When a grand jury failed to indict Michael Brown’s killer Monday night, protests broke out around the nation and even across the world. On Tuesday, thousands turned out in 42 states across the United States and disrupted Thanksgiving traffic to demand justice for Brown and his family, as well as an end to a culture of impunity for police brutality.
Chants of “No Justice, No Peace” and “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” literally crossed the national landscape into the wee hours of the morning, and the world was watching as police in different cities reacted almost uniformly with excessive force against peaceful protesters and combative efforts to stop people of color and their allies from fighting back. And members of the Speakeasy, with heavy hearts and revolutionary intentions, were on the front lines.
These are our stories.
St. Louis, MO
On Monday morning I went in to work and all day there were murmurs through the building about the Grand Jury verdict that would be announced and what to expect. My friend, Lou (one of the best white allies I have), and I decided to join the gathering at MoKaBe’s (a local queer/social justice advocate owned coffee shop) to listen to the verdict announcement and then go marching as planned. As we all know by now, the Grand Jury decided not to indict him. Shortly after having four and a half minutes of silence for Mike Brown, we left the shops and took to the streets. As we marched I couldn’t help but be pleased every time I spotted a queer face in the crowd and that pleased feeling was especially there every time I spotted a fellow QTPOC.
We marched from MoKaBe’s to the corner of Shaw and Grand, almost one mile away, to pause and remember VonDerrit Myers who was also killed in a police altercation just down the street at the corner of Shaw and Klemm. Chants of “No Justice, No Peace,” “Indict, convict, send that killer cop to jail, the whole damn system is guilty as hell,” and “Black Lives Matter” reverberated through the streets as three or four hundred of us walked together. We went back and forth between the two sites a few times before pausing at MoKaBe’s (Mo’s for short) so those who wished to take advantage of Mo’s safe space status to warm up, get some coffee or snacks, or use the restroom could do so before we left for our next stop. This time our destination was Highway 44. This is a good time to note that other than having two police cars at every intersection keeping traffic away from us, there was no police presence. All we ever saw of them were their cars blocking traffic, not even any officers out of their vehicles. That all changed at the highway.
Protesters walked out onto the highway and shut down traffic to call attention to the cause and to carry through on the chant of, “Who shut shit down? We shut shit down! No justice, no peace.” Blocking the highway is a fairly peaceful action whose harm mostly comes in the form of inconvenience to drivers. The goal was to shut it down for four and a half minutes with one minute for every hour Mike’s body was left in the street but we ended up staying for a bit longer. That was when at least one hundred cops showed up in their riot gear and stood in a face off with protesters. After they started advancing some of the protesters dispersed to go home but a decent number stayed with the group as we decided to march back to Mo’s. The police followed us.
For a while about one hundred protesters stood on the sidewalk, on the patio of Mo’s, or inside MoKaBe’s building itself while cops formed a line across Arsenal blocking access to Grand and repeated over the bullhorn “This is an unlawful assembly. Please get out of the street and disperse immediately.” The crowd would say back, “You’re an unlawful assembly, please get out of the street,” “We’re on a public sidewalk,” and “We have a right to protest.” This was also when a second squad of cop cars arrived and blocked off the street slightly farther down Arsenal effectively trapping protesters at the coffee shop. Individuals *may* have been able to pass the police lines but as a group we were going no where. They kept us trapped that way for an hour and a half and then the tear gas came.
They fired tear gas at the building, forcing those outside to run in and filling the inside of the building with fumes. We tried to run out the back door but another group of cops were there and fired more tear gas at us. A lot of folks fled to the basement and the medics immediately sprang into action. Let me tell you, those people were amazing. They were crucial in keeping people calm after we were gassed. I have asthma so I had been inside for much of trapping because I didn’t want to risk having my asthma triggered by being gassed for being outdoors. Who knew they would fire at the building? I didn’t have my inhaler but luckily one of the medics brought me one and encouraged me to sit when my body kept twitching and shaking. For a half an hour the police kept us trapped in the building by using teargas any time we opened the doors and arresting those who dared to try to leave. Almost exactly half an hour in they agreed to let us leave in mass without gassing us or arresting us if we walked out calmly and in the opposite direction of Grand. From 11:30 PM until 1:30 AM we had been trapped and now we were free to go. We decided that it was fitting to walk out with our hands up.
This was relatively calm compared to what was going down just twenty minutes away in Ferguson.
Tuesday was much more calm relatively speaking. We didn’t march, there was just a gathering at MoKaBe’s. The police did march though. They marched from the Alps Supermarket at the intersection of Grand and Magnolia to Mo’s in their riot gear telling any passerby (all of whom were on the sidewalks) to get out of the street. There were slightly fewer protesters at Mo’s that night, they did end up trapping protesters in the shop again (no gas this time), but something amazing also happened that night. Reverend Osagyefo Sekou gave a very moving speech and helped de-escalate the situation in a way that was very moving for a lot of people. This is his speech:
New York, NY
I was a part of a group of folks who gathered in Union Square and marched through FDR and then Times Square, Columbus Circle and onward to the Westside Highway. We ended in Harlem. When we initially gathered, many black folks were speaking and sharing. At some point, though, there was a transition, and many non-black folks and other people of color began sharing and their words of “solidarity,” which ultimately silenced the fact that this is matter of anti-blackness.
We began marching. As we marched and ran into cops, I was incredibly frustrated with non-black folks who felt it in their right to yell, antagonize and get in the faces of cops while not fucking thinking twice about the danger we are putting black folks in. Several times I saw black folks asking non-black folks to check themselves and to pull their shit together.
As we continued, many non-black folks wanted to make changes to routes of the march because of heavily policed/blockaded roads without any real strategy. The arguing began, and many non-black folks were speaking over and literally yelling at black folks to do X/Y/Z route. Towards the end, I was defeated by the inability of non-black folks (myself included) to support black folks in true solidarity by listening, not co-opting their struggle and not putting their lives in more danger by aggressively interacting with cops. At the end, similar to the beginning gathering in Union Square, non-black folks were saying thigs like “We are all Trayvon, Mike, X.” And we are fucking not. This is anti-blackness. This is not solidarity. And us non-black folks need to do better.
Some other feelings I’m having about marching is that we non-black folks don’t only need to shut down streets. We need to shut down racism and anti-blackness in our personal lives. My general sentiment last night was that so many of with access marched and can go home without the fear of ever losing our life to police violence. What are we doing outside of marching? I felt strongly that the trademark white queer “anarchist” “punk” presence lacks any real analysis of how their bodies are not targets of anti-black violence, and conflating their issues with what happened in Ferguson is gross, violent, and racist.
Bottom line, Black Lives Matter. And as non-black folks, as queers and people of color we need to show up in solidarity with black folks, shut the fuck up, and do exactly what we are told.
Los Angeles, CA
For me, being out on the street wasn’t the most effective way of helping out. Instead, I monitored social media. I directed people who aren’t as tied into the community to the marches in their city.
It was very interesting to see people who normally wouldn’t be involved in direct action be really involved in creating carpools and making signs. It was also very cool to see so many of my young friends wanting to be really informed before they went out into the streets. Collecting information for people who couldn’t access media or only had access to mainstream news sources was the most difficult part; I watched the major news sources call people looters instead of reporting on the situation and had to deal with harassment from Wilson supporters online. In the midst of a lot of great work, there were still people who wanted to tear down the folks fighting the good fight.
Directing people also gave me a chance to see where gaps exist between organizers and the community. There were a lot of times that what people thought was common knowledge among protesters was new information for people in the crowd. How to treat tear gas or even how to ensure you have a number to call while in custody were things that many first-time protesters didn’t know or hadn’t thought of and were really glad to learn about. This was both cathartic and informative for many, many people.
There were hundreds of demonstrators in attendance, mostly white people, some non-black POC, then a handful of black people. I ran out of my house and joined the group when they marched to the police station in Capitol Hill (the corner was conveniently barricaded). We then went down through Central District and to I-5. It was passionate and loud, and also highly disorganized (understandable) and problematic. White men in black bloc were taunting the police and pushing over barricades, which was obnoxious, because they were the least likely targets and took the event as an excuse to be aggro and “fuck shit up.” Non-black organizers with loudspeakers were taking up most of the space, leading chants like “they’re murdering our youth,” effectively stamping out black voices and taking the spotlight by promoting their own revolution organizations.
It felt odd hearing the chant “no justice no peace, no racist police,” as if individual racist police were the problem; no, this is racism embedded with classism and our entire structure must be dismantled. How do you communicate this concept to the watching public? There was no route planned and the group threatened to splinter at every intersection. At one point, we disrupted a gathering at a community center hosted by the police. The crowd called for the police to leave, and later back on the street, a black woman asked for a few moments of silence as she read names of black men murdered by police. The crowd obeyed and shut up, surprisingly. After someone yelled about how protesters stopped traffic on the highway in Oakland, the crowd cheered and headed towards I-5. We surged onto the interstate freeway and were met by police, who started pepper spraying people in the face and throwing flash bombs that echoed across the city. It was apparent there was no safety plan —those hit (a black man and a black woman!) stumbled away wailing, with no one to help.
The ensuing conversations in my friend circle about inappropriate white involvement have been enraging and so, so tiring. Like, I had to kill a conversation with a new white guy friend who felt sorry for Macklemore getting flack for being (in the spotlight) at the Seattle protests, when I was highlighting about how his public appearance acted as a distraction and obstruction to real news on social media. My white girlfriend back in Austin attended the rally last night, and relayed to me how a white man took the stage and tried to emcee. She and several other white people confronted him and asked him to stop taking up so much space. I don’t know how else to say it —white folks, this is not about you, it’s not about your tears/sadness, back off, this is not your space, stop filling up social media with only your feelings and impressions, stop retweeting only white people, stop sharing only articles written by white people, stop co-opting this movement, stop getting offended when you are called out for being oppressive when you think you’re being helpful, just stop for a moment and listen. White allies need to step up and talk to other white people about this so the movement does not get derailed.
I was there at the protests because it felt critical to get out of the house and onto the streets, I was wrenched outside by the sick and anger growing in my gut. I am not black. Currently I am at a loss on how to best proceed without causing more harm. The only thing that is clear is the need to amplify black voices and promote black leadership. I’ve witnessed one manifestation of the horrible, pervasive effect of systemic racism — it completely traumatizes and exhausts those who are impacted, leaving everyone else completely clueless on how to respond, and unintentionally promoting more anti-black racism in some of their/our responses.
I was at the London vigil and protest. I’m still processing, but here goes.
The vigil (held outside the American Embassy) was peaceful and organized by the London Black Revs. The speeches connected Mike Brown’s murder in Ferguson to the murder of Mark Duggan by the police in the UK and the deaths of black people in police custody. Sean Rigg’s and Jimmy Mubenga’s deaths were also highlighted. I’m not sure how many people were there. BBC says hundreds, I think it was so many more. Over 2,000 people said they were attending.
A march wasn’t planned, but we ended up doing one spontaneously after an acquaintance of mine chanted “No justice, no peace, TAKE TO THE STREETS!” Suddenly, we were marching through Oxford Street and other parts of central London.
We chanted, “Who killed Mike Brown? Police killed Mike Brown!” outside a police station, which felt so powerful, especially when cars and vans beeped in solidarity, a (white) homeless man put his hands up, and a bus driver beeped his horn really loudly while some of the passengers cheered us on. On the flip side, my friends (almost all QTPOC) and I left when two police vans drove at full speed towards protestors on the street, who had to leap out of the way, and it looked like they were going to start kettling people. I’ve heard reports that there was a small kettle on Tottenham Court Road, and that the police were threatening people with arrests if they looked like they were regrouping (basically because some white men in balaclavas were tagging walls with “Justice for Mike Brown.”)
I thought it was a really powerful vigil and protest, but the more I think about it, the more uncomfortable I feel. The white people shouting things during the supposed silence, the “Whose streets? Our streets!” chants coming from white mouths (felt kind of like I was claiming my space when I said it but when I think about white people saying it… no) and the way some of the speeches tried to tie in non-Black issues felt really wrong to me… (And the person who yelled “and brown people!” in response to a comment someone made about black victims?.) I found it great because I got to march in anger and not be ignored but I also can’t help but feel like it could have been better. It feels like we can never have a time to discuss a purely Black issue without other issues being discussed. It also does other issues a huge disservice. I have friends who left early because they couldn’t deal with white people saying “hands up, don’t shoot.”
As an aside, what I found really interesting were the reactions to my “Black lives matter!” sign. White people kept sneering and glaring at me.
I saw the white guys in balaclavas, too. At first they came in and spotted some friends, followed by 3/4 of the police — tops. Something reeked to me so I’m not surprised that it led to some trouble. I broke off a bit before the end because I was sick, so missed that progression of police presence. Overall I think the impromptu march was great. Still some things that didn’t sit well with me, but I think that’s part of everything I’m still mentally processing this week.