donate or subscribe
Follow Us Twitter Facebook

The Movement for Black Lives Convening walks the talk, rescues teen from cops: We are the ones we’ve been waiting for

August 11, 2015

by Shani Ealey and Destiny Thomas

Photos: April Martin

Photos: April Martin

Do they think that we are stupid?

We were there. We have the pictures. We have the video. We heard what they said. We saw what they did.

Yet, publications blatantly misrepresent the truth, posing serious harm to Black lives. These misrepresentations actively push forth a narrative that absolves law enforcement of the brutality and racism they inflict and, ultimately, blame victims for their own repression.

We are not here for it.

Over the weekend of July 24-26, 2015, nearly 2,000 Black leaders, organizers, families and community members gathered in Cleveland, Ohio, for the first ever Movement for Black Lives Convening. Attendees and organizers got together to talk about rampant state violence against Black people.

Black women, Black men, Black trans women, Black trans men, Black queer people, Black elders and Black children from the Dominican Republic, South Africa, London, the United States and the Middle East filled the conference space – eager to discuss, collaborate and envision a world where our people are not killed, oppressed or exploited.

The weekend was about building and working to navigate the persisting crisis we were born into. It was a time for healing, dreaming, love, comfort and visioning. Moving from session to session, there was dance, laughter, spiritual healing and solidarity. At times it was like a huge family reunion. And honestly that is exactly how it felt – like family.

Over the weekend of July 24-26, 2015, nearly 2,000 Black leaders, organizers, families and community members gathered in Cleveland, Ohio, for the first ever Movement for Black Lives Convening. Attendees and organizers got together to talk about rampant state violence against Black people.

It is important that we emphasize feelings of love and feeling of family. Because on Sunday, July 26, as the Movement for Black Lives Convening came to a close, this sacred weekend came under attack.

Moments after the closing ceremony, a handful of conference attendees walked across the street and saw two Cleveland Regional Transit Authority officers standing over a visibly frightened minor. He was seated, quiet and handcuffed.

A few conference attendees stood by observing and recording the police as they conducted their investigation. The look on the young boy’s face was one of shame, fear and confusion.

Officers refused to remove the handcuffs as they conducted a line of questioning and never notified the boy’s parents that he was in custody. When questioned about these procedures, an officer stated that he’d drive the boy to another location to conduct the investigation, then he’d drive him to a police station and give the minor a chance to contact his parents.

What did he mean, another location?

We know what happens when you take one of us. We die. It is that simple.

When Black people are taken by the police, we don’t come back. There was no way we were leaving that train platform until they released the boy to his mother.

We know what happens when you take one of us. We die. It is that simple.

Within minutes of what proved to be an effective use of social media and text messaging, hundreds of attendees formed a circle around the platform and locked arms as the officers proceeded to move the boy into a squad car, knowing his mother was en route. The police called backup and moments after arriving on the scene, a sergeant of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, Robert G. Schwab, began shoving people, yelling threats and, with no warning whatsoever, pepper sprayed 16 people at point-blank range, multiple times, including a 12-year-old girl.

And for a bit, it was pure chaos.

We will never forget the grunts and screams of our family and the image of a woman squeezing breast milk onto the face of someone whose flesh burned from the pepper spray. There were elders who prayed, chanted, locked arms and ran to nearby stores to get milk to ease the burning.

In the midst of turmoil, solidarity and love marked the moment … and characterized a movement.

We saw our trans family give clear directions and commands that made for seamless transitions during the struggle. We saw a 12-year-old girl sit on the ground in front of a moving squad car. We saw our queer family go toe-to-toe with a rogue officer intent on instigating and escalating the situation.

We saw a 14-year-old boy realize what we mean when we say “Black Lives Matter.” Our healers and medics tended to the injured. Our attorneys negotiated with law enforcement. Our courageous organizers led in calling forth tactics and responses.

Collectively, we put our bodies on the line. And eventually, the boy was released to his mother on site. He had been liberated. We had been liberated.

A spirit of victory filled the air. A yellow butterfly offered its acknowledgement as it fluttered above us in celebration.

Collectively, we put our bodies on the line. And eventually, the boy was released to his mother on site. He had been liberated. We had been liberated.

We knew a life had been saved. We knew our lives had been changed. And we knew we had enacted a community response system that would be an effective and appropriate model for Black communities everywhere.

This was the day we liberated a young boy from what could have easily been a life of criminalization, the beginning of a new hashtag or worse – death.

We knew we had enacted a community response system that would be an effective and appropriate model for Black communities everywhere.

It is important for us to note that the heavy police presence didn’t begin with this incident. The police were watching us from the moment we arrived at the conference.

It didn’t register at first, but later many of us realized that there were cops stationed inside the buildings where we had our workshops. Cops were in the room where the founders of Black Lives Matter had their photo shoot.

At one point during the conference, they were called on our trans brother for using a bathroom labeled for use by men. This type of heavy surveillance of conference attendees perfectly demonstrates the ways in which Black people are policed in this country.

There has been so much death. And these aren’t new occurrences. This is a continuation of centuries upon centuries of violence against Black people – from the great kidnapping and forced subjugation of millions of Africans to the current widespread execution of Black people at the hands of the state.

This is nearly 500 years in the making. Our elected leaders who are supposed to represent our needs and interests turn a blind eye to the burning Black churches, mass incarceration of Black women and men at disproportionate rates, little Black girls being assaulted by police at pool parties, and the countless Black women and men killed by police for no reason.

We can’t depend on leaders who repeatedly fail us. But we can depend on each other.

It is clear. The organized response that happened in Cleveland is so desperately needed in our communities across the country.

Direct and consistent intervention at a grassroots level is necessary for our survival. We have to start imagining what it would look like to have a network of people who you could text when police stops happen.

It is clear. The organized response that happened in Cleveland is so desperately needed in our communities across the country.

What would it look like to have an organized response that included roles and tactics for responding to police presence in our neighborhoods? What if we could replicate what happened in Cleveland in other places?

Sandra Bland said, “It is going to take us to save us.” And we know that to be true.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

Use #WeAreTheOnes to join the discussion about collective resistance against state violence in our communities.

Use #WeAreTheOnes to join the discussion about collective resistance against state violence in our communities.

Shani Ealey, MA, is a writer and aspiring artist in constant search for answers that will lead to the overall happiness, life satisfaction and empowerment for all individuals of African descent throughout the world. When looking for inspiration, Shani turns to Octavia Butler, Huey P. Newton and Sam Greenly, whose words continue to be sources of strength and encouragement. She loves impassioned conversations that result in sublime connections or lead to some type of beautiful Black futuristic creation. She can be reached at shanita.ealey@gmail.com.

Destiny Thomas, PhD, is a cultural anthropologist who mobilizes artists and community organizers around social justice issues. Destiny is an artivist and community organizer who specializes in space reclamation, revolutionary artistic expression and centering discourse around a Black Thrivance Narrative. Destiny’s key influences and inspirations are children, bell hooks, womanist praxis, Nina Simone, Audre Lorde and live music. A painter, a writer and a motivational speaker, Destiny spends her days as a cultural competency consultant and advisor leveraging creativity and collective healing as revolutionary and necessary practices in the movement to end state violence.

Leave a Reply

BayView Classifieds - ads, opportunities, announcements