Marching for Justice for Elijah Across a Highway and Encounters with Angry Police and Bystanders in Cars

Yesterday a few friends and I participated in a protest demanding justice for Elijah McClain, a young black man who died last year in police custody in Aurora, Colorado. The march shut down the highway in both directions. It was incredible. Some altercations that happened between police officers and protestors and bystanders were intense…

Before I continue though, you might already be aware of the case of Elijah McClain, as it has recently made national news. But if not, here is a summary:

Elijah McClain was walking home from a convenience store after picking up iced tea for his brother. He had anemia and therefore would get cold easily. So he sometimes wore a ski mask around his face to keep warm. Someone called in about a suspicious person but specifically mentioned he did not seem dangerous. Police stopped him. He said he was just going home, that he was an introvert and to please respect his boundaries.

As The Cut reports, “In the 15 minutes that followed, the officers tackled McClain to the ground, put him in a carotid hold, and called first responders, who injected him with ketamine. He had a heart attack on the way to the hospital, and died days later, after he was declared brain dead…McClain’s family maintains that law enforcement’s use of excessive force led to his death. The officers, however, were subsequently cleared of wrongdoing, apparently on the basis of questionable body-camera footage and an allegedly inconclusive autopsy.”

Understandably, Coloradans are angry upon hearing about yet another wrongful death coming to light, this one in particular, in our state. So people took to the streets (and highways) yesterday to protest.

My friends and I were a bit late to the march and were hoping to meet up with marchers wherever we could. Driving over a bridge over the highway, we looked to our left and were amazed to see a massive crowd overtaking both directions of the 9 or 10 lanes of highway. The sight brought goosebumps to my skin and a sense of awe at the power of the people.

So we parked our car, jumped a fence and hopped up and over a wall to get onto an onramp to join the masses on the highway.

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Protest for Elijah McClain, June 26, 2020 Julia View

We were at the far back of the pack walking across empty stretches of highway when cars started to approach. We thought, “Wow. Police are letting cars back on the highway but there is still a massive amount of people not off it yet.” Whoever in the police department made the call to allow cars again did so preemptively. Because most people were still just barely making their way off the off ramp of the exit. So a group of protesters linked hands to stop the cars from driving until people were off the highway.

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Protesters link arms to stop emerging highway traffic. June 26, 2020 Julia View

A police car drove speedily onto the scene, coming within inches of rear ending the car in front of him and flung his car door open. “Get out of the road!” He shouted and he bounded towards us, motioning the cars onward. He was intense. He sped towards us and someone shouted “Back up! He’s going to start arresting people!” We started backing up and moving our wall backwards but the police officer continued furiously, motioning the cars onward. Someone shouted at the officer, “Just wait! There are still a lot of people on the highway and off ramp!” A woman in a wheelchair moved forward, recording the scene on her smartphone and the police officer started to back up and we backed up as well.

The whole confrontation could have been avoided if the police officers had just waited another twenty minutes or so for everyone to be off the highway and offramp.

But another two altercations that were about to ensue came very close to hurting people.

As we moved at the tail end of the march along a commercial street in Aurora, a car came whipping around and swerved to try to hit a protestor! The people jumped out of the way and threw water bottles at the car, shouting. The back windshield of the vehicle had cardboard in place of glass which made me wonder if this particular car had already tried to do something of the sort recently.

But the marchers marched on, chanting call and answer chants like, “Say his name!-Elijah McClain!” And “No Justice- No Peace! No racist- Police!” 

People are calling for justice. I understand police have a hard job and there potentially is a necessity to have a career dedicated to protecting the people, but what police officers did on the night they reprimanded Elijah McClain and so many others, is not protecting the people. The officers in this case made a mistake. They reprimanded a young, innocent kid for no reason, but continued to further do damage until they did such damage the young man died in police custody. That is just wrong. Just like in the death of Breonna Taylor, which, by the way, the officers responsible for killing her are still at large.

The officers who killed Breonna stormed her apartment, (as the NYTimes reports, they did not make their presence as police officers known thanks to the no-knock warrant) and shot Breonna 8 times in her own home in the middle of the night during a search raid that should not have taken place anyway, because the person they were after was already in custody! Are you kidding me?! So the officers killed a woman in her own home, and no one is facing charges?! It’s infuriating and wrong. Just like it is wrong that Elijah McClain was forced to die after trying to get his brother some iced tea at a convenience store.

So the marchers continued on towards the Municipal Center to rally in front of the police headquarters.

We were marching at the back of the pack, the sun beating down on us and the hot pavement, so people rode on bicycles strolling by offering free bottled water to protestors and snacks for anyone running low on energy. Everywhere you looked, you could see protestors looking out for one another, and people striking up conversations with strangers. One woman walking along with her child in a stroller was chatting with other protestors, saying, “Thank you all for being here.” It truly was a  beautiful community of people fighting for what is right. And having to face antagonizations from police and threats of cars ramming protestors was crazy.

So as we approached a stoplight, a car was in the middle of people walking along in the march. Suddenly, we saw a flurry of movement and heard a loud “thunk” and the sound of smashed glass. It looked like the car had rammed some people! My friend sped to the scene and I approached cautiously. The windshield had a massive

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Marchers heading towards the Aurora Municipal Center June 27, 2020 Julia View

spiraling break on it and people were yelling at the person in the car, “You just hit someone!” The crowd surrounded the car, but one protest organizer yelled, “Let’s move aside and let her out of here!” So the protesters made a clear pathway for her to drive away from protestors, despite she had just bumped someone with her car, seemingly on purpose. But the woman in the car didn’t budge! Why wasn’t she slowly driving away! Instead, she just continued to shout at all of us as we were all motioning her onward, saying to her, “Just go!”

The same lovely black woman and her child in the stroller came to the scene. She said to the woman in the car “Just go lady! You have a clear path! Go!” But then she pulled the stroller backwards and furthered herself and her kid from the scene, pointing at the woman in the car, stating- “She’s got a gun! Everyone back up, she’s got a gun!” The crowd stepped even further away from the car, but still the woman in the car with the gun would not leave! Until finally, with more yelling, the car jolted fast and whipped around for a U-turn, almost hitting a black man protestor, before speeding away. It was one of the most intense things I have ever seen. Thankfully, someone got her license plate number.

We arrived at the Aurora Municipal Center for the rally to hear speeches and to demand better action from DA Dave Young. (Luckily, as NPR reports, Gov Jared Polis has appointed a Special Prosecutor to reopen probe into Elijah’s death.) The crowd gathered and the energy was calm until protestors started consolidating near the corner where the police were stationed nearby. The crowd started shouting “We don’t see no riot here, why are you in riot gear!” The energy began ramping up.

I do think some protestors wanted to rial things up, which would have been counterintuitive. Thankfully, one of the black women organizers pleaded with the crowd through a megaphone to instead move towards the speeches. After several attempts to have her voice heard, it worked, and the protestors moved away from the contentious scene and instead towards the speeches taking place nearby. Whew. I could feel the energy relax a bit. This woman had successfully redirected the crowd away from potential violence and instead towards the productive, peaceful rally. I think black women are going to save this world.

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Rallying for Justice for Elijah in front of the Aurora Municipal Center (Why do taxpayer dollars go to such monumental homages to police force such as this building? Wouldn’t it be great if this were a school instead?) June 27 2020, Julia View

So- We had marched and listened to speeches and later left the rally with thoughts of the day heavy on our minds; a combination of feeling purposeful, empowered and exhausted. It is high time police violence ends. These past many weeks have been a major time of reflection, education and understanding for me, as I further navigate my own white privilege and do what I can to be an ally and advocate of anti-racism. I have long been aware of these types of issues, but I am all the more aware now and am thankful for the BLM movement for opening eyes like mine. This is a powerful movement and an important time to make positive steps for a better society, one which works better and equally for all.

The question is, how do we come together and enlighten people, like those who use their cars as weapons, or refuse to see the purpose behind protests such as these? How can we affectively come together as a nation, and heal and rebuild to dismantle systems of oppression to create a better society? Some general, big idea solutions- 1.) Education. 2.) Political and legislative policy changes. 3.) More women and men of color representation in politics and positions of power 4.) Investing in community resources instead of heavily into the police 5.) MORE ideas that I’m still exploring.

I hope my experience of the protest yesterday enlightened you in some way. I wanted to share what it was like on the ground and to bring light to the amazing things BLM protestors are doing, despite the odds.

Stay safe, be well, and affect positive change in whatever ways you can.

 

The Black Lives Matter Protests, BLM Art, and Poignant Thoughts from a Colorado Musician and Teacher

The past few weeks have been a pivotal time. The Black Lives Matter movement has come to the forefront demanding change like never before. It’s time we all take a stand and speak up for positive change and to demand justice and equal rights for people of color across our country. I have thought meticulously about how to best write this post and which aspects to focus on most, but instead, I’ve decided it would be most powerful to relinquish my platform to my friend who is a person of color, musician, and teacher, and whose thoughts are poignant, informative and powerful. With each point he makes, he backs it up with a source for others to further inform themselves. (Thank you Zach.) I’m also first going to add some art pieces that speak volumes which will be seen below.

First, here are a few suggestions that we can all do to affect change. Our actions as individuals are valuable.

1.)  Vote Trump OUT;

2.) Vote Mitch McConnell OUT to oust the backwards Republican majority leader and replace him with Senator Amy McGrath who is wonderfully close to beating McConnell in the upcoming Kentucky race. OR, as I just learned today, we can replace McConnell with a young Kentucky representative named Charles Booker. Both appear to be fantastic candidates.

3.) White people can use their platforms to elevate people of color’s voices;

4.) We can sign petitions and donate in support of BLM, participate in protests (only if you and you and your family feel safe to do so during COVID) inform ourselves and vote vote vote for progressive change at the local and federal levels. (If you live in Colorado, you can sign your name to support the Law Enforcement Integrity and Accountability Act which, if passed, will hold police offers accountable for their actions and could help bring justice and protect black lives from police brutality. If you live in a different state, see if similar bills are being introduced.)

5.) And lastly, if this revolutionary movement’s momentum carries into a a complete dismantling of the current political systems, (which could happen looking at trends in history) we would absolutely need to have ideas for what would take it’s place. Because in the presence of a political vacuum, something would take it’s place, and we want to make sure it would be a decent change. If something were to happen, we would need a progressive alternative to current political structures, and I don’t know what that would be. [Editors note: I was going to post this without thoughts of an alternative system but I DO know a rough outline of the political replacement we would need. We need something different than white patriarchy. We need NO patriarchy. Throughout history that is the one common theme that has persisted. If we want to avoid trajectories of violence and domination, we need to try something different than the pattern of the last hundreds of years. Therefore we need a BALANCE of power between men and women of all backgrounds. Notice I don’t say female domination. That would just send the pendulum swinging on the other side. We need a a true balance of power in which men and women of all backgrounds have an equal say, that benefits all.]

So, in honor of the Black Lives Matter movement, I would like to give you some art pieces that speak volumes. Then, below are poignant and powerful thoughts shared by Zach, a brass musician and teacher in Colorado.

Thank you. Be safe, be well and affect positive change in whatever ways you can.

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[The following is a message from band member Zach who speaks for himself through the Guerrilla Fanfare music platform with gufabrass.com/ ]
I’ve been posting almost exclusively on my personal page for a while now, as this page has pretty much been shut down since COVID save the occasional Ad-Hoc jam we’ve been able to do amidst social distancing. While we thought that by limiting our posting amidst this chaos to only positive and substantive things such as those jams we would help cut down on unnecessary noise, I felt it necessary to post some personal thoughts to our followers regarding the tragic events we see transpiring now. I am speaking out now as a musician, and because this platform exists as a result of efforts from a history of Black musicians in this country. Our form of brass band was born in Louisiana by slaves in Congo Square [40]. It is an African American art form and tradition that we have based our music upon as Guerrilla Fanfare, and we pay respect to that culture through performance in performing music, actions through volunteering with the No Enemies Brass Bands and through words such as the statement I have prepared today.
Tensions are running high. The state of affairs in this country was already a breaking point for millions who have lost their livelihoods [1], their life’s work [2] and incomes [3] from this deadly virus, not to mention the staggering loss of life with over 100,000 Americans and counting dead [4]. It is an unmitigated disaster. People are mourning. People are scrambling to get by. While the wealth inequity in this country was already an unacceptable issue [5], it is made now even more grave. People are afraid, and people are getting fed up with the same tired excuses and empty rhetoric from politicians we have heard time and time again.
Similarly, the ever growing divide in our country has been made very clear by our “leadership” from the oval office. Racial inequity in this country is nothing new [6]. Our nation’s history is rife with racism, and our society is undoubtably built on the backs of the groups deemed lesser by those in charge. The First Nation indigenous populations whose cultures we destroyed [7], the Africans brought from the slave trade who were [8] and still are subjected to some of the worst atrocities known to human history [9], the Japanese who were incarcerated during world war II [10], the ongoing situation at the southern boarder where Central and South American refugees are put in cages [11], separated from their families [12] and subjected to subhuman living conditions and sexual abuse [13], those of Muslim and Jewish faiths who are unfairly and viciously targeted [14], and now the Asian population at large [15] for spreading the “Chinese Virus”[16] to the United States all make up a non-exhaustive list that immediately comes to mind when we get on this subject, a list that is sadly far from complete.
Now we are all seeing shocking images of police brutality in response to peaceful protests of the wrongful police murder yet another black man, George Floyd, effectively sentenced to death by the judge, jury and executioners we call “law enforcement” [17]. While, for once, we are seeing the particular culprits charged [18], the work of dismantling our nation’s systemic white supremacy and actively undoing its harms needs to continue. George Floyd was the latest unacceptable travesty in an ongoing history of police violence and brutality that disproportionately targets people of color especially those of the Black community [19]. Look no further than a few days prior (or since) his wrongful killing and you will find more. David McAtee a pit master in Kentucky who regularly gave cops free meals gunned down by cops and left to rot on the street for nearly twelve hours [20], or Breonna Taylor, who was a victim of extrajudicial murder by an inept police force incapable of even finding the right house or checking to see if the suspect was already apprehended. She was my age [21]. White supremacy is not limited to cops either. Ahmaud Arbery was murdered while jogging by white supremacists [23]. Those are just a three names, three lives, three loved ones who will never come home again out of the countless lives lost at the hands of the police and through systemic racism [22].
Just this week, we have seen images of police pepper-spraying peaceful protestors including black Senators [24], using their cars as weapons [25], destroying water bottles and medical equipment that was not theirs [26], arresting and attacking bystanders with physical force and less lethal rounds used improperly to inflict maiming and sometimes lethal damage [27], openly attacking reporters violating several amendments of the constitution—for which they are being sued by the ACLU [28]—and firing on people with less-lethal projectiles for being on their own property [29]. Yet again, this is an incomplete list. While that does not excuse the behavior of opportunists who are looking to steal some surfboards at the expense of public favor of Black Lives Matter [30], the authoritarian actions undertaken by these paramilitaries we call “law enforcement” have gone too far and should create an outlook of shock and shame, and serve as a sobering look into the police state of “the land of the free.”
The national disgrace who occupies the White House, and occasionally the underground bunker near the White House [31], continues to stoke the fires of racism in his base, and sow seeds of division with our neighbors and fellow countrymen, calling himself the “Law and Order” president as others have done more effectively before him, [32] and telling local governors to “dominate the streets” through force and mobilizing the military against US citizens [33]. We must not allow him to continue to damage our country, and ensure a decisive victory against hi, in November to ensure the continuation of our Democracy [34].
While it feels inadequate, I find solace in putting outrage to action. These are a few actions that can benefit the Black Lives Matter movement.
1. Register to vote, and vote Trump out in November [35]. Research your local representatives in local government, and make informed decisions.
2. Give money to organizations who help combat systemic racism. I have specifically given to the ACLU [36], and NAACP legal fund [37], and the Colorado Freedom Fund (to help protestors post pail) [41] but there are many more.
3. Write our lawmakers supporting this legislation called the Law Enforcement and Integrity Act [38]. While you are at it, sign this petition for Breonna Taylor, whose murderers have still not been charged [47].
4. Get involved in the movement either through active peaceful demonstration if you are physically able and comfortable to do so amidst a pandemic, or otherwise continue to share stories of outrage highlighting the injustices you see. This week, there were peaceful demonstrations in all 50 states. Here is a list where you can support this movement all across the country [42].
5. Have conversations, especially with those who don’t agree with you. Simply declaring moral supremacy and shutting out those who don’t agree by labeling them as “racist,” or as Hilary Clinton put it a “basket of deplorables“ [39], does not help. This is not easy, but we need to do better at making it safe to be an advocate – especially because people who are new to this will not be perfect at the beginning.
6. If time allows in your busy schedule, self-education and self-reflection makes a difference. I am by no means perfect. In fact, looking back on my past I now clearly see plenty of instances where I was wrong and wished I would have acted differently. Self-education and self-reflection helps spare the future of the same injustices of the past. Resources linked [43] [44].
7. As you are able, please take a minute to support to a Black Artist or Locally Owned Business [45].
Our success and support as a band has no doubt been impacted by our privilege, and for that we are grateful for your continued support and recognize that we are very fortunate to have the privileges that we do. Law enforcement personnel are undoubtedly in a predicament [46], and there is an ongoing national conversation about what role police should play in our lives as this relationship they have as an institution with the general public is clearly untenable. Should these words put you in a situation where you no longer feel included in our community, I encourage you to examine why your reaction to a plea for black equality makes you uncomfortable and read the resources mentioned on action point #6. We want to have the conversation, and we strive to make our music fun for people of all walks and backgrounds, but not at the expense of being tolerant of overt and flagrant racism.
Know that each of you are loved. Take care out there, and we can’t wait to see you all again in person when the time comes.
-Zach, Guerrilla Fanfare
 SOURCES
7. https://www.aclu.org/issues/free-speech/rights-protesters/stand-standing-rock (just a recent example of an entire history of book of violence)
9. https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-racial-discrimination not even scratching the surface again. Also, read Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol for inequality in public school.
30. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/police-handcuff-good-samaritans-protect-store-looters/ (look at featured video of looters, idk how to just get that video)
40. Driscoll, M.T. (2012) New Orleans brass band traditions and popular music : elements of style in the music of mama digdown’s brass band and young blood brass band. DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) thesis, University of Iowa. https://doi.org/10.17077/etd.4uq7e4ro

Lizzo!! Launching Music and Feminism to Greater Heights

(Don’t miss her Tiny Desk Concert where she performs Cuz I Love You, Truth Hurts and her last song where she also plays the flute in her song Juice! ) 

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Lizzo at 2019 BET Awards. Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images.

Lizzo, phenomenal singer, rapper and flute player is transforming music and launching feminism to greater heights with her body positivity, black lives matter energy and her message of self love. SHE. IS. PHENOMENAL. Her presence is captivating and her engagement with the audience draws you in, in this absolutely fun way. And she conveys understanding of her self and of society in a profound and to the point manner. Plus, she is a powerful singer and incredible musician. Duh.

In a music interview with NPR’s Terry Gross she talks about her early pursuits in music performance and music theory:

 “I am classically trained in music theory and music performance, so I have an innate ear and actually a highly skilled ear when it comes to frequency and harmony and dissonance and melody. So for me, it’s this thing that I can feel in my body. I’m almost like a tuning fork where if I hear the beat and I vibrate at the level that I’m supposed to, I know that that’s what I want to get on. And from being trained, I think it’s easier for me to speak a language to producers, and I can speak engineer to the engineers.”

She also unapologetically chats about feminism and body positivity: “”About 10 years ago, I made the decision that I just wanted to be happy with my body and I just wanted to be happy with who I am. That was the beginning of my journey with learning how to love my body. … You have to find that love for yourself deep down inside, underneath all of that questioning and ickiness.” Hell yeah, the importance of self love.

She is just incredible on so many levels.

Check out the full NPR music interview with her here, I highly recommend it.

 

Google’s Doodle Winner

The powerful and beautiful art piece which won Google’s contest, (shown on the Google home page today) can be seen below:

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Photo credit: Artist Akilah Johnson

Based on the theme, “What makes me…me”, high school student and Artist Akilah Johnson drew this incredible montage that invokes Black Lives Matter imagery. Akilah describes herself as living an Afriocentric lifestyle, and as deeply connected to her roots.

As the Washington Post reports, Akilah intended for the viewer to observe themes of her childhood on the left, while moving across the painting towards more social justice issues on the right. Just as a book is read from left to right, she intended for this piece to be observed in much the same direction. What I find especially fascinating, is that her art teacher was slightly concerned Akilah would not win the contest, because it is so culturally rich, that perhaps people would not be ready for it and would not appreciate it. The wonderful thing is, I think people absolutely are ready for such a culturally rich art piece to be projected onto the mainstream world.

The thought that went into this piece and the layers of meaning make it a clear and obvious choice for winner. I see art pieces like this, and the appreciation of such, as the beauty of the human spirit expanding into our surroundings. I consider the appreciation of this culturally textured and female-rich-art-piece, to signify positive change on the horizon, as people’s hearts and minds expand to appreciate one another for who they uniquely are. Needless to say, I am deeply moved by Akiliah Johnson’s art piece.

Why Aren’t We Marching For Unarmed, Black Women Too?

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(Photo credit: Seen.co)

Why haven’t we taken to the streets when unarmed, black women have been shot and killed, like Rekia Boyd? Boyd was shot in the back of the head and killed by a policemen in 2012. And the officer was dismissed of all charges. Other unarmed women of color who have been fatally shot by police include Shantel Davis who was killed at age 23, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, killed at age 7, and Kendra James, killed at 21.

Read a whole article about it on mic.com here.

“‘As a black woman, these moments remind me that I live in a society and work in a movement that insists on prioritizing the lives of black men over women,” Nakisha Lewis, a strategist and organizer with Black Lives Matter NYC, told Mic.“There is a special gut-wrenching pain that is present when the victim is a black woman, because their deaths will go unnoticed by the general public. And there will be no protests nor national vigils in their honor.’

(excerpt from “This Unarmed Black Woman Was Shot By Police, So Why Aren’t We Marching For Her?”  Moore, Darnell, L.. Mic.com April 2015, Web 2015.)