Harlem, NYC

Stolen Lives Truck Rolls: A Sense of Collective Hope and Defiance is Getting Born

April 8, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


From readers:

The A14 Stolen Lives Truck rolled up to a busy corner in Harlem. A big truck with a 6'9" by 12'10" banner of the faces of 44 people murdered by police. Heads turned. Our crew marched into the corner chanting “Every City, Every Town There's Another Michael Brown. April 14 Shut It Down!”

Stolen Lives truck in HarlemPhotos: Special to revcom.us

It was when we brought people over to the huge banner on the side of the truck, called on them to look at these people, real people, that some important things began to change. A collective situation, community, began to be forged as a revolutionary pointed to individual faces on the poster and told their stories. Four, six, a dozen people gathered close to the truck and others stood around the edges listening. Activists were no longer trying to have conversations with individuals spread out in all directions. They were focusing everybody on the truck, the 44 stolen lives, the revolutionary walking them through the photos and people would contribute what they knew. Time and time again someone would call a name, point to a photo and share: “Malcolm Ferguson, I was in middle school with him.” “Sean Bell, he was my uncle.” “Patrick Dorismond, he used to live on my block.” Joel Acevedo: “That's a damn shame. You said that was at Disneyland?”

Stolen Lives truck in Harlem

Pictures were being taken with the banner. Three people faced the 44, raised their fists to honor those who were murdered. The corner buzzed. But there were moments when a silence fell over those gathered as they breathed in the collective pain and outrage, as they listened to the stories, “Aiyana Stanley-Jones—seven years old … Nicholas Heyward Jr. and Tamir Rice—12 years old....” Some wiped away tears, others did not try to hide them.

Sharing their own stolen lives: “My brother could be up there. They shot him in the back, right down the street, 10 years ago.” Others pulled up pictures on their phones. “See, I went to high school with him. He was 22 when they shot him 15 times for nothing.” The names taking them back to times, places. “Amadou Diallo—I was locked up when that happened.” “Sean Bell, that's when I came here from Jersey.” “Where's Trayvon Martin?” “That little boy, just playing in the park.”

Our group gathered around the truck: April 14, Shut It Down! THERE WILL BE NO BUSINESS AS USUAL! People stopped on their way home, on their way to work, were together plunged into the reality many of them shared, that walks with them. The ghosts that live inside them were brought out to speak, to rage. The experience that shaped their lives, the reality of Black people, and Latino people in AmeriKKKa poured out on that corner. They impacted others. A white woman from Australia stopped and took a photo in front of the banner. A couple from Sweden stepped into that circle and felt it too.

People who hate this were challenged “What do you tell a six-year-old? What are you going to tell her about where you were on Apr 14? 'I had to wash clothes that day. I had to go to go to work. I had to do what I always do when people were in the streets to shut this ugly thing down.' NO. I'll tell you what we are going to tell her: 'We're not going to pass this future on to you! We are not going to let the police keep killing people. You are not going to have to live in a world like that. And we mean it!' That's what you want to tell her too, and you want it to be real! A14 is real. We are going to do this. You don't want to tell her 'This is how it is. You have to accept it.' No you don't want to do that.”

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Dozens of people took stacks of April 14 cards. All around the corner people we had just met were handing out the cards, and struggling with each other. A mother and her seven-year-old daughter handed out cards in bunches to people, and came back again and again to get more. People took group pictures in front of the banner. A young white couple watched from a distance. A person yelled out, “There are no white people in this picture. You want to see this stop! Come over.” They did. Got in the photo, signed up, and left with a stack of organizing materials. This was not an area with a lot of Latino passersby, but hundreds of Spanish A14 palm cards went out to Black people who wanted them for neighbors, friends, workmates. 

There was a certitude. On the 14th the message is going to be sent out around the country and the world that this will not be accepted. There will not be business as usual! We will shut shit down! As people were called on to be organizers for A14, there was no sense of 'if you don't do this it won't happen'. No, we're doing this. This is going to happen. It's a moral question. Are you going to stand on the sidelines? People lined up waiting to sign up and get materials.

Two NYPD went to the Starbucks on the corner. People blew whistles and dozens of people looked up from every corner of the intersection. The cops left without their coffee. The unwelcoming scene might not have been why they left, but laughter and wide smiles were everywhere as more people took more materials and whistles.

A young woman stood in front of the Stolen Lives banner and began to sing a song she made up on the spot. People moved in to listen and to film. She said that she would be an A14 organizer.

People came forward with one card clutched in their hand, walked away with 100. A young woman came back four times for more.

There were a few who argued that Black people were too messed up, but that held little sway for the hour and half on this corner. Neither did know-it-all cynicism. “I'm 59 years old and you don't know what I'm doing,” one man said as he looked down his nose at the incredible scene unfolding before him and refused to deal with the particular importance of A14. “No we do not know what all you are doing. What we do know is that you had one card in your hand when thousands of people will be out on Tuesday and you are not throwing in.” 

Over an hour and a half, 5,000 A14 palm cards and 300 Stolen Lives Posters were distributed and many, many stickers and whistles. Lessons were being learned. A sense of collective hope and defiance was being formed. Six days left. 


Stolen lives truck in Harlem

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