OUTRAGEOUS: Police abuse of poet-professors of color

UPDATE: The prof is lawyering up. Here’s the latest from Jennifer–didn’t want to bury the lead.

Palmer-

He was released after the night watchman from the university positively IDed him. The police never asked Armando for his ID (not giving him a chance by thrusting a gun in his face and ordering him to the floor), nor did they give him any explanation for their actions. Supposedly they were responding to a report of a break in. Armando is very upset about the incident and unfortunately had to leave for Spain today. He will be back on the 27th and is working with a lawyer.

Armando had just read in Juárez, I was concerned for his safety
there…never did I imagine that this could happen in a U.S. Institution
here.

Thanks for your support!

jen

* * *

First, I’d like to pass along an e-mail forwarded from my publisher and friend, Palmer Hall:

My friends,

Juan Armando Rojas Joo, whose book (Rio Vertebral/Vertebral River) was
published late last year by Pecan Grove Press
was recently removed at
gunpoint from his office by university police at Ohio Wesleyan University.
Juan Armando was arrested, essentially, for being Latino and working late in
his office. No charges were brought against him. Jennifer Rathbun, who
translated Juan Armando’s work for us forwarded this letter to me.

When I hear more from Jennifer or from Juan Armando, I’ll write again. I
suspect letters to Ohio Wesleyan’s president (I’ll get the address) about
the outrageous actions of the university’s police will be asked for.

Thanks for listening,
Palmer

*Juan Armando’s letter:*

Dear colleagues,

I just came back from an international poetry festival in Ciudad Juarez,
Mexico, where no more than forty invited poets from all over the world,
including Ledo Ivo (Brasil), Claudine Helft (France), Torgeir Rebolledo
Peddersson (Norway), Juan Gelman (Argentina), were convocated to read
from their own work as well as to denounce violence. I was among
one of the invited poets, representing Mexico and Ohio Wesleyan
University?

Last night, at midnight, I was working in my office, UN 201 [Juan
Armando Rojas] like I have been doing many nights for the past five
years (many professors at OWU do). I was working, among other academic
issues, on my self report, when I perceived the door knob of my office
moving, I also heard a dog bark and a few seconds latter I heard voices.
Would you like to know my first reaction? I was, of course scared, also
confused, and immediately I said “give me a second, I’ll be there”. When
I opened the door, thinking that it was probably the janitor, maybe a
security officer, maybe even Helmut or Conrad (both of them love/ed
working late at night as well at UN) and for my surprise the first thing
I saw was the gun of a police officer pointing directly at my face.
(Five police officers, one gun twelve inches away, I’m “Ordered” to go
to the floor and I get handcuffed)

Currently I will not go into details but I will ask you if this is part
of our academic freedom and the pursuit of knowledge and professional
passions, or is this the new and efficient way of approaching people at
OWU? Is this how OWU approaches diversity and multiculturalism? Is this
how OWU treats the few members of an international faculty? Did I brake
a curfew and I was not aware? Is this really how OWU wants to approach
its dedicated faculty who stay up long night preparing classes,
preparing publications and research, grading papers and organizing
student activities? Maybe not all of you are aware that on May I was the
recipient of The Bishop Francis Emner Kearns Award for faithful witness
to the ethical, spiritual and missional values of Ohio Wesleyan
University as delineated in the University’s Charter and Statement of
Aims (Juan Armando Rojas, Ph.D., who also serves as assistant professor
of modern foreign languages and director of OWU’s study abroad program
in Salamanca, Spain). I hope that you, dear faculty, are concerned and
will raise your voice in the denouncement of this violent act.

Thank you very much,

Juan Armando Rojas Joo

Jennifer Rathbun, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Foreign Languages
212 Bixler Hall
Ashland University
(419)289-5121

[I thought I would add one of Juan Armando’s poems (as translated by
Jennifer]):

NOTE: The subject of this poem, or the occasion, is perhaps more obvious tothose of us who live near the border with Mexico than it might be to
others. For too many years now, women in Juarez, Mexico, across the river
from El Paso, have been disappeared, murdered and raped. The government of Mexico has done little about the tragedy, Juan Armando is from Juarez and has been described as THE poet of the northern Mexico desert lands.

Repercussions of a City Named Juárez
To those broken women

Dirt storms of a white dust that transpires
filth
whiteness of a society
rhythms that inject themselves into the bricks

City lost amongst its houses
so alone so entirely alone
so far from Jerusalem
due to the earth’s circumference

Let us pray for the city that bleeds
for the woman that waits for a job in the maquila
let us tear out the cables and chew
the almond sulfur of the cars

We will arrive trembling
today the job ended at the factory
there are three pair of eyes that observe me
they are hungry

We pray for the migration of the wetbacks
upon realizing that we find ourselves alone
between the mercury stains on the mirror
the memory of the bridge vanishes

Let us talk about this city to our children
that does not appear on the map
let us crucify the arms of this sky
with more right than the neighbor

Let us look for the missing
between the waters
and its dunes
where there will always be abundant trash

Let us look for the raped
in the geographical construction of our homes
between the bland dunes and its fresh sand
and the calcium of its bones

Let us talk about the heartbeats of the bridge
of the little oxygen that you breathe
in the minute and a half of silence
that the bridge deserves every night

We make a circle and we cross
our hands praying for alcohol and polygamy
we scratch the asphalt’s burning ice
this battle in the desert

The shadows of the lynched
pray for us!
for the fragility and the high price of subsidized housing
listen to us!

For the second that separates one millennium from another
we remember the border line
the box car in which the wet backs die
the custom of silence
where the río bravo ends
where the río grande begins

We initiate the prayer
to reach the kingdom of the flies
for the dreams
of the dreams
of the days
now and forever
———————————————————-

As if this were not outrageous enough, so is the news of poet-professor Ravi Shankar’s false arrest in July:

http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=112056039

Shankar, a U.S.-born citizen of Indian descent, told NPR that the arresting officer called him a “sand nigger.” Shankar’s alleged crime? Driving while brown.

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2 thoughts on “OUTRAGEOUS: Police abuse of poet-professors of color

  1. Good Lord!
    This is terribly upsetting. NO ONE should be subjected to this sort of treatment!
    I think Juan Armando should sue!
    Same thing with Ravi Shankar…
    Ravi Shankar is such a talented musician, and poet.Blogger-pal Sandra Beasley(who I met in Maureen Seaton’s Writing Workshop at Indiana University’s Writers’ Conference in 2004)is friends with Ravi Shankar….

  2. Steve says:

    Lisa,
    You are confusing associate professor of English at Central Connecticut State University Ravi Shankar, whom the NPR story is about, with Pandit Ravi Shankar the musician and composer.

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