This guest blog on Friday’s march and sit-in at the MPD administration building was written by Pastor Steve Jerbi of All People’s Church in Riverwest.
What was the rally at Red Arrow? Was it in solidarity of Ferguson? Was it for the victims of violence – families of Corey Stingley and Dontre Hamilton? Was it an immigration rally? Was it peaceniks and the regulars at rallies? Was it for healing or for venting? Was it about speaking to be heard or moving forward?
Of course, the answer is yes. Yes to all of those things.
What makes this moment and this movement frustrating to those seeking a simple narrative is that it is not a single thing. It is the garment woven together from the threads of multiple struggles for liberation. It is what makes it beautiful.
It can also be frustrating. Multiple objectives converge on a single action. This can appear at times like competing visions. It can seem like the movement(s) is(are) weak.
Yet, this is the brilliance. It does not have to be one thing. It does not have to be neat and tidy and fit into a box. It is real and it lives in the struggle. The movement does not follow a flow chart or a mission statement or other tools of the empire used to keep things in their place. It is organic, growing wild. Sometimes it is flowers, sometimes thisles, sometimes food – all growing together in one messy field. All growing toward the reclaiming of space and beauty and health.
So when the march from Red Arrow moved toward District 1 headquarters I had the strong feeling this was not a planned action, but an occupying movement born of the moment. The raw energy as body climbed the stairs shook the building. The predictable chants took on new life as the echoed down the hall where officials work behind their desks. It was a celebration, a street party, a dancing revolution. The visceral cries from black and brown and Asian and white revealed that we are far more united and far stronger than anyone suspected.
Do not underestimate us.
On the second floor, doors open toward a balcony that overlooks the street. Chants and emotion filled the room and spilled out doors. Protesters outside the building joined with us.
And then the officers in riot gear came from behind the doors separating the lobby from the offices. They moved toward the balcony door. Folks tried to move back inside the building but not all who wanted in could get in.
With smaller numbers, the mood shifted from celebration to determination. Officers in riot gear guarding doors inside and out can do that.
Soon, citizens were lined up face to face with the police. With less than a hundred left occupying the building, the bulk of the crowd stayed toward the front. At times folks spoke from the anger that stems from police-community relations. Other times officers were invited to join the side of the protesters with a shared desire for justice. Media moved in and out of the crowd and waves of chanting came and went.
Toward the end of the occupation, Dontre’s mother spoke with passion and pain about the loss she felt through the shooting of her son. Families of victims stood face to face with officers.
Soon after, the officers in the room left. There were still police guarding the doors to keep anyone else from entering, but in the room it felt different. I felt different. I felt like something had happened, some truth had been spoken, some struggle had been confronted. Though nothing was solved, no outcomes won in that moment, no demands had met – something had happened.
The crowd spread out some and more time passed. I was in the stairwell when Captains Jutiki Jackson and Terreance Gordon, along with some other officers met with the crowd. Gone was the riot gear. Captain Gordon did most of the talking, though Captain Jackson was quick to weigh in when he had something to say.
Much of the conversation between organizers and the captains centered on the investigation around Dontre’s death. Both captains pointed toward the DA’s office in terms of who is handling the investigation. Officer worn cameras also came up and Capt. Gordon said the contract is out for bids.
Captain Gordon asked for a meeting, a place where discussion could happen. I made sure organizers knew All Peoples Church was an option. This was offered and the captains agreed.
At the end of the day, what was won? How was the movement advanced? Like the rally that started it, this will come with different answers from different people. Some will say it was a victory. Others may say it didn’t go far enough. But what I can say is how I felt. I felt like the voice of the people was heard. I felt like the voices crying out at Red Arrow would not be ignored. It felt to me like an important step in the march toward justice.
Facebook event page for Monday Red Arrow Park rally