Revolution #181, November 1, 2009
October 22, 2009
Courageous Voices Against Police Brutality, Repression, and Criminalization of a Generation
“The justice system is taking our children’s lives every day. They are either jailing our kids or killing them.”
—Natasha Williams, whose 17-year-old son Corey Harris was killed by an off-duty cop on September 11, speaking at the Chicago October 22 rally
“The Champaign police need to be stopped. They can’t mess with us just because of what we look like or where we at. They can’t kill us. We are not going to let them.”
—Friend of 15-year-old Kiwane Carrington, killed by police on October 9, speaking at October 22 protest in Champaign, Illinois
Across the U.S. on October 22, people took to the streets to march, rally, and demand a stop to police brutality, repression, and the criminalization of a whole generation of youth. Revolution is still learning about all that happened in various cities and towns—we encourage readers to send in letters and photos about the day (send to firstname.lastname@example.org). In the centerfold of this issue are some of the photos we have received, which give a sense of those who stepped forward and the spirit of October 22 this year. The following are some snapshots from the protests.
Oakland—After downtown rally of 200 people, a march took off to protest at the Oakland Police department. Later, there was a significant convergence in the East Oakland neighborhood where Brownie Polk (killed by police in August) lived.
Chicago—The downtown Federal Plaza rally opened with a dramatic reading of 25 names of just some of those killed by the Chicago police since summer 2007. Among the speakers was Pastor Melvin Brown, who has played an important role in the protests demanding justice for Mark Anthony Barmore, a 23-year-old Black man killed by cops in Rockford in upstate Illinois. Students came from a number of high schools, including a full bus load from one school. Later, people rededicated a South Side park, where Corey used to play ball, as the Corey Harris Memorial Park.
Los Angeles—In a city with sharp divides between different nationalities, Latino youth from East LA and Santa Ana mixed it up with Black people from the Florence and Crenshaw area, where the march began. A Black woman carried a picture of her brother, killed by San Diego police in August; the family of 13-year-old Devin Brown, killed by the LAPD in 2005, took part; students from a nearby charter school marched from their school. Later people rallied at Leimert Park, a center of Black culture in LA.
New York City—Following the Washington Square Park rally, over 150 people marched through the streets. A dozen students from New York University (NYU) joined the rally and march, and the protest was covered prominently in the Washington Square News, a student newspaper at NYU (article and photos online at /nyunews.com/news/2009/oct/23/police/). Later the auditorium at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Center was packed for an evening of “Voices Against Police Brutality”—including performances by musicians and spoken word artists and families of police murder victims speaking bitterness. (See "Fighting Back: A Reporter's Notebook on October 22nd" from NYC.)
Significant convergences were also held in a number of neighborhoods of the basic masses in major cities.
As we go to press, Revolution has received word about other October 22nd protests in Albuquerque; Atlanta; Cleveland; Houston; Seattle; St. Louis; Athens, Georgia; Champaign, Illinois; New Haven, Connecticut; Greensboro and Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Fresno, Humbolt/Arcata, and Santa Rosa, California.
Sights, scenes and thoughts from October 22 around the country:
The youth today, especially youth of oppressed nationalities, face extreme police brutality, intimidation, and repression on a daily basis. The NYPD are on a pace to breaking their own record, set last year, of nearly 550,000 “stops-and-frisks”—mainly of Black and Latino youth, and more than 9 times out of 10 not even involving any alleged crime. On October 22, people building for the protest in New York City went out to one high school. They reported, “One girl had a telling story: a few weeks earlier the NY Civil Liberties Union distributed cards at their school outlining their basic rights when confronted by police. But she said when the students pull these out to claim those rights, the police take them and tear them up!”
And then there are the outright police murders: 23-year-old Oscar Grant, shot in the back by transit cops in Oakland as he lay face down this New Year’s Day; Corey Harris a star athlete at a South Side Chicago High School, shot in the back by a cop in September, and others.
Given this atmosphere of official terror, intimidation, and violence, it was very significant that people around the country—especially Black and Latino youth who are most targeted by the cops—took a stand on October 22, calling out the crimes of the police in a powerful and visible way. While the resistance is not yet nearly on the scale that it needs to be, there was a real sense of people beginning to step out in the spirit called for in “The Revolution We Need...The Leadership We Have,” the declaration from the Revolutionary Communist Party: “The days when this system can just keep on doing what it does to people, here and all over the world...when people are not inspired and organized to stand up against these outrages and to build up the strength to put an end to this madness...those days must be GONE. And they CAN be.”
In Cleveland, Rebecca Whitbey, a 23-year-old college student who was severely beaten and unjustly charged with multiple felonies earlier this year, refused to be silenced—and instead actively built for October 22nd.
A reader in Houston reports: “At the local high school, people grabbed posters and copies of Revolution, along with black armbands. One youth got on the bullhorn to call on people to join in, and said white and Black people should come together to fight police brutality. Several youth have recently been jumped and cuffed by the cops inside the school.”
In East Oakland, one young man said that all his friends were afraid to come to the march and rally...“But I’m not.”
At a time of incredible pain and tragedy, Natasha Williams spoke out in Chicago against not only the killing of her own son, Corey Harris, but against how youth more broadly are stalked and brutalized by the police. She described how the cop who shot Corey in the back had opened fire into a crowd of 20 to 30 youth fleeing the scene of a fight on a street corner.
And in different ways, the day brought out the dynamic between building resistance and spreading revolution and communism. People want to see real answers to the terrible situation they face—at the same time they are constantly hammered with the message that things can not fundamentally change. When the possibility of radical, revolutionary change start to become something real, this has tremendous attractive force. A reader in Houston reported, for example, “A speakout took place in the parking lot of an apartment complex... One woman took the initiative to step up to the mic and kick things off. She spoke passionately of people killed by the police, and shouted out, ‘We need a revolution.’ People not only came to the speakout themselves, but brought others. Many said they would check out the revcom.us web site and Bob Avakian’s Revolution... talk online. There was one point when people were literally waiting in line to sign up to be in contact with the revolution.”
Many people have seen the video of the fight among students at a Chicago high school which led to the death of Derrion Albert. This has been used by the authorities as an excuse to bring down even harsher repression in the schools. So it was very important that some youths at the Chicago October 22nd spoke to this, as reported by a reader: “One poignant moment in the rally came when a student from Fenger High School, who grew up in the same home as Derrion Albert, spoke about how the police had stood by and watched the fight where he was beaten to death. She called on the youth to stop fighting each other and to join together in the fight against police brutality.”
Among the family members who stepped out on October 22 were those who have been fighting for justice for many years and have long been active in the October 22nd Coalition: Juanita Young, whose son Malcolm Ferguson was killed by Bronx cops in 2000 and who has been the target of intense police harassment for her outspokenness; Margarita Rosario, whose son Anthony and nephew Hilton Vega were killed by NYPD in 1995; the family of Mark Garcia, murdered by San Francisco police in 1996; relatives and friends of Leonard “Acorn” Peters, murdered by authorities on the Round Valley Indian Reservation; and others. There were also those who have seen the police steal the lives of their loved ones just in the past few months.
At the New York “Voices Against Police Brutality” event, Margarita Rosario recounted how she and Anthony were watching the news together about the NYPD killing of another youth, Anthony Baez. Her son said, “You see mom, it’s like I said, the cops are racist.” She tried to cool his anger, afraid that it would get him into trouble. He told her, “You know mom, if I were a family member of that boy, I wouldn’t stop, I would take it all the way!” Two weeks later, Anthony himself became a victim of police murder. When this happened, Margarita vowed, “OK, Anthony, I’m gonna take it all the way, I won’t stop.”
Later that evening, the mother, brother, and uncle of Jahqui Graham took the stage to tell people about how Jahqui had been arrested by the police in East Orange, New Jersey, in July—and then ended up dead in his cell three days later. Tawanna Graham said that the police claimed her son had died of seizures, but would not let her see his body for several days—and then when she was finally able to see the body, it was covered from head to toe with bruises.
While the presence and the voices of those most oppressed in society were at the center of October 22, there were also people from different walks of life who took part and supported the protests. An example from the Houston correspondent: “In another part of town, all the employees organized to wear black at a popular pizza restaurant in a traditionally countercultural neighborhood. This included waiters, kitchen staff, and the manager. People had made signs in English and Spanish, and while the waiters usually wear white aprons, on October 22nd they wore black aprons.”
An Atlanta reader’s report gives a sense of the positive mix on October 22: “Over 125 protesters joined the rally at Woodruff Park in the middle of downtown where a long speakout took place. Many victims of police brutality and family members of victims, including Iffat Muhammad, whose brother was gunned down in cold blood in DeKalb County by pigs in 2006, and Felicia Kennedy, who had recently been assaulted and arrested by police for videotaping their brutality on her street in southwest Atlanta, spoke bitterness about what they experienced, and students and community activists voiced their stand with those under the gun.
“They were joined by a walkout of over 30 students from Georgia State University who had staged a speakout in the quad beforehand and marched through classroom buildings chanting ‘Death is a reality, stop police brutality!’ Students from several other campuses, including Morehouse College, Emory and Kennesaw State Universities also joined the rally.
“The owner of a gay bar in Midtown Atlanta, which had recently been raided by police, voiced his support.”
The massive imprisonment of Black and Latino youth was on many people’s minds on this day. In at least two cities—Atlanta and Cleveland—marchers went to prisons where they were greeted by prisoners banging on walls and raising fists in support.
If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.