Freedom of Speech (as long as it’s nothing provocative)

And other human rights denials in the heart of empire
by Vanessa W. Lynch – Zorlu | @drvonskillet

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Yesterday over 60 people turned out to Holyoke District Court to stand in solidarity with me as I went to face the judge for a ‘disorderly conduct’ charge that was placed on me on November 30 (Barbados Independence Day) while protesting in the days following the non indictment of Darren Wilson. Comrades who had been marching with me raised the $240.00 bail (set by an African woman, a hike up from the usual $40.00 due to my, “record”) and a court date was set for January 23rd.

Crisp, bright and early at 8:00am I arrived at the court house to find several of my comrades from the Western MA Branch of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) and a few from the Western MA Coalition for Palestine (WMCP) waiting outside with signs. Next came a few local organizers, students from UMASS, and the comrades from the Decolonize Media Collective (DMC) and OutNow. As the morning went on, the crowd continued to grow.

The court generally starts calling people in around 9:00am. By 8:15, my lawyer, Attorney Luke Ryan, told me that the prosecution did in fact have a deal on the table. The deal was to drop the criminal charges and have me pay a fine of $150.00 or the equivalent in community service.
I went into the courthouse with my Attorney to discuss what their deal was, and entered the courtroom to see a mob of police officers. At least six officers were waiting at the inside of the door. As we went upstairs to a conference room to talk, several more officers and court security stood upstairs and a few ushered us into the conference room to talk.

I have never in my life been addressed with such respect and seen such speedy movements by police or anyone in the court/judicial system. Attorney Ryan pulled out a pen and the paper and explained my options to me.

I told him before I made a decision I wanted to check in with the crew outside.
I came out and with the People’s Mic, explained what the options were. When I asked for a response, sister Gabby started up the chant, “You can’t stop the revolution!”  This  was answer enough.

I told my attorney that we would not be accepting the deal.

He came out minutes later and said that the Prosecution was still moving to decriminalize the charge and that we would have our chance to go in front of a judge. As protesters slowly filed through security, several officers again ushered me quickly into the courtroom and closed in behind me. I saw that there were a few others in the courtroom, but none of the comrades. I went out into the hallway quickly and told folks they should come into the courtroom.
About six people made it in. Moments later the judge was in, about three names were called quickly and moved to second call, and my name was called.

Hardly before I had a chance to blink my charge had been moved to a civil infraction with the chance to have a closed hearing on March 11th and we were finished.
As we walked out of the courtroom people were still chanting outside and coming in through security.

We maintained the action for about 30 minutes, chanting for Aiyana and Antonio and Mike and Trayvon and Rekia, having 4 1/2 minutes of silence and continuing to chant, watched all the while by the local, state and security personnel from inside the windows of the courthouse.

I guess what I want to highlight is the fact that when we came with numbers things happened and they happened quickly. When we are united and move together, we can in fact make things happen and that is the power of the people.
The power in non-violent action, what Dr. King, Gandhi, Ella Baker and others were doing was actually exposing the terrorism of this corrupt system. This system operates off of fear and silence. The police were all too happy to shout us down and threaten to arrest others on the night of my arrest, they gladly mocked the chants and encouraged me to spend my time in other ways, but when they were faced with a large number of people they were surprisingly silent.
*Dr. King and those who marched with him knew they held the moral high ground and so when he and civil rights leaders, organizers, students, youth, family and church people sat in at lunch counters and boycotted buses, the mass response of violence and jailing was horrifying for people to see. While these people engaged in simple acts of humanity they were persecuted, beaten, thrown in jail, degraded and often killed. It clearly showed for folks who had been conditioned into indifference the gaping inequalities and provided each person at that time with a choice. It took away the argument of, “this does not affect me” because every person who saw what was happening was actively choosing a side. Either they chose to stand in solidarity with those who had been oppressed or they chose the side of the oppressor; either way it took away the myth of indifference.

They – police officers, state troopers, security personnel, the prosecution, the judge, the court clerk wanted everything finished with as quickly as possible, because this fiasco doesn’t make them look good and they just want it to be over with.

Well.
I just want systemic racism to be over with. I just want to wake up for one day and not have to wonder which one of my family members might go to jail or get killed. I want to wake up and simply exhale, not having to hold my breath wondering if the police are going to stop us or search me or imagine what kind of terror tactics they might employ. I just want all 2.8 million of the people in jail to be released. I just want an unbiased health care system. I just want to be respected as a human being and not have to battle and fight and prove my worth to have some of my most basic necessities met. When these conditions change, I’ll stop marching.

How is it that with over 50 people and some media coverage the prosecution had offered me a deal before the court was even officially opened, but it took months of protesters doing non-stop actions to just have Darren Wilson potentially, maybe, be brought in for an indictment?
We must continue to expose this system for what it is.
I want to again sincerely thank all the comrades who organized, came out, made banners, drove, chanted, and woke up early to come out for court support. Yesterday someone asked me if I was nervous, but how could I be nervous with such a beautiful, powerful team by my side?

In Holyoke, city officials laughed when business owner Jose Bou, the mayor and others held a protest to speak to the danger in the decaying businesses on High Street until about a month ago when the upper half of the building collapsed down into itself leaving several people without homes and several black and brown business owners without a means of income.

In the city of Holyoke it is more important to spend money on court proceedings for people who were peacefully marching, than on decaying buildings where black and brown people reside. Although there are more Puerto Rican people in one space anywhere in the US outside of Puerto Rico in Holyoke, the city would rather rally around banning public art that names Puerto Rican people than create trust in the community. In the city of Holyoke, police officers will rally around, “all lives matter” and actively work to discredit and unseat Holyoke city council members who take part in a black lives matter march, rather than to stand in solidarity with the vows they have taken that swear to serve and protect the people, yes, the black and brown people, in the jurisdiction where they live.
To date, I have been arrested about four times. To date, Darren Wilson, Daniel Pantaleo and all of the other officers who have openly, sometimes on video, sometimes with as many as 17 rounds, killed young black and brown men and women, have been arrested zero times.

In a ‘democratic’ country, I have spent more time behind bars for demanding that my life and the lives of my black sisters and brothers not be ripped away from us as we walk down the street than men who have shot and murdered unarmed black children. The people who are in charge of deciding whether or not these killers spend time behind bars are their friends and colleagues, and recently, in addition to their freedom and the ability to still carry armed weapons and shoot with impunity, these killers have also been receiving large financial rewards.
Black Lives Matter is a movement that speaks to all elements of this colonial process and, in my opinion, seeks to transform and dismantle all the layers of oppression that allow such a process to continue.
We will continue to make the connections between Capitalism and Racism/White Supremacy, the twin factors that built America and paved the way for American Imperialism to boldly declare supremacy and jurisdiction of world policing over the Caribbean and South and Latin America, Africa, Asia and all third world peoples.
We will continue on until our people are free.

Pa’lante.
V

*For the record, I am not in anyway saying that non-violence is the answer, but at this stage during many of our actions, non-violent civil disobedience is a tool that we employ, occasionally with success, and I just want to share for me personally why I think at this stage it is an effective tool that we utilize

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