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Over 100 March in Santa Rosa on Oct 22nd
Over 100 people take to the streets in an un-permitted march through downtown Santa Rosa on October 22nd.
October 22nd Protest Against Police Abuse in Santa Rosa
You wouldn't know it from reading the newspapers or watching TV, but on the afternoon of October 22nd, over 100 people took over the streets of Santa Rosa for the better part of an hour and a half, in a loud and lively demonstration against police brutality. Marchers carried crosses signifying the 36 people killed in our County over the last 9 years, and signs decrying the use of the Taser. Speakers talked about racial discrimination and repression against immigrants. Mothers told stories of their sons who have been brutalized, incarcerated, and killed by Sonoma County's finest. A whole host of issues were addressed. Black-clad anarchists marched along side grieving mothers. White punk-rockers chanted with chicano student activists. Lawyers in suits and veterans of the local peace movement joined the un-permitted march with smiles on their faces. All of this was deemed unworthy of local news coverage by the corporate media. As if nothing had happened. As if no one was upset about the fact that the police kill more people in our community than all of the supposed "bad people" we're told to be afraid of. As if our losses had no meaning or merit. So instead, what did the headlines say today? "D.A. clears jail staff in the death of inmate Ryan George in 2007." Ryan George was found dead in his cell after not being treated for his very serious illness. And, as if by coincidence, our impartial justice systems finds that the state is not liable for this death. Like when they shot Haki Thurston in the back, or 16-year old Jeremiah Chass. Or when they Tased unarmed Nathan Vaughn to death on his front lawn. No harm done. Just following protocol. What was it the mayor said to us that one day? "The police have a job to do." Right.
So the media won't tell our story; no surprise there. But for those of you who weren't present yesterday, here is one account of how things went down. A sizeable crowd gathered outside the Santa Rosa Police Department around 4pm, holding signs and crosses. The police presence was fairly light- just a few motorcycle cops waiting in the distance for...who knows what? Around 4 30 we started hearing brilliant speeches and performances, starting with Tracy, a mother whose young son is facing trial right now after a long history of abuse at the hands of Santa Rosa Police. And we heard from Diana, whose son is locked up in our County Jail, where they are practically starving the inmates that they deem as "gang members." And we heard from Val, whose son Jesse was Tasered, shot, and Tased again in early 2008. (What was that Mr. D.A? Oh right, officers cleared of all wrong-doing. yeah yeah, don't tell me twice). What these women have in common is a strength and courage that is all too rare among us these days. To have suffered such abuse and violence, and yet come out and make your voice heard against those who have done everything to silence you, takes immense bravery and it should remind us all why we do this work, and push us to re-commit ourselves to this struggle, if only to respect and support these women who have chosen to fight. We also heard a spoken word poem from Dee Allen, radical poet from San Francisco. We heard a brilliant rendition of a Sam Cooke song from Camille from IMPACT!. We also heard an illuminating poem about immigrants and immigration, from Julio, a young man from Napa. And we heard from MEChA, el Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan. The energy, articulation, and radicalness of these young speakers mirrored that of the crowd, the majority of whom were young people. After our speakers, we were treated to some songs from the Hub Bub Club, a marching band that is notorious for playing at protests. While they kept us entertained outside, two organizers from O22 entered the Police Department to deliver a long list of grievances which were collected from several different community organizations such as CopWatch, the Police Accountability Clinic and Helplin, IMPACT!, the Peace and Justice Center, MEChA, and the ACLU. They were delivered to the Chief, who I'm sure will act on them in a speedy and efficient manner.
Shortly after 5pm, as the sun was starting to dim, we set out into the streets. Between 100 and 150 people took to Brookwood Ave. and marched through the usually quiet neighborhood, dancing to the tunes of the marching bands, and chanting "El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido!" Neighbors came out of their houses to applaud us and take pictures. Some just smiled, others looked a little nervous. For the majority of the march, we were trailed from far behind by two bike cops, who were most likely just out for a nice afternoon ride, judging from their total lack of interaction or concern with our un-permitted march. We turned right down another residential street and ended up on E St. Marchers blocked the whole only lane of traffic there was, as some motorists tried to swerve around them. Many honked their horns in approval, while some folks chanted "From Santa Rosa to Greece, fuck the police!" Some new folks joined the march, the bullhorn died, and then we shortly reached downtown and 4th St., the main business corridor of downtown Santa Rosa. Dozens of people on the street and in restaurants came out to watch the procession, seemingly amused. No middle fingers were detected, at least by these eyes. Our original plan was just to end in Courthouse Square, but we were feeling the energy, so we kept going around to the Mall, up 3rd St., blocking both lanes of traffic, and then down Mendocino, once again blocking all traffic. We decided to pay a visit to the Press Democrats office. Karin, organizer with O22, announced to the crowd "Since you don't wanna come to us, we decided to come to you!" Still, no coverage. How impolite! After walking all the way over there...
We looped back around to 4th St., where the crowd briefly crouched down and then, after loudly counting to 4, sprinted and yelled all the way down the block, to the amusement and possible horror of all the downtown shoppers. It was a good ending to such a lively march. We ended in Courthouse Square, where we heard a couple more speakers, including PACH, the Police Accountability Clinic and Helpline. The cops had closed up shop in their downtown office. I'm not sure what their hours are. Maybe that's what time they close every day. Or maybe they just didn't wanna deal with a bunch of angry people. Folks mingled about as the sun began to set, socializing, networking, giving each other a good pat on the back for a job well done.
So what can we make of yesterday's protest? For starter's, I think we should all be excited that so many people, for so many reasons, from so many different scenes, communities, cities, ideologies, etc. came out and took to the streets with us. I think we should also be celebrating the fact that young people, with no resources whatsoever, and without the support of local politicians, without coverage in the media, and with many people criticizing our targeting of the police, were able to bring so many people together and basically take over the streets for almost 2 hours. In many places we have seen recently, whether it was Pittsburgh for the G-20, or San Francisco during protests against the war in Gaza, just stepping one foot into the street without permission is likely to get you tear-gassed, beaten and arrested. The fact that our protest could hold the streets, without getting permission, without getting harassed by the cops once, makes me smile, personally. Secondly, although many of us probably wished the protest had been a bit larger (who doesn't want their events to have more people at them?), for those who had never experienced a protest before, the experience was really empowering. Some people who have been victims of police brutality were amazed at how much support they got, and at how many young people were getting active. It is no small feat to turn out over 100 people to an unpermitted march in the suburbs. People noticed this, and were inspired by it.
But if police brutality is such a massive problem, as we claim it to be, why didn't more people turn out? After all, we did do tons of flyering, emails, phone calls, lead-up events, and we got support from activists all around the Bay Area, from Benicia to Napa, from Petaluma to San Francisco and the East Bay. Talking with people on the street, we got an enormously positive reaction and heard many stories from people who themselves had been abused. So why weren't 1,000 people there? One thing that I believe this last protest should teach us is that it is not enough to just take an issue that lots of people are affected by and assume you will have the communities' full support. we have to organize. That means building up our bases (thanks to the work of previous generations, there is some base, but we need to expand on it). That means going into schools, into churches, into homeless shelters, into service providers for drug abuse and mental health, and hearing their stories. It means aligning ourselves with existing struggles in our communities for things like immigrants' rights. It means building the leadership of those who are most harmed by this system. Holding house meetings, raising consciousness, supporting victims of police brutality by showing up to their court dates and spreading their story to your networks and to the media.It means winning small victories that build collective strength and that don't serve as compromises to power. It means we have to make sure that everyone in this community a.) knows who we are, b.) trusts us, c.) knows how to get a hold of us and d.) is willing to help us organize others. It means building relationships and networks of mutual support. One big success that is already coming from this protest is new contacts with victims of police brutality who, through this protest, have been inspired to take action, and now they can see that they are not alone. Several people who organized this protest have been meeting and talking with people for the last week or two who have contacted us, or expressed interest in getting involved. Things are moving, they are happening, but we need to make sure that the energy of our march does not die away, but that it is just a spark. Let's be real, the real work does not happen in the streets, but in the day-to-day base building of our movement, which is not always sexy or exciting.
What we need now is not some fake unity, or tenuous coalition (our community has had a couple bad experiences with that already!). Coalitions are important, but trying to force a bunch of people with totally different goals and ideologies into accepting some one-size-fits-all message is bound to fail. Instead, we should be uniting around a commong strategy. Already we have two active CopWatch chapters in Sonoma County (Santa Rosa and Petaluma). This lets police know we are watching them. Then we have the Police Accountability Clinic and Helpline, which lets the police know that we are documenting their behavior and that we aren't afraid of them. Then we have O22, which organizes marches, education, and directly organizes support for victims and survivors of police violence. This lets police know that are strong, creative, and that we can demonstrate public support for our cause. These things together form the beginnings of a common strategy. We need to build on this and articulate how these different approaches to the work of police abolition/radical reform can complement each other and how they can be coordinated in a shared strategy aimed at a.) holding police accountable, b.) winning justice for victims, c.) winning small changes that build power and collective strength, d.) building our base through grassroots community organizing and outreach and e.) transforming the narrative in the community and introducing alternatives to police intervention. I believe this approach has a lot of potential to take us into the next phase of anti-violence organizing against the police. We have the skills and the energy to do it, all we need is the will.
Once again, thanks to everyone who came out yesterday and made it such a huge success. We may not have ended police violence with one little march, but we sure have re-invigorated ourselves and built on our existing strength. In the months and years to come, I hope you will join us in growing this movement even more until we finally see the system start to crack, until we see ourselves capable of dismantling this system and building something entirely new in its place. Remember, through solidarity, anything is possible. Stay strong and stay united.
Watch videos here from yesterdays protest here: