The movement challenging the criminal justice system’s treatment of black people continues to build this week. On Monday morning, Bay Area organizers blockaded entrances to Oakland Police Department headquarters and brought traffic to a standstill on nearby Interstate 880. In Los Angeles, attorneys staged a die-in at a downtown courthouse on Tuesday. More than 100 protesters lay in the rain holding signs that read “Lawyers 4 black lives” and “No one is above the law.”
Actions such as these in California follow a weekend of nationwide protests that brought tens of thousands to marches and rallies in New York, D.C., Boston and elsewhere. For three weeks, since a Staten Island grand jury decided there was no need for the officer who killed Eric Garner to stand trial, people have been in the streets. And the policy experts and activists I’ve spoken to this week say the movement is only growing.
Matt Nelson, organizing director at the national racial justice organization ColorOfChange, has participated in actions in Ferguson, Oakland and Berkeley. He said the use of force by police, such as the plainclothes officer who pulled a gun on a crowd in Oakland and excessive use of teargas is building the movement by further politicizing protesters.
“There are so many people out protesting police violence who are then met with police violence,” Nelson said. “If they didn’t understand how a Mike Brown or an Eric Garner could happen, they understand after a night of protest how a police interaction can become very violent and even deadly.”
I met Sharena Thomas, co-founder of the People’s Community Medics, as she and her children left Saturday’s rally in Oakland. Thomas told me she was compelled to start her organization, which trains volunteers how to provide emergency first aid, after participating in a committee that independently investigated the shooting death of Oscar Grant, an unarmed black man, by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police in 2009. She told me she’s frustrated by the way some media outlets portray today’s mobilizations. “They just think we’re just some angry people fighting over Mike Brown and not the whole crooked justice system,” Thomas said.
Organizers in the movement are taking the “whole crooked” system as their target. So how to force a change of that magnitude? Last week, ABC News asked Tory Russell, an organizer with Hands Up United in Ferguson, for his take on the Obama administration’s plan to put more than $260 million toward funding police body cameras and training. Russell responded: “A body camera… doesn’t change the minds and the hearts of the police officers. I think we need to just remove racial bias in the system.” Mervyn Marcano of FergusonAction.com, a coalition of organizations working on police violence in Ferguson and nationwide, highlighted the importance of challenging implicit bias, or the unconscious anti-black stereotypes and fears that officers (and Americans more broadly) hold. “If you think body cameras and civilian review are going to get at these questions, you’re missing the point about how these officers walk around in our communities,” he told me.