Img. by Edull Ardo | by ShaeShae Justicia QuEST-Cintron
We know that police brutality is not a new situation. The police were created as a racist system and they haven’t changed. They abuse the power given to them, directing this abuse at people of color, especially towards black people. In the last few years police brutality has become more public due to technology and social media. We saw how fast news travels on August 9th, 2014, when 18 year old Michael Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson, where his body was left in the streets for four and a half hours for all of the world to see. The outcry was almost instantaneous. Reactions were worldwide, from riots in Ferguson, to solidarity protest in New York, London, and Springfield, MA.
I remember feeling this black rage. This anger for my people that I had been awaken by the pain, sorrow, and fear that we were all feeling. I had to go home and spend some time with my younger brother because all I could imagine was him in Mike Brown’s shoes. I imagined having to say goodbye to him because someone deemed my teddy bear of a brother, to be a monster. In that moment, I knew enough was enough. The case became a constant and sometimes emotionally draining conversation at Out Now, someone coming with new information every time we were together. So, on November 24th, 2014 we were all more than ready to hear the verdict. We marched in Springfield before the verdict was delivered, then local students, community members, and activist all join at the Out Now office gathered around a laptop and a set of speakers waiting to hear the news. I wasn’t surprised when they announced that there would be no indictment, but it still shook me to the core to know how much this country really didn’t care about us. We took the streets, marching till 2:30 in the morning. We marched through Springfield, Holyoke, and Westfield screaming out our pain and frustration but also our unity and power. We would not be silent. Actions continued to happen until the winter made it too hard for people to travel and gather together. BLM413, Springfield’s local Black Lives Matter chapter, started using google hangout so we could continue planning through the winter months, we refused to let this movement die.
During the winter we were invited to speak on panels about how Out Now and Black Lives Matter intersect and the effects that racism has on queer youth of color. Out Now was also invited to perform a Theater of the Oppressed workshop on micro-aggressions during Hampshire college’s annual ASK (Attitudes, Skills, Knowledge) for Social Justice Conference. During this week long conference we had the pleasure of being invited to a panel lead by the Co-Founders of Black Lives Matter: Opal Tometi, Patrisse Cullors, and Alicia Garza and to attend dinner with them after. It was an amazing experience, meeting these beautiful Black Women, two of which were queer like me. It made me feel like there really is space in the world for me. After the dinner Tianna and I were invited to meet with the co-founders and other local BLM members at their hotel. That same night we got to meet Angela Davis, former Black Panther and Francia Marquez Minas, an Afro-Colombian Activist who has really shown a light on the global struggle for black life. It was generations of Black women activists gathering around a table and sharing our stories. Hearing Angela Davis say how proud of us she was continues to inspire me.
Calls for solidarity actions went out constantly but one in particular came from Cornel West and Carl Dix to stand up against police brutality. Carl Dix writes “On April 14, people in cities across the country will take to the streets to disrupt business as usual because business as usual in this country includes police getting away with murdering Black and Latino people. What will you do on this day?” BLM413 decided we were going to take the streets in an act of civil disobedience and risk arrest. The details of the action were kept between a core group of individuals in order to keep the information from being leaked. We held a civil disobedience training the Sunday before the action and informed all participants to meet at Out Now on April 14th at 1 O’clock and they would be transported to the location. To say I was nervous was an understatement. This was my first time getting arrested and at a time when relationships between the community and police were extremely strained. Even with all the fear I still went and locked arms with my fellow comrades and blocked the X, one of Springfield’s busiest intersections. People gathered all around some even walked out of the hair salon with their hair half done, pinned up in clips just to come outside to throw their fists up with us, what a beautiful sight to see. As difficult as it was to get arrested and sitting in a cell for hours on end our point was made and our message got out. We would not be silent. Since the arrest I’ve received a lot of negativity but that was not the case for many of the members in the group, many of them received a lot of support from family and friends; people even reaching out to figure out how to be a part of the movement. It was the outcome we were looking for.
BLM is an amazing organization that has inspired so many people and has helped many people find their voice and power. It also showed me how much work is left to do. Not just with the institutions that oppress us but within ourselves and our own communities. We needed to heal, heal the centuries of trauma stacked on our shoulders. It was evident that we were trying to forge on without acknowledging our own individual pasts and how they can affect us, but you can’t do that in this kind of work. We started to divide. Some people were taking control causing some to feel disconnected. Everyone thought they were doing what was best trying to keep the ball rolling. We lacked communication and because of that intentions were misheard and ideas were left unsaid. A whole generation of people were waking up and realizing that this country really didn’t care about black lives, didn’t care about our lives. People started to realize how fragile and valuable they were. Tensions were high and people started to lash out and we started to do some real damage to ourselves and each other.
But how could we heal? How could we find the time to stop and breathe when every five seconds someone was being gunned down and we were able to have every gory detail of it at our fingertips? When every five seconds meant everything to us because we weren’t sure we would have another? When every five seconds we were constantly being branded by the color of our skin? How do we heal when a white man can gun down nine black people in a church and the whole country starts masking white supremacy as a mental illness and another can say “Fuck your breathe!” as a black man lay dying and were still told it’s not racism? It’s July now and I still don’t have the answers but what I do know is we have to start somewhere. Maybe it starts with breaking bread together and maybe it grows into real intentional conversations with ourselves and each other but we have to start. I say this knowing this is an immense amount of work that will go on for generations but I can only hope that I have the strength to do the work and that we can find multiple ways to heal and love and grow. Black lives are love and light and fire and as hard as it is to walk through this world I’m glad this is my generation’s struggle and that I have the pleasure and honor to walk this road with comrades, lovers, and friends who will hold me through this. #BlackLivesMatter is more than just a hashtag and we will not be silent.