During our trip it has become clear at each stop that everyone in marginalised communities have stories of state violence to tell. Usually at least one personal or second hand story about police abuse, but often people can list off a whole host of instances where they or others in their community faced racialist violence by law enforcement.
In Riverside, Inland Empire – a community in California divided racially and economically, including both affluent and poor neighbourhoods – a young man named Terrance Stewart told the gathered rally of instances where friends of his were subject to horrendous violent and lethal abuse at the hands of the police. While he was growing up in LA officers killed three of his close friends. He spoke of Jermaine Lamonte Love, Dra’ane Desmond Jenkins and Betty Cass. The latter had been under the influence of a drug; he jumped out of a window, injuring himself severely. Not only did police refuse to assist him because they wouldn’t risk coming into contact with his blood, but they used a Taser on him, killing him.
Terrance also noted the death of his friend Ian McCloud, a white man who was also Tasered by police on his testicles. Ian was called a ‘n****r lover’ by the police that killed him.
These are not names of people whose deaths have become infamous. They were simply murdered in their communities by law enforcement who are waging a war on them. Their cases are spoken of almost as if they were everyday because in the US such police violence really is everyday. This means people fear for their lives. Terrance admitted that he feared for his life, and how could he not? The police are out to get people like himself, and they make that known very well. For example officers stopped him and asked if he was on probation or parole, racially profiling him. When he told them he wasn’t on either their response was ‘not yet. We’ll get you and you will be.’
Yet through all this he is still able to say ‘the power is in the people. The power of the people is more powerful than the people in power.’
The local #BlackLivesMatter chapter are using that power in setting up a local justice team with the Ella Baker Centre for Human Rights. Their first action will be to rapidly respond to the very recent killing of a black man, Isaac Kelly, a nurse who had just come off a shift, who was shot dead by an armed security guard in his own apartment complex on 3rd October.
This rally emphasised the level of the task ahead, but also the willingness of the community to carry out that task. The mood and calls to action echoed the words of Assata Shakur that we have used to end each of our rallies and teach-ins. In Riverside we were able to do this around the statue of Martin Luther King in the cities eponymous square.
‘It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and protect one another. We have nothing to loose but our chains.’