Making the Movement

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WATCH AS NIKESHA ELISE WILLIAMS READS THE PROLOGUE TO MAKING THE MOVEMENT:

8:46. Eight minutes and forty-six seconds. That’s the length of time it took for former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, to kill 46-year-old George Floyd after his arrest for trying to use a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill to buy a pack of cigarettes in a convenience store. This egregious act of mercilessness captured on camera and streamed around the world via traditional news outlets and social media proved to be the final straw for tens of thousands of people; Black and white alike. 8:46 became a lightning rod in the reckoning of the weaponization of the police against Black bodies. But 8:46 is not the first of its kind. 

March 13. Breonna Taylor. The Louisville EMT was sleeping in her apartment when police bum-rushed the door with a no-knock warrant and were met with fire from Taylor’s boyfriend who thought an intruder was in the home. Taylor died where she lay from eight bullets fired by the police. 

February 23. Ahmaud Arbery ran 2.23 miles. He was followed, confronted, and killed in the Golden Isles. 

2014. Mike Brown. His body was left in the middle of a Ferguson, Missouri street for four hours after he was shot and killed by a police officer. 

2014. Greg Hill. Hill is shot in his home by a St. Lucie Sheriff’s Deputy. The shots were fired through his garage. 2012. Jordan Davis. Three and a half minutes and ten bullets left the 17-year-old dead, and the fleeing SUV he was in with three friends, riddled with bullets after he argued with Michael Dunn over loud music. 

2012. Trayvon Martin. A trip to the convenience store for a pack of skittles and iced tea led to a deadly confrontation with George Zimmerman. 

1999. Amadou Diallo. The 23-year-old Guinean immigrant reached for his wallet when he was stopped by police outside of his apartment building. The police fired 41 shots. 

1969. Fred Hampton. The rising star of the Black Panther Party was asleep when police raided his apartment and killed him. 

1955. Emmett Till. The 14-year-old from Chicago’s Southside was pistol-whipped and shot and a 70-pound cotton gin fan was put around his body that was subsequently dropped into the Tallahatchie River in Money, Mississippi. 

August 20, 1619. 20 to 30 enslaved Africans forcibly disembarked at Point Comfort in Virginia. 

AND SO IT BEGAN. 

THE LEGACY OF POLICE BRUTALITY

Though it is not taught in any history books in American classrooms today, brutality was at the heart of the creation of an official policing force in this country. Night watch volunteers in the northern colonies tasked with watching property and looking out for prostitution and gambling in the mid-to-late 17th century devolved into slave patrols in the southern colonies by the early 18th century. Time magazine reports that the first formal slave patrol was created in the Carolina colonies in 1704 for the preservation of the economic system that was chattel slavery. 

Following the Civil War and Reconstruction, “many local sheriffs functioned in a way analogous to the earlier slave patrols, enforcing segregation and the disenfranchisement of newly freed people.” 

Be it preserving slavery, enforcing segregation, or mandating “law and order,” force has always been an integral instrument the police— in all of their states of evolution—have wielded against Black people. Brutal force is built into the hegemonic ideology of every department across this country. It is the heart of what the police are even if some individual officers or entire departments no longer subscribe to such beliefs. In the words of James Baldwin, the police must “know from whence they came.” 

It is because of these deplorable origins that we now see this latest iteration of rebellion by Black people who refuse to submit to the life or death body politic that the police so often impose on Black communities just by the sheer nature of their presence. It is not that Black people don’t support police, or don’t want police, it is that we don’t want to be killed by the police.

THE FIGHT FOR CHANGE

Thus, we see national and international uprisings as an outcry against the unwarranted killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. The latest hashtags added to a litany of names of Black people, Black victims, killed by police or racist vigilantes by proxy of police,  who didn’t have to die. These protests have rocked the world including our city into action. 

“There’s a clear need for trust, transparency, and accountability,” said Ben Frazier, Founder and President of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville. 

That people would risk the life and death odds in the midst of a global pandemic to march for days and weeks across downtown Jacksonville demanding justice for Black people, and equal treatment under the law by police, is potent. It is indicative that this time, this fight, this wave of new aged civil rights beheld by the mantra BLACK LIVES MATTER, is different. 

The Jacksonville Community Action Committee (JCAC) has been at the heart of organizing protests and marches in Jacksonville since 2017. Founded in part by Christina Kittle and Michael Sampson, II the mission of the JCAC is to create a Jacksonville Police Accountability Council (JPAC). 

“We’re trying to get community control of the police so that there actually is communication between the community and the police,” Kittle said.

Sampson said a group like a JPAC is a clear solution to unchecked police power. 

“Part of the JPAC is this huge movement to defund the police, and part of the JPAC would have the ability to approve police budgets or disapprove them. We’ve been pushing in Jacksonville for the past couple of years for a people’s budget.” 

More on the movement to “defund the police” later as it is a byproduct of the larger movement to create a police accountability council. A movement that is national in scope and began in the aftermath of the arrest of political activist and feminist philosopher, Angela Davis, in 1973. The push to create police accountability councils across the country was part of the Black Panther Party’s plan for peace and justice. Therefore it died down when the party was extinguished by the federal government led by J. Edgar Hoover at the helm of the FBI and his COINTELPRO program that feared any group that created a “Black Messiah.” 

However, just because the movement died down, does not mean it is dead. Most recently it has been explored in Chicago. 

Kittle said, “We’ve been attending [Chicago’s] meetings since 2014 but we didn’t start it here until 2017. There’s still a lot of pushback. It’s still a lot of education. It’s still a lot of people realizing, ‘Oh, this is a problem,’ and just organizing our masses.” 

Those organized masses look like ten thousand people at a rally in downtown Jacksonville organized by the JCAC. Those masses look like thousands in a march from the stadium to the sheriff’s office organized by Jaguars star running back Leonard Fournette.

“If you don’t stand up for nothing you’ll fall for anything,” Fournette said to Folio 2.0 the evening before the march was to take place. “Instead of talking about it I just want to do more. Action can be taken each and every day.” 

In this age of social media activism the people at the forefront of marches and movements are more often than not those with the largest follower count on Instagram and Twitter. Platforms Fournette does not take for granted and is now using to educate his fans, his followers, and the masses at large on what it’s like for him as a Black man in America as much as his love for football. 

“I grew up in the hood so a lot of things, police brutality, I’ve been seeing that since I was young. A lot of people don’t grow up seeing that, but I’ve witnessed that since I was a child. I’ve seen it go on for years and years.” 

At 25-years-old, Fournette vividly recalls growing up in New Orleans and seeing his father detained for thirty minutes by the police because he was running out of a store at the behest of his son. Memories like these mark Black people. Ben Frazier, born in 1950, recalls Ax Handle Saturday—the August 1960 riot in Hemming Park where Black people demanding lunch counter integration were met by white men with baseball bats and ax handles—with the same amount of clarity. 

“I remember the Ku Klux Klan coming by in a flatbed truck,” Frazier recalled. “They were dressed in full regalia; hoods and all. And [I remember] being afraid and my mother said, “Benny, boy don’t be scared. They ain’t gon’ do nothing.”

Frazier has been on the frontlines of fighting for racial equality and social justice in Jacksonville nearly all of his life. He has seen the ebbs and flows of uprisings, some that have led to lasting change, and others that have not. But he remains optimistic and staunch in his belief of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  

WHAT’S DIFFERENT THIS TIME? 

What makes the fight for justice different this time? In its simplest form: white people. 

“I’m happy to see that among our people who are marching, young white people [are] carrying signs that say racism is wrong,” Frazier said.

From the sheer senseless pain in George Floyd’s last living moments on Earth, to the number of white people marching in droves against such injustice, much needed and long overdue conversations are beginning to take place. 

“I think the white allies need to listen,” Frazier said. “There’s too much of us as races talking at each other. There’s a need for us to talk with each other.” 

“Just listen to us,” Fournette said. “It’s bigger than football. It’s bigger than kneeling. It goes back [hundreds] of years.” 

In that listening, white allies will begin to hear the stories of injustice, brutality, and killing-by-cop that activists like Michael Sampson are working to bring to the forefront. 

“It’s easy for somebody to read a headline like: ‘Black boy shot by neighbor, neighbor claims stand your ground.” Sampson said. 

He said people may read that local headline and glance over it not knowing at the heart of that headline was a man named Keegan Roberts; a young husband and father, who was killed by his neighbor after weeks of disputes. 

“Our work with the families has been to bring their stories to the forefront so that the greater public could empathize with them and also believe in the accountability that they’re trying to fight for,” Sampson said. 

This effort to humanize Black victims of police brutality or racially motivated vigilanteism is work that stems from the first enslaved Africans brought to this country, stripped of their humanity, and deemed property; only three-fifths human. It is the reason, Sampson said, that George Floyd’s excruciating death, where he screams out to his dead mother for help, caught the country’s attention. 

“They saw an African-American man lose his life on camera. That caught people’s attention because they could empathize with that man.”

However, being seen as human and being treated equally under the law are two entirely different tracts of the same overall goal. While telling stories and having long overdue conversations help imbue empathy, and humanize Black people to white audiences, change is still being demanded in earnest and that requires political action and power. 

THE DEMANDS

“Power is organized people and organized money coming together,” Sampson said. 

“There needs to be a commitment on the part of the mayor, the strong mayoral government that we have, that he wants to see a massive Marshall plan of economic redevelopment and revitalization in the Black community,” Frazier said. 

The demands for change, for justice, for equality for Black people in the city of Jacksonville are long and specific. Economic partnership and cooperative economics is only one example. A push for better education and public works programs are another.  However, accomplishing these goals requires money, and the JCAC says that money should come from the police. 

Kittle said, “They make forty percent of the city budget. As it stands right now every dollar that’s spent in Jacksonville, 40 cents goes to JSO.” 

JSO has requested their 2020-2021 budget at nearly half a billion dollars ($487,789.855 specifically). An increase of six-million compared to what they requested and received for 2019-2020. 

The JCAC wants the JSO budget capped at 20 percent, with the funds that would have gone to them redistributed to the community. 

“If you free up money from the budget you can start a series of public works programs,” Kittle said. “You can create jobs that tend to infrastructural problems we have in our communities, while hiring the people in those communities to do those living wage jobs.” 

Kittle and Frazier believe this step will not only help oft-neglected communities in this city but also aid in reducing crime. 

“It helps with employment opportunities,” Kittle said. “It helps with the actual changes that need to get fixed that just haven’t and then you can start seeing crime reduced.”

“There needs to be economic revitalization and things like culture, and health, and art, and music,” Frazier said. “We need to give people who are coming out of the penal system, returning citizens an education . . . I’m telling you that there is in fact an inextricable link between poverty, unemployment, economic degradation and gun violence and crime.” 

It is no secret that crime has ravaged the Black community in Jacksonville and in the densely packed, urban metropolitan areas of every other major city in America. Because of Jim Crow, segregation, redlining, and systematic disenfranchisement these areas are generally under-resourced and overly policed. 

“What JSO has done to Black people and the 280-thousand residents who are Black in this city is heinous, horrific, and absolutely appalling,” said Frazier. “They have committed acts of brutality that go back a generation. They have shot disproportionately on a racial basis more Black folks than white folks despite the fact that we’re only 29 to 31 percent of the population.” 

Data from the Washington Post shows that although half of the people shot and killed by police are white, Black people are killed almost twice as often by the police even though we only make up 13 percent of the country’s population. In numbers, it’s about five a week since 2015. Then to add insult to injury it’s rare if officers are ever charged, and if they are, convictions are even more few and far between. 

According to numbers from the Henry A. Wallace Police Crime Database between 2005 and 2014 more than 10-thousand criminal arrest cases were brought against nearly 8,500 officers. Of those cases only 110 officers nationwide were charged with murder or manslaughter, and only 42 officers were convicted. 50 were acquitted, and 18 cases are still pending. 

For the JCAC, overturning Florida statute 112.532: The Law Officer Bill of Rights is key to community control of the police. 

“It’s called their bill of rights because it is,” Kittle said. “They have their own separate due process protections on top of the constitutional Bill of Rights that every other citizen has. As long as they have extra protections under the law, under state law, that puts them above the rest of us.”

This advantageous step that allows officers to claim self-defense, or that they were in fear for their lives, or a myriad of other defenses for the reason they shoot first and protect and serve later is the reason “it” keeps happening. 

“It” as in the number of Black people disproportionately killed by officers with little to no recourse. 

June 12, 2020. Rayshard Brooks. 

Less than three weeks after the killing of George Floyd sparked us into this period of civil unrest, social disobedience, and demand for justice, police officers in Atlanta killed 27-year-old after he tried to flee with an officer’s taser. He was shot in the back. 

To those that say the police wouldn’t kill these “suspects” if they weren’t involved or suspected in a crime, your belief is loosely held together and extremely fallible. Breonna Taylor was asleep in her home and the officers had the wrong address. Furthermore, white murder suspects are easily arrested without incident and afforded the opportunity to defend themselves in a court of law. Dylann Roof (Charleston 9). Nikolas Cruz (Parkland shooting). Peter Manfredonia (UConn student accused of killing two people). Black people are only demanding the same equal treatment. If we are wrong, if we are suspect, if we are criminal, allow us the chance to live to make it to the witness stand, instead of officers serving as judge, jury, and executioner, and sending us to the graveyard. 

Kittle said, “You should have your chance to defend yourself in a court of law so you can say your side of the story but if the other person is dead they never have the chance to defend themselves. That’s not justice.”

WHAT IS JUSTICE? 

So what is justice? The end of racism? Equal treatment under the law? A Jacksonville Police Accountability Council? A chance to survive a traffic stop? 

Justice is all of those things. It is the systematic dismantling of every institution and tool of oppression used to subdue Black people since our ancestors arrived on this continent. That requires a decolonization of everything we take for granted as not being racist: our language, our classrooms, our legal system, our laws. 

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me.” While I can’t speak for all Black people I feel safe in saying that at the end of the day Black people want to live freely. 

This basic want, this basic right, is the fire that has fueled every uprising, insurrection, riot, mob, or movement by Black people since 1619. From some 313 slave revolts including Stono’s Rebellion and Nat Turner’s Rebellion to the Civil Rights Movement, to now, Black people have been demanding the right to “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

“I remember somebody say, ‘Give me liberty, or give me death,’” Frazier said, recalling Patrick Henry’s famous speech that led in part to the American Revolution. “I’m sorry but they taught me that and I believe that.”

There is not another demographic in this country who believe in the words of our nation’s founding more than Black people. Our only want is for those ideals, written in ink on parchment, to apply to us too. 

“What we have in microcosm is 400 years of knees on the back of Black folks necks whether it be the city, the state, or the nation, Frazier said. “We need to address this issue earnestly, sincerely, straightforwardly, but with all deliberate speed.”

To address the issue means we can’t “All Lives Matter” the issue because all lives can’t matter, until Black lives matter too. The fight continues. The march goes on. 

Frazier said, “This is not a moment. This is in fact a movement. This is in fact a revolution and this revolution will be televised.”

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