Murdered by police for being Black and poor

by Lisa “Tiny” Gray-Garcia, daughter of Dee, mama of Tiburcio

Voices in Poverty Resist series, California

“My 17-year-old son was murdered by the LAPD because he was Black and poor,” said Lucy, a very young looking 30-something mama who spoke with me about her son but cautioned that she doesn’t want to reveal his name because her distraught and confused family is working with a lawyer to try to get a lawsuit launched. She told me that her son was doing nothing except standing on a corner with other Black and Brown young men in a low-income neighborhood of Los Angeles. As her voice trailed off into a river of tears, my mind flashed onto the many police-murdered young men and women I have reported on and supported, documented and wept over throughout my years as a revolutionary journalist.

From 15-year-old Derrick Louis Gaines, killed for walking while young and Black in Daly City, to Alan Blueford, murdered for “running” while young and Black in Oakland; from Kenneth Harding Jr., killed for not having a $2 bus transfer, to Mario Ramiro, 23, of Vallejo to Raheim Brown Jr., murdered by Oakland school police, or the recent tragic case of young, hard-working father and immigrant, Jose de la Trinidad, shot by police in Southern California as he was leaving a family birthday party, and young warrior Idriss Stelley, shot multiple times in a movie theatre by San Francisco police because they were not trained in how to handle a mental health emergency.

“My 17-year-old son was murdered by the LAPD because he was Black and poor,” said Lucy.

All of these men of color and so many more share one thing: They live in a society informed by white supremacist values that automatically assumes and places criminal intent on people of color, on young people of color, and on people who look “homeless.” When I launched the Voices in Poverty Resist series focusing on the criminalization of families in poverty, I knew I needed to include the tragic stories of these young men and their families.

The irony is that with a few exceptions many of these young men weren’t poor, in many cases they were from families who would be considered middle class. So how does this fit into a series on poverty? Because poverty and race are conflated in this society, because racism informs every aspect of our lives and especially the myths and beliefs held about our so-called community safety and security.

Because many of our communities of color are considered ghettos, “barrios,” “bad neighborhoods” and/or dangerous areas based on a systematic blighting that goes on from city government and real estate snakes (yes, I did say snakes) who intentionally blight thriving communities of color by making liquor licenses easily available and seeding the destruction through zoning and building laws and then watching the neighborhood fail so real estate prices fall and eventually the neighborhoods can be bought up by speculators and banks only to be inhabited by non-indigenous communities who call in police forces and private security forces to make it “safe” for them, using terms like “cleaning up” about the poor people of color who lived there all along.

This insidious process is fueled by the speed at which a neighborhood is being gentrified – i.e., a neighborhood’s property is being sold, built, demolished, refurbished, rehabilitated, swallowed up – and includes gang task forces, gang injunctions and private security forces. All that then results in the over-patrolling and criminalizing of the very people who were always there.

From the Mission District in San Francisco, to West, North and now East Oakland, several neighborhoods in LA, young Black and Brown men, convening, talking, laughing, being young, are viewed as “dangerous,” “suspect” or criminal. Laws like the gang injunction are instituted and applied, and eventually we are completely wiped away like we were never there.

All of these men of color and so many more share one thing: They live in a society informed by white supremacist values that automatically assumes and places criminal intent on people of color, on young people of color, and on people who look “homeless.”

The racism and criminalization extends to laws like sit-lie and stop and frisk, which have blown across the U.S. at a clip and are intended to make it even more illegal than it already is for im/migrant day laborers who happen to be soliciting work on corners and sidewalks and face constant nimbyistic (not in my backyard) attacks. Houseless people who sit in parks and on public benches are seen as criminal because somehow they are unclean, so these parks and public streets are only slightly public for some of the public.

In the case of Derrick Louis Gaines, he was a slight, skinny young man, who was disabled, walking from McDonald’s past a gas station, immediately viewed as “suspect” because he was walking while young and Black in a part of the Bay Area known for its racial profiling and police harassment and brutality against people of color.

In the case of Alan Blueford Jr., he was standing together with other young men of color in East Oakland, a neighborhood seen as “dangerous,” covered in police patrols. And with Kenneth Harding Jr., he was on a public bus in San Francisco at a stop in Bayview Hunters Point, a majority people of color neighborhood, which was covered in police and transit police patrols, waiting, stalking any young person who couldn’t prove he’d paid the fare by showing a transfer.

In the case of Idriss Stelley, shot by police responding to a 911 call to a theatre, his tragic story launched a resistance movement and organization, the Idriss Stelly Foundation by his powerful warrior mama, Mesha Irizarry, to ensure that police forces are trained in mental health protocol but also to tirelessly advocate and resist with and for other mothers and families who have lost their babies to this senseless violence.

In addition to the powerful resistance work of Mesha, which most recently includes working to stop the use of tasers in San Francisco, we must work internally and externally to resist this notion that we need military-like police armed with guns and other deadly weapons to provide us with “security.” There are groups like POOR Magazine, a grassroots, non-profit organization that practices a “no police calls ever” policy, relying on our indigenous circle to address accountability and community safety. As well, groups like the Peoples Community Medics in East Oakland train people to help each other in the case of emergencies rather than rely on police and paramedics, who rarely arrive in time to save lives of victims of murder or other violence in our communities.

“He was just standing there. They (the police) claimed he looked like a suspect,” Lucy said between silent tears. Stories like that of Lucy’s son are the norm rather than the exception. And if the police aren’t killing us, we are killing ourselves. “My son died from gun violence last year. He was 15. He was a good boy, never got into nothing wrong,” another mother standing near us entered the conversation. She said a fight broke out at a birthday party he was attending, and he was an innocent bystander caught in the fray.

In the case of Lucy’s son and all of these mamas’ sons, I continue to weep, to walk, to act, to pray, to educate and to write to end this racism, criminalization and murder. The struggle continues, the tears keep coming and the hope is alive.

Questions such as strangely easy access to deadly weapons, the constant media images and portrayals of violent images pumped into our children’s young, unformed brains, budget cuts to our community centers, school and athletic programs so there is nothing else for our young folks to be active in, all come up.

There is no one or simple answer. But one thing is clear: As African peoples, Indigenous peoples, Raza peoples, we have been given lessons on how to “raise” our children to bring them up in “a good way.” If we leave it up to politricksters, the criminal injustice system, prison industrial complex or the police, they will just come up with more stop and frisk laws, gang injunctions and sit-lie laws to criminalize, incarcerate or just plain murder us.

We must go back to our ancient ways, our deep structures, as they say in Black psychology. Our elders must be supported, listened to and included. Our mamas and fathers must be supported to raise our children in a good way – in the ways we know and were instructed by our ancestors, upon whose mighty shoulders we are always standing. We must bring it back to call it forward.

In the case of Lucy’s son and all of these mamas’ sons, I continue to weep, to walk, to act, to pray, to educate and to write to end this racism, criminalization and murder. The struggle continues, the tears keep coming and the hope is alive.

The following story was one of several written for the Voices of Poverty Resist series in workshops led by Lisa “Tiny” Gray-Garcia. The workshops were held at LA CAN and CADRE in LA, HOMEFULNESS in Oakland and POOR Magazine in San Francisco. The series was launched by Lisa when she received the Marguerite Casey Foundation Equal Voice Journalism Fellowship Award focused on the criminalization of families and communities in poverty. Because Lisa leads with her indigenous values of inter-dependence and collaboration and has struggled with poverty and houselessness for most of her childhood with her disabled single mother of color and the grant allowed for looking at the way that language, culture and race influence public attitudes about peoples in poverty, she created this collective journalism process where all of our voices in poverty are speaking for ourselves to achieve a collective and truly inclusive challenge to the “otherizing” that usually happens by corporate and independent media producers when “covering” poverty issues or speaking for all of us poor peoples of color.

Hope for young Black men: Voices of poverty resist!

by Jose Vanderburg, 24

When a child loses hope, I feel a whole lot of things are wrong. Young Black men start off in this America with a disadvantage. Dreams are not only deferred; they are often stolen or seem unobtainable. I often struggle to find hope. But I usually do through my fellow brothers and sisters in the struggle.

I just lost my job because of some injustice. I was struggling yesterday to find hope, to believe in my dream of becoming an executive director, when Kevin Winn, a three striker, told me his story that inspired me to dream again. Kevin Winn started his own company off the bottom called Nini’s House of Fragrance. It’s a line with body and house products. Kevin told me about all he went through to start his business, where he came from, and how I too could win.

His first job growing up in the ghetto of St. Louis was on an ice cream truck. He, like me, had grown up in a struggling home. At 20, with an AA in Economics he found himself working as a swimming coach, leading a Hispanic kid out of Watts to win a Junior Olympic gold medal at the expo park where I used to work.

At 26 he had his first child. I explained to him my desire for a child. He encouraged me to stay focused because once he had his daughter, he got into drugs and alcohol and was in prison three and a half years. Kevin and I tried to figure out why Blacks with degrees end up in jail. It’s because we can’t figure out how to – or have no way to – apply our education skills to the streets we go back to. I expressed my frustration in finding a job and how I have to hustle too.

He told me he thought that way too. He was sober his second time out of jail, so he sold but didn’t use no more. But then after voluntary manslaughter he got 15 years in state prison.

Young Black men start off in this America with a disadvantage. Dreams are not only deferred; they are often stolen or seem unobtainable. I often struggle to find hope. But I usually do through my fellow brothers and sisters in the struggle.

At this point I could see my life just like Kevin’s. How easily I could be cycled onto the conveyer belt to becoming another prison statistic. Kevin and I both agree that young Blacks go into jail with no love or support. Even out of jail, we get little support. But we do run into change. The transformation of our minds comes from meeting a good role model.

Mine is Pete White at LA CAN and Kevin’s is Magic Johnson. Kevin said in prison he read about a brother who got out of jail and took acting classes and got a show on Fox. Young Black dreams can revive themselves with the story of another brother’s struggles.

In jail he wrote a business plan and got out and started a business with the last $175 of GR. He named the business after his daughter Shanika and called it Nini House. After hearing Kevin’s story I had hope. I got hope through my brother’s struggles and victories. Who’s got a story to tell?

Tiny – or Lisa Gray-Garcia – is co-founder with her Mama Dee and co-editor with Tony Robles of POOR Magazine and its many projects and author of “Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America,” published by City Lights. She can be reached at deeandtiny@poormagazine.org. Visit www.tinygraygarcia.com and www.racepovertymediajustice.org.