Tuesday night’s demonstrations in response to the Michael Brown case depicted two approaches to solidarity.
Beginning with a rally behind the Durham Library on North Roxboro Street and ending with a freestyle rap circle in CCB Plaza, the night brought together hundreds of community members attempting to challenge systemic racism in America.
Black International Solidarity (“Black IS”) organized half of the demonstration – an artistic gathering that included poetry, quotes from leaders such as Malcolm X, June Jordan, and Bob Marley, as well as music and prayer.
The event followed Monday’s grand jury decision in Ferguson, Mo., not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 fatal shooting of Michael Brown Jr.
Black IS – formed in response to the shooting – aims, in the words of member Joshua Vincent, “to provide organizational interaction, and be a vehicle for people to go to already established organizations, teachings, and community-based events.”
Amid intermittent rain showers, demonstrators packed together as Black IS member and emcee Pierce Freelon dedicated two lit candles – one for Brown and the other for Durham teen Jesus Huerta who died in police custody last November.
“We wanted the artists, the poets, the musicians to tell their stories,” Freelon said.
The group was diverse, but dominated by black 20somethings determined to affect change.
“We’re here to send a message that people are united against injustices,” said Desmera Gatewood, 24, a friend of many Black IS members. “I’m here to represent black mothers who fear their child may not reach adulthood because of the color of their skin.”
Earlier in the evening, around 150 people gathered at the county library’s main branch in a separate rally whose leadership was much less apparent.
Among the attendees was Monica Watson, 49, whose son Montez Hambric was shot and killed during a confrontation with a Winston-Salem police officer in May.
“The first thing people do is talk about the bad of the person, but they still don’t deserve to get killed. I knew the good and bad of my son, but he didn’t deserve to get killed,” said Watson. “This is happening everywhere, people just don’t know about it.”
The mother of six carried a sign with pictures of her son that read: “How many officers will kill? How many families will face tragedy?”
Members of the library group took turns speaking.
Ava Johnson, whose cousin Ivan Ingram was shot by police in a 1991 Raleigh drug bust, said she is outraged at the treatment of blacks around the country.
“(Ivan) was murdered 23 years ago and I thought things would have changed by now, but obviously they haven’t,” the 45-year-old said. “Police officers need with work with diversity and racial training. Anything that stops the slaughter of innocent people.”
From the library, demonstrators marched down Main Street, bearing signs with messages such as “It’s not OK to murder my brothers,” “You can kill the revolutionary, but you can’t stop the revolution,” and chanting “Cops, pigs, murderers.”
Several fireworks were set off, including a couple of flares and smoke devices, but on the whole the protests were peaceful.
Demonstrators made it to the Durham Freeway, where they blocked traffic on the northbound lanes, before continuing down Duke Street. The group paused in front of the Durham Police Department building where about two dozen officers in helmets and face shields stood with batons.
“We remember,” protesters chanted at the officers, referencing the Huerta case.
The group – escorted by officers on bicycles and in cars helping direct traffic – continued onto Main Street where they merged into the plaza crowd.
As the rain came on and the night wound down, the marchers added their voices to the Black IS speakers. Despite the different methods and moods, the two assemblies had the same goal in mind: supporting victims of injustice while attempting to break down inherently racist institutions.
“A lot of what’s happening to black people in this country is rooted in history. That legacy is the black holocaust,” Freelon said, before launching into poem.
“You call one hundred million bodies a trade? We call it a rape. We’ve run out of patience. Five hundred years in the making, the black holocaust.”
“Our communities are living in constant threat of violence and threat of terrorism, and people respond because of that,” Vincent added. “These things don’t happen out of the blue.”