Friday, March 30, 2012

American Skin: The Tragic Death of Trayvon Martin

by Gregg Chadwick

As a father I can only imagine the pain of Trayvon Martin's parents. My son is 17, the same age as the teenager Trayvon Martin who was pursued and shot over one month ago  in Sanford, Florida by "neighborhood watch" member George Zimmerman, reportedly because Trayvon's hoodie made him look suspicious. My son was accepted into college by my undergrad and graduate alma maters this week and we celebrated over dinner, but we couldn't help but think of Trayvon and his family. In the weeks before his death, Trayvon was planning for college - just a typical junior in high school worrying about his future. A screenshot of Trayvon’s Gmail inbox provided to news sources is heartbreaking. Martin apparently used his Gmail account for his college search, and it’s filled with emails about upcoming SAT tests and scholarship applications. One of the emails reads: “Trayvon, now is the best time to take the SATs!”

Holiday Photo of Trayvon Martin Provided By His Parents
Trayvon was a young man, a minor, who was stalked and followed in a vehicle, by an adult who it must have seemed to Trayvon, was intent on abducting him or worse. Trayvon ran from this fit, athletic man in his late 20's, but couldn't outrun a vehicle and a gun. If the minor in question was a 17 year old girl from Utah who was killed while attempting to fight off  a pursuer, there would not be a nationwide attempt by extremist sites to label the victim culpable for her own death. Have we as a nation not learned to mourn for our children? 
George Zimmerman killed an unarmed minor in cold blood after stalking him and chasing him down.  I spoke this week with my 17 year old son about how John F. Timoney , former Miami police chief, Philadelphia police commissioner and deputy police commissioner in New York City wrote how unjust it is under Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, that George Zimmerman has not been charged with a crime in the shooting death of an unarmed minor, even though Trayvon Martin made a 911 call moments before his death seeking the Sanford police's help to stop the gun toting Zimmerman.* 

Vigilante Fighter/Bomber On Display at Sanford/Orlando International Airport
photo by Brendan Gallagher

One of Trayvon Martin's emails included the results of a career aptitude test which indicated Trayvon's interest in aeronautics. There is a plane displayed at the Sanford/Orlando airport, not far from Trayvon's home, which in a cruel twist of fate is called the Vigilante. Maybe as a society we honor the dusty trope of the gunslinging cowboy too often? Maybe the son of a retired judge is allowed to commit a crime in Sanford, Florida without fear of punishment? Since when is it OK for a 28 year old man to shoot and kill an unarmed minor because he looked threatening?  

Sybrina Fulton, mother of slain teenager Trayvon Martin, spoke
at the Million Hoodies March on March 21, 2012 in New York City

(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images) 

I am heartened, though, that Trayvon's family members have been joined by hundreds of protesters nationwide calling for justice in the murder of Trayvon Martin. The tragic death of Trayvon and the subsequent unwillingness of the Sanford police to protect Trayvon's civil rights is yet another reminder that to some, simply being Black in America is a punishable offense. 

 Living Colour's version of Springsteen's American Skin (41 Shots) is a heartbreaking song that honors the senseless death of Amadou Diallo at the hands of the NYPD as he reached for his wallet in an attempt to placate a group of undercover cop's demands. More than once, because of this event, I have told my son, "If an officer stops you - Promise me, you always be polite. And that you'll never. never run away. Promise that you'll always keep your hands in sight."

The death of Trayvon Martin has obviously weighed on Bruce Springsteen and his audiences this past week in Tampa, Boston, and Philadelphia. During three consecutive shows, the band played American Skin (41 Shots) and Springsteen released the professionally shot video on his website along with the lyrics to the song. On Wednesday night in Philadelphia, Springsteen dedicated the song with the words, "This is for Trayvon."

The death of any child is an affront to god and humanity.

Video of Springsteen and the E Street band Performing American Skin (41 Shots)
 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, FL on March 23, 2012.

41 shots
41 shots
41 shots
41 shots
41 shots
41 shots
41 shots
41 shots....
And we'll take that ride
'Cross this bloody river
To the other side
41 shots... cut through the night
You're kneeling over his body in the vestibule
Praying for his life

Is it a gun, is it a knife
Is it a wallet, this is your life
It ain't no secret
It ain't no secret
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living
In your American skin

41 shots
Lena gets her son ready for school
She says "on these streets, Charles
You've got to understand the rules
If an officer stops you
Promise you'll always be polite,
that you'll never ever run away
Promise Mama you'll keep your hands in sight"

Is it a gun, is it a knife
Is it a wallet, this is your life
It ain't no secret
It ain't no secret
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living
In your American skin

Is it a gun, is it a knife
Is it in your heart, is it in your eyes
It ain't no secret

41 shots... and we'll take that ride
'Cross this bloody river
To the other side
41 shots... got my boots caked in this mud
We're baptized in these waters and in each other's blood

Is it a gun, is it a knife
Is it a wallet, this is your life
It ain't no secret
It ain't no secret
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living
In your American skin

Gregg Chadwick
American Beauty
12"x12" oil on linen 2004
Private Collection, Los Angeles

It will take all of our combined efforts to truly honor the life and memory of Trayvon Martin. Please join us in demanding and working toward justice. When you do, ask your friends and family to do the same, and we'll show the world that we will not be silent in the face of this injustice.

Jasiri X drops new video demanding justice for Trayvon Martin
ColorOfChange joined forces with Kevin Powell (activist, award-winning writer, and The Guardian blogger), Akila Worksongs and to host an event demanding justice for Trayvon Martin. Here's why House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn was packed: Hip-hop artist & activist Jasiri X performed his powerful track, "A Song for Trayvon," live.

Here are 5 ways you can support justice for Trayvon Martin:
  1. Download and print a 'Justice for Trayvon' poster for your window or when you attend a local event:
  2. Share the petition on Facebook and on Twitter
  3. Add your story and photo to the new 'We are Trayvon Martin' site (scroll down the page to tell your story):
  4. Watch hip-hop artist & activist Jasiri X perform his powerful track, 'A Song for Trayvon,' live:
  5. Tell 5 friends to join ColorOfChange by texting 'TRAYVON' to 30644

More at:
*From the New York Times:

Florida’s Disastrous Self-Defense Law

Manama, Bahrain
THE very public controversy surrounding the killing on Feb. 26 of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, by a crime watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, was predictable.
In fact, I, along with other Florida chiefs of police, said so in a letter to the Legislature in 2005 when we opposed the passage of a law that not only enshrined the doctrine of “your home is your castle” but took this doctrine into the public square and added a new concept called “stand your ground.”
Use-of-force issues arose often during my 41-year policing career. In fact, officer-involved shootings were the No. 1 problem when I became Miami’s police chief in January 2003. But after we put in place new policies and training, officers went 20 months without discharging a single bullet at a person, while arrests increased over 30 percent.
Trying to control shootings by members of a well-trained and disciplined police department is a daunting enough task. Laws like “stand your ground” give citizens unfettered power and discretion with no accountability. It is a recipe for disaster.
At the time the Florida law was working its way through the Legislature, proponents argued that a homeowner should have the absolute right to defend himself and his home against an intruder and should not have to worry about the legal consequences if he killed someone. Proponents also maintained that there should be no judicial review of such a shooting.
But I pointed out at the time that even a police officer is held to account for every single bullet he or she discharges, so why should a private citizen be given more rights when it came to using deadly physical force? I also asked the bill’s sponsor, State Representative Dennis K. Baxley, to point to any case in Florida where a homeowner had been indicted or arrested as a result of “defending his castle.” He could not come up with a single one.
The only thing that is worse than a bad law is an unnecessary law. Clearly, this was the case here.
The second part of the law — “stand your ground” — is the most problematic. Until 2005, in all 50 states, the law on the use of force for civilians was pretty simple. If you found yourself in a situation where you felt threatened but could safely retreat, you had the duty to do so. (A police officer does not have the duty to retreat; that is the distinction between a sworn police officer and the average citizen regarding use of force.)
Police officers are trained to de-escalate highly charged encounters with aggressive people, using deadly force as a last resort. Citizens, on the other hand, may act from emotion and perceived threats. But “stand your ground” gives citizens the right to use force in public if they feel threatened. As the law emphatically states, a citizen has “no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground.”
During one debate, one of the law’s proponents suggested that if a citizen felt threatened in a public space, he should not have to retreat and should be able to meet force with force. I pointed out that citizens feel threatened all the time, whether it’s from the approach of an aggressive panhandler or squeegee pest or even just walking down a poorly lighted street at night. In tightly congested urban areas, public encounters can be threatening; a look, a physical bump, a leer, someone you think may be following you. This is part of urban life. You learn to navigate threatening settings without resorting to force. Retreating is always the best option.
As Florida police chiefs predicted in 2005, the law has been used to justify killings ranging from drug dealers’ turf battles to road rage incidents. Homicides categorized as justifiable have nearly tripled since the law went into effect.
Back in 2005, the National Rifle Association identified about two dozen states as fertile ground for the passage of laws just like this one. Florida was the first state to pass such a law. Today, at least 20 other states have followed suit.
Gov. Rick Scott of Florida can make all Floridians proud by being the first governor to reject and repeal such misguided laws.
John F. Timoney is a former Miami police chief, Philadelphia police commissioner and deputy police commissioner in New York. He is now senior police adviser to the Bahrain Minister of the Interior.

New Song and Video by Sigur Rós:"Ekki múkk"

Sometimes Sigur Rós is all that you need.

New song "Ekki múkk" from the album "Valtari" to be released on May 28, 2012.

More at:

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Feminist, Anti War and Pro LGBT Poet Adrienne Rich Dies at 82

To Talk About Trees (for Adrienne Rich)

Gregg Chadwick
To Talk About Trees
24" x 18" oil on linen 2012

What Kind of Times Are These

There's a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I've walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don't be fooled
this isn't a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won't tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won't tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it's necessary
to talk about trees.

“What Kind of Times Are These”. © 2002, 1995 by Adrienne Rich, from The Fact of a Doorframe: Selected Poems 1950-2001 by Adrienne Rich. Used by permission of the author and W.W. Norton, Inc.
Source: Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems 1991-1995 (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1995)
Details at:

Friday, March 23, 2012

City of Dreams

by Gregg Chadwick

In response to Spring for Music's query:

New York has long been considered the cultural capital of America. 
Is it still? If not, where?
 Lyrics by Angela Hunte and Jane't "Jnay" Sewell-Ulepic

Vermeer in New York
Metropolitan Museum, New York
photo by Gregg Chadwick

 Like Florence in the 15th century, Amsterdam in the 17th century and Paris in the 19th century - post World War II  New York City seemed to embody the dreams and cultural aspirations of the age. Does New York still claim that distinction? And does it matter?

J.F. Kennedy Jr. would often say that New York City was a verb - not a noun. In that sense the city remains a global source of action and inspiration rather than a place to physically aspire to. In our floating 21st century world, communication via Skype, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr connects us almost instantaneously.  Translations via Google allow us to speak across borders. And in an age of Wikileaks, international secrets are revealed to an audience of millions with the flick of a key. Family, pilgrimage and career sends many on journeys crisscrossing the globe. 

Conductor Gustavo Dudamel
photo courtesy Opera Chic, Milano 

For me, the conductor Gustavo Dudamel perfectly embodies our new reality. By serving as Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, Dudamel's passionate music and teaching impacts three continents simultaneously. 

Dudamel's artistic path seems to make the question, "Is New York the cultural capital of America?" superfluous while at the same time pointing out the inherent flaw in the question itself. Of course America refers not just to the United States but to the connected countries of North, Central and and South America. 

Gregg Chadwick
Brecht's Song
30"x22" monotype on paper 2011

There is no one cultural center in the Americas. But there is the city of dreams that drew Federico Garcia Lorca to study and write Poet in New York at Columbia, Diego Rivera to paint Man at the Crossroads at Rockefeller Center, Patti Smith to write and sing and fall in love and life with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe at the Chelsea Hotel. This city of dreams is not the clean and tidy Giuliani/Bloomberg New York that suggests a Big Apple theme park but instead the New York City of cultural myth and memory.

Students and Pollock
Metropolitan Museum, New York
photo by Gregg Chadwick

Like Smith and Mapplethorpe, I jumpstarted my life with the inspiration of New York City. For many years, like a talisman, planted flag, or a beacon, a massive painting from my graduate exhibition at NYU hung in the front window of a brownstone on Washington Square. Over the years, each time I visited the Village, I would return to see if my painting still hung on the square. If it did, I knew a physical part of me remained in New York and that my dream still lived. 

Metropolitan Museum, New York
photo by Gregg Chadwick

In the past few years like Gustavo Dudamel, I've carried my cultural capital with me as I traveled, studied, created and exhibited in Los Angeles, Tokyo, and the Netherlands.
In this transient, changing, yet ever connected world, I came face to face with humanity's fragility and celebrated its tensile strength.

The pulse, blur and vibrancy of our human experience reveals vital traces of who we are in a time that is simultaneously past and present, here and there, personal and global. Through our shared cultural exploits we learn that perhaps the relevant question is not where is the capital, but instead how do I create my own?

Clouds Over Manhattan
photo by Gregg Chadwick

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Thanks to Everyone for Braving the Storm During the Santa Monica Airport Artwalk

A hearty thank you to all who stopped by my studio during the Santa Monica Airport Artwalk. Those who braved the rain were rewarded with art and camaraderie at the Santa Monica Art Studios. I was happy to see familiar faces and to meet new art lovers and new collectors! Hope to see you again soon.