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The Fight For Moses Cemetery: Photo Essay
*This story was originally handed in for an in-class assignment Feb. 8, 2019.
On Wednesday, Feb. 6, three people were charged with disorderly conduct after refusing to stop protesting during a public meeting at the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission (HOC). Protests were organized by members of the Macedonia Baptist Church and the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition to fight for the memorialization of Moses Cemetery, a historically black cemetery located on River Road.
Protesters are calling an end to the “desecration” of the site, which was paved over and made into a parking lot in the early 20th century and is potentially a spot for development of an affordable housing project lead by the HOC.
HOC released a statement in response to the protest:
“During the community forum, 11 individuals spoke in support of the Macedonia Baptist Church extending the community forum to nearly one hour of the two hours allotted for the Commission’s affordable housing agenda. The Commission asserted that it is not and has never been HOC’s objective to have people removed from Commission meetings in response to protests. However, as protesters continued to disrupt the meeting, HOC requested they be removed from the room by County Police after completion of the community forum and in order to conduct agency business.”
The full text of the response can be found on their website.
Protesters gathered at the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission to attend a public forum on Wednesday, Feb. 6 at 4 p.m. They were fighting to memorialize Moses Cemetery, a historically black cemetery on River Road. The site was paved into a parking lot in the early 20th century, and possible development plans have been proposed to create an affordable housing unit on top of the burial ground. Protesters carried knitted tombstones ascribed with the names of people known to be buried at the site.
As members of HOC entered the hall, protesters marched to the front of the room and knelt, holding their knitted tombstones above their head while others drowned out the committee proceedings singing gospel music.
Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, head of the Macedonia Baptist Church’s social justice ministry, leads chants of “shame” and “justice” while questioning the HOC’s opening statements asking for respect from the protesters. She argued that HOC had gone behind the backs of church members to create a plan that would exclude community members from having a voice in the memorialization process.
Members of HOC look on while the public forum began. Protestors were allowed 3 minutes to speak, often going over their allotted time to demand justice and respect from the Commission.
The oral testimonies given in opposition of HOC’s development plans lasted over an hour. After they were finished, the protesters joined together to say a prayer. Moments later, the Montgomery County Police gave them a 10 minute warning to clear the area.
With 30 seconds left before the 10 minutes were up, Montgomery County Police Sgt. Chris Hackley checked his watch as the tension in the room mounted. As protesters filed out, they cried out well wishes to those who stayed behind.
Officer Hackley read out a statement ordering protesters to leave, otherwise he would be forced to remove them from the public forum. Macedonia Baptist Church pastor Segun Adebayo, Mayor Jeffrey Slavin, and Lucile Perez refused to leaved; they were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.
Pastor Adebayo stopped to speak to the crowd of onlookers waiting outide of HOC’s town hall. After asking for his coat, and shouting out to the crowd, Adebayo was lead by Officer Hackley into a back room with Perez and Slavin to be charged.
After receiving their charges, Adebayo, Slavin, and Perez joined up with the remaining protesters. “These kinds of arrests lead to progress,” Slavin said upon being released. “We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired.” “People are still making decisions about our community with consulting the people who live in those communities,” Coleman-Adebayo said. “Next month we will continue this process until HOC decides that it is going to stop desecrating Moses African Cemetery. The air outside HoC was electric, and spirits were high: the fight for Moses Cemetery is far from over.
“Violent Animals” and an “Infestation” of Migrants; Dehumanizing Rhetoric from the Trump Administration.
Welcome to the shitshow. Today I’m gonna point out some stuff that is really, really obvious but still warrants explanation and conversation nonetheless.
As you may have heard, the latest antics of the U.S. government and our Border Patrol officers have included locking children in cages, pulling screaming and crying infants from their families while having a good ol’ laugh, drugging detained youth to sedate them at government contracted “treatment facilities,” and chasing down an SUV of migrants leading to a high-speed chase, crash, and the deaths of 5 people.
Mainstream media recently picked up on this ever-darkening story when reports of ICE losing track of 1500 children came to light, and since then a plethora of information regarding the practice of family separation, assembly line justice, and “zero tolerance” border control have been published. The White House released a nice little comeback to let us know that this wasn’t true and that they knew perfectly well where “most” of the lost children were, which doesn’t really appear to help their case much, does it?
Just a couple weeks before that, Trump and the White House released statements calling members of the gang MS-13 “Violent animals;” you know, the gang that was started due to xenophobia and racism toward Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles and made internationally notorious by Bill Clinton’s mass deportations to stem gang violence?
Now let me say here that on a basic, rhetorical level I kind of see where a right-wing politician would be able to get away with calling gang members whose motto is “rape, control, kill” animals; U.S. politicians seem to be fond of ignoring the enormous systems of inequality that we helped create, forcing young men out of public spaces and into gangs to survive.
That being said, it is undeniable that gangs utilize brutal and ruthless methods of subjugation in Central American and Mexican communities, destroying lives and sending people fleeing to escape endemic violence. While I disagree in calling them “animals” (massive displays of violence are entirely and obviously a human thing to do, take a history class), I can at least see why on a rhetorical basis the word would be powerful and could be imagined in a situation where dehumanization was not the end goal. I tried to give the White House statement the benefit of the doubt.
But alas, I should’ve known better.
The confusion for me begins here, in that the Trump administration believes MS-13, a gang created and exported to Central America by U.S. policies and attitudes, are “violent animals,” but Trump also says that “illegal immigrants” who are fleeing that violence are going to “pour into and infest our country.” As I said before, this is all pretty obvious stuff, but I find it really hard to believe that the Trump Administration actually cares about MS-13’s violence if they’re also going to detain and deport people fleeing from gang violence and persecution in their home countries.
The problem with using dehumanizing rhetoric to characterize both perpetrators of violence and victims of said violence is that it makes it abundantly clear that the reason you’re worried isn’t the actually the violence: it’s the fact that they’re not white.
We don’t use words like “invade” and “infest” to talk about people white people from Europe who come to the U.S.. We have developed in our contemporary lexicon a word to define refugees and migrants as “illegal aliens” that utterly strips them of their humanity and makes them nothing but a legal definition that can be swept away and ignored while crisis after crisis threatens people’s lives. This rhetoric is saved for people who have fled their homes, leaving behind their livelihoods, their extended families and friends, and the lives they knew, in search of a place where they could be safe; but since they’re latinxs, it’s okay, right?
I don’t think so. I think the situation we’re in is shameful and disgusting.
To be quite frank, I think that it’s pretty rich for people who lock children in cages and tear refugee families apart, while threatening to deny them the already horrifyingly inefficient brand of justice they are even allowed, to go around banging pans together screaming “MS-13 are violent animals.”
So, how can you get involved?
You can donate money to local organizations that provide legal services for undocumented immigrants– just make sure you verify that they’re legitimate first.
You can also protest ICE, and for the Mainers reading this, yes, they’re shutting down highways all the way up by you.
Honestly, this whole situation is infuriating and painful for any reasonable person to watch, but this harsh immigration policy stuff has been going on for a long ass time, it’s time to step up and make it stop.
I wrote a paper about gang violence and media coverage in Cold War and Contemporary Latin America last semester, which you can check out here: Percepticide and Violence Against Journalists: An Analysis of Cold War and Contemporary Methods of Silencing.
If you want more info about the development of these issues, I’d suggest you check out The Daily, a podcast from the NYT with a couple excellent episodes covering recent events and highlighting the humans behind the rhetoric. In particular, “Father and Son, Forced Apart at the Border” and “What Migrants Are Fleeing” are both emotional and riveting accounts of the pain that people are going through.
If you’d want to listen to a story about the history of crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, check out Malcolm Gladwell’s episode of Revisionist History, General Chapman’s Last Stand.
Thanks for reading, and be good to each other out there.
Fake News, Frustration, and Media Effects
This week I’m giving a brief overview of my experiences and classwork relating to media effects and will focus particularly on Fake News. I haven’t added much on how to spot false media, but there are plenty of articles out there that do this pretty well.
During my second semester at American University, the topic of Fake News came up more and more regularly in classes across the academic spectrum; you know the situation must be getting pretty dire when you find yourself discussing current events in your Finite Mathematics class.
Beyond the expected manipulation and slimy rhetoric of the American political scene, Fake News refuses to be defined by a single category such as propaganda or media bias, which just leads to frustration and polarization such that CNN viewers and Fox viewers viciously accuse each other of being easily swayed by the inaccurate reporting of their respective news source. According to a Monmouth Poll, as of April this year 3 out of 4 Americans “believe that traditional major TV and newspaper media outlets report ‘fake news.'”
This enormous application of an almost impossible to define term results in general confusion and anger as people become more and more hostile about information that does not fully encapsulate their beliefs. Every news article’s facebook comment thread has turned into a place where vitriol is spewed and people say stuff they’d never say if they weren’t behind their laptops– or maybe they would.
We seem to be utterly sure that the sources we follow are telling the truth, while others are reporting lies and inaccuracies, forcing ourselves into tinier and tinier bubbles or “walled gardens” where we block out anything that does not perfectly compliment our worldview. This, plus the added effect of constant information overload through TV and mobile devices, creates a climate where the impossibility to sift through all the articles, videos, and posts that appear on our newsfeeds plays a role in further polarizing us.
For my classwork, I wanted to look deeper into the way in which we observe and respond to media, and to highlight both the process through which stories come to be formed and how a society can be shaped by the media it consumes.
In my Writing 101 Course, I decided to look at the application of “post-truth” rhetoric and how information can be manipulated through a literary analysis of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, Or the Modern Prometheus. I was drawn to her creation of a multilayered narrative and wanted to make a connection to the way in which contemporary news corporations have to choose how to present the information they receive. You can check out that paper here.
I also hope to be a part of the discussion about the ways through which media actually can reshape the conscience and ideologies of a society. One of the most interesting problems we face with media effects today is that everyone thinks they are immune to media influence– this is called the Third-Person Effect (Yeah, it’s a Wikipedia link, I’m lazy).
The point here is that while people tend to believe that they are less likely to be influenced by media than others, everyone is susceptible, and being aware of that is the first step to media literacy– no one is immune. I wrote an analysis of Social Learning Theory, a psychological theory of behavior, and hyper-masculinity as a specific media effect, which you can take a look at here.
Thanks for reading everyone, I am trying to fit a lot in at once so I can avoid barraging you with blog posts every week! If you’re interested in discussing anything I’ve written always feel to get in touch!
Summer 2018 Update
I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here on my WordPress site, I kinda dropped the ball on my idea for a regular blog while I was in Argentina. I have decided to give this site another whirl, what with the whole summer ahead of me and a renewed inspiration to make things happen (for now at least, I’m sure in 2 weeks I’ll be exhausted all over again).
Since I am staying in D.C. this summer to intern at the National Peace Corps Association, I decided I would try posting content again to practice maintaining a presence on social media, a place to post ideas and stories while I continue studying Journalism at American University. I am hoping that by publishing personal content regularly through this site, I can both add something new and interesting to my resumé while also pushing myself to try new things.
I want to share some of the coolest and most interesting stuff I found out during my first year at college by posting research papers I wrote (and received decent grades on, so I know that they are at least coherent!) during my first two semesters at American. I will also be working on new content, so don’t think I’ll just be dumping a bunch of PDFs on you guys, that wouldn’t be very interesting.
In this first post, I’m sharing an essay I wrote in my first semester at AU for a class focused on the history of the discourses surrounding diseases in the Western World. For my research paper in this class, I decided to create a discussion on the “medical discourse” used by the 1976-1983 right-wing dictatorship in Argentina to dehumanize leftists and civilians by comparing them to infectious cells in a sick body.
This research has really stuck with me, and this essay remains one of my favorite pieces of work I’ve ever written. It is chilling to see the reshaping of perspective throughout an entire country, how dehumanizing narratives can incite and justify unimaginable physical and psychological violence. This paper inspired other content that I have produced throughout my first and second semester, such as an essay for my Spanish class on dehumanization similar to this one, and a second essay delving into the concept of “percepticide.”
You can find the original text that really drove me to explore the “medical discourse” and psychological responses to terror in Argentina during the Dirty War in the article by Marcelo Suárez-Orozco titled: “The Heritage of Enduring a ‘Dirty War’: Psychosocial Aspects of Terror in Argentina, 1976-1988” which should be available on ResearchGate (you may have to create an account . . . however, if you’re interested, send me a message and I’ll try to help out)!
If you’d like to read the research paper I wrote, I’m attaching it here as a PDF. This work is certainly not finished, and if you’d like to make suggestions for improving it or have ideas for more information to back it up, get in touch with me; I’d love to hear your suggestions.
Thanks so much, and I’ll be posting more content soon, probably something I’ve been working on more recently!