I Fought the Law, and the Law Won
I remember that day all too well. I had a stark feeling of anguish, hopelessness, and rage; another Black man dead, and yet another police officer acquitted of all charges. “What could I do?” I thought. On November 26th, 2014, I took to the streets of Downtown Los Angeles to march in solidarity with many others who were fed up with the growing number of policemen found innocent for killing Black and Latino individuals. What started as a small rally outside the Los Angeles Federal Building turned into a massive crowd gathering. A walks of life paraded down the streets chanting, “No justice, no peace!” and “Hands up, don’t shoot!” while carrying “Black Lives Matter” signs. It was a riveting feeling to see others rally together to magnify our cries for equality, and I formed short-lived bonds with a handful of those who marched alongside me. We flooded the streets and walked for miles as I held a sign which said, “JAIL KILLER COPS.” My voice became hoarse from screaming at the top of my lungs; I felt like I served as the voice of Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, and all the victims who had lost their lives at the hands of an unjust policing system.
As the sun fell from view, and the wash of orange-purple dawn swept across the sky, the crowd gained momentum. Los Angeles Police Department lined down the streets of the crowd, ready to take action at a moment’s notice. The tension amongst both parties rose, and as time went on the crowd started running from each corner that LAPD. This broke the group of into smaller sections, and eventually, law enforcement backed a small group of us into the corner of 6th and Hope, right next to the Downtown Library. Within the next two hours, Los Angeles Police Department Mirandized the crowd over a bullhorn with the charge of “failure to disperse”, placed me in plastic handcuffs, and hauled me and over 100 other female protesters off to the Van Nuys Police Station. That night, I was arrested, booked, and jailed for utilizing my First Amendment right.
That next afternoon, Thanksgiving Day to be exact, I was released on Own Recognizance (released on the agreement to appear in court) and my roommate came to pick me up.
I stepped in the car and he shook his head in amusement. “I would’ve never thought I’d see the day. Fuckin’ Olivia, walking out of jail.” We both laughed at how absurd the situation was, but he regarded me with an air of reverence. I did, in fact, feel empowered proudly sauntering out of jail, knowing I went down fighting for something in which I believed. I walked into the house and my other housemates gathered around me for a debriefing of the events that took place the previous day.
“So, now that you’ve gone through this, and you’re back,” one of them questioned, rubbing her finger across her chin, “did anything change?”
I thought about it for a moment. “Well,” I paused. Deep within me, I felt the euphoria of pride take a quick nosedive. I was almost ashamed to admit the answer I knew I had in my heart. “Not really.” I said.
“Exactly,” she replied. “You wanted to fight for what was right, and that’s okay. You had your experience. Girl, we’ve all been through this. We’ve been there.” She pointed at the other roommates. “Protesting didn’t change anything we wanted to fix in our communities. And that’s just something we had to learn the hard way.”
A Sinking Ship
Flash-forward to July 7, 2016 as I watched the events in Dallas unfold. I shook my head in disbelief as my hometown, once again, became a massive crime scene for all of America to see. I cycled through a number of different feelings; disappointment, devastation, and honestly, a bit of ‘I told you so, America.’ “How could anyone not imagine it would’ve come to this?” I pondered. Needless to say, these events struck me in a crucial way. Not only did I watch my city, and my possibly family members and friends, in a state of pandemonium, but when the alleged (emphasis on alleged) shooter was revealed, I saw the face of Micah Johnson– a guy I remembered as sweet, chipper boy who sat across from me in my high school math class. Even though I was miles away, I couldn’t help but feel a connection. I thought back to that November night in Los Angeles, how I was carried away like a criminal for exercising my right to protest. If I wasn’t at my rope’s end before, these events certainly made me question why we (specifically Black people) still stand by this idea that protesting will influence the mind of the oppressor. When protesting for equal rights, are we producing a fruitful change or fighting with futile odds? If you ask me, we keep scooping water out of a sinking ship when, if we knew what was best for us at this point, we would be learning how to swim. Although our efforts have brought light to the atrocity of police brutality and created a sense of oneness and Black pride, protesting for Black rights in modern-day America has a diluted potency when it comes to the manifestation of real change.
“Like, what can we do? ‘Cause I’m tired of this,” This was the repetitive Facebook status I saw from many people throughout my timeline, and I understood their frustrations. Everyone asked a very valid question, yet I saw no one provide any suggestion as to how we could “fix it.” This was where my own frustrations with my peers kicked in, but I recently attended an open forum at my school which gave me a new perspective on the war against Black people in America.
“I’m trying to create this annual event that supports Black-owned businesses and helps unify the Black community,” I sighed, “but I get so weary. Many of my peers ask about a solution, yet they don’t try to create one or don’t support the people who are trying to organize. I feel like it’s not that much of a priority to them as they think it is.” Never the best to articulate my innermost emotions through speech, my thoughts were scattered as I voiced my despair to the group. “I want to talk to the elders. I want their perspective and wisdom on how they organized back in the day,” I said, precise with my request.
I received a few pointers from the older people who were in the room which helped to a degree, but one lady, in her mid 50’s, gave me a new perspective to consider. “People ask all the time what the solution is. I don’t even know. We fought the same battle back in my day and are still fighting. So don’t feel bad or feel like we “solved it” back in the 50’s and 60’s and are now dealing with a new problem. We never found the solutions back then. The problem was never solved.” For a statement so simple, yet so blatantly, in-your-face, factual, I was surprised that I never thought about it in that way.
But who says I can’t have vision? In my perfect Utopia, everyone (Blacks and those who support the elevation of the oppressed) would pour their regular spending into Black-owned businesses: grocery stores, restaurants, make-up and hair care lines, clothing lines, and much more. We’ll understand that America communicates through financial means, and when we take not only the Black dollar, but the majority of spending no matter what racial group, out of the pockets of the big corporations that support the economy, that is when the government will fidget. Secondly, we (the Black/African diaspora) would make it imperative to educate our children about the in’s an out’s of money management– the information that is deliberately unadvertised from the masses and poor communities. We would teach them how to build their own businesses or nurture the ones that we’ve created and passed down. Black children would know that they descend from kings and queens all over Africa and we would raise Black men to value and honor Black women. We would teach young Black girls that even though their voluminous, coily hair, full lips, brown skin, and curvaceous physiques are the beauty standards, they are not to be objectified and sexualized because of these features. We would help them realize their ability to build (or destroy, if need be and for whatever reason) a whole kingdom simply with the power of their minds. Most importantly, I would gather the most prominent Black Psychologists and doctors to develop a mandatory, multi-step therapy course for Black/African people which attacks the unconscious self-hatred slavery and colonialism set in place hundreds of years ago.
Even as I let my imagination get the best of me, at some point, the reality of “now” set in. I scoured the internet looking for statistics to support my ideas to the “solutions” of our problems. I returned to this piece many times, in fear that I lacked supporting evidence to solidify my stance on what it may take to win this war. The more I did this, the more I was humbled by the fact that my “solutions”, even with empirical evidence, may or may not work. And I had to make peace with that risk. What I couldn’t let it do, though, was stop me from trying. Although we may not be “there” yet, we have the power to create a better reality for ourselves and for our communities if, and only if, we are willing to learn the game and accept that the system in which our country operates was never set up to benefit us (specifically speaking, Black people) in the first place. We can achieve our peace if, and only if, we unify and strategize a stealthy, grassroots plan of action and remain fully committed to it.
As my good friend Eugene Reid said, “This ain’t your momma’ and ‘nem Civil Rights movement.” The game– and the government’s ability to silence our demands for justice– has evolved. We’ve vented, we’ve cried, we’ve blocked the streets, and we’ve even torn our own cities down, yet, here we are– decades and many shootings later, still crying the same plea. Each time I grieve another senseless death, I am convinced that our protests and hashtags do not matter to racism white supremacy. Furthermore, signing petitions or boycotting Target and Starbucks for one measly month will only put a small dent in a monstrous machine. These things do not matter in the eyes of a system whose aim is to keep the masses oppressed, underprivileged, and unaware of their power. As for my stance on the recent string of police murders, that’s not the answer, either. The heightened anxiety this creates for a trigger-happy police officer with a deeply ingrained fear of racial annihilation (which is the root of racism) gives him/her that much more of a reason to open fire. In turn, if more killings were to happen as a result of this, it then begets more anxiety for the group of individuals who feel as though they are the target. Racism and fear-based aggression are firmly interwoven in the American tapestry, and sadly, I’ll probably never see the day when these two things are erased. But I get it; protesting is a necessary emotional release for some, and the therapist within me is all for that idea, but when it comes to producing a fruitful change in our justice system, it’s time to upraise our strategies. I am hopeful, though, that generations from now, when the elevation of the oppressed far surpasses the tyranny of systematic institutionalization, our successors will look to us as the group who set that shift in motion. Our acts of protest can and should only serve as a spark for the massive inferno that is sure to come.
Photo courtesy of www.ocaatlanta.com