails for Julia, Justice for Danny” and “Serve Justice, Not Cocktails.”  Ms. Bates was protected by a half-dozen or so sheriffs inside the restaurant and another half-dozen or so sheriffs and Toledo police outside. She reportedly was able to stomach lunch and a couple of cocktails with approximately the same ease as she has stomached injustice for Danny Brown for many years.

Below is the script of the retirement party mock award that occurred outside the courthouse:

Retirement Party

Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates

Justice for Danny Brown

Occupy Toledo

May 1, 2012

 

 

MOCK AWARD

HABEAS B. CORPSE: Hi, my name is Habeas B. Corpse.  I am the president and founder of the National Association for the Advancement of County Persecutors.  The National Association for the Advancement of County Persecutors is proud to present the 2012 Habeas Corpus Award to Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates.

The Habeas Corpus Award recognizes outlandish success in furthering the principle of speedy justice of the criminal variety.  Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates has managed to parlay a wrongful conviction of Danny Brown for murder and rape in 1982 into an open-ended, indefinite murder case. Although Danny Brown served 19 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates was unfazed by such an obstacle to her success. By perpetually holding another suspicious criminal investigation over Danny Brown’s head, Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates has successfully avoided letting an innocent man clear his name. Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates has devoted the last decade to producing no evidence worthy of bringing any charges against Danny Brown.  Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates has demonstrated fantastical creativity in avoiding any exoneration or apology to Danny Brown for his 19 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.  Perhaps, most significantly, if Danny Brown is ever allowed to clear his name, under Ohio law, he would be eligible for compensation for his wrongful conviction resulting in 19 years in prison. This compensation could total over $900,000.  Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates has successfully postponed this indefinitely.  She has saved Lucas County taxpayers money by devoting virtually no resources to her shallow criminal investigation and by avoiding spending any resources to allow Danny Brown to have his day in court. Please note that Danny Brown is also currently suspected of being innocent of over 666 murders in Lucas County since 1982. With her unending patience in persecuting an innocent Toledo citizen, Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates has brought new meaning to the term “criminal” justice.

As part of the Habeas Corpus Award, the National Association for the Advancement of County Persecutors provides an honorarium of $30,000.

With equal speed and due diligence the National Association for the Advancement of County Persecutors realized that this 2012 Habeas Corpus Award to Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates is actually the product of 30 years of wrongful conviction, wrongful imprisonment, and open-ended, unmerited criminal investigations. Yes, we just figured this out. Thus, the National Association for the Advancement of County Persecutors has determined that Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates is entitled to the Habeas Corpus Award, not only for 2012, but for 31 years:

2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, ………………….1982

[foldout 28.4 foot certificate accordion-style for each year and have persons line up holding them].

We are awarding the Habeas Corpus Award retroactively for 31 years.  Only now do we truly realize what “speedy” justice is. Since the Habeas Corpus Award comes with an honorarium of $30,000 each year, this makes Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates’ honorarium a total of $930,000. The National Association for the Advancement of County Persecutors promises to pay this honorarium with the same speed and due diligence that Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates has so amply demonstrated.

[delivery person rushes in, holding up “RUSH DELIVERY” envelope as delivering it]

[Habeas B. Corpse opens envelope, holds up BREAKING NEWS BULLETIN for crowd to see]

HABEAS B. CORPSE: Wait, what is this? It looks like a breaking news bulletin. Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates, at this very moment, is filing for moral bankruptcy.  Well, we will just have to trust her good judgment on this one. I’m sure she has an airtight case.

[enter citizen]

Hold on, we are not done here! I am here on behalf of Lucas County citizen’s and in the good name of Danny Brown, to conduct a citizen’s arrest. I demand the arrest of Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates. She is wanted for murder, the murder of justice for Danny Brown. Warning, Julia Bates, also goes under the aliases of “Julia Will Fool Ya” and “Bates and Switch”. She is armed with a public office and is considered a threat to justice. Her last known whereabouts are reported to be lurking about the county courthouse. We ask that any good, justice-loving citizen of Lucas County arrest her immediately upon determining the whereabouts of this fugitive. I have here “Wanted Posters” to help you identify her, apprehend her, and bring her to justice. And please hurry, rumor has it that the best practices in such matters is to wrap up such matters within 30 years, give or take a decade or so.

[handout wanted posters]

Feeling Clean and Safe in Downtown Toledo

Last Friday, while making a sweep of sign posting for Occupy Toledo, I had an encounter with the Clean and Safe Patrol.  Apparently, the Clean and Safe Patrol is an arm of the Downtown Toledo Improvement District, Inc., a 38 block area in downtown Toledo.  An uniformed man riding a bike grabbed the sign I was posting in the middle of posting it.  He declared that this was defacing government property and that they would take the signs down as fast as we could put them up.  I don’t know if that was meant to be some kind of challenge or something, but I just went about my business, as they apparently went about theirs.  In this regard, we’ll just have to let the signs speak for themselves.  Oh, by the way, the signs were bright yellow with simple messages such as “no war”, “stop sexism”, “stop racism”, “abolish corporate personhood”, “stop greed”, “Justice for Danny Brown“, “end homophobia”, and “end corporate welfare.” God forbid that we pollute proprietary business ventures with simple messages of social justice.

Being a former resident of Dearborn, Michigan, I can’t help but be reminded that the motto Keep Dearborn Clean had to do with way more than trash and graffiti.  Keeping Dearborn Clean was really a not-so-subtle code word for keeping blacks and Arabs out of Dearborn.  My experience with the Clean and Safe Patrol seems to have more of a slimy and fascist feel to it than the clean and safe feeling to which they seem to be aspiring.  But hey, if we can’t have justice, we should at least have a clean and safe facade in which to conduct our businesses.

I suspect that Occupy Toledo will be a job creator for the Clean and Safe Patrol.  Maybe we can get a grant or something from the Lucas County Port Authority for such economic development.  I suspect not.  Nevertheless, operation “signs of the times” will continue unabated, and partially abated, thanks to the city of Toledo and the Downtown Toledo Improvement District’s Clean and Safe Patrol.