by Ntokozo ‘Zo’ Khumalo
October 22nd, National Day of Action – after weeks of planning, the day had finally arrived. Today we would gather in groups big and small all around the country to speak truth to power: “Black lives matter!” “Stop killing us off!” “We demand a stop to police violence and police brutality!” “We demand an end to mass incarceration!”
My National Day of Action started in San Francisco, where a modest crowd of politically impassioned protesters was gathering in front of the City Hall. As we gathered and anticipated our crowd to grow larger, we spoke of our surprise at how the modest turnout spoke to how little people seemed to care about this day as well as the issues it addressed, of police violence and brutality, including the epidemic of mass incarceration which is bringing so much shame to this “great nation.”
Our surprise would not deter us though and our small numbers would not silence us. We began to chant, “Hey hey, ho ho, these racist pigs have got to go” and “No justice no peace! Fuck the police!” People walked passed us, some rushing by, others stopping to listen and read our placards, still others taking pictures; and some threw their fists in the air in solidarity as they walked by.
We crossed the street and began to walk towards the farmers’ market. We were determined to rupture the perceived flow of “normal life.” It is not normal that young Black boys and girls as well as young Brown boys and girls are brutalized and murdered consistently and continually by the police; it is not normal that those targeted and profiled for incarceration are Black and Brown. It is not normal that color prejudice is still so prevalent in this country; it is not normal that racism still exists and is used to justify so many social injustices.
As we stood at the heart of the farmers’ market giving our speeches over the bull horn, we were joined by a group of about 15 young Black and Brown high school students. Seeing them surround and join us was like a breath of fresh air. After all, most of the adults at the steps of City Hall and at the farmers market could only muster the courage to stare at us strangely and shuffle past us as we stood our ground and made our statements.
Our young revolutionaries continued to march with us through the farmers’ market to Market Street, and they particularly enjoyed chanting “No justice no peace! Fuck the police!” It wasn’t just the delight of shouting a cuss word in public that was so meaningful for them with this particular chant; it was the pure truth in the words: Without any true and real justice there will never be any peace for Black and Brown lives. Black and Brown people will continue to live in fear, always knowing that they are being watched and at any given moment they could be the targeted one. That is no way to live!
When we marched back to City Hall with our politicized teens from Leadership High School, one of them gave a speech highlighting the struggles he goes through being a young Black man in a racist society and why this National Day of Action is so significant for him, for it brings attention to greater society the harsh realities that Black and Brown people experience every day.
Even though the group that gathered in San Francisco was incredibly small compared to the size of the march in Oakland, there was still police presence. The police watched us as we gathered in front of the City Hall at the start of our rally, and they followed us as we walked to and through the farmers’ market and back to City Hall. They also followed us as we began to make our way over to the East Bay to join the main National Day of Action rally in Oakland.
As soon as we got off the train, we were greeted with warnings from passersby who saw us with our placards, warning us about the strong police presence in the streets of Oakland. We arrived as the rally was in full swing. Police helicopters were flying above us, and the many demonstrators were surrounded by police who were on foot, on motorbikes, in vans and in cars.
There was indeed a strong police presence; they seemed to be everywhere one looked. I was warned that the Oakland police are much more aggressive than the San Francisco police, and I could see and feel that as soon as I stepped foot on Oakland streets. San Francisco was a walk in the park compared to the extreme police presence in Oakland.
We walked to the Federal Building, where several speakers spoke about the acts of violence their family members have been subjected to at the hands of the legal system and the police. We took a moment of silence to remember all those we have lost loved ones due to police violence and brutality in the Bay Area and across the country.
In that moment, I could feel my heart grow heavy as I recalled the beautiful faces in my mind: Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Shantel Davis, Michael Brown, Yanira Serrano, Tarika Wilson, John Crawford and so many more. I couldn’t help but wonder how many more it will take before this modern day lynching and this slow genocide of a community of Black and Brown people comes to an end.
We continued to walk toward the Seventh Street police station, where we were promptly blocked by the police, who were in full militarized gear and heavily armed – they looked ready for war. The police stood in front of us and would not let us pass through and continue our rally, and they were slowly but surely gathering in numbers behind us too. We were being surrounded. It was clear that the police were getting ready for a confrontation.
We continued to walk toward the Seventh Street police station, where we were promptly blocked by the police, who were in full militarized gear and heavily armed – they looked ready for war.
We stood in position chanting: “Move, pigs, get out the way! Get out the way, pigs, get out the way!” for almost two hours perhaps. It seemed as though the rally would not and could not proceed. Eventually people began to leave, growing tired, frustrated and restless. As we grew fewer in numbers, the police numbers grew.
Their terror tactics seemed to be working, and I also decided to leave before seeing the end of the rally.
Indeed October 22nd National Day of Action finally did happen and all the players were there, the people and the police. The people raised their voices and raised their fists and the police donned their finest weapons and carried out their intimidation tactics as practiced.
Yes, it is important for the people to gather in solidarity and make their voices heard, lest we begin to think that things are fine and “normal” the way they currently are. It’s right to rebel!
Ntokozo ‘Zo’ Khumalo is a Zulu woman from South Africa, who recently earned her master’s degree from the California Institute for Integral Studies in anthropology and social change. She is interested in the struggles and triumphs of Africans both within and outside Africa and considers herself an Afro-rebel and Afro-futurist. Email her at email@example.com.