"i have always loved criminals"

Today metaphors from Ani DiFranco’s song “crime for crime” and images from Suheir Hammad’s poem “letter to anthony (critical resistance)” have been running together in my head. Perhaps it is because I finally received a copy of Hammad’s latest and fabulous book of poetry, Zataar Diva, and was elated that this poem I love so much was included not only in the volume but also on the accompanying CD where you can hear her read it in true spoken-word poetry style. Perhaps it is because I’ve been listening to reports about the execution of Stanley Tookie Williams in California today. Perhaps it was because I was pleased to see that last night the Middle East Children’s Alliance held a vigil for Williams at San Quentin. That they saw the connection between the criminalization of Palestinians and the criminalization of African Americans as DiFranco and Hammad’s art so often does.

The lyrics of Ani DiFranco’s song “crime for crime” that I think are most relevant at this moment, which bear repeating are:

everyone needs to see the prisoner
they need to make it even easier
they see me as a symbol, and not a human being
that way they can kill me
say it’s not murder, it’s a metaphor
we are killing off our own failure
and starting clean

* * *

i think guilt and innocence
they are a matter of degree
what might be justice to you
might not be justice to me

* * *

you might be the wrong color
you might be too poor
justice isn’t something just anyone can afford
you might not pull the trigger
you might be out in the car
and you might get a lethal injection
’cause we take a metaphor that far

The lines from Hammad’s poem that I love so much, and think are so powerful come from the second section of her poem:

i have always loved
criminals and not only the thugged
out bravado of rap videos and champagne
popping hustlers but my father
born an arab baby boy
on the forced way out
of his homeland his mother exiled
and pregnant gave birth in a camp

the world pointed and said
palestinians do not exist palestinians
are roaches palestinians are two legged dogs
and israel built jails and weapons and
a history based on the absence of a people
israel made itself holy and chosen
and my existence a crime

so i have always loved criminals
it is a love of self
and i will not cut off any part of
me and place it behind fences and bars
and the fake ass belief
that there is a difference between
the inside and the outside

As I think about Williams and these lyrics I am also thinking of Ghassan. Every day. Thinking about him in jail. Thinking about the fact that I do not know him, but how much I want to. Thinking that there are thousands of other Palestinians who are in jail, who have been in jail. Who are tortured. Who are forgotten. Not by their families, but by the world. By people who see Palestinians only as terrorists and not as people who are fighting for their lives against a military force so powerful that their wounds and the hearts and their voices are squashed by the tanks and camouflage of the soldiers’ occupying their land.

Salam–

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4 thoughts on “"i have always loved criminals"

  1. I’m opposed to the death penalty. But I also think it’s important not to glamorize criminals. There is a huge difference between a political prisoner, and someone who robs and steals. One is a criminal and one isn’t. Confusing the two demeans political prisoners.

  2. I’m not too fond of the death penalty, but one must remember that we are talking about a convicted murderer and cofounder of the Crips. If a man who has effectively caused the deaths of dozens (if not more; I’m not familiar with the history of the Crips) says sorry, are we obligated to act on his behalf?

  3. I find what elizabeth wrote fascinating. “One is a criminal and one isn’t.”

    Who, truly, gets to decide which is which? Some, after all, consider Mumia abu Jamal a political prisoner, others see him as a “criminal.” You also have this whole other interesting facet offered by the Bush administration deciding who gets to be considered a prisoner and who is a “detainee.”
    Such a statement is problematic specifically because of the apparent fluidity in definition and classification.

  4. Just because President Bush doesn’t know the differences between a convicted criminal, an unlawfully detained individual, and a political prisoner doesn’t mean that I don’t know the differences…

    As for Mumia Abu Jamal–I don’t know whether he killed that cop but the reality is that he was convicted of killing someone. He wasn’t convicted of speaking out against the government, or of belonging to a banned organization etc., the way political prisoners are. Was the trial fair? That is something that is supposed to be decided by courts. It’s not a popularity contest; it’s not supposed to be based on whether or not one likes Abu Jamal’s writings, or whether or not one is black or white, or likes cops or doesn’t like cops. Unfortunately a lot of times these celebrity cases miss the point…

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