Killing our Communities – Cops, guns and racism

Our World of Dreams Does Not Include Police Carrying Guns

Or this title: Time to feel the Momentum of the Movement: We Must Unite to Stop Police From Carrying Guns

or The Breeze of Revolution… No More Cops With Guns

or any title that the Slingshot Collective Chooses.

or An Open Letter to the World Regarding the Worldwide Police Killings of Unarmed People:

By T. Love

After seeing the video of Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officers shooting and killing Oscar Grant, a completely unarmed Black man who was down on the ground while other police officers held him down, I had difficulty breathing, I cried, and then I wiped my eyes and I pulled my self together to try to sound coherent, to write clearly and civilized…civilized.. so surreal. Because the entire event was captured in a video tape, there is no mistake of the events. Was this an isolated incident?

No, because just a few hours before Oscar Grant was killed in California, another unarmed African-American, Bobby Tolan, was gunned down by police in Texas.

I feel the momentum, like a breeze of revolution, of people all over the world who are tired of police carrying guns! It is a breeze that cannot and should not be ignored. There is a storm coming. All over the world people are taking action as a result of Police killing unarmed people. In Greece there were riots for weeks, in Oakland the people took to the streets for many days and even here in Olympia, the heavily policed capital of Washington state, activists have dared to take to the street.

In January 2009 in Olympia, about 45 people came together and wanted to show solidarity with the actions with Greece and Oakland. At first, the torch lit march against the police killings was silent and full of quiet emotion and anger about the increase in killings; then after walking around downtown Olympia some folks joined in and began playing the banjo, singing action orientated songs and Woody Guthrie songs. Several people pulled out road flares, held them up and then threw them onto the street and flipped over dumpsters to block police cars that began tailing them. Some held signs that said “Fight Back”, “Fire All Cops” and much more. Some of the marchers screamed “Beneath the Concrete Lies the World of Our Dreams” and “Destroy Misery” and instead of fading off into nothingness as many marches often do, after looping around the downtown Olympia area, picking up more people, the march then headed towards the police station on the Westside of Olympia! The police quickly dispersed them with 3 people arrested and over 9 people detained. These are actions people are taking to let the world know: people are fed up with police carrying guns.

It does not take great skill and resources to show your opposition to police carrying guns. Much like most of you reading this, I am of few resources as I am a severely disabled, financially disadvantaged, Black feminist living on the West coast who happily writes with lots of typos and a blatant disregard for the grammatical rules of the Colonized English language. I watched the video of several different angles available online and what I saw was far more chilling than watching Rodney King being beat by Police Officers, in which Rodney King was fortunate to live through his hellish ordeal.

I considered Rodney King “lucky”, because I used to live in Portland, Oregon, where three completely unarmed African-Americans were actually killed… by Portland Police within 25 months; Byron Hammick in 2002, Kendra James in May 2003 and James Jahar Perez shortly afterwards. James Philip Chasse, Jr. was not African-American, but was a mentally challenged unarmed person who was literally beaten (not shot) to death and killed by Portland Police officers in September 2006.

Many of you will never know what it feels like to be an African-American, financially disadvantaged, disabled person and walk the streets of a city knowing at any time you might be the next unarmed African-American male to be killed by Police. It’s like the Black man’s lottery that none of us wants to win. The only way that we, people from all backgrounds win in this crisis is join together to solve this crisis that divides us and speak out together.

Long ago, I researched every aspect of the Amadou Bailo Diallo killing, in which an unarmed Black man was killed in a barrage of 41 bullets fired by Police officers, and yet I still can’t make sense of it. But I told myself it couldn’t get worse than that. After all, the police said it looked like Diallo drew a gun, but it turned out he pulled out his wallet to show them the Photo ID because they requested to see it even as their guns were drawn. Whenever police harass me with racial profiling and ask me for ID, I move slowly, carefully and remember Diallo.

And then on November 27th, 2006 Sean Bell, an unarmed New Yorker was killed just hours before his wedding. I thought to myself, surely it couldn’t get worse that…it’ll get better. The police said they thought a fellow police office yelled ‘Gun’ but it was just a mistake.

But it is not just an American issue of social class of our failed system. On Saturday December 6th at around 10 pm, two Greek policemen engaged in a verbal argument with a small group of teenagers in the center of Athens. During the argument, one of the cops pulled his gun and shot 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos (Greek: ?????????? – ??????? ?????????????) ). Riots broke out across Greece and the world from the event. The police always cite mistakes being made.

I know it is not about social class. Bobby Tolan was a reserve outfielder during his years with the Cardinals, with whom he won a World Series title in 1967. Bobby Tolan has a son Robert (Robbie) Tolan who plays professional baseball in the Washington Nationals. On December 31, 2008, Robbie was shot by a Bellaire, Texas policeman after an altercation occurred and Robbie’s mother was slammed against the garage door by an officer. According to Tolan’s uncle, “Her son was on his back at the time, and he raised up and asked, ‘What are you doing to my mom?’ and the officer shot him — while he was on the ground.”

In October 1995. Jonny Gammage, a 31 year old African-American was driving in the mostly-white Pittsburgh suburbs of Brentwood, in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. The car that Gammage was driving, a Jaguar, belonged to National Football League (NFL) player Ray Seals, Gammage’s cousin. After a routine traffic stop Sgt. Keith Henderson and Patterson asphyxiated Gammage, who was completely unarmed during the entire incident, while he begged for his life. Court reports state his last words were: “Keith, Keith, I’m only 31.” Officer John Vojtas, one of the police involved in the traffic stop, was found not guilty by a jury with no minority members. He was permitted to return to work as a police officer in the Brentwood department and received a promotion.

In May 1997, Shiloe Johnson was walking his bicycle across a bridge late at night. He was unarmed and wearing a Walkman and could not hear what was going on around him. A police offer approached his friend and started yelling. The cop then jumped Shiloe from behind and several seconds later the cop shot Shiloe point blank in the head. The cop had been dismissed from the LAPD for brutality. At last record, he is still employed as an officer in Napa, CA.

In August 1997 Abner Louima, a male, unarmed immigrant, was assaulted, brutalized and forcibly sodomized with a broken broomstick by a number of New York City police in a bathroom at the 70th Precinct police station house in Brooklyn. They did all this while Louima’s hands were cuffed behind his back.

In May 2003, Ousmane Zongo a Burkinabè arts trader living in New York City, was completely unarmed and yet shot and killed by a New York City Police Department officer in a case of mistaken identity during a botched police sting. The shooter, officer Bryan Conroy, was disguised as a postal worker and shot Zongo four times, twice in the back but did not receive any jail time. Zongo is survived by a widow and two children.

In October 2008, newlywed Julian Alexander, completely unarmed, was shot and killed outside his California home by police in a case the police called mistaken identity. Alexander’s wife and her 15-year-old sister looked out the window during the incident and saw the police flip Julian’s limp and bleeding body over… and then handcuffed him while he bleeding, in the exact same manner that Oscar Grant was handcuffed after being shot by the Police.

It didn’t just happen to Oscar Grant, Julian Alexander, Jonny Gamage, Diallo, Kendra James, James Philip Chasse, Jr., Alexandros Grigoropoulos or all the countless other unarmed people all over the world killed by police… it is happening to people as a whole, everyone of all backgrounds in our society, who are more frequently being placed into a position where we are being killed by police… even after begging for our lives.

It is time to stop begging for justice! It is time to rise to action!

I was born in Philadelphia and I know there is crime and I have been mugged many times and had a mugger put a gun to my head… but the police have tasers, pepper-spray, rubber bullets, dogs, riot gear, batons, asphyxiation and a few dozen other kinds of unethical forms of weapons that are even against the Geneva Convention like broken broomsticks at their disposal so why must they carry guns to continue killing unarmed people? If authorities can use tranquilizer guns to stop wild animals why are we as humans literally executed by police with guns and bullets?

Police killing unarmed people has become so routine that people ignore it and try not to think about it. I am hoping that you will not remain silent about police killing unarmed people anywhere in the world and you will take action and let people know that the system of armed police in our communities needs to end.

It is time to start feeling the momentum of action, the breeze of revolution, and start working on a new way of life for people worldwide.