Kourtney Mitchell is a writer and activist currently living in northeast Georgia, United States. He sits on the steering committee for Deep Green Resistance and the national board of directors for Veterans for Peace. Co-author of The Enemy in Blue: The Renatta Frazier Story, he has been involved in social justice activism for eight years. Kourtney is currently AWOL from the Georgia Army National Guard. – Vincent Emanuele
Vincent Emanuele: Let’s talk a little bit about your background. I know you were born in Illinois and now live in Georgia. What was your childhood like? Was your family politically active?
Kourtney Mitchell: Yes, I was born and spent the first part of my childhood on Chicago’s west side, right in the heart of the inner city. I remember huge gang fights and gun shots carrying on while I was trying to sleep as a kid, and always worrying about getting into fights with neighborhood kids while playing outside with my family. In Chicago, I lived in a three story home where each floor was like its own apartment. I lived with not just my parents and siblings, but also cousins, aunts, uncles, their spouses and my great grandmother, who to this day continues to keep the family together as the virtual matriarch. This is why my family always has and forever will have strong family bonds. Loyalty is natural for us.
We would cross the street to get Chicago-style polish sausages and Italian beef sandwiches, and fries smothered in mild sauce. This was back in the day of corner stores—real corner stores that weren’t attached to gas stations and pharmacies. Up the street the other way was a city park with a basketball court and jungle gym. Even though there was a lot of gang violence in my neighborhood, my family was well-established in the community and for the most part we got along just fine.
In Chicago, we were bussed out of the inner city to a magnet school instead of attending the schools closer to home. Of course I realized the problems with this, but I loved that school as a kid. I can still remember some of my friends, including the sweet little girl who wanted to be my girlfriend after I roughed up a bully who hit her during recess.
As a matter of fact, my grandfather is a former Black Panther in the Chicago chapter. That’s the only thing I know of the political activity of my family. We’ve visited him several times while I was a kid. However, he’s currently in prison in Illinois for charges dating back to his time with the Panthers.
When my mom moved us to Springfield, IL to finish her undergraduate degree, it was a different world. There in the state capitol, we attended mostly white schools where we surprisingly got along just fine and made a whole lot of friends. Schools with enough computers and television screens in the classroom, and decent textbooks. It was in those schools that I was able to write a full romance novel manuscript started when I was ten years old, almost get it published, and appear on Black Entertainment Television for an interview about it. Our middle and high schools were a bit more integrated, and those were the most formative years of my life.
It was in high school that my mother joined the Springfield, IL police department and experienced a lot of racism and sexism, for which she filed a civil suit against the city and settled out-of-court. That whole fiasco was extremely traumatic for my family—we had to move out of the state, and then back to Illinois within a single year. Constant media coverage and negative publicity for my mother and family until it was all settled. Continued harassment from the police department, including an eviction where cops threw all of our belongings out onto the street on my brother and I’s birthday. But we made the most of it. My mother and I wrote and self-published a creative nonfiction book about her experiences.
Vincent Emanuele: The last time we spoke, you were AWOL from the U.S. Army. I remember wanting to escape my unit, but being reluctant because I didn’t have politicized friends or comrades in the military or outside the military. Why did you join the military? And what’s your current status?
Kourtney Mitchell: Technically my status is still AWOL, though I’m working closely with my unit leadership to get the discharge once and for all. The unit was very good to me actually, so I believe them when they say they won’t pursue legal recourse. Answering why I joined the military is tricky. I want to admit right away that I knew better, but… I never should have enlisted.
Okay, so I had returned to Georgia from living and going to school in Missouri, which I still to this day view as a mistake because I had a great community in Missouri and it was hard leaving them. I didn’t like living at home, and I was having a very hard time finding decent work. My family urged me to enlist, so originally I was going to enlist with the Marines, even signed the contract and received a ship date for boot camp. But then I backed out, and went with the National Guard instead. The 68W MOS (combat medic) had a ship date that was too far in the future for my liking, so I decided to join as infantry so I could ship-off ASAP. That was an even bigger mistake than enlisting. Basically, I did it so I could get out on my own again and develop some job skills that may lead to career opportunities. I attended OSUT infantry training at Fort Benning, where WHINSEC (formerly the School of the Americas) trains death squads to squash the resistance in South America.
Vincent Emanuele: Let’s backtrack. At what point did you become radicalized? And who were some of your initial influences?
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