The First Time They Hit Me Was From Behind. We Were Peaceful, But They Wanted To Send a Message.

As Told To Gabrielle Bruney
Photo credit: .

From Esquire

On Saturday, there were thousands of people in the park in LA. We wanted to make sure that we continue to push to defund the police, and stand in solidarity with the families of so many—Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, who's from my hometown, Houston. Grechario Mack, Redel Jones, Wakiesha Wilson. We wanted to lift up Tony McDade and honor trans black lives, and that's what we did. We heard from the mother of Kenneth Ross Jr., who was murdered by police here in LA County. He was shot in the back.

We stood with the Minneapolis School District, and the university’s decision to divest from police. Even my school was over-policed. Police were always present and they were always focused on the Black and Brown kids, always. We witnessed and were involved in police violence in high school, whether that be in our school or outside our school. I've been pulled out of my car at gunpoint, accused of stealing my mom's car.

On Saturday we closed out with the Assata Shakur chant. Then we said, in so many words, "You ain't got to go home, but you got to get the hell up out of here. Because we're leaving." They decided to keep marching, cool. I was like, “I'm ready to go home.” I couldn't find my assistant or my associate director because they started marching with other folks. So I called them. They were down the street, and I started walking that way. There was a police blockade all of a sudden. I don't know where it came from. No sirens, nothing. Police were literally lined up in the middle of the street. I want to point out, I didn't see any buses. Usually when they plan on making mass arrests, they have these sheriff's buses. I didn't see that.

I started with video, but I eventually went live because they were just getting increasingly more aggressive and started hitting people with batons. One of them walks up on me. They say, "Move." I see them coming at folks with batons. I'm filming and I think I'm yelling at them, like, "What are you doing? Ain't nobody being aggressive to you." And one cracks me on my back with a baton. The first time you see me get hit in my live is from behind.

They were ready to go for no reason, like this was their backyard and we were trespassing. Not like the reality of, “We pay taxes for these streets and we have every right to be on them, and we have every right to protest.” Nobody was being aggressive. There was no looting going on. There was nothing. Nothing.

I always have to say, I'm not condemning anybody else's decision to protest that way. I'm not saying that people shouldn't be enraged and violent. We face violence every single day. Not just in the form of police brutality, but in the form of extraction of resources from our community, in the form the government never acknowledging their role in our oppression, in the form of not giving us the resources that we need, and criminalizing us. That is violent. I have no problem with folks being violent as a reaction. You have to expect it, as Angela Davis says. You can't enact violence on these folks every day and not expect a violent reaction. But I'm stating the facts of ours, which was peaceful. They decided to be extremely aggressive and it was a disproportionate reaction.

I believe wholeheartedly that they planned to do that, to send a message. They wanted to send a message. Otherwise they would've made arrests immediately. They would've said "This is an unlawful assembly," and they would have had the bus there. They kept pinning us in. They would surround us, tell us to leave, but be brutalizing us on all sides. Shooting us with rubber bullets. They shot me a total of seven times. Beat me countless times with those batons. They split my assistant's shin wide open to the point you could see his bone. One of the officers was just cracking this woman that was standing still against the police officer's car. Then she doubles over, she falls to the ground. I stand in front of her, over her, and three of them hit me, hit me with the batons and then one shoots me in my leg and the other one shoots my chest.

[Rubber bullets] take skin off immediately. No matter where it hits you, it takes skin off. When it hit me in my chest, it took the wind out of me. It's just really fucking painful. When it hit me in my leg, it was burning, throbbing, two or three layers of skin get taken off. Gratefully, I did not get hit in my face or head because people lost their eyes. My buddy Deon got two bones broken in his skull and has a skin flap on his cheek because of getting hit in the head. It's definitely not something to play with. They are lethal and they were pointing them directly at people.

[Funding police takes up] 54 percent of L.A.'s general fund, during COVID when we need relief and some people don't have housing. We're about to have a lot more homeless folks because they can't pay rent, and they refuse to cancel rent so that people can use stimulus money for survival in the worst economic crisis that we've had since The Great Depression.

“Defund the police” is saying, “You need to spend significantly less and put that money towards programs that are actually founded in healing our communities and making us well.”

In almost every major city, they spend [large amounts] of their budget on police. And then claim that they have no money to take care of those who are most vulnerable, while investing in a system that was designed to target the most vulnerable. We can do better. That money could go to addressing the symptoms instead of criminalizing folks for mental illness. 55% of men in jails and prisons are mentally ill or have some sort of mental illness. 73% of women, which highlights those extra layers of oppression.

And so why do we not have mental health care? Our largest mental health care infrastructure in the country is jails and prisons. Why do we not have housing? In LA alone, we're spending $3 billion on cops and we don't have adequate housing, but they put homeless folks in jail. We have substance abuse problems, why do we not have rehabilitation centers and addiction centers instead criminalizing a health issue? Why do we not have adequate healthcare? Why do we not have adequate nutrition and jobs?

The things that keep us safe are healthcare, jobs, education, and housing. Those are the things that keep us safe. And then if you can build a system of accountability for those who get out of line—restorative justice. There's so many models that we can expand that actually do help and heal the community, instead of putting people in cages. If you can't imagine better than this system, then you have no imagination.

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