Cleveland protest, January 11
Cleveland protest of no charges against police murder of Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell, May 23. (Photo: Special to

The Travels of a “Role of the Police” Poster

June 9, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


For over 2 years, a poster with pictures of Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell – the two people killed in a hail of 137 police bullets in Cleveland in 2012 – along with a quote from Bob Avakian, the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party, has been a fixture at protests in Cleveland.

The quote is:

The role of the police is not to serve and protect the people. It is to serve and protect the system that rules over the people. To enforce the relations of exploitation and oppression, the conditions of poverty, misery and degradation into which the system has cast people and is determined to keep people in. The law and order the police are about, with all of their brutality and murder, is the law and the order that enforces all this oppression and madness.

BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian (1:24)

This poster has been a feature of almost every protest in Cleveland against police brutality ever since. And beyond those who have carried it and connected with it live and in person, hundreds of thousands of people have seen this poster on MSNBC, on CBS, in photos syndicated  to newspapers around the country by Associated Press, on YouTube channels of different kinds of political trends, on the cover of The Final Call and beyond.

Revolution asked a comrade in Cleveland for the story behind the poster.

Q: Tell us some of the places this poster has been.

A: That sign was made right after the killing happened, been passed around for over 2 years. It has been passed around, and carried all kinds of places. Family members of Malissa Williams had it when they held a press conference speaking out against letting the police who murdered Malissa go free. Activists will call me when a rally or march is going to happen and ask if I am coming because they need that sign. The sign and the quote goes deep into the hearts and minds of the people who have felt the pain and sorrow of the brutality and murder by the police that goes on everyday. This poster with the pictures of Timothy and Malissa, unarmed and Black, along with the quote about the role of the police, reaches people.  I have asked people what they think of the quote. Most say it speaks some truth from their experience and they have said, “Yes, I agree,”  even though many of the same people still think there are good and bad cops and not so much a system behind  the murdering cops. BA’s quote does percolate in people’s thinking.

The poster connects in the areas where people catch the hardest hell but not just that. We took it to a march of religious people – the forces who organized this are not always that excited to see the revolutionary communists. But they insisted it be at the front of the march – they said “Where’s that sign” and they carried it.

Q: What do you think accounts for how broadly this poster, the pictures, and the quote resonates with people? What do people say? Like the ministers you mentioned.

A: The “serve and protect” thing really gets people. Especially when police kill people’s children, like Tamir Rice. One of the people at the ministers' march was talking about how people go to schools and do presentations and pass out materials about how to interact with police to keep from getting killed. Why do our children need training, then, in how to avoid being killed by police when you encounter them if the role of the police is to “serve and protect” the public? The police themselves pass that out or have people pass them out at the meetings they sponsor. At these meetings, we speak to the role of the police and use the quote BAsics 1:24 to hit back at the truth of their role and hundreds dig the point BA is making. 

Q: Finally, how has the sign remained intact for over a year?

A: It is mounted on ¾”  foam board and laminated with plastic wrap.


Protest outside courtroom, Cleveland, May 23
Protesters outside the courthouse after the Michael Brelo verdict in Cleveland, May 23. (AP photo/Tony Dejak)



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"The film brings you up close inside Cornel West's and Bob Avakian's dialogue: the passion, the audacity, the science, the morality, the revolutionary substance. Two courageous voices modeling a morality that refuses to accept injustice – pouring heart and soul into standing together challenging all of us to fight for a world worthy of humanity."

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co-director of the film


BA Speaks

"No more generations of our youth, here and all around the world, whose life is over, whose fate has been sealed, who have been condemned to an early death or a life of misery and brutality, whom the system has destined for oppression and oblivion even before they are born. I say no more of that."

BAsics 1:13

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What Humanity Needs

At the beginning of 2012, an in-depth interview with Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, was conducted over a period of several days by A. Brooks, a younger generation revolutionary who has been inspired by the leadership and body of work of Bob Avakian and the new synthesis of communism this has brought forward.

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