Protestors Lead the Next Wave of Black Liberation Struggles into an International Movement
Post by Tia Oso, National Coordinator for the Black Immigration Network and BAJI Arizona Organizer
Shrouded in fog, hundreds of marchers walk across a bridge towards St. Louis University at 1am face down dozens of police, beating their batons in rhythm against riot shields; calling to mind images of Martin Luther King and others in Selma on the Edmund Pettis Bridge. It is hard to believe that this is 2014, not 1965 and that the right of civilians to peaceably assemble and petition one’s government for the redress of grievances is still at issue. Family related to both Michael Brown and VonDerrit Myers, their grievance the loss of sons gunned down by police, stood at the front of the crowd demanding that the march proceed. One of the young women in the crowd remarked, “this is why I didn’t tell my parents I was coming to protest. We are Igbo Nigerian and they are very traditional, they would be scared for me right now. But I had to be here for this moment…They [Ferguson protestors] faced this for 64 days, I can be here with them tonight.”
Every police killing sparks outrage, whether or not the news media takes notice. Families mourn every death and communities come together to mourn and cry out for justice. When Michael Brown was killed on August 9, instead of the usual period of mourning, outrage and organizing, the people of St. Louis, particularly the youth, young Black men and women of St. Louis, refused to let the flames of resistance die. For 65 days, against tanks, tear gas and tyranny, their passion, energy and determination have launched an international movement for racial justice and human rights that has compelled people around the world, across age, race and nationality to declare that “Black Lives Matter”. In a historic weekend of mobilization October 10-13, BAJI Organizer, Tia Oso and Black Immigration Network members joined thousands of supporters, marching the streets of St. Louis, occupying the campus of Saint Louis University, Wal-Mart, major intersections, the October 13 St. Louis Rams game and other sites (protests are ongoing and spontaneous) to engage in non-violent civil disobedience for the lost lives of Mike Brown, VonDerrit Myers, John Crawford and countless others demanding accountability and systemic policing reforms nationwide. For some, this is an act of solidarity, or allyship, but for those in the diaspora, Nigerian, Haitian, Liberian, Congolese, Jamaican and more that live in and traveled to Ferguson, the fight is personal. Racial profiling and criminalization affects all Black people, regardless of national origin, and from Dred Scott to Michael Brown, the fight for full citizenship in the U.S. continues for all people of African descent.
Contrary to depictions in the mainstream media, this is no rogue riot. Organizers operate with a clear analysis that recognizes the intersections of systemic racism, mass criminalization, state violence, capitalism, militarism and white supremacy. The St. Louis municipal government is not a “broken system” that must be corrected, indeed, the multiple municipalities, with lines determined and drawn by white landowners and regulated by largely white Councils and municipal employees, funded by taxes and fines extracted by overpolicing targeting Black citizens through moving violations and other petty offenses, criminalizing them with an average of 3 warrants per year in Ferguson is an apartheid state exposed. State sanctioned terrorism that daily harasses, tortures, and ultimately kills with impunity. As outlined in The State of Our Communities, BAJI’s paper on understanding mass incarceration, mass criminalization is a mechanism of social control, and this movement aims to dismantle it. With Black youth, uncompromising and unrelenting in the lead, it is officially “Not your grandparent’s Civil Rights Movement”. Organizers repeatedly emphasize that young Black women have been the primary organizers and strategists, with young Black men sharing responsibilities, resources and power, creating new models that are challenging patriarchy and repressive structures of traditional leadership.
Rallying solidarity in Palestine, Hong Kong, Brazil and South Africa, Ferguson has emerged into a global struggle. While drawing inspiration from the historic legacy of the Civil Rights movement is routine for progressive activists from immigration reform to climate change and marriage equality, current Black issues and voices are not on always included on their agenda.
The escalation of the Ferguson Uprising expands the new era of Black resistance and leadership, shaking the cobwebs off of these pictures of stoic Black men and women in iconic black and white photographs that have framed and defined the fight for Black progress as over and done. With fearless passion, the youth are calling out the respectability politics and complacency of established Black leaders and organizations, the pacification and tokenism of Liberal moderates and the labeling of Black criminality and pathology Conservatives have used to paint the victims of police violence for their own deaths.
BAJI is committed to championing Black leadership in St. Louis and beyond, because it is Black liberation struggles that have led to a more just and equitable society. Cornell West stated at Sunday night’s Mass Meeting at St. Louis University that “every generation of African people in the U.S. has had to fight for justice” and by mounting an organized resistance to police violence in their community, the millennial generation at the forefront of the Ferguson movement has taken the lead in the fight for the human and civil rights of all people.