Bored out of my mind, I was 10 years old when I read Esther Forbes’ Johnny Tremain, and I’ve been intrigued with the notion of revolution ever since. But no matter how much I read about it, growing from childhood readings of Lloyd Alexander and Isaac Asimov, to adult study of the civil rights movements, Cuba and South Africa, revolution always seemed to be something that was to be reflected upon (in the past) or – in the case of Asimov’s Foundation – looked forward to (in the future). At the very least, rebellion and revolution only seemed to occur in far-away lands and distant locations. Locations I plan to visit one day, but much like Truman Burbank, I’d yet to find the opportunity.
For decades, we’ve quoted the words of the great Doctor King, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Many of us have spoken up about atrocities overseas or otherwise removed from our sphere of influence; largely ignoring those who say we shouldn’t complain. Still, it’s almost as if the battle became over whether or not we should frown upon the blatant abuses occurring around the world, often by US(A). As long as that battle waged on, the concept of standing up to abuse – you know… revolution – remained something to be thought about at a later time. You know, right now we’re just fighting for our right to complain.
So when Big Mike got shot in Ferguson, MO last week and the protesters – upset that the shooter, a police officer, was not arrested – were bombarded with military force in their own neighborhoods, it took about 4 days for the mainstream media and Twitter to duke it out over whether or not an injustice here was OK to talk about. While Fox, CNN, NBC and even Facebook (now in that category) downplayed stories from the local media and quickly chose sides on how to report on the happenings, Twitter exploded with images, live videos and testimony from folks at ground zero. While the president talks about Ferguson with less zeal than he talks about the Middle East, many people – young and old – are calling this the most important issue in America.
You know what doesn’t help though? The fact that the shooter is white, and the victim was Black.
You know what else does not help? The fact that we’re looking at the same situation, excuse, and demographic when we discuss Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, John Crawford, and Dante Parker… all unarmed, all Black, all killed by police since mid-July.
But here’s the sad part… What started as an ordinary story nobody wanted to cover about another unarmed Black male being shot by a white cop with no repercussions made national headlines when people decided that the authoritative response in Ferguson was “too strong”. Never mind reporters being fired on and illegally detained. Never mind tossing tear gas at a state senator, or arresting an alderman. The mainstream media painted this as a story of why the police were rolling out in $500,000 Armored Humvees in a county that doesn’t have school buses, pointing military-grade weapons against a small town made up of 67% of African-Americans, enraged over the death of a kid who may have stolen Swishers and pushed a store clerk (who never reported the alleged crime). They then continued to take the face of a possible revolution and smear his name while revealing minimal details about his shooter.
By this point, some of you are already wondering why I pulled the “race card” and have missed everything else I just said. Well let me clarify, police brutality is not about race, white folks get killed by police without justice too. It would appear that canines are the only ones who see justice served when they are killed by police (the white witness might have helped). But lets be honest, cops shoot Black men like clay targets and the federal government cares so little that they won’t even compile stats on how may civilians their “peace officers” kill. To that effect, they also staunchly oppose being filmed, wearing cameras, or even using dash cams. Because that’s how you build trust.
So people around the country tried to chime in. Crowds numbering in the hundreds descended upon cities numbering in the millions such as NY, LA, Chicago, Detroit, Seattle – and even Portland – mostly rallying on sidewalks and holding signs in public parks while people drove by and honked in support. Some even argued amongst each other. True rebels, let me tell you. The aforementioned Reverend King is doing burpees in his grave. He really should have moved to Canada. In a less publicized rally, 5,000 converged on the CNN offices.
As Portlanders started to look at our own problems with police shootings – we’ve had a few this year – a local tragedy occurred, leaving a 21 year old mother dead in what appears to have been a gang shooting. The Oregonian alleges that the intended target was Portland rapper Drae Steves, who has been quiet on the issue. Local leader Sam Thompson held an emotional fundraiser for her memorial service at the Elks Lodge last night. People from the community spoke and expressed frustrations that can only exist in a culture plagued by a nasty combination of in-fighting and persecution from authority. Urban communities have waged war on violence for years, only to find that all of it eventually becomes gang violence if you don’t eventually come to power. Thus, those in power have no vested interest in helping outside of PR, and those below have no interest in further enabling those in power… Its just the way it is.
So what is revolution? Images of Gettysburg and Paris often come to mind – oddly, this is what we are sold – but violence leads to death and further oppression. And what are we revolting against? Is it violence? It is police brutality? Is is racism? Heck… is it protesters? Are we even on the same page? Who are “we”? We weren’t ready.
Here’s what I do know. Last weekend, I was asked to bring music to a friend’s birthday party at Alberta Park where we played kickball in the hot sun and ate barbecue and laughed a lot. I couldn’t help reflect upon how peaceful things can be, despite how bleak conditions appear just a quick flight away in Ferguson. I thought about whether or not I’d be chilling at a park, making new friends if my son – at the moment playing catcher to my shortstop – had been shot by anyone a week earlier. But you can’t live your life through someone else’s pain, that’s a poor way to handle empathy. Or so we’re told.
The weekend before that, we brought over 200 people out to Woodlawn Park and held a hood basketball tourney complete with a live DJ, limited reffing and a whole lot of rappers. There was no violence, there were no arguments, there was just fun. There were people of all shades, all religions, park police, artists, rappers, producers, gang members, but no problems. The day before, but blissfully unbeknownst to most, Michael Brown had just become the latest unarmed Black man killed by police, usurping Staten Island’s Eric Garner.
So where do we go from here? There are a lot of valid answers, and we need to start challenging ourselves to do better. Some people want to petition for policy change. Great! Some people want to organize peaceful events. Yes! Some want to march on the sidewalks… OK. And some of us would prefer to peacefully demonstrate in an impactful way that shakes people out of their wool. What we need to stop doing is arguing over who has the best way, and instead help each other take back our communities; we might be surprised at the synergies we’d find.
I pose to you, and myself, one final question. We all seem have a problem with the status quo, but compromise with it constantly. Why can’t WE work together and build something better?