Thoughts and Lessons Over POLICE BRUTALITY

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During our third meeting of the semester in Making HERstory, students got the chance to gain knowledge on police brutality and analyze recent events that have taken place in our community. Students were given a task of searching the shelves of the library for information on the four different figures, including Pearl Pearson, Luis Rodriguez, Oscar Grant, and Vincent Chin. As the students searched through books and magazines, it became evident that no information could be found. The purpose of the exercise let students become aware of the limited information on police brutality cases that simply got thrown to the backburner. Of the two men, Pearl Pearson and Luis Rodriguez faced police brutality in our very own state of Oklahoma, both within recent months.

On February 14, 2014, Luis Rodriguez and his family took a trip to Warren Theater, in Moore, OK, for a family outing. Luis was the husband of Nair Rodriguez and father to two young women. Before cops arrived, Nair and her daughter got into a heated argument, which ultimately ended up in a physical alteration between the two. As Luis intervened, the police aggressively approached him.  The police officials who became involved in this case claim that it was Rodriguez who was incompliant in providing identification. The alleged refusal resulted in the officer pinning Luis to the ground, to the point of suffocation. As a result of blocked airways, Rodriguez passed away. Rodriguez was 44 years of age and of Puerto-Rican descent.

Melissa Salazar and Maria Gaytan, who are both students at U.S. Grant and Making HERstory, offer their opinions concerning police brutality in our community:

“My argument is why specifically, out of so many people that were present at Warren Theater, did they choose Luis to show them his ID? When his wife is the one that slapped their daughter, the least the cops could have done was arrest her. Have you ever stopped to think that the cops approached Rodriguez based on his skin complexion? Gender differences create a world in which a dark-skinned male is targeted more frequently. Because he had a dark complexion, the police might have perceived him as a greater threat towards them and the community. In fact, people of white complexion inhabit the majority of the population in Moore. We do not believe that is an excuse to single Luis out, violating his rights, and causing an unnecessary death in their family. The situation could have simply been handled in a less aggressive manner.”

Our second person of interest is Pearl Pearson, who was allegedly beat for disobeying disorders that he could not hear. On the evening of January 3, 2014, Pearl was pulled over by two Oklahoma highway troopers and immediately struck in the face multiple times. Troopers were suspicious of his lack of compliance, but in fact, Pearson is deaf. Pearson, who is, indeed, deaf and severely diabetic, even had a place card on his window confirming this. The physical altercation lasted a whole seven minutes and left Pearson with severe swelling and bruising to his face.

“The events that took place with Pearl Pearson could happen to anyone, including you. This man was innocent, sick, poor, and did not deserve this treatment. It seems that the troopers did not think before they acted, which resulted in a horrible and unjust outcome. We feel that these troopers felt that they were above the law. A worthy and skilled individual, who protects and serves their community, and not creating unnecessary havoc on innocent people, should wear that badge.”
        -Melissa Salazar and Maria Gaytan

Herstory: Lena Khader

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Similar to the thoughts of my (s)hero Grace Lee Boggs, I often think being born a Taiwanese-Palestinian American, identifying as a female, and growing up in a low-income community has had a profound impact on my thoughts, dreams, and passions. My past experiences instilled in me, at a young age, the idea that there needed to be change in the world.

My father was born in Anabta, Palestine and my mother in Taipei, Taiwan. With both of my parent’s countries being unrecognized by international standards, my personal narrative has been a source of guidance regarding the work I do as an unconventional educator/learner. I must be candid and raw in my storytelling for you to understand my deep love of Making Herstory. I realize that while sharing bits and pieces of my story may be uncomfortable – it is necessary  to humanize the work that we do in Making Herstory. This will hopefully help others realize why spaces such as Making Herstory are needed in southside OKC.

My family settled in southside Oklahoma City, an area known for some of the greatest Mexican food, yet also some of the worst schools in Oklahoma. My at-risk high school, dubbed the “dropout factory” by local media, produced a 40.1% dropout rate and an average ACT score of 17.7. During high school, I was angered, frustrated, and confused by the negative media attention my high school and community received. You see, as a high school student, I always knew something was wrong with my community – I knew there were substance/emotional/physical abuse issues, immigration issues, educational disparity issues, etc around southside OKC. I knew there were patriarchal and emotional abuse issues in my own household. The problem was: I never had the space to dissect these issues, express my frustrations, and discuss solutions for our community.

I was not taught to be a politically-active and socially-conscious product of society. I was not taught to critically analyze the world, to read works of art written by womyn of color/working class/poor people, or to question the banking method Paulo Freire discusses in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Instead, I was taught to be complacent, to be a believer rather than a sentient being – a thinker/questioner.

As I progressed to college,  I joined our Asian American Student Association (AASA) at Oklahoma City University, and attended a mini-APIA (Asian Pacific Islander American) retreat called APIA-U. Those moments were my first glimpse into social activism and organizing, as well as accepting my biracial roots. When we touched on the legacy of Vincent Chin, my life changed forever.

The video above struck a chord with me, and was my “lightbulb moment” – of wanting to immerse myself in the social justice movement. I pose the question: as a high school student, why was I never taught about Vincent Chin, colonialism in my familial history, the Secret War, the Greenwood Race Riots, etc?  Why are high school students not taught about their herstories as people of color?

I had the dream of creating Making Herstory to give high school students in southside OKC the space I always searched for, but never had growing up; to give students the opportunities that myself, and many of my peers in southside OKC were never granted. A created safe space to explore feminism, social issues, and how their own rich histories/personal narratives can be used as a source of empowerment to become socially and politically conscious beings -> propelling them to create positive change in our community. More importantly, a space where they feel empowered to utilize their voice and feel safe/loved.

I am a firm believer that if you navigate students to tools that cultivate them into questioners, thinkers, and morally-just individuals – they will be interested in switching the narrative of their communities/their stories into something positive, sustainable, and revolutionary. Through creating dialogue around feminism, ethnic studies, and personal narratives, I have observed and listened to my students engage in often times difficult, impactful, and needed discussions regarding our community. My role as a facilitator is not to hand over answers to my students, nor to have them think the way I do regarding societal issues. My role is to merely to provide my students with a safe space to dialogue and question the world around them.

With our Making Herstory blog, we hope this will become another space where you – the reader/community member – can learn about what we discuss in Making Herstory. I hope that through providing bits & pieces of my own personal story, you will join me in ensuring that Making Herstory will continue on as a community organization. Everything done with Making Herstory comes out of my pure love and desire to change southside OKC for the better. My community of southside OKC, as I often say, is my heart, my soul, and my love.

Please consider a $16 donation – you’ll receive a t-shirt shipped to wherever you may live, and eternal gratitude from myself, the MH team, and the students!

Questions, thoughts? Please contact us directly at makingherstoryokc@gmail.com and like our facebook page.

Lena Khader