The following post is from the Praxis Center. It was written by Dara Cooper.
By: Dara Cooper
As a food and environmental justice activist, like many of my comrades, I embrace a global, macro analysis and vision for why we’re fighting. Rooted in the realities of injustice, particularly among communities of color, we understand the quality of our food, air, schools, water, and our overall lives intersect. We understand that white supremacy and capitalism feed on the destruction of our lives and much of our work is centered on creating an alternative future where our children’s children can thrive. We envision collectives, earth justice, sustainable agriculture, sustainable homes, honoring of indigenous values, healthy bodies, healthy relationships, self-determination, pride, educated minds, and so much more. Yet, in the here and now, we see police brutality. We see destruction. We see exploitation. So we work hard, dream, build for a better future, and in the meantime, we fight back.
It is our duty to fight for freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.
– Assata Shakur
Rams Game Protest
Just one week after I discovered that my baby brother was assaulted by police in Canton, Ohio, I am marching alongside hundreds of youth in Ferguson, Missouri. We are participating in “Ferguson October,” a call to activists around the country to stand up against police brutality in response to the death of Mike Brown, who was callously murdered by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. As I march, I think about how my baby brother feared for his life when one of the officers who assaulted him threatened to “take him to the woods and make him disappear.” He was right to be afraid because we have experienced too many deaths at the hands of police.
Because of my brother, police brutality is very personal and emotional for me. I know I’m not alone. Every person I speak with in Ferguson shares a vivid account of police harassment, assault, or even murder. I can sense the emotions around Mike Brown’s murder are still raw—66 days later. The egregious assault and elimination of Black lives is so outrageous to us all. The careless justification for the assault on Black life is even more egregious, compelling thousands to march into the night.
The Sunday after I arrive, I attend a direct action training. I don’t actually know what specific actions are planned for the next day; my participation is based in my trust and faith in the organizers. But the historical context of this training is what grounds this for me. “The U.S. was the first to use the government to codify the concept of whiteness via the law,” the facilitator explains, “it is our duty to resist. It’s natural to do what you are told by the police. It’s how we are conditioned and taught to live.” We take part in a series of activities to unlearn compliance with the law and authority as we prepare for tomorrow’s actions. We also learn our rights as the possible ramification for our actions are spelled out to us.
After the training, I help my friend with their Hiphop 4 Justice show featuring Talib Kweli, Dead Prez, Jasiri X, Rebel Diaz, local artists such as Tef Poe, and so many more. Actor Jesse Williams and activist Cornell West join the concert to show their support for the local protestors. During the concert, artists and activists talk about the on-the-ground work that has been happening in Ferguson, largely led by Black youth. One of the artists, Tef Poe, says to the crowd of hundreds, “sometimes you got to get off the porch ‘cause not getting off the porch is killing us.” The youth call us to action and ask us to remain on the front lines with them.
That night, I take their call to heart. I attend a memorial in the Shaw area for VonDerrit Myers, Jr., another teen recently murdered by police near St. Louis, and hear his parents speak about him around 9pm. A crowd of about forty turns into a crowd of hundreds. We gather around the parents and listen intently as VonDerrit’s father says what every parent of every Black child murdered has to say: “my son was not a monster. He was love.” He goes on to say “they already took his life and now they’re trying to destroy his character…. March, protest, whatever. Whatever you want to do, I support.”
So we march.
Father of VonDerrit Myers Jr.
“They Think It’s a Game”
The organizers, all Black youth, gently support the parents and firmly command the crowd. Some of them are wrapped in protective covering—a reaction to too many nights being gassed by police. Others wear bandanas. Many of us carry vinegar soaked bandanas, anticipating gas administered by hostile police. I don’t know these young people, but for some reason, I trust them. The command they hold over the crowd helps. They divide the crowd of hundreds into two equal sections. One crowd is to go one route, and the other crowd another. These young people are organized. My route is about 40 minutes of walking and chanting. Our youth leaders are clear about the laws as they make sure we stay out of the streets and stay “orderly.” We are led into a busy area of restaurants and bars called “Tower Grove” where we shut down the streets to play games.
I don’t understand the significance of the games until the organizers explain. “They think it’s a game, they think it’s a joke!” is a popular chant that young people use to expose the state for not taking Black lives seriously enough. “If they think our lives are so much of a joke or a game,” one organizer says, ”we’re going to shut down this area playing real games and see how ridiculous the police look trying to tear gas and arrest innocent people playing games.”
I receive calls and texts from all over asking what is happening on that intersection as the #theythinkitsagame hashtag explodes on Twitter. We play double Dutch, soccer, cards, chalk, Twister and more as we shut down the intersection. Passersby join us and the crowd chants over and over: “They think it’s a joke, they think it’s a game!” and “You can’t stop the revolution!” After a half hour of demonstration games, the protestors realize the police have shut down the streets around us and are not going to interfere. We are notified that the other group of protesters is in a standoff with a police blockade and we make our way toward them. A couple of blocks from St Louis University, the two protest groups combine.
By now, the protest has grown to over a thousand people, all of us marching onto St. Louis University with VonDerrit Myers’ parents at the front. What a powerful moment. Members of one of the leading organizations, Tribe X, speak about the intent for the evening, which is to remember Mike Brown, fight against police brutality and white supremacy, and seek justice. They then ask the crowd to take part in four minutes of silence, our collective fists raised high, for every hour Mike Brown’s body was left in the street, neglected, after being murdered. The energy is intense.
For hours into the night, protestors chant, “We’re young, we’re strong, we’re marching all night long.” I leave at 3:00 a.m. with others in my group. Some protestors remain the entire night, and the march becomes a weeklong sit-in at St. Louis University.
The next day, inspired by Moral Mondays, clergy from all over gather with Cornel West and other activists to take part in civil disobedience. We all stand and chant in the pouring rain as Dr. West and 48 other protestors in total are arrested in the Moral Monday march and subsequent actions.
Elsewhere, Black youth lead actions all over St. Louis to make sure no one forgets that Mike Brown is dead while Darren Wilson remains free. City Hall, a local politician’s fundraising dinner, and three Wal-Mart stores, among other places, are effectively shut down or disrupted in back to back actions throughout the city.
I attend the City Hall action and one of the last actions at a Rams game where we protest outside while protestors inside chant about Mike Brown and roll out a “Black Lives Matter on and off the field” banner during the game. Angry fans shout at us, some join us, but many are disturbingly nonchalant. At the Rams game, I learn that my comrade, the only Black legal observer, was arrested at the Walmart actions happening simultaneously with the game protests. These specific Walmart actions were planned in solidarity with John Crawford who was murdered by police at a Walmart in Ohio because he was carrying a toy gun that he had picked up in the store. At these actions, nine protestors, including my friend, are arrested. Eight are freed early Tuesday morning where I am able to greet them with about sixty more protestors at the precinct with cheers right before my flight home.
I had barely five hours of sleep the entire weekend, yet I wouldn’t trade this entire experience for anything.
With so much happening with my own family and trauma, I question why I am driven to participate in these protests in Ferguson as opposed to going to Canton, Ohio to shut down their police department. I struggle with this question, but what I do know is that the Canton police who assaulted by brother are not unique. Canton police are like Ferguson police who murdered Mike Brown, or Chicago off-duty police who murdered Rekia Boyd, or Shaw off-duty police who murdered VonDerrit Myers Jr.; all serving as an assault on our communities, not the protection they purport to provide. According to the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, every twenty-eight hours a black person is murdered by the police, a security guard, or a vigilante in the U.S.
So I march for my brother. For Rekia Boyd. For Assata Shakur. For Mike Brown. For Eric Garner. And for too many more who have been arrested, assaulted, disappeared, harassed, and murdered.
I resist and fight back because I know that it takes us being organized and working collectively to make a difference. We can’t do this individually or single handedly. Ferguson is where the collective action is—unlike anywhere else I’ve seen. As someone who believes in revolutionary change, the movement work happening in Ferguson is the closest thing I have seen in my lifetime to revolutionary promise.
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