No, this is not clickbait. Sometimes, the headline tells the story. Gregory Holt, aka Abdul Maalik Muhammad (the Court uses the “also known as” language when referring to him, and I am not sure about the status of the two different names), an inmate in an Arkansas state prison, wanted to grow a beard, in accordance with his religious beliefs. The Arkansas Department of Corrections has a strict no-beard policy, with a medical exception (allowing those with certain dermatological conditions to grow a beard of up to ¼ inch length), on the grounds that inmates could smuggle contraband in their beards, and that it is necessary that prisoners remain clean-shaven in order to easily identify them. Sensing an uphill struggle, Muhammad proposed to grow a half inch beard as a sort of “compromise,” as he put it. The Department would have nothing of it, and so Muhammad took the argument to court. Both the district court and the 8th Circuit thought that required deference to the experts at the Dept. of Corrections outweighed any concerns they might have.
We continue awaiting the decision of a grand jury on whether or not to indict Darren Wilson, a white police officer, who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, exactly 15 weeks ago today on a suburban street in Ferguson, Missouri. News reporters from across the globe have been camped out in Ferguson for months, their expectation of an announcement teased and disappointed several times in the last week alone. On Monday, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard in advance of the grand jury's decision. Yesterday, President Barack Obama, in what can only be judged to be an anticipation of Wilson's non-indictment, preemptively urged protesters not to use Ferguson as an "excuse for violence." In the meantime, demonstrators of various ilk remain on standby, rallying their troops, refining their organizational strategies, painting their oppositional signs, standing vigilantly at the ready for whatever may come.
But what are we waiting for, really, as we wait for Ferguson?
For they know they are not animals. And at the very moment when they discover their humanity, they begin to sharpen their weapons to secure its victory. --Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth America has been and remains an apartheid state. That sad but increasingly undeniable fact was made apparent last night in Ferguson, Missouri to a group of peaceful protesters amidst tanks, deafening LRADs, a haze of tear gas and a firestorm of rubber (and real) bullets. The other tragic fact made apparent in Ferguson last night is that America is only ever a hair's-breadth away from a police state... if we understand by "police"not a regulated body of law-enforcement peacekeepers empowered to serve and protect the citizenry, but rather a heavily-armed, extra-constitutional, militarized cadre of domestic soldiers who provoke and terrorize with impunity. Much of the time, we are able to forget or ignore these unfortunate truths about contemporary America-- and by "we" I mean our elected officials, our bureaucrats and financiers, and a lot of self-delusionally "post-racial," though really white, people-- but the mean truth of gross inequality, both de facto and de jure, remains ever-present in spite of our disavowals, simmering steadily just below the allegedly free and fair democratic veneer of our polis.
Greg Howard, journalist and parrhesiates, said it about as plainly as it can be said this past Tuesday in his article for Deadspin: America is not for black people. The truth of "American apartheid" should make us all ashamed, saddened, angry, deeply troubled as moral and political agents. And, what is more, it should frighten us all.
This is just a short note to express my hope that all the celebrities and ordinary folks celebrating the two former members of pussy riot will recall that there are political prisoners rotting in US prisons as well. This is not to criticize TFMPR - I don't really understand the issues behind the split, but that aside, I take it that their primary moral responsibility is to stand up to abuses in Russia. On the other hand, while there is nothing at all wrong with cheering on these efforts from the safe Brooklyn sidelines, this is not the primary moral responsibility of someone in the US. For those who would like to learn more about US political prisoners, there are quite a few excellent resources Here