I recently watched the powerful new documentary Billie via an exclusive screening by the 92nd Street Y.
Billie breathes life into nearly 50-year-old audiotapes of the interviews journalist Linda Lipnack Kuehl conducted with Holiday’s contemporaries including Count Basie, Carmen McRae, Tony Bennett, singer Sylvia Syms and drummer Jo Jones. Archival materials and first-hand accounts shed light on systemic racism, racial segregation and the undertold story of her commitment to racial justice.
The civil rights pioneer said “Strange Fruit” was her personal protest. She performed the song at the end of every performance for 20 years despite FBI and police harassment. Bassist Charles Mingus said, “She was fighting equality before Martin Luther King. … That might be why the cops were against her too, not just junk.”
The special screening was followed by a Q&A with director James Erskine and executive producer Michele Smith, manager of the Billie Holiday Estate.
Billie is now showing in theaters and on virtual cinema. For updates, go here.
During the Jim Crow era, Louis Armstrong asked, “What did I do to be so black and blue?”
In 2018, men in blue uniforms arrested two African Americans whose only sin is in their skin. Their offense – waiting while black at Starbucks.
@Starbucks The police were called because these men hadn’t ordered anything. They were waiting for a friend to show up, who did as they were taken out in handcuffs for doing nothing. All the other white ppl are wondering why it’s never happened to us when we do the same thing. pic.twitter.com/0U4Pzs55Ci
While implicit bias led to the 911 call, Police Commissioner Richard Ross is complicit in the criminalization of black men. In a video posted on Facebook, Ross said:
They did a service that they were called to do. And if you think about it logically, that if a business calls and they say that someone is here that I no longer wish to be in my business, [police officers] now have a legal obligation to carry out their duties.
There is nothing logical about implicit bias.
In an open letter, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson said the arrest was “reprehensible”:
By now, you may be aware of a disheartening situation in one of our Philadelphia-area stores this past Thursday, that led to a reprehensible outcome.
I’m writing this evening to convey three things:
First, to once again express our deepest apologies to the two men who were arrested with a goal of doing whatever we can to make things right. Second, to let you know of our plans to investigate the pertinent facts and make any necessary changes to our practices that would help prevent such an occurrence from ever happening again. And third, to reassure you that Starbucks stands firmly against discrimination or racial profiling.
In the coming days, I will be joining our regional vice president, Camille Hymes—who is on the ground in Philadelphia—to speak with partners, customers and community leaders as well as law enforcement. Most importantly, I hope to meet personally with the two men who were arrested to offer a face-to-face apology.
I am heartbroken to see Philadelphia in the headlines for an incident that — at least based on what we know at this point — appears to exemplify what racial discrimination looks like in 2018.
However, Kenney is not “heartbroken” enough to launch an independent investigation of the incident. Instead, the Philadelphia Police Department is investigating itself. A fact noted by the Washington Post:
Kenney said little about the response of his police force beyond mentioning an ongoing review from Police Commissioner Richard Ross.
In his Facebook monologue, Ross said the police department sends all new recruits to the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum because “we want them to know about the atrocities that were, in fact, committed by policing around the world.”
The Commissioner encouraged us to “make our own value judgment.” So here’s mine — Negro, please! Did you send new recruits to visit the African American Museum in Philadelphia’s exhibit, “Arresting Patterns: Perspectives on Race, Criminal Justice, Artistic Expression, and Community?” The museum is located one block from police headquarters.
Ross declared his “officers did absolutely nothing wrong” in arresting two black men whose only offense is the color of their skin. But he will not have the last word.
POWER, a coalition of clergy leaders representing more than 50 interfaith congregations in Southeastern and Central Pennsylvania, will hold a march and sit-in on Monday, April 16. Protesters will gather at 3:30pm at The Philadelphia Ethical Society, 1906 Rittenhouse Square. From there, they will march and occupy the Starbucks located at 1801 Spruce Street from 4-6pm.
Commissioner Ross, just so you know, they will not make any purchases. So get your paddy rollers ready.