I went to the Seattle vigil/protest yesterday for Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile. I saw some beautiful things and some ugly things. I saw Alton's cousin get up on the stage in Westlake Park to speak and having significant difficulty because he was so emotional. A black woman cried as she spoke, expressing gratitude for seeing so many of us there to support black lives. I saw young black girls on stage, holding candles and wearing shirts saying "Justice for Alton Sterling." I don't know if they're related to him, but that broke my heart.
I saw a news reporter, full sized camera and everything, get violently shoved backward by a Seattle police officer. I saw a flash bang grenade explode not five feet from me because we wanted to get onto the freeway to demand real attention to the plight of black people across the nation. God forbid some people be delayed at 9 pm because black people are being murdered in the streets and getting no justice.
The thing that really stuck with me, though, was when the overwhelmingly male organizers and speakers at the initial vigil refused to give a black woman space to speak to the crowd when she started shouting her dissent to calls for peace in the streets and working within the system. It was disheartening to see the main speaker shout over her, tell her that she was being disrespectful, and even saying that he did let her speak when he'd refused to hand over the megaphone so people could hear her and continued his speech over her voice.
It was, however, wonderful to see a black man in the crowd with a particularly loud voice start shouting at the main speaker, demanding that he give the woman the megaphone and saying that real unity means allowing everyone to have a voice, even if they disagree with you on some things.
The main speaker still refused, and eventually a large group split off from the crowd so that actual space could be given for black women to speak, doing so in the intersection next to the park. I took a moment to think about who to follow, but I will always follow black women first. When the main speakers brought a white guy onto the stage to speak, that sealed it, and I moved off to listen to the black women speak about how there is no working within a system that was designed to oppress them.
I also wanted to be there to use my white body to shield them from the police, who arrived in a couple short minutes after they started blocking traffic. There were a lot of them, and they had batons and tear gas launchers and pepper spray, but they did not attack as long as white bodies stood in a chain in front of their line.
I'm glad to see fellow white Seattleites in these protests starting to catch on. The best thing we can do is follow the direction of the black leaders and stand in front of police officers who are so much less likely to harm us.
I felt honored to hear so many incredible black women speak. I felt afraid when I saw cops motioning to each other, identifying a black man in a handkerchief mask as a leader. He didn't have it on the entire time. I hope he's okay.
Near the end of the night, we went to the King County Jail right in downtown Seattle. Looking up, you could see the silhouettes of prisoners in the small windows, waving vigorously as we chanted "you are not alone" and "we will fight for you."
I'm ashamed to admit that I had no idea these strange white buildings, many stories high with their many small, opaque windows, was a county jail. I've been by those buildings so many times having no idea that they were filled with mostly people of color in a predominantly white county and city. People imprisoned by a system designed to fail them. Those windows with the waving and flailing silhouettes led to jail cells stuffed with at least four people each, based on the typical number of silhouettes. Their enthusiasm both warmed and broke my heart.
I left after that, worn and but with somewhat uplifted spirits, yet knowing that neither the vigil nor the march would, on its own, change anything. Remember marching through the same streets two or three years ago. Was it first for Trayvon? There have been so many. It feels like nothing has changed.
Yesterday, another man was shot and killed by police, this time in LA, this time because he had a knife and "aggressed" at the police officers, whatever the fuck that means. The victim has yet to be identified.
The only thing that's different is not for the better. On the way home, looking at Facebook on my phone, I learned of the shooting in Dallas, this time actually against police. I immediately knew that this would be used against the Black Lives Matter movement despite the fact that both BLM leaders and city officials have said that the snipers are not affiliated with them or any part of yesterday's Dallas rally. And this morning, there's news all over of conservative politicians and pundits doing just that.
I'm tired, I'm sore, and I woke up with a migraine this morning because I was a dork and didn't drink enough water yesterday. I feel helpless, and I know all of this is only a fraction of the pain and fear that black people are feeling. So I'm going to use that privilege to keep fighting, as should the rest of my fellow white people. If nothing is getting better, fight harder. Fight harder for those whose oppression we've unfairly benefited from all our lives.
You can find some photos from last night's Seattle protest on the Facebook event page. If you're in the area, look up Initiative 873 for the state of Washington, which that would end the "malice" language in our police brutality laws that makes it more difficult to prosecute killer cops here than in any other state in the nation. Find a way to add your signature or volunteer to collect signatures yourself.
Also look up Seattle Black Book Club. This instruction was given to us by the incredible black women leading yesterday's march. They're working to block a proposal to spend $160 million of city money to build a ridiculous bomb-proof bunker for police in North Seattle despite a homelessness crisis, affordable housing crisis, and heroin addiction crisis. We need police to be less insulated from the community and less afraid of average citizens. We need a community that can trust its police, not one pissed off to see a military-like fortress built in the middle of it.
I'm going to take some time to rest today, but as always I'll be back at it again next week. Keep fighting.