Street Tactics & Law on the Streets

This time the night was warm compared to the bitterly cold night that we last marched. That night we marched for Eric Garner, a previous night we marched for Mike Brown. When we marched for Baltimore, it was warmer and the NYPD was hot. The cops were out in force –  helicopters flying overhead, riot gear, white shirted detectives, street cops, and paddy wagons.

I saw an old friend from law school with the bright green hat of a National Lawyers Guild Legal Observer. She is a defense attorney – a kick-ass defense attorney for poor people. She said something to me that stayed for with me for days, she said, “well it’s great that the cops are all here.” Sweeping her hands towards the phalanx of state power, “because when they are here, arrests go down everywhere else in the city. My night arraignments will be slow.”

Let’s break this down. Because the cops are out suppressing protesters, they can’t be in poor neighborhoods, harassing and arresting poor black and brown people like they usually do every day.

This makes me think of strategy and demands. People collectively, deliberately putting their bodies in the way of the fascist state is a successful tactic, not just for the public statement but because it actually helps more people of people of color to survive, even just for one more night. When a poor person gets arrested for bullshit “quality of life” violations like jaywalking, street performing, jumping a turnstile – this one arrest will lead to a cascading, catastrophic series of interactions with the State. So even one night, where the police have left poor people’s streets and apartment buildings, to police us at Union Square, is priceless, it is a life saved.

The recent Black-led rebellions that have arisen using the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter have been criticized sometimes for their lack of demands. As if more civilian review boards or the election of the right politician will save Black lives. Actually, putting their bodies in the streets, and in streets that are used by white, middle class consumers, changes the balance of power, Even if just for one night.

Street protests and rebellions are hard to sustain. But they are not hollow gestures as some people have insinuated. That warm spring night, I saw young people getting important education on tactics and state power, as police got the word from the Mayor that these protests would no longer be “tolerated.” And the huge police presence, momentarily stopped the broken windows policing in poor, black and brown neighborhoods. Accomplishing something that has not been accomplished by litigation or the election of a democractic mayor.

Mike Brown and Talking to Our Children About Racism & Walking With Them To Fight It

Here’s the thing –IMG_1720 recently I have heard people talking about WHEN they should talk to their kids about race, as if our children will first hear about it from us – but our society and culture ALREADY teaches our kids about race. EVERY SINGLE DAY. The experience is different depending on the skin you walk around in, but the truth is – ALL our kids are learning their respective places in the racial caste system of the US.

Our children learn about race and White supremacy from an early age. When my daughter was just 3 or 4, she declared that White skinned girls were prettier and that she wished she didn’t have brown skin. Of course, this killed me. My daughter didn’t learn about our country’s racial caste system from me, she learned it from being a brown skin girl in America. White kids know it too, but they don’t have to grapple with it like our children. It is easy to bask in the beauty of whiteness when it is all around you. No need to look at your skin the mirror and wish/ache for something more. And of course, why question it? White children are so used to being the center of everything – movies, books, celebrities, political figures, historical accounts, that when a movie like Hunger Games dares to make a small Black girl an emotional center (not even the star), White children felt free to complain about via social media. And while all children of color experience racism – in this country, with it’s history of slavery and genocide of the First Nations – anti-Blackness and Anti-First Nations has it’s own particular virulence.

We talk about racism all the time in our home. We use it as frame and explanation for many of the questions that my kids feel free to ask. But with the recent murder of Mike Brown, I realized that talking about fighting racism, while essential, was not going to be enough to counter to the anti-Blackness that our kids are exposed to every day.

But actually being out there fighting for a Black life with Black people as the lead – well – that is the heart of it, right? Our children needed to see our anger and despair over the loss of a Black life at the hands of the State. Because in this society that our children live in – they learn that Black life is disposable, not to be celebrated, not to be cherished, or mourned when taken so brutally. They needed to see their non-Black parents watch the racist’s state announcement that essentially blamed Mike Brown for his own murder & they needed to hear us declare the prosecutor’s words to be racist lies. They needed to see us mourn a Black life. And then they needed to see us all march in the street together and take the streets and declare that yes #Black Lives Matter.