“You’re sexy, you’re cute! Take off that riot suit!”
I’m yelling in the face of a line of cops, faces obscured by helmets and visors, gas masks dangling from their belts. We’re here in front of the courthouse demonstrating in solidarity with the people of Ferguson who are fighting racist police brutality and against the incarceration of people in our own community. Somehow this cute mantra calms my raging nerves. Any second now they might attack.
My mind flashes with images from two years ago, when I was choking on tear gas and running from flash bangs on these very same streets, and I’m trying not to panic. I thought I’d left these memories behind me, but here, standing up against the riot police, I feel the panic rising in my stomach.
When I first started college, I had dreams of someday finishing my law degree and running for political office. If I couldn’t be president myself, I wanted to be Chief of Staff, or maybe senator. I had organized with queer students in high school against homophobia and discrimination, and was so excited to come to UC Berkeley and throw myself against the tuition increases and privatization on campus.
Things started shifting for me pretty quickly when I got to college and started learning about the systemic racism and classism that determines who gets to go to college and who does not, about the huge amount of power in the hands of the very few people who hold most of the world’s wealth, about the impact of our consumption on humans and the ecosystems within which we exist. Around this time, Citizens United was decided, seriously compromising my faith in government to make the serious changes I was realizing we desperately needed.
On November 17th, 2010, I went to the UC Regents meeting in San Francisco to protest tuition increases. It was probably the most pivotal moment that led me to lose faith in this government and start working for a complete overhaul of the system. I kept a blog at that time as well, and here was my eighteen-year-old self reaction to what happened that day:
“There is an indescribable fear that comes over you when you are standing face to face with a uniformed officer with a huge club and a dark mask on, particularly when you are small, unarmed, and unprotected. I was obviously terrified, shaking uncontrollably and beginning to tear up, but I continued to march forward until the cops began to attack us with clubs, and eventually sprayed us directly with pepper spray, which is incredibly painful… I somehow ended up at the front, face to face with riot police and we marched down the stairs. This time, the brutality of the cops was even less rational. I was struck in the face with a club and pushed down against the stairs, as protesters marched over me and fell on top of me. The passageway soon was filled with pepper spray so my split lips and eyes were on fire, and I had no way out. One guy pulled me up and pushed me behind him to protect me, but he was grabbed by the cops and thrown face-first onto the concrete, and handcuffed right in front of me. At about this time I heard someone yelling about a gun, and I was about to panic…
What shocked me was that before today I have held a very positive view of cops. I have thought of them as respectable individuals who sometimes get out of hand, but only because they are following orders. Today, I have no idea what I was thinking.” — http://lobewaves.blogspot.com/2010/11/political-action-stream-of.html
Standing here, four years later, facing off with the riot police yet again, I am an altogether different person. The violence of the police force no longer catches me off guard; I see the police in the context of ongoing militarization, the brutal murder of Michael Brown, Oscar Grant, and others, the suppression of any dissent in this country that would offer an alternative to the two-party capitalist system. They are here to protect the existing powers.
And now I feel something more than fear. Anger is welling up in my stomach, and honestly part of me wants the fight to break out. The pain and oppression of the state is so often hidden behind lies and a peaceful front. In the moments when the cops are violently attacking, at least everything feels more honest, a real acknowledgement of the tyranny that is always at play. My fury is building, and I want to show what I feel.
We turn around and walk away. The riot cops are left alone on the street.