Category Archives: Police Militarization

The Black Square Stays Because I Am Not Okay

My dear white folks who are uncomfortable because I have not changed my user pic to that of a rainbow flag over the last week:

I didn’t change my user pic because I am not over the deaths of the 9 Black people killed in Charleston. I am not over the churches that were burned while I was growing up. I am not over the churches burning now. I need you to know, I am not okay right now, and Black people do not have to be okay either.

I’m not over Rekia Boyd. I’m not over Michael Brown. I’m not over Vonderrit Myers. I’m not over Aiyanna Jones. I’m not over Jack Jacquez, Jr. I’m not over Tanesha Anderson. I’m not over Jessie Hernandez. I am not over Islan Nettles. I am not over Eric Garner. I am not over Tamir Rice. Or Ty Underwood. Or Michelle Vash Payne. Or Yvette Smith.

I am so glad that gay and queer folks can get married, but it’s still legal to discriminate against gay and queer folks in many areas, including in employment, business and healthcare. Trans women, especially trans women of color still die more than anyone else. The Confederate flag coming down doesn’t mean racism goes away, but it does make it harder to see. Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it goes away.

I am happy for the progress we have made but I am not over the deaths of so many people in so little time. It is not okay to expect people to just get over a massacre that took place at a monument just two weeks ago. If you don’t know that 8 churches have burned in the last two weeks, you should know.

You can’t just sing some songs and have this go away. You can’t quickly absolve yourself of the ways you have benefited from White Supremacy. You can’t do this work quickly, and you should not try to do it quickly.

So I’m not posting the LGBT rainbow flag. I’m not posting the Trans flag. I’m not posting the gender queer flag (even though it is my favorite of the flags). I am keeping this little black square where my face goes to remind you that many people are in mourning right now. If it is uncomfortable for you to be reminded, imagine how uncomfortable it is for the families of those who have died.

‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ ‪#‎BlackTransLivesMatter‬ ‪#‎BlackQueerLivesMatter‬ ‪#‎BlackGayLivesMatter‬

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Rejecting Respectability

By all outward appearances, I am a nice white lady. This gives me a lot of privilege, but it also means people make a lot of assumptions based on my appearance and demeanor.

Recently, I went to Mayor Hancock’s Cabinet in the Community here in Denver. I didn’t really want to go, but I have committed to getting out as much as possible to meetings and events so that I can livetweet the events and keep people updated. I’ve gotten a lot of comments that people like the livetweets, so I try to do them often.

In the first 5 minutes after I arrived, 2 police officers and one city official came up to me and said “I want to know how much I appreciate the way Coloradans for Justice does things.”

This is amusing, because if you’ve been watching, Coloradans for Justice is primarily an activist calendar service. We will organize events if it is needed, but there are so many groups in Denver organizing that it currently is NOT needed. We’re all about doing the work that needs to be done. We are also a really tiny group that does not hold meetings.

When I started organizing, shortly after connecting with @kennyswiley and @eliasheibert on Twitter back in August, none of us knew what we were doing. We didn’t know how to organize a vigil, a rally, a march. We hadn’t taking any organizing classes. Our main experience was that I have BEEN to a lot of marches and protest activities. We called around and no one would call us back. So we made some mistakes and we tried to build off of them and not make them again. I think we did a good job.

A friend of mine pointed out that the Denver police had run through all their informants and probably see me as a likely informant about activist activities. I get why.

Why does the city like the way we do things?

Because we met with the cops. We got permits. We asked permission.

This is why they like us. Because we played by the rules of respectability and this gets you things like handshakes and meetings with public officials.

There is a time and place for permits. If you are planning to hold a rally several weeks in advance for an annual event, you should get a permit. If you are responding to recent events, there may not be time to get a permit. You may not have time to meet with city officials. It is still vital to hold your event. It is still important that there is some level of organization and communication happening to ensure the safety of people attending your action. Having connections with other groups can help with this.

There are also times when you are just NOT going to get permission to exercise your right to free speech. When you have to realize that the requirement to get permission is an insult. That you don’t have to get permission for many activist activities.

I want to be clear that I am in solidarity with the protesters at Saturday’s #DefendDenver March Against Police Terror. I had intended to march and even went to the park, but I was really sick that day and my fellow activists encouraged me to rest. The media and police in Denver were quick to focus on red paint being thrown on a memorial for fallen police officers. They were quick to arrest a friend of the Hernandez family for overdue tickets on the day of the protest so they could claim another arrest that day.

Whenever there is a police involved death in our community, the police are quick to utilize the media to slander the name of the victim. To paint the dead person as a “thug,” to show how they deserved to die. And we, as activists, play our role. We argue for the worth of the value of the life of the dead person. We try to convince the community, the media, the country, that person’s life mattered. It is exhausting, and I hate doing it, but it must be done.

Paint that can be washed off of a statue does far less damage than the actions police take to destroy the worth of a victim’s life. So many people are so insulted by some red paint that was quickly removed… but did you think about how it feels to families who are victims of police violence to hear over and over that their loved one deserved to die?

You’re not going to catch me yelling “fuck the police” because it’s just not my style. I am generally analyzing what is happening, looking around for safety, watching people in the crowd, and looking out for my fellow activists. I’m not going to be yelling “fuck the police” but you can be sure, in my head, I am figuring out ways to subvert your system.

I am not a nice white lady. I am a radical, gender non-conforming activist. You should not let my outward appearance allow you to assume I will be your mouthpiece or your informant. I don’t want the respectability that is being offered me. I understand that in order to effect change, my personal respectability may be affected and I accept that.

The revolution is going to require we give up our attachments to respectability and public opinion and solidify activist relationships with one another. I am here for it. I hope you are, too.

 

 

 

Update from Denver: #SolidaritywithFerguson

Tonight in Denver, we held a peaceful protest for several hours at Civic Center park. People gathered in the cold to support the protesters in Ferguson, and to bring attention to the victims of police brutality here.

As the night wore on, and the decision was pushed back over and over, we began to wonder if it would never happen. Then, a reporter team asked me to answer a few questions. As they turned the camera on, I was informed the Grand Jury decision had just been released and asked for my response. The camera was on as my face crumpled. I held it together long enoug to say that I was deeply disappointed and that protests would continue. As this happened, I could hear my text alert begin to blow up.

Deep down, I knew there would be know indictment. Statistically, a Black person probably has a better chance of winning the lottery by finding a winning ticket on the ground than receiving justice for police brutality. And in the rare cases justice has been served …. the damage is done, the life is gone

This was my Facebook post tonight:

Tonight in Denver, we paused twice, at the request of the Brown family, for 4 1/2 minutes, a symbol of the four and a half hours Michael Brown was left to lay on a hot street in August. In the middle of a protest, where noise is the norm, 4 1/2 minutes of silence leads to many thoughts. Thoughts of the death of a teenager who brought us together. Thoughts of the 12 year old boy shot for having a toy gun. Thoughts of the young man in New York shot to death because a police officer was nervous. You think a lot of things in 4 1/2 minutes.

I have always had friends of different races. It’s not that I don’t see color, I just don’t see it as a reason to not be friends. Because I have White privilege, even as a person who grew up poor and white, and therefore hated in the South, I am not at risk of being shot on the street for reaching for my ID. I am not at risk of being shot, unarmed, as I sit in my car. The ability to live life as a series of open doors is a sign of the privilege my skin gives me.

Organizing has brought me into contact with more Black and Brown friends. It has given me an opportunity to learn more about different cultures and beliefs. It has opened my mind. It has given me insight into what is wrong in our culture. Our culture does not value the lives of men of color. Black men. Brown men. Latino. Native American. African American. Asian. Only a significant change in our culture, a change which causes White people to admit to the inequalities of a justice system heavily weighed toward centering whiteness, only decentering whiteness can change the ever quickening spiral of death of young people of color.

This is an epidemic. Because as certainly as families are being wiped out by Ebola in Africa, the creation of families in the United States is being slowed by the epidemic of police deaths here. These are families that will never join. Children that will never grow. Lives that will never happen. And every life matters.

Tomorrow night, we will be out again at Civic Center Park, peacefully protesting the Grand Jury’s decision to not indict and peacefully reminding the St Louis and Ferguson Police Departments that the nation is watching. We must do what we can to protect the protestors in Ferguson at all costs.

Tonight, in Saint Louis, people who were gathered at MoKaBe coffeeshop, a long time activist supporting coffee shop, and a safe haven, were gassed indoors in order to flush them out. People inside the coffee shop were forced to flee and hope they would not be grabbed by police.
 
Support the Ferguson protesters who are putting their lives on the line to get the message out. Support Michael Brown’s parents who have just been told their son’s life wasn’t even worth an indictment on the 4th, 5th, and 6th shots. Support Black people. Support Brown people. Their lives matter.

Tomorrow night, Denver will be back out to continue to protest the lack of justice Michael Brown and his family have received. We will be spirited. We will be loud. Spirit and volume do not equate to an invitation to violence.

Information on tomorrow night’s protest in Denver can be found here.

When Disability Affects Your First Amendment Rights.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

 

I have been protesting for about 11 years, most of that in Colorado. In those years, protesting has changed.

The Occupy movement had a profound effect on protesting in Colorado. In order to squelch the ongoing protest, the City Council pushed through an urban camping ban. Residents may still protest on the sidewalk without a permit, but must keep walking in order to do so. They may not sit or stand still.

On the one month anniversary of Michael Brown’s death, I met with two women down at Colfax and Broadway and we simply held signs during rush hour to remind people that Darren Wilson has not been arrested and Michael Brown has been dead for a month. No one bothered us, but I was prepared and we discussed the need to keep moving while we protested.

After @COforJustice organized the #NMOS14 in Denver, and the following March for Justice, I became increasingly aware of how activism increasingly requires the activist to be physically fit. Because we are not allowed to sit or stand still, those with chronic fatigue, COPD or other conditions may not be able to protest. If a person is in a wheelchair that requires them to push the wheels, they must be creative if they wish to hold a sign AND keep moving.

When we held the March for Justice in Denver, we worked to keep the march at about 1 mile. We got a last minute permit to use the Capitol steps. People who could not march could meet us at the steps. This was a compromise and I know many were still unhappy at the need to divert to ramps or to be unable to participate in the full scope of the protest. This is something I will keep in mind when organizing in the future, and see what can be done to allow people who do not have the strength to march to be a part of the march, whether it be by finding wheelchairs or other means of transportation through the march.

The morning of the March for Justice, I sprained my ankle. As one of the organizers, I could not back out of marching. I was ahead of the march, ensuring people got safely across the street. By the end of the night, I was in so much pain I was biting my lip and holding back tears. That mild sprain took weeks to heal. I cannot imagine how someone with a permanent disability would have been able to do what I was doing.

Personally, I have Meniere’s disease. While I can and do lead a full life in spite of this condition, I know that if I am having a flare of the disease, which causes vertigo, that I cannot protest while ill. I would need to sit. I could not keep moving.

Forcing protesters who are disabled to keep moving during a protest restricts our First Amendment rights. If a person cannot keep walking, they face arrest or ticketing and fines on the grounds of violating the rule that people who are protesting must keep walking. I use the example of COPD because it is a disease which restricts physical activity. While a person may be able to get to the protest site, they may need to sit to protest, they may not be able to keep moving.

Now, I know how to have a protest without being forced to keep moving. In order to do this you have to get a permit from the city of Denver or the state of Colorado. But that in itself goes against the nature of spontaneous protests. It is wrong to expect protestors to give the city 30 days notice after something horrible has happened so that they may protest what is happening. The state of Colorado was very helpful in getting us a permit in the space of 48 hours to have our protest, as was the Parks and Rec department. But that does not solve the issue that in order to protest, we have to ask permission to be in that space. The nature of protest is that it is without asking permission. It is our right to speak, even if it is inconvenient to the city or state that we be there.

Here’s the rub: CONGRESS is not making rules against protest, but cities and states are. They are able to control the numbers of protestors through urban camping bans and rules to keep walking and permit processes. If you are disabled, there is a strong chance you cannot exercise your First Amendment rights.

This is what was so amazing about Occupy. While there were many inspiring marches, there was also an opportunity to protest while sitting, while laying down. The occupation was the speech. As long as you were present, you were protesting.

Denver shut it down. They brought in a new police chief, passed the urban camping ban and forced Occupy off of city property. Now, homeless individuals who have no place to go face jail time and fines for sleeping on a park bench or over a grate. Yes, there are shelters, but there are not enough.

If that wasn’t enough, they began to enforce a ban on temporarily parking next to Civic Center park, which meant people had to walk over a mile to deliver supplies to the protestors. During Occupy, I worked several overtime shifts in order to be able to donate blankets, clothing and food to the protest. Now I had to come to the protest, pull someone away, pay for parking and carry supplies for a mile to the protest. Again, extremely difficult to do if I was feeling ill (which is my usual state of being, I just push through it).

Denver also began to enforce a little known ban on honking on city streets. While many people supported the spirit of Occupy, many were unable or uncomfortable with joining the protest. Still, they would honk their support. When you are standing in the cold and rain, trying to keep moving and holding your sign, those supportive honks do a lot to hold you up. They began ticketing anyone who honked on Broadway in support of the protestors.

I remember being at work one snowy night during the Occupy movement. Protesters were playing in the snow, and had built a very small igloo. The Denver Police Department brought in heavy equipment to take down the igloo. A shovel would have sufficed, but the message was clear. We are here to crush this moment of playfulness, this spirit of joy. We have the means and the method, and we’re going to crush this protest.

The last time I saw any Occupy protest in Denver, there were 8 protesters corralled on a sidewalk and about 15 police cars surrounding them. Again, I was on my way to work, and unable to stop and be part of the protest. I cannot just not show up to my job as a registered nurse. My patients and co-workers would suffer. But I remember the sorrow I felt for those few determined sign holders.

We as activists have got to start pushing for inclusion of the disabled in our movements. Disability should not be an automatic disqualifier from activism. The disabled have a lot to protest, and they have the right to protest. It is up to community organizers to ensure that our activism creates the possibility for all to join in. It is our responsibility to point out that not everyone can keep moving on the street, and this should not be reason for fines or arrest. Every person in the United States should be free to exercise their right to free speech. Those of us who are physically able, who are loud and vocal, should lend our voice to those who cannot shout, and give access to protest to anyone who would have it.

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