Winston “Kokayi” Patterson is embroiled in a fight for a justice after a middle-aged white man brandished a gun at him during an altercation near the Walter E. Washington Convention Center last month. / Photo by Sam P.K. Collins
For more than 40 years, Winston “Kokayi” Patterson has treated an untold number of Washingtonians through substance abuse and mental health treatment, and natural healing. However, much of that has had to be put on hold after an altercation near the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Northwest.
Patterson said a middle-aged white man, angry that he relieved himself in the parking lot behind his storefront, cursed, spat on and brandished a gun at the slender, grey-loc’d elder. Officers later arrested the alleged assailant, Michael James Conway of Central Safe and Lock, charging him with assault with a deadly weapon and having a firearm without a business license. They also detained Patterson on a simple assault charge.
Nearly a month after the incident, only one man has to report before a judge.
“My situation’s no different from any Black man who’s been accosted by a belligerent white man, said Patterson, 64, a lifelong D.C. resident. “The conditions of Black people haven’t changed much.”
After his release from the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) 3rd District precinct in Northwest on the early evening of July 13th, Patterson had to submit a urine sample and adhere to a stay-away order. Earlier this week, nearly 60 people filled Courtroom 220 in D.C. Superior Court during his initial arraignment hearing. The presiding judge scheduled Patterson’s trial for the morning of September 26th.
Efforts to raise awareness about the renowned healer’s case and clear his name have been weeks in the making. On Aug. 2nd, a friends and supporters hosted a fundraiser at Sandovan Restaurant and Lounge in Northwest, an endeavor that garnered several hundred dollars in contributions and featured Al-Malik Farrakhan, executive director of Cease Fire, Don’t Smoke the Brothers, an antiviolence group on which Patterson serves on the board of directors.
Earlier this month, Patterson appeared on the To Heal DC Show with Joni Eisenburgon WPFW 89.3 FM. He also said he met with former D.C. Shadow U.S. Representative Charles Moreland (D), The Rev. Graylan Hagler, and other community leaders. On Wednesday, supporters led a demonstration in front of Central Safe and Lock. On Aug. 17th, major activities are also scheduled to take place. Yuma Bellomee, also known as Dr. Yew, recently did his part in hosting an herb walk in Anacostia Park in the latter part of last month.
“I would like to use this situation to raise awareness of human rights,” Patterson added. “We must fight for the rights of all Black people, against the injustice and repressive behavior presented to us by police officials and people in the community who have a reactionary state of mind.”
On the day of the incident, Patterson planned to attend the Fellowship Conference, then in its second day, with a longtime friend and patient who was serving as a staffer. By the time Patterson could no longer hold his urine, the duo had parked their vehicle directly in front of Central Safe and Lock, located across the street from the convention center on the corner of 7th and L streets in Northwest.
As he walked out of the alley between the parking lot and main street minutes later, Patterson locked eyes with a visibly irate Conway, who was standing behind a raised railing. Soon after, with a bag in hand and a knapsack on his back, Patterson strolled over to the crosswalk. That’s when he said Conway cursed at him. Once Patterson turned around and step toward Conway, the angry storeowner spat on him. In response, Patterson splashed water from a half-full bottle on Conway who then pulled a black automatic pistol out of his right pants pocket. Patterson, attempting to duck for cover behind an SUV, fell into 7th Street.
Patterson’s friend, who asked her name not be used in this story, quickly jumped into action, picking up an injured and disheveled Patterson. As she helped him walk across the street to the convention center, Conway yelled racial epithets at him. While Patterson entered the convention center and used the restroom, she flagged down MPD officers patrolling the area on foot.
For the next hour, six officers, and later two detectives, interrogated, Patterson, his friend, and Conway separately, with pairs of officers taking turns to question each person. Shortly after, they whisked Conway away in the squad car.
By that time, Patterson’s friend had been in the Convention Center engaging in activities related to the three-day event. Officers escorted Patterson, who’d been outside by himself for some time, into the convention center to meet her. After one more round of questioning, they cuffed Patterson and drove him to the 3rd District precinct, where he sat for more than three hours before being released. The next day, court officials set the terms of his release during pre-trial services.
“I didn’t see Dr. Patterson’s arrest coming. MPD misconstrued everything and caused a lot of stress. I would’ve never gotten them,” said Patterson’s friend, a member of Spirit of Faith Christian Center, located in Brandywine and Temple Hills, Maryland. She said Conway’s alleged assault traumatized her, causing her to seek therapy on a couple occasions. She also touched on the hurdles she has yet to overcome in bringing the storeowner to justice.
“I tried to file a complaint against Conway the next day because my life was threatened and they told me I couldn’t. They made it seem like Dr. Patterson was the defendant when he was really the plaintiff. People need to be fair. It’s crazy that the doctor has to suffer like this for no apparent reason,” the D.C. metropolitan area resident added.
Still in shock from what had just taken place, Patterson sent a mass text to dozens of friends, colleagues, patients, and extended family members in the days after, explaining the situation in great detail. A committee comprised of spiritual and civic leaders in the D.C. metropolitan area later crafted plans to raise awareness about the events of July 13th and organize community members of various ages via social media, email, and word of mouth.
“We’re blessed that we could stand by Baba Kokayi,” said Ayo Handy-Kendi, a breathologist and stress manager who served as a member of the organizing committee that hosted last week’s gathering at Sandovan. “People came out because they believe in Baba Kokayi and they believe an injustice has been done. We want him to be let off and we want the gentleman that assaulted him to be reviewed. We feel that he has also committed a threat and should be brought to justice.”
With much of the community on his side, Patterson said victory seems to be on the horizon.
“The response as it relates to my situation has been overwhelming. The concerns my colleagues have shown is a true testament to Black love and our ability to support our own,” he said. “The grassroots, political, health, education, Black media, and spiritual community is coming to support, along with a multitude of community organizations.”
PHOTO: The intersection of Broad and Erie streets in North Philadelphia/ Sam P.K.Collins
“The elections are a distraction. I’m personally not into it because I don’t know these people. I invest my time and energy into people who love and know me,” Hakeem Hawkins, owner of Black and Nobel Bookstore in North Philadelphia told AllEyesOnDC in response to an inquiry about the Democratic National Convention (DNC) taking place a couple miles south from where he spent most of the day selling cold bottles of water to passersby.
“I don’t want to invest my time if these politicians won’t come into my community,” he added, alluding to the conspicuous divide between convention goers ripping and running throughout downtown Philly and the natives who experience the hardships of daily life at the intersection of Broad and Erie streets and other enclaves in this historic American city.
Through Black and Nobel, Hawkins has fed his fellow Philadelphians knowledge and provided a platform for Hip-Hop artists and conscious scholars, including Dr. Umar Johnson, for the last 15 years, a feat that has made him a neighborhood star of sorts. During a visit to the bookstore, located an earshot away from Temple University, one could watch Phil Valentine lectures on a big screen television, order a shipment of books for incarcerated loved ones, and glean a cornucopia of books, pamphlets, and DVDs. This historic meeting place has also served as a de-facto drug detox center and meeting place for those wanting to turn around their tumultuous lives.
For Hawkins, directly tending to the community in this manner proves sufficient enough in making a change.
So much so, he said he had no plans to participate in convention activities beyond moving his water operation near the Pennsylvania Convention and Wells Fargo centers and catching a DJ Khaled performance. Anything else would be feeding into political theatrics he says does nothing but boost the egos of its actors.
“I don’t spend time following a person. I’m an entrepreneur,” Hawkins, sporting a white cap peppered with green marijuana leaf imprints and a neon yellow tank top, said while sitting under a tent strategically placed next to the entranceway to SEPTA, Philadelphia’s metro rail system. “Once you do that, it’s fuck the system and I’m pretty sure the politicians who are entrepreneurs do their business stuff first. They’re all full of shit. With the little they do, they want to be rewarded,” he added.
Hawkins’ viewpoint, though divergent and somewhat controversial to those who belong to the Democratic Party, are based in fact, particularly when it comes to police-community relationships.
Under the leadership of the Democratic Party, Black people in Philadelphia haven’t fared well. After all, this is the city where the MOVE bombing, the 1985 incident that killed nearly a dozen Black people and set ablaze blocks of a middle-class community, happened at the urging of then-Mayor W. Wilson Goode, a Democrat, and the city’s police chief. More recently, the Philadelphia Police Department, with the support of a powerful union, has been cited for using controversial “Stop and Frisk” tactics against Black residents.
Other signs of systemic inequality, including disparities in healthcare access, quality education, and income, count as parts of a legacy of racial tension that goes back to American Independence, characterized by Black Philadelphians’ struggle to create their communities peacefully. Majority-Black cities and communities across the country have encountered eerily similar situations, brought on by a combination of white flight, the shuttering of factory jobs, the flow of drugs, and overzealous drug laws that punish those do what they feel they have to do to overcome these conditions.
“We don’t have friends in politics. They give us nothing for our votes and support,” Brother June, an employee at Black & Nobel and journalism student at Temple, told AllEyesOnDC. June, a returning citizen who found a love for reading while incarcerated, said his experiences in the criminal justice system showed him how attorneys, judges, and politicians prey on the ignorant.
“Anytime we start to think critically, they call us conspiracy theorists. Hillary Clinton’s husband signed the unjust laws that incarcerated Black men for a long time. She used the word ‘super predators’ and supported the law to further perpetuate slavery,” June added. These days, he wants to get North Philly residents engaged in local politics, mainly through his upstart City Talk Newspaper. Plans also include the launch of his own political party, a testament to the anti-establishment views that perpetuate underserved U.S. communities.
Political Favors at the Expense of the People
After the overtly hate-filled Klan meeting that was last week’s Republican National Convention, many politically active melanated people converged on the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia earlier this week eager to boost the morale of voters weary from months of Democratic Party infighting and frightened by the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency.
So far, party elites haven’t disappointed in putting together a show, rallying around Secy. Hillary Clinton and rehashing old political talking points about freedom, America’s promising future, and this country’s position as the “best in the world.” Hearing those messages from my living room on Monday and Tuesday didn’t make me feel too good, especially after considering the people who delivered them.
Just as I had suspected, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) turned out to be a pseudo-revolutionary, throwing his support behind the woman he constantly painted as a Wall Street darling, even after WikiLeaks uncovered the DNC’s attempts to sabotage his campaign. In what many touted as an historic address, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) kept referring to the “forefathers” who drew up the U.S. Constitution, totally neglecting the fact that the white, male group of Founding Fathers more than likely had his ancestors in shackles in 1776.
First Lady Michelle Obama, with as much Black Girl Magic as she could muster, sang Secy. Clinton’s praises, but not before describing an American utopia that in no way, shape, or form matches the conditions blocks away from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, or much of the U.S. for that matter.
Once again, our elected officials played politics with us, delivering more style than substance and duping their followers, as well as members of the public who believe they have no other choice than Clinton, into thinking that a special group of people will save them from the Hell they said is guaranteed to ensue if Trump wins in November.
By the time I touched down in the city of brotherly love on Wednesday, daytime convention activities had been well under way and Democratic delegates, along with other party members and media folk, gathered in the halls of the Pennsylvania Convention Center to discuss various issues and address the constituencies that make up the Democratic Party.
That morning, the Black Caucus kicked off on the terrace of the Convention Center, providing me an opportunity to hear commentary on Black America’s current state of affairs, particularly that from former Attorney General Eric Holder who would be delivering the keynote address that morning.
Nearly an hour before DNC Black Caucus Chair Virgie Rollins started the program, much of Black America learned that charges for the three remaining Baltimore City police officers on trial for Freddie Gray’s death had been dropped. While this didn’t come as a surprise to me, I must admit that I felt sorrowful for State Attorney Marilyn Mosby and other key players, in the government and outside of the establishment, who put in the work necessary to ensure the case would make it this far. Once again, police officers wouldn’t be held accountable for the death of a Black person.
Surely, the speakers in the Black Caucus that morning, including Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, would at least mention this news and devise methods of reforming a system that allows killer cops to walk the streets freely.
It didn’t turn out that way.
Instead, much of the conversation from Rawlings-Blake, and later Holder, centered on the drawbacks of sitting out this election or voting for a third-party candidate. In what I considered the most ironic moment of the morning, Rawlings-Blake told audience members to “think about the youth [who] don’t want [live in] a country ruled in fear.” Obviously, she forgot the quasi-Martial Law imposed on the young Baltimoreans who took the streets in the aftermath of Gray’s murder last year.
Holder, in my opinion, performed a little better in the delivery of his keynote address. Unlike Rawlings-Blake, he addressed police brutality and weighed in on the Black Lives Matter movement as it exists, calling on its grassroots players to continue building their revolution in non-election years.
“People didn’t want to hear us when we talked about these police departments. The things we’ve been saying can be documented,” Holder said as audience members clapped. “For too long, people showed that Black lives didn’t matter and now we say that Black lives do matter. So don’t you let those brave young activists be marginalized. The Black Lives Matter folk have to not just make this a moment, but a movement. I need to not only see you during the presidential campaign. I need you to do the hard, boring work.”
I don’t know where Holder has been but the young people have been doing the work, even those not rallying under the Black Lives Matter banner. Shortly after leaving the cold, stale Pennsylvania Convention Center, I saw just that at different rallies within a three block radius. By Wednesday, Black Lives Matter and other Black grassroots organizations had already made their mark in that vicinity so it proved difficult finding groups of brothers and sisters.
After circling the block a couple times however, I found someone who had quite a bit to say about organizing as it pertains to awakening Black people and helping us achieve results. “Power is in the people and we can stand up,”Kashif Cole, a 21-year-old Brooklynite and representative of WorldCantWait.net, told AllEyesOnDC as he sat in front of a church.
“Beyond protesting, we can network and reach out to the people. Speak and be with them,” he continued.
Under the hot afternoon sun, we did just that, exchanging information and reasoning about Black unity, anti-capitalism, and grassroots organizing. Since taking my community work to new levels, I’ve reveled in such conversations, as they are the building blocks to movements that can catch fire.
“We have to do our own research and not take what anyone says at face value. We have to get educated and get powerful,” Kashif added. “We need more Black bodies on the ground protesting, not just when someone gets shot. It’s also very necessary to support Black business and take our money out of these corporations. The ultimate goal is revolution. We have to take down the system: no if, ands, or buts.”
That mantra became even clearer that evening after I heard President Barack Obama speak highly of Clinton and later hug her for what made a great photo op. Though I wasn’t in the Wells Fargo Center to capture that moment, a sense of calm overcame me listening to him talk about his political journey and encouraging those who booed to just go out and vote. After a couple seconds, I realized that it was a mix of adolescent nostalgia and the “Obama Effect,” what I like to describe as the president’s hypnotic presence, cadence, wordplay, and story telling that puts people at ease, even as he’s trying to sell us something that won’t do much good.
As a young voter in 2008 and 2012, I fell for this presidential marketing scheme. This time around however, I couldn’t let go of the fact that Obama, even as he praised her credentials, questioned Clinton’s judgment at one point. From the outside looking in, one could assume that their work together in the years since the 2008 Democratic Primary could’ve compelled this change of heart. I have reason to believe differently, understanding that when it comes to party politics, you have to move with the collective, even when that move is in support of someone who pretty much guaranteed her placement as the 2016 party nominee when she agreed to concede to Obama just eight years earlier.
Admittedly, I don’t have concrete proof of this assertion, but when you think outside of the box, you see the system for what it truly represents. Everything after that becomes commonsensical, even if the outside world doesn’t think so. Giving a group of people who have no agency a limited number of choices in who will run this country proves to be nothing more than a tool of control. Albeit, Clinton has decades of experience, but her mastery of party politics saved her more than anything else. The e-mail leak controversy that almost derailed the DNC and the subsequent cover up speaks to that.
Change Outside of the Political Arena
The global Black struggle for self-determination is more spiritual than anything else.
As a people without a common consciousness, we’re susceptible to the influence of outside forces that want our resources in return for nothing. Malcolm X told us this in his “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech, demanding that we as Black people build up our own institutions and take control of our communities. Without the common unadulterated heritage and backing of sovereign nations that other ethnic groups in this country have, doing that has proven virtually impossible for Black America.
That doesn’t mean that achieving this goal is impossible.
As I learned in my excursion throughout downtown and North Philly, there are people who understand that change initially comes from within. After that happens, they can change their communities, and ultimately the world. I stand with Brother June in saying that Black people, and maybe other oppressed melanated groups for that matter, need a political party that resonates with their values and needs. Obviously, that cannot happen overnight. Hillary Clinton supporters who point out that reality in their cajoling of those who don’t want to vote for her are terribly facetious for believing that we’re ignorant of these facts.
If one needs concrete proof that change is happening locally and outside of the political arena, they need look no further than Dominque White, a young mother of two who underwent a metamorphosis of her own less than a year ago. Even as she dwells on her bad decisions and stints on the streets, she remains persistent in changing her life and helping others, saying that forgiveness and unity are the keys to our salvation as a Black nation.
“Unity is the key but people are very prideful. I had to let my pride go but it took me seven years running in circles to understand that,” White,24, told AllEyesOnDC steps away from Black and Nobel where she and her friends gathered on Wednesday afternoon. “These young people don’t want anything other than what they’ve been shown. It’s the same bullshit like who got shot and who’s late on their rent. If more people could show others how to be successful, we could all be successful. I want to see someone helping the next man, sharing their health and resources. That’s the only way to make a change.”
If only the DNC visitors, especially those of African descent, could take some time out of their trip to visit North Philly and other marginalized parts of this city to learn this lesson.
On May 1st, also known as May Day, six months would have passed since Special Police officers allegedly murdered Alonzo F. Smith, a D.C.-area teacher’s aide, on the grounds of Marbury Plaza Apartments, perched on the hills of Good Hope Road in Southeast.
Though the altercation, the culmination of which was caught on a police body camera, placed a spotlight on local law enforcement protocol and sparked a grassroots movement for community control of police, a secret grand jury proceeding and what seems like political maneuvering by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and public officials threaten the possibility that the responsible parties will be held accountable.
Whatever the outcome, life has gone on for Marbury Plaza residents. Somewhat unaffected by Smith’s death, many have chosen to move rather than challenge the status quo. Edgar Greene, a local artist who has lived in Marbury Plaza for nearly two years, described such an outlook as a byproduct of living in an increasingly hostile environment. For this interview, he used a pseudonym.
“In the days and weeks leading up the incident, we saw quasi-SWAT gear come out; bulletproof vests and all of that,” Greene told AllEyesOnDC, noting other changes on the grounds of the apartment, including the shuttering of the community pool and demolition of a playground. “You could just tell the security unit was looking for something. They always had an edge about them. They wanted an excuse to pick on someone,” he added.
Greene recalled hearing his roommate speak about hearing Smith’s screams for help as he ran down numerous flights of steps, out through the back door of their apartment and across the parking lot into the building where officers finally detained him. In the weeks after his death, rumors have also circulated about officers pulling Smith out of a car.
Beyond that, not much has come to surface about what transpired before Smith’s detainment and ultimate death. In a statement issued days after, MPD said they received three emergency calls from Marbury Plaza in the early morning hours of Nov. 1st, including one for an assault in progress. Upon arriving on the scene, they said they found an unconscious, handcuffed Smith lying face down in the stairwell of the apartment with Special Police officers standing over his lifeless body. In those critical minutes, medics failed to resuscitate him through the application of CPR.
Smith was later pronounced dead at United Medical Center.
The D.C. Office of the Medical Examiner ruled Smith’s death a homicide, citing “acute cocaine toxicity while restrained” and “compression of the torso” among key causes. On the night of his arrest, Special Police officers told MPD officials that he may have been under the influence of K2, a brand of synthetic marijuana. That claim remains unsubstantiated.
Before his death, Smith, 27, had plans of completing his second anthology of poetry and continuing his undergraduate studies at Morgan State University in Baltimore. He also had stints as a portrait model. At his funeral, students that Smith taught in Alexandria, Virginia described him as an outstanding role model and happy-go-lucky person who tried to guide them along the right path.
The Special Police officers involved, employed by Blackout Investigations and Security Services, a Waldorf, Maryland-based security company, have since had their privilege and ability to carry a firearm revoked. However, Greene, along with others, said they have reason to believe that Blackout may have not honored honor its commitment to suspend those who were on duty that night, even alleging that one of the employees in the video still patrols the premises to this day.
“When it first went down, folks weren’t really complacent but there was nothing they could do. The general consensus is that this is something that happens then we move on. Security switched up and we hope they took the proper measures but you never know,” Greene said.
Beverly Smith, mother of Alonzo Smith, has remained immensely skeptical about the official information coming out in the days and months her son’s death, telling AllEyesOnDC that MPD and Blackout Investigations have worked to sweep her son’s murder under the rug. She said that officers from Internal Affairs waited until the evening of Nov. 2nd ,nearly 48 hours after Smith death, to notify her, visiting her at her home, located three blocks up the street from Marbury Plaza.
Smith said the situation worsened the next day when MPD Chief Cathy Lanier publicly called Smith’s death a “justifiable homicide” before reneging amid the media frenzy around her statement. During a December press conference, Lanier confirmed that an officer’s knee was in Smith’s back during the arrest.
Months before Smith’s death, officers employed by Blackout Investigations got involved in a civil case that’s ongoing, according to the D.C. Courts database. Blackout Investigations declined AllEyesOnDC’s request for comment on the circumstances surrounding Smith’s death.
At this point, the case has left MPD Internal Affairs Bureau and gone to the U.S. Attorney General’s office, which will conduct a grand jury trial, the date of which hasn’t been determined, under the direction of Jan Saxton, the prosecuting attorney. A spokesperson for the U.S. Justice Department declined AllEyesOnDC’s request for information regarding the case and the grand jury proceedings.
Other pertinent information, including the identity of the officers involved, has yet to surface, much to Smith’s chagrin.
“I hold MPD accountable. They went by what the officers said that night,” Smith, a retired federal employee, told AllEyesOnDC. “The Special Police knew my son wasn’t breathing and they put restraints on his feet. They had their knees on his back and obstructed his breathing but didn’t turn him over to administer CPR. They left his body in the first and second landing. They didn’t have a defibrillator and they mentioned that in the video,” she added.
Weeks after Alonzo’s death, Smith, along with members of Pan-African Community Action (PACA), a grassroots organization focused on community control of law enforcement in Black communities, held a vigil and rally on the grounds of Marbury Plaza. Those gatherings attracted dozens of people, including Ward 8 Council member LaRuby May. Over time, Smith became a member of PACA, following in the footsteps of Sybrina Fulton, Lesley McSpadden, and other Black women across the country who became activists after their son’s died in encounters with police officers and hypervigilant forces.
Efforts to hold those responsible those who caused Alonzo’s death have materialized into what’s known as the Justice4Zo campaign. Since its launch last November, PACA has circulated a petition demanding full disclosure about what took place on Halloween night and an independent investigation. They’ve also hosted community events during which PACA members educate participants about the intricacies and benefits of community control over police.
“It goes beyond Marbury Plaza. It’s about the community and what role police play,” Netfa Freeman, a member of PACA, told AllEyesOnDC, acknowledging the possibility of pushback against this seemingly bold idea, especially amid concerns about the violence that plagues Anacostia and other areas east of the Anacostia River.
“People are torn. If their immediate experience has been in the face of the kind of crime that comes with living in an underprivileged community, then they can be conflicted about this issue,” Freeman added, pointing out that the system neglects Black communities and those conditions breed violence and crime. “It’s about people understanding the interconnectedness of it all. Our communities are plagued with crime for the same reasons that police officers abuse us. The crime gives them an excuse to repress.”
In January, Smith testified before the United Nations Working Group on Experts on People of African Descent about her son’s death during a meeting at Union Temple Baptist Church in Anacostia. The event counted among a bevy of the group’s stops during its 11-day tour. Days later, they released a report expressing its “extreme concern about the human rights situation of African Americans.” That document, which focused on police murders of Black civilians, included Alonzo Smith’s name.
Smith said this turn of events has boosted her spirits, giving her some hope that she’ll get justice for her son and ensure that laws are put in place to prevent future atrocities.
“One of our demands is for MPD to make transparent the laws and policies for Special Police officers,” Smith said. Currently, Special Police officers they have arresting powers similar to that of MPD. They also receive 40 hours of training.
“The most interesting thing about Special Police officers is that they have the right to arrest and retain on property. MPD said they had nothing to do with this incident, but they’re partially responsible because they authorize the Special Police in D.C.,” Smith added.
Ensuring that all parties are held responsible, however, may be easier said than done.
Last month, Smith visited Council member May’s office with a letter asking for her continued support of Justice4Zo campaign efforts. She said Alfred Davis, May’s chief of staff met her outside and declined the letter, telling her there was nothing May’s office could do for her. Later that week, May visited Smith at her home during which she made a commitment to research policy related to the Special Police officers, Smith said. May’s office didn’t return AllEyesOnDC’s request for comment about this matter or the issue of community-police relations in Ward 8.
During the interview for this piece, Smith also cited what she described as inconsistencies in her son’s murder case, notably the absence of his phone among his belongings. On the video from the police camera, portions of which Smith says she often sees in her dreams, she recalls seeing one of the arresting officers going through the mobile device before tossing it down the stairwell.
It doesn’t stop there.
For Smith, a look at Alonzo’s corpse negated anything official reports said. Signs of injury included swelling in his neck, a broken and badly bruised shoulder, and hemorrhaging near his larynx, all consistent with bruising and blunt force trauma to his back and neck. The elder Smith, 52, also recalled Shaun Reid, director of Shaun R. Reid Funeral Services, the company that prepared her son’s body, telling her that her son’s face appeared to have been bruised, something medical records don’t mention.
Days after Smith spoke with Reid, she held a conference call with the three medical examiners involved in her son’s case and requested a second autopsy. She told AllEyesOnDC that the D.C. Office of the Attorney General and MPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau immediately swooped in, contacting the funeral home and asking Reid for the photos he took of the deceased Smith’s face.“ The funeral director called me shortly after sounding surprised,” Smith said. “He said he wanted to do the right thing.”
As of publishing time, Reid hasn’t returned AllEyesOnDC’s request for comment on the allegations of blunt force.
Through it all, Smith said she remains confident that her son’s death won’t go in vain. In recent weeks, she has appeared at community events across the city with a circular pin bearing his image and a black shirt with “Justice4Zo” emblazoned across it. Despite what she described as the widespread grassroots support, she admits that questions about that fateful night often cross her mind.
“Every single moment of my life, I think about what happened prior to the police restraining Alonzo in the hallway,” she said. “He couldn’t call me [because they had his phone]. I would have run down the hill in my pajamas. I’m only three blocks away. There are so many unanswered questions. Who was he visiting? I don’t know anyone who lives up there.”
If there’s any doubt that District youth want to quell violence in their community and boost civic engagement among their peers, young people at a local recreation center are slowly but surely laying those concerns to rest, all the while sharpening their leadership skills.
Since launching the #OurLivesMatter campaign at the FBR Branch of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington more than a year ago, this special group of students has engaged 600 middle and high schoolers in discussions about systemic inequality, cultural heritage, conflict resolution, and other topics. With the guidance of adult leaders, they act as ambassadors to the movement by spreading the word about their efforts and participating in intergenerational gatherings.
“I had the skills but didn’t know what to do with them until I came to the Boys & Girls Club,” Jazmine Jones, a student at Kipp DC College Preparatory in Northeast and “Our Lives Matter” representative, told AllEyesOnDC. As director of community service for Keystone, the Boys & Girls Club’s premier leadership program, Jazmine organizes citywide service trips. She said that since assuming this role, her confidence has boosted and she’s thinking more about what the future holds.
“I’m learning how to raise funds and plan events,” Jazmine, a Southeast resident, said. “[In the future], I see myself getting my mentoring program off of the ground. I want to get this message out to [students in] my school. Right now, I don’t have that much of an influence but I still want to be a leader. The Boys & Girls Club can help me get there,” Jazmine added.
Jazmine and her colleagues introduced the #OurLivesMatter campaign to visitors at THEARC during the 2015 Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday weekend. Events on that Monday morning took place amid an ongoing national discussion about police brutality in communities of color in the wake of Mike Brown’s police-related death in Ferguson, Missouri. The youth town hall at THEARC featured a collective of young activists and leaders who weighed in on issues of public safety, employment opportunities, and political awareness.
These topics reappeared later in the year when District homicides reached record numbers and residents, community members, and public officials called for a swift action from the Wilson Building. In August, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser proposed a set of polarizing crime prevention measures including police foot patrols and increased supervision and post-release searchers for returning citizens. Black Lives Matter DMV and other grassroots advocacy groups railed against the plan, calling it discriminatory against poor black residents and ineffective in addressing economic and social causes of violence.
For LeVar Jones (no relation to Jazmine), teen program director at the FBR Boys & Girls Club and adult lead on the #OurLivesMatter campaign, changing the status quo means allowing young people to speak freely about their problems. He says that environment will help them overcome societal pressures to fulfill negative stereotypes and perpetuate cycles of violence. Earlier this month, participants looked back on the first year of those efforts to raise the youth’s consciousness during a host of Martin Luther King, Jr. events.
“How do we create spaces where young people could exist as they are? Since last year, we’ve started this conversation and took it to other places like Baltimore and New Jersey where the young people are involved in activism,” Jones told AllEyesOnDC. “It’s about getting our young people passionate about movements they care about and showing them their lives matter because they engage in positive things. The good inside us unites us while we allow all that other stuff to corrupt us. There’s a healing that has to take place. The youth have to honor who they are.”
The installation of a state-of-the-art recording studio also provides such an opportunity for the lyrically gifted men and women who frequent the halls of the FBR Boys & Girls Club. This recent development followed the introduction of photography and other graphic art mediums into the program. Erikah Moore, a member of the “Our Lives Matter” campaign since last September, said she grew in her role as head of the media crew and member of the Alloy Achievers, FBR Boys & Girls Club’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) program, by using these resources.
“We work to get the teens in the neighborhood to come here to find the things we found in this program,” said Erikah, a student at Banneker Academic High School in Northwest. “As youth, we all have to come together because we’re the majority. It makes no sense for us not to band together to help bring awareness to issues about young black men and women being attacked in the streets. This is a nonviolent movement.”
The urge to avoid a turbulent atmosphere compelled Darren Gibson to stay at FBR. Since meeting Jones three years ago, he has been involved in a bevy of extracurricular activities he said exposed him to another world. Gibson recounted connecting young brothers to similar opportunities years later.
“The whole experience put me in a different environment. Here, I learned the importance of my voice and how it could make a difference,” Gibson told AllEyesOnDC. “Right now, I’m helping a young guy get into music, especially since we just built a studio. We’re not just rapping but going into different genres of music. I see nothing but motivational music coming out of that studio.”
While speakers at annual Dr. King Holiday gatherings across the D.C. metropolitan area often issue a call for nonviolence, a group that includes government officials, clergymen, and local artists want to ensure that tangible action takes place to make that goal a reality.
Earlier this week, Seat Pleasant Mayor Eugene W. Grant (D), along with local organizers in the political, legal, and social sectors, kicked off what has been touted as the “Stop the Violence in Prince George’s County” movement. Long after the end of an MLK Day march and panel discussion, 150 partner churches will host year-round classes on conflict resolution and residents will receive information about mental health services.
“We want to make certain that people understand that this is not a one-day event. People usually come together for one day and it fizzes out,” said Grant, who has served as mayor of Seat Pleasant since 2004.
Plans for this campaign have been in the works since Grant and other P.G. County officials attended a meeting about gun violence organized by U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) last October. The growing list of grassroots supporters has since grown to include Shorty Corleone of Rare Essence and D.C. hip-hop artist Fat Trel. Sandman and Ericy B also released a song entitled “Stop the Violence.”
We have a plan that [will take place] long after the march, speeches, and panel discussions are over. There has been a tremendous outpouring of support throughout our community. Residents are coming together to stop the violence in solidarity and it’s going to be historic,” Grant added.
Despite a drop in criminal activity, more than 130 homicides, many of which have been linked to family and domestic disputes, have taken place in P.G. County in the last two years. This trend continued days into the New Year when law enforcement officials answering a call found a Hyattsville, Maryland woman with gunshot wounds to her upper torso. She later succumbed to her injuries.
Mayor Grant’s current project follows in the footsteps of the Transforming Neighborhood Initiative which focused on six enclaves in P.G. County with significant public health, economic, educational and safety challenges. P.G. County resident Mettie Sherman praised Grants’ efforts, recounting challenges that she faced as an adolescent navigating an environment where young people gained respect for gang and crew affiliations.
Sherman noted that the help of the churches in the “Stop the Violence in P.G. County” mirrors the support her parents and other family members gave her in her younger days. Such protection, she contends, compelled her to think twice before committing illegal acts. “It’s very effective to target the youth while they’re young. It would make a good impact on the entire community,” Sherman, a student at Morgan State University in Baltimore, said.
“The whole situation of violence often happens because of ignorance and an unawareness of a situation. Kids are just trying to be cool and follow other people. From there, it’s a domino effect. These days, schools aren’t able to cater to certain groups of students. If they don’t meet certain qualifications they can’t take part in extracurricular activities. That means they’ll probably join a gang,” said Sherman, who lives in Laurel, Maryland.
The Rev. Tony Lee shared Sherman’s sentiments, commending the P.G. County Police Department for what he described as its work in building relationships with residents and proactively preventing crime. Lee, pastor of Community of Hope AME Church in Temple Hills, Maryland, said organizing like what Mayor Grant has proposed instills confidence in residents to tackle broader issues tied to violent crime.
“We’re walking in the legacy of Dr. King anytime you have communities coming together to figure out how we can make sure folks are living a better life,” Lee said. “This initiative seizes on the momentum around the holiday and takes the next logical step. We have a responsibility to not just talk about our neighborhoods but deal with our institutions, including a subpar education system that creates these conditions. I’m encouraged by Mayor Grant’s work because he has always done this type of thing.”
Grant said that stopping violence in its entirety counts as his ultimate goal in spearheading the “Stop the Violence in Prince George’s County” campaign. While it might not be possible, he argues that the community work will empower residents to take neighborhood affairs into their own hands and hold each other accountable for their actions.
“There has been a retreat from teaching values,” Grant said. “No other people on this planet have endured suffering like black people. A long time ago, we didn’t commit violence. Poverty becomes a convenient excuse. We can overcome this violence when we come into knowledge of self.”
The 2014 state-sanctioned murder of Chicago teenager Laquan McDonald, like other shootings of its kind across the country, revealed the lengths that city and state political leaders will go to absolve police officers of any responsibility in the callous execution of black people.
Shortly after Officer Jason Van Dyke pumped 16 bullets into McDonald, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, in the midst of a reelection campaign, and his colleagues on the City Council secured a $5 million settlement for McDonald’s family. Officials also delayed the release of the dash cam footage that prosecutors would later use to charge Van Dyke with first-degree murder.
While this kind of orchestration comes as a surprise to few, a deeper look at police union contracts sheds light on the totality of what legal scholars describe as the egregious legal protections awarded to officers when they inflict bodily harm against civilians. Such an examination will show why it’s difficult to ensure justice for victims of police brutality and their families.
Since the days James Richard J. Daly sat at the helm of Chicago city government, the city’s police department has wreaked havoc on residents of African descent without consequence. Under the command of Police Commander Jon Burge, officers detained and tortured suspects for hours and days at a time throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Decades later, Emanuel addressed these atrocities, launching a $5.5 million reparations fund for victims. Beyond the surface, however, little has changed, due mainly to the police union contracts.
A deal reached by the City Council and Chicago police union last year, for example, allows officers accused of misconduct and excessive use of force to avoid questioning for up to 10 days. Additional legal measures shield officers from polygraph tests and expunge disciplinary records after five years. Under the most recent version of the contract, investigators can also show officers evidence before taking their statement, a rule that University of Chicago law professor Craig Fullerton says “raise[s] eyebrows because it’s a double standard.”
In September, members of the Black Lives Matter movement targeted police union contracts in its “Campaign Zero” proposal, citing a compilation of data from police jurisdictions across the country as proof that the legal leeway afforded to abusive officers does a great disservice to the cities they patrol. With union protections in place, auditing departments becomes a cumbersome process. Other benefits commonly provided in police contracts include paid leave for officers who kill civilians, restrictions on the amount of time one could be interrogated, and the abolishment of civilian oversight boards in cases of police misconduct.
These laws count as part of the perfect formula for an authoritarian force that can kill with impunity. This was the case in Portland, Oregon, where officials dismissed two-thirds of complaints according to findings from a 2012 U.S. Department of Justice investigation. In Philadelphia, police union officials challenged Chief Charles Ramsey’s attempt to disclose the names of officers involved in a May 2015 shooting incident, arguing that they had contractual immunity. With contractual agreements that void disciplinary action after certain deadlines and expunge misconduct records after three years, police officers in Seattle also stand above the law. For some of the men and women in blue working in that department, impending changes may be too much to bear, as evidenced by Seattle Police Officer Guild president Ron Smith’s contention that there’s a war against the police.
Indeed, if there is an all-out assault on the rights of police officers, dismantling union contracts would be a huge undertaking. Police lobbying groups often navigate the political realm to secure favors from their counterparts in the justice system and legislature. For instance, the campaign dollars and political clout used by the Policemen’s Benevolent Association and National Sheriffs’ Association helped departments across the country obtain federal grants for overtime and qualified immunity, which holds taxpayers accountable in paying police brutality lawsuits.
It’s no different in the courtroom where prosecutors are forgiving to officers who act hastily. The reverence for what many perceive a dangerous job allows officers demonize their victims under oath and without pushback. Former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson commented on the late Mike Brown’s size during grand jury proceedings in 2014. Before a grand jury failed to indict them, the two Cleveland officers involved in Tamir Rice’s death also said a fear for their lives caused them to pull the trigger.
The prevailing argument for police union contracts centers on the pressures of the job, especially when one is in the midst of potentially dangerous situations. However, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that being a police officer isn’t much of a hazardous job, at least when compared to a truck driver who drives long hours with little sleep. Additionally, violent crime has been on a years-long decline. Even with this evidence on the table, those engulfed in negotiations with police unions fall for these fallacies and succumb to officers’ demands for leniency.
Such safeguards call into question what will happen to the Chicago police officer who shot and killed a 55-year-old woman and a mentally ill teenager while responding to a call about the latter’s psychotic episode on the night after Christmas. Instead of taking the young man, named Quintonio Legrier, to the hospital as family members expected, officers shot him seven times. Bettie Jones, the other victim, was a tenant who lived downstairs from Legrier’s family. A bullet fatally struck her in the neck.
Police officials are calling the shooting and “accident” and Emanuel released a statement saying “regardless of the circumstance, we all grieve when there’s a loss in the city.” For Jones’ family, who recently filed a lawsuit against the city, an apology won’t suffice. It remains to be seen if the people responsible for these civilian deaths are held accountable for their actions. If police unions have their way, that will be very unlikely.
More than a week after security personnel retrieved a gun and knife during separate incidents at Woodrow Wilson High School in Northwest, questions remain about how such oversights could have happened on a campus known more for it scholastic and athletic achievements than instances of violence.
Despite concerns about safety and the increased presence of Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officers on the premises, the Tenleytown-based school has maintained some normalcy. Some students have taken the changes lightly, saying they hope to move on with their lives.
“It really surprised me. There are [small] fights once every two months at this school,” Joseph Hernandez, a 12th grader at Wilson who asked his name be changed, told AllEyesOnDC. Hernandez, a transfer from what he described as a violent D.C. high school located east of Rock Creek Park, said those who allegedly possessed the weapons most likely walked through one of more than 50 unsecured side doors.
“Things are pretty strict these days. Police officers stand by all of the doors and make us take off our jackets [and other articles of clothing] when we enter the school. The teachers haven’t been talking too much about it. Honestly, I think it’s done,” Hernandez, a Northwest resident, said.
On the afternoon of Tuesday, Dec. 1, officers arrested a student after a teacher discovered a semiautomatic handgun in their book bag, school and D.C. Public School (DCPS) officials said. Less than an hour later, a fight erupted outside. One of two juveniles detained had a knife. Representatives said that before this month, a weapon hadn’t been found inside a D.C. school building in more than a decade.
As of press time, an MPD investigation is still underway. Officers said it’s unclear whether the fight was related to the student with the gun.
On the day of the incident, the metal detectors and scanners functioned properly, Michelle Lerner, DCPS press secretary, told AllEyesOnDC. A review of Wilson’s security protocol has been opened to ensure the best rules are in place. School principal Kimberly J. Martin also posted an open letter on the Wilson’s website, giving kudos to those who reported the gun and assuring members of the community that administrators had the matter under control.
Since last Tuesday, Wilson has increased security staff, appointed a special officer, and repaired side doors. After school hours, personnel conduct “sweeps” for weapons and escort idle students off of school grounds. Even so, assurances from Martin and others have fallen on deaf ears, particularly among teachers frustrated by what they call lethargic communication from higher ups.
“Some teachers are on edge and mad that they didn’t hear about the gun from the administration. From the start, they weren’t in the know, “David Brooks, a first-year teacher at Wilson, told AllEyesOnDC. Brooks, who also asked his name to be changed, recounted hearing about the discovery of the gun from students as he walked back onto campus from a nearby library.
“Maybe the administrators were trying to contain the situation but you never want the students to find out about things like this before the teachers. Now, it’s really going to get tight in a space like this. It’s not really the type of environment you want to be in.”
Wilson alumnus Brad Lee pointed to a change in administration and lax security, caused in part by boundary changes and shifting student demographics as a probable cause of the security slip. Though Lee, a 2009 graduate who used a pseudonym, expressed some bewilderment that the teachers found weapons on school grounds, he recounted methods delinquents often used to circumvent surveillance when he attended Wilson.
“It was common for people to bring their friends through the tunnels built for the athletic department,” Lee, now a D.C. government employee, told AllEyesOnDC. “We would often see a lot of folks who didn’t go the Wilson. They would meet their friend at Tenleytown Station so they can be brought into the school. I have no idea why a student brought a gun inside the school this time, but the most important dilemma for me is how it got past security.”
Wilson, located at the intersection of Chesapeake Street and Nebraska Avenue Northwest, has a student body of nearly 1,800 representing a variety of District neighborhoods and ethnic groups. It’s considered one of D.C.’s highest performing schools, with more than 75 percent of its graduates moving on to postsecondary institutions.
The prospects of long-term academic success compelled Ramone Carter to attend Wilson. Carter, an aspiring graphic designer, remains undeterred by the events of last week, saying he will stay at Wilson if it means being in the best position possible to attend a quality university.
“Even with what happened, I feel safe here,” Carter, who used a pseudonym, told AllEyesOnDC. “The opportunities for a successful life made me want to come to Wilson. It’s a good school to come out of when you’re trying to go to college.”
If there has been any doubt about the power of grassroots organizing, a recent gathering at Howard University (HU) ’s Blackburn Center, has, to some degree, given some hope to the disillusioned. For much of the day on Friday, Dec. 4, student leaders and administrators from a bevy of local universities engaged in raw, thought-provoking dialogue with their administrators about problems black students face on campus. These talks bore some similarity to those I participated in at the height of my undergraduate career at The George Washington University (GW).
This daylong event came on the heel of successful uprisings at universities across the country, each one fueled by frustrations about what black students have described as an institutional lack of regard for the daily hardships they endure and white supremacy’s chokehold on higher education. Last month, protests at the University of Missouri and a strike by the revenue-generating football team compelled the board of trustees to oust the president and chancellor. In the nation’s capital, officials at Georgetown University announced that they will rename two buildings memorialized for university presidents who arranged the sale of enslaved black people in 1830s to pay campus debts.
While these incremental gains have elicited rounds of praise from those on the sidelines of this ongoing fight for social justice, some white people have been perturbed, even going as far as to form white student groups on their campus in response to “reverse racism and discrimination” against students of European descent.
But students and administrators who attended the event at HU, named “HU Beyond Dialogue” agreed that there’s much work to be done in ensuring that black students — descendants of what’s arguably the most marginalized and victimized ethnic group domestically and globally — can matriculate safely and with the holistic support that has been guaranteed to their white counterparts since the creation of Harvard University, America’s first college, in 1638. Decades after Thurgood Marshall successfully argued the merits of school desegregation, this nation has yet to atone for its past and see to it that black students can thrive mentally and emotionally in academic environments.
As Friday’s discussion revealed, reaching that goal would be a huge undertaking, like that of knocking down a building, brick by brick.
Throughout much of the day, dozens of participants from more than half a dozen local colleges and universities divulged qualms about on-campus racial profiling, financial aid troubles, academic settings that are unwelcoming to black students’ ideas, the lack of diversity, cultural insensitivity, the aggression of the university security personnel, dearth of meeting space for black students, and other microagressions that ultimately deter academic achievement. Administrators later weighed in, pledging to destroy barriers that impede racial progress on their respective campuses. In true millennial fashion, guests recounted the activities of that morning and early afternoon on social media, using #HUBeyondDialogue15.
While it remains to be seen what will come out of this meeting of the minds, few students left the meeting confident that some incremental change will take place. Leslie Ogu, a junior at GW and president of its Black Student Union (BSU), said he’s been waiting for an opportunity to affect change since his freshman year. Weeks earlier, Ogu and his colleagues representing a slew of student organizations protested in the middle of their campus, later making some headway with university officials in their talks about on-campus racial tension.
Lisa Pointer of the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) too reveled in the chance to have her voice heard months after a student said officers from the Metropolitan Police Department “brutalized” him near at ATM. During breakout sessions, she conversed with students from other schools about solutions they thought could curb racial insensitivity and create equal access to opportunities for black students. Later that day, she and three of her UDC colleagues reported to the larger group, a feat that she chronicled on Facebook. Stanley Berry, also a UDC student, took to social media in a similar fashion. Though he expressed thanks for the event, he lamented that administrators led the discussions instead of letting students have their say.
Thus ended what will most likely be one of the most beneficial sessions in those students’ college career outside of the classroom. In his award-winning book “The Miseducation of the Negro,” African-American historian Carter G. Woodson touted the benefits of gaining an education in this manner, reminding us that sitting within the confines of a white-centered academic structure ensures that we’ll remain cogs in the machine of white supremacy. The same remains true for students at historically black colleges and universities, many of which were founded with support from “well-meaning” white people. Without some form of on-campus or extracurricular involvement that contextualizes their studies, college graduates are nothing but theorists and parrots of the texts their teachers touched on during discussions.
The efforts of those who converged on HU last week are a testament to the importance of racial and cultural student groups. As a college graduate and one-time black student leader, I can guarantee that institutional change in the university setting will be slow to come. Like the student leaders at Friday’s meeting, my colleagues and I discussed the same issues with university administration during closed meetings with some promise that things will get better. Years later, much hasn’t changed. That’s why incoming black students, no matter their state of residence, ethnic group, and socioeconomic standing, have a resource in campus organizations and multicultural resource offices that represent their interests.
Those aforementioned entities can spur into action during times of racial unrest, pooling the tangible and intangible resources student leaders developed in parlaying and working with members of the community.
In organizing and preparing a presentation for the policy makers, these young brothers and sisters have groomed themselves for a much more multifaceted battle that’s unfolding beyond the boundaries of their campuses. Hopefully, they also learned that people in positions of power will do and say anything to quell an impending uprising, especially when it’s led by “angry” black people. At the age of 20, I didn’t have any conception of that. Future experiences with people in positions of power — of any color — would give me the taste of reality that has made me a proponent of grassroots organizing and truly black-centered institutions four years out of undergrad.
Unknown to me at the time of my campus involvement, the code of conduct among black student leaders at GW incorporated ideals inspired by Marcus Mosiah Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, and the seven principles of Kwanzaa.
Understanding that institutions ran by white people had no intention of ensuring progress as black people saw it, Garvey espoused the building of a black nation, a remnant of which I saw in the collaborations between the BSU, Caribbean Student Association, Organization of Latin American Students, Minority Business Student Association, and GW NAACP during my junior year. In forming those bonds, we also practiced all of the Kwanzaa principles, especially Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), and Ujamaa (cooperative economics).
A couple years earlier as a freshman, black students in positions of power took me under their wing and guided me along my path of enlightenment. The next year, I launched ACE Magazine, a student-ran multicultural publication and antithesis to the GW Hatchet, the main campus publication that often painted black campus leaders in a negative light. That very same year, I served as a board member of the Black Men’s Initiative, a program dedicated to ensuring black males at GW graduate on time and without trouble. Toward the end of my undergraduate career, black student leaders held weekly meetings to keep up the spirit of unification within our community.
Today, I maintain genuine relationships with many of the brothers and sisters I’ve built with in my time at GW, all due to the hurdles we had to jump together in creating at atmosphere welcoming to black students. While our methods and skill sets are different, the respect for black life and passion for our people unites us. Indeed, I couldn’t have built these kind of relationships if I had the mindset that white people had about affinity groups. If anything, their unwillingness to let black people celebrate their blackness is more than enough reason for us to build our own institutions and control our destiny within this ever-increasing interconnected, globalized system.
The group of students who gathered at HU carried out that mission with passion and poise last week. While that’s commendable, they too must carry the spirit of Thurgood Marshall and Carter G. Woodson and be relentless in pushing long-lasting, structural changes for black people. That means not just taking their administrators at their word, but perpetually holding them accountable and encouraging students coming after them to do the same. To do less would be a mockery of their legacy and an invitation to just be another cold, powerless black body at the table of white supremacy.
Sam read this reflection on the 60th anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott during the AllEyesOnDC’s “Night of News and Music” event at Sankofa Video Books & Café (2714 Georgia Avenue NW) on the night of Tuesday, Dec. 1st. The version below was edited for clarity.
Sixty years ago today, police officers arrested Rosa Parks when she refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. That event sparked off the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a more than 365-day campaign during which black people in that region refused to use public transportation. Black residents’ act of resistance against their oppressors forced a change in policy. Historians consider the Montgomery Bus Boycott one of the most effective economic protests led by people of African descent in the United States.
Legions of brothers and sisters carried on that tradition last weekend, refusing to shop with major corporations. Many took to the streets, protesting on shopping strips throughout the city and scouring local black businesses in search of holiday deals. This assault against the system and the black solitude that came out of it mirrored similar events across the country. In Chicago, Black Friday sales along the Magnificent Mile, its shopping district, fell by nearly 50 percent because of black agitators who posted up in that area. Now that’s what I call Black Power, as Willie Ricks and Stokely Carmichael eloquently exclaimed decades ago.
The question remains of whether we’ll follow in the footsteps of our Alabaman ancestors and carry out this boycott in D.C. and across the country in full force throughout the rest of the shopping holiday and into 2016. This grassroots reporter thinks it’s possible. He also thinks that black people can continue to support black business. However, that can only with the appropriate knowledge of where to shop for amenities, accessories, necessities and other materials vital to good living. I suggest IDontDoClubs.com, AfricanUnification.com, and BlkTown.com for information about local and national vendors.
Word of mouth also helps. Let’s follow the example of Miss Princess Best, the homegrown artist also known as the Hip Hop Momma. She hits Facebook and other mediums day in and day out to find black vendors for the things she need, even hipping me to a black seller of toilet paper in Baltimore. This is the only way to go.
Financial management is the key in the long haul game that is the attainment of our freedom. We can talk but for only so long. When the oppressor doesn’t listen, it helps to just take things to the next level, keeping quiet and letting our money. I close my “This Week in News” statement by encouraging you and yours to visit the websites I mentioned and make that conscious shift toward supporting black businesses. While doing so 100 percent may not be possible, it’s in our best interest to make an attempt and keep our dollars in our community for more than six hours. That’s real Black Power.