When They Call You a Terrorist

by

Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele

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When They Call You a Terrorist: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
With Gabriel in prison, Patrisse loses touch with his extended family. They only knew each other for four years, after all, and Gabriel was the glue holding the family together. Patrisse’s cousin Naomi tells her that the family no longer spends time together without Gabriel. Still, Patrisse stays in touch with him through letters. In Gabriel’s letters, he apologizes and promises better times in the future. Patrisse tells him she misses him. Neither shares intimate details about their lives, including why he was sent to prison.
That Patrisse loses touch with her extended family—as well as the close emotional bond she’d formed with Gabriel—shows the traumatic effects that the prison system has not only on prisoners, but also their families.   
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Monte goes to prison soon after Gabriel. He doesn’t pick Patrisse up from dance class from one day, which doesn’t worry her because he’s generally been acting strangely—some days he’s full of love and energy and giving her money, other days he’s crying in the bathroom for hours and she can’t get him to come out. He also sometimes doesn’t sleep for days, talking non-stop. Patrisse assumes that his drug use causes the mood swings, and she also feels he has a right to inconsistency because “He never knows how the world will greet him, after all.” Monte had been arrested throughout her childhood, including a few years before when a cop came up to him while they were walking down the street, handcuffed him, and took him away. She doesn’t know a single boy in her community who hasn’t been arrested at least once.
As a Black man with schizoaffective disorder, Monte experiences ableism (discrimination against people with disabilities) in conjunction with racism. Rather than blaming Monte for his drug use, erratic behavior, and countless arrests, Patrisse sees how he is doing his best to survive with his multiple marginalized identities. Patrisse also notes that all the boys in her predominately Black and Latinx community have been arrested, suggesting that race and class are reason enough for young men to be targeted by police.
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All of this is happening while Americans of all races are part of the fight to end apartheid in South Africa. In his “I Am Prepared to Die” speech, Nelson Mandela   describes the effects of white supremacy on South Africa: Black people are seen as less than human and do not have access to schools, well-paying jobs, or the ability to own their own homes. Patrisse sees the struggles in South Africa in 1964 as similar to Los Angeles in 1992—unequal spending on schools, no social services or programs, meager job opportunities, families being torn apart as parents are thrown in jail.
Apartheid, similar to Jim Crow, was a period in South African history (1948–1991) when racial segregation policies were written into law. Patrisse juxtaposes South Africa in 1964 with LA in 1992 to make the point that even though segregation is no longer formally in effect in the U.S. at this point, the state of the country hasn’t changed much. Black Americans have less school funding and fewer social programs or job opportunities, and they’re criminalized more often.
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Patrisse realizes these similarities between South Africa and LA only after she attends Millikan and sees how white people live. One day, she goes over to her white friend Tiffany’s house in Sherman Oaks and has dinner, marveling at how their house has a separate dining room and that Tiffany’s parents are home to join them (whereas her mother works from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day). Tiffany’s father asks her about her day and what she wants to be when she grows up, and Patrisse feels she is in a TV show like 90210. With her own family, she talks and laughs, but not like this—pain is always there just below the surface.
Patrisse’s bewilderment at the differences between her home life and Tiffany’s shows the gap between being wealthy and white versus  poor and Black (which is what makes her think of South African apartheid). Patrisse wishes her family could have deep conversations over dinner like Tiffany’s family does, but due to her mother having to work 16 hours a day to make ends meet, this is not possible.
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Patrisse and Tiffany’s father will both realize over the course of her visits there that he is her family’s landlord—a “slum lord” who owns many buildings in Van Nuys and allowed Patrisse’s family to go a year without a working fridge. Unsure what to do with this shocking information, Patrisse says nothing, thinking people will assume she made it up. But it’s true—he is part of the white wealthy community that wants to keep Black people like her family separate.
Finding out that Tiffany’s father is Patrisse’s family’s neglectful landlord is shocking, because he is a kind man. The problem is not this one man’s behavior, but the fact that oppression is structural—Patrisse has implied that policymakers, landlords, and police have all normalized treating Black people like they’re unworthy of basic necessities.
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This is the 1990s, the middle of the war on drugs and the war on gangs. Being Black or Mexican makes you a drug dealer or dangerous criminal, and a group of boys becomes a gang. There is also no money going into schools (or school lunches). If young people of color don’t die, they—like Monte—cycle in and out of juvenile detention centers, being trained for prison as adults. They are beaten and abused, forced to use the bathroom in public, then sent back into the world hardened, teaching other boys that they need to man up.
Here, Patrisse expounds on how Black and Latinx young men are targeted for being drug dealers or gang members just because of their race—an example of how war on drugs policies may seem neutral but, in practice, perpetuate racist stereotypes. She also connects tough-on-crime policies with policies that lead to less money going into schools, suggesting that politicians treat Black people like their lives don’t matter on several different fronts. 
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Though it’s possible that removing one thief or bully might make a community safer, removing parents from Black children’s lives makes them much less safe. With no adults around, there is no one to love or protect them, no one to tell them that they matter, so they have to raise themselves. “Gangs” are really just groups of young people taking care of one another against the army of police officers on foot, in cars, and in helicopters that surveil them all day and night. 
Here, Patrisse suggests that the reason young Black men distrust the police isn’t because of their criminal activity, but because they see how police are primed to target them. Helicopters symbolize constant presence and power of the police—they are not merely advancing by foot and by car but, like a real army, approach by air as well, surveilling Patrisse’s neighborhood day and night.
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Monte and his friends try to stay safe from these police officers who “s[ee] the enemy as anyone Black or Brown who move[s].” They are imprisoned for minor crimes like tagging and cutting class, and also just for being kids or talking back. As the ACLU later describes, “Gang injunctions make otherwise legal, everyday activities […] illegal for people they target.” They note that racial profiling is inevitable with these overly broad laws, and that no white gang in California has ever been targeted (despite evidence that they exist). Republicans and Democrats, both Black and white, supported these “super-predator” laws.
Patrisse again highlights how police harass young Black men simply for existing, not for anything that they have done. That police have never targeted a single white gang—despite the fact that these groups also exist in LA—suggests that their behavior is racially motivated. Patrisse notes that Democrats and Republicans both support these racist laws to suggest that anti-Black violence in the U.S is pervasive and accepted.
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Young people are easy targets because they do not have the right to vote. By labeling them criminals, adults can absolve themselves of any responsibility for the youth not having access to resources. And moving money from youth services (schools, arts, sports, etc.) doesn’t work—between 1990 and 2010, 10,000 young people will have died in Los Angeles.  This is why young people of color looked out for one another. Patrisse’s brother Paul didn’t get caught in the criminal justice system only because he wasn’t allowed to be a kid; after Alton left, he took over all of the house responsibilities and couldn’t participate in normal teenage behavior.
Patrisse notes here that the war on drugs policies affected young people the most. In this sense, young men of color face both racism and ageism, or being discriminated against because of their age. The statistics she share backs up the fatal consequences that racism and ageism together can have.
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This time, when Monte is arrested, he is 19 and accused of robbery and goes to prison (rather than juvie) for the first time. It takes two months to even locate where he has been imprisoned and, when Cherice is finally allowed to visit him at Twin Towers Detention Center, she finds him emaciated, bruised, and drugged. Patrisse only learns years later, after he is in prison, that Monte was having a schizoaffective episode and hearing voices when he was arrested. No one explains this to his family or tells them that the sheriffs at the jail were the ones who beat him, tied him down, and gave him the wrong drugs for his condition. When Cherice sees him, he can’t speak but touches the glass to meet her hand. She tells him she loves him.
Here, Patrisse is highlighting how mentally ill Black people have to navigate both racism and ableism, or discrimination and mistreatment based on having a disability. While the prison doctors and other employees could have treated Monte like the mentally ill person that he was—giving him the appropriate medication for a psychotic episode—they drug him in order to sedate and demean him. This is just another example of Patrisse’s stance that prisons exist to control and contain people (especially Black people), not to make people safe.
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Monte is facing six years in prison for attempted burglary, a crime he committed because the voices in his head told him to. In prison, he doesn’t understand the prisoner-enforced racial segregation, and a Mexican gang member stabs him. After moving to a mental health unit, he isn’t stabbed again. (By 2015, there will be 10 times the number of mentally ill patients in prison than there are in psychiatric hospitals.) Monte writes Patrisse incoherent letters every week about crying, Jehovah, and more.
Again, Patrisse is highlighting the way that Black people with disabilities navigate both racism (the Mexican gang member presumably targets him because of his race) and ableism (Monte is imprisoned rather than medically treated for the mental illness that led him to break into someone’s house). The prison did take steps to place him in a mental health unit, but the fact that there are far more mentally ill patients in prison than in psychiatric hospitals shows how the criminal justice system criminalizes people with disabilities.
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There are no counselors for Patrisse to talk to, but she has friends. Rosa, a dark-skinned Mexican girl, is her first friend when she starts attending a magnet program centered on social justice and the arts at Cleveland High School. In 10th grade, they befriend Cheyenne—whom Patrisse will become very close to—and Carla, who is bold, loud, and queer. Patrisse tells them about Monte and they start writing to him in prison, too, such that he comes to feel like their brother. In his responses to them, Monte is more coherent, indicating that he’s been properly medicated. Patrisse is grateful for the family she’s creating with her friends.
Patrisse’s developing friendships with Rosa, Cheyenne, and Carla are the start of her creating a chosen family in addition to her blood family. That they start writing to Monte shows how important healing with the help of a community is—and will be—for Patrisse. Monte finally receiving the proper medication dosage is comforting to Patrisse, but doesn’t change the fact that he is still locked up away from his family.
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Monte is released from prison in 2003, two years after Patrisse graduates from high school. Carla drives Patrisse to pick him up from the bus station. Monte is unwell—swollen from all the medication he’s on and having a full-blown episode. The prison failed to stabilize him before he left and also failed to give him pants, so he is wearing boxers, a muscle shirt, and shower slippers. Patrisse goes to hug him but he rejects her by simply getting into the car and saying “okay” when she tells him she loves him. The family has planned a Welcome Home Monte party with Monte’s siblings and son, but Monte sits in the corner like a zombie while Cherice watches him with pain on her face.
Seeing how unwell Monte looks—and how little clothing he has on—underlines for Patrisse how prisons treat people (especially Black people) as if they are disposable. While prison employees may have treated Monte’s mental illness properly at some point, clearly they stopped caring. Despite Monte rejecting her, Patrisse is determined to help him feel seen and appreciated. This is part of her commitment to taking care of her community in the face of deep trauma.
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For the next few days, Monte doesn’t sleep or eat and acts erratically, rubbing toothpaste on the walls and shouting nonsense. Cherice eventually breaks down crying one day, which is not like her. Monte’s episode worsens to the point that nothing he says is coherent. He won’t talk to Patrisse but will talk to Bernard, Cherice’s new partner (whom she will later marry). Together, they try to convince him to go to the hospital. Patrisse calls for an ambulance but, upon learning he is a felon, the dispatcher tells her she has to call the police.  
Here, Patrisse shares the reality of what it is like to live as a Black ex-felon with severe mental illness. Monte struggles with schizoaffective disorder, but also with not being able to receive proper medical care because he is a felon. Despite the challenges this poses for Patrisse and her family, they are committed to helping him heal.
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Patrisse and Cherice decide there is no other choice and call the police, explaining Monte’s history to law enforcement. When two rookie officers arrive, Patrisse makes them agree not to be violent (after they casually say they will tase him if needed). When Monte sees the officers, he drops to his knees and cries, “Please don’t take me back.” Patrisse tells the police to leave and holds Monte on the floor as he cries, telling him she’s sorry. Bernard then takes Monte for a walk, but he destroys items in the supermarket and movie theater, finally agreeing to go to the hospital, where he stabilizes over the course of three weeks. Patrisse now sees Cherice as the reason they got through that time—her family disavowed her, but Cherice refused to disavow anyone in hers. She held the family together.
Monte’s reaction to seeing police officers indicates that he was traumatized at the hands of police and prison employees, highlighting how those institutions do not protect him as a disabled Black man but harass and control him. (That Patrisse and Cherice also only call the police when they have no other option shows how frightened they are that the police will only make things worse.) Patrisse’s reflections on how Cherice refused to disavow anyone show how important healing as a family is to both of them—they refuse to  abandon their loved ones, no matter how hard things get.
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