By Charlene Muhammad CHARLENEM
Six officers have been indicted, violent protests have subsided, city officials lifted a state of emergency and curfew and National Guard troops pulled out of Baltimore after several tension-filled days and unrest following the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old young, Black man in police custody.
But some are wondering will their city be the next powder keg to explode due to continued problems in policing, poverty, racism and hopelessness across America.
Activists and peace advocates interviewed by The Final Call said some progress is being made but there’s still major work to do in police reform.
Others said the growing crisis cannot be averted. If things don’t change and police aren’t held criminally accountable for the brutal murders of Black and Brown men, women and children, the United States could be headed for a long, hot summer of riots and rebellion.
“Any city is subject to be a powder keg, because once the people actually come out and uprise, they don’t have enough police. They don’t have enough National Guard. They don’t have enough military,” said Houston-based activist Krystal Muhammad, National Chairman of the New Black Panther Party.
For instance, Houston, Texas has two million people, compared to 15,000 within all of the law enforcement institutes there, Ms. Muhammad said. “This country is not prepared for when the masses do rise, and this is why that sister had to indict those people, because they knew that town was about to get flooded and that the masses of the Black nation is rising, and it’s going to happen all across the country,” she continued, referring to Maryland State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s indictment of the six officers involved in Freddie Gray’s arrest, transport and subsequent death.
“These are sparks, but there’s going to be flames across this nation, because it is justified, number one, because we have been oppressed too long. There is no outlet as far as justice, because the court system is corrupt. The Department of Justice is corrupt all the way. The only avenue that we can approach is through the United Nations and even the United Nations is run by the West,” Ms. Muhammad added.
As protests in Baltimore gained momentum, demonstrators took to the streets in cities nationwide in solidarity. In Los Angeles, the father of Michael Brown, Jr., killed by former St. Louis police officer Darren Wilson, joined the National Action Network’s April 30 prayer vigil, rally and march for Freddie Gray in Leimert Park.
“I just want everybody to just pay attention to what’s going on. …These people are sickening,” Michael Brown, Sr. told The Final Call as he was overcome by a reserved outrage and emotion. “It’s just, it’s terrible, you know. I don’t want to say too much. I’m just going to get up off of this,” Mr. Brown said, slightly shaking his head and partly raising his hands in disgust.
People just can’t take anymore abuse, said Pastor K.W. Tulloss, president and Western regional director of the National Action Network. The organization, founded by civil rights leader the Reverend Al Sharpton, is working to help pass five police reform bills in California.
Its Stop Police Misconduct petition at Change.org stems from growing outrage over the amount of unarmed victims killed by police officers and mounting excessive force cases.
“At the end of the day, I believe that if we don’t put a stop to this police brutality, hold them accountable somehow, someway, we’re going to see a lot of these (protests) around the cities, and that’s what’s so sad,” Rev. Tulloss said.
“Los Angeles knows. We’re 23 years away from our last riot, so at the end of the day, we have to continue to hold accountable these law enforcement officers,” he said, referring to the 1992 Rodney King rebellion.
On April 29, 1992, Black rage combusted into protests, rioting and looting which caused $1 billion in damages after an all-White jury in suburban Simi Valley, Calif. acquitted four officers caught on videotape savagely beating and kicking the Black motorist after a high-speed chase on March 3, 1991.
“I really think the next city is going to be Cleveland, Ohio,” said Attorney Benjamin Crump (who’s representing the families of Michael Brown, Jr. in Missouri, Trayvon Martin in Florida, the family of 2012 ‘suicide while handcuffed’ victim, Chavis Carter, and other high-profile victims of police abuse).
“In (the case of) Tamir Rice, if they don’t charge this police officer for killing this 12-year-old kid in less than one second, on a playground, and it’s all captured on surveillance video, I think that people are going to be outraged,” Atty. Crump told The Final Call.
On Nov. 12 of last year, the youngster was shot and killed by Ofc. Timothy Loehmann. Tamir was playing near a community center with an airsoft gun that shot non-lethal projectiles. Police arrived at the scene and in less than two seconds, fired at the boy. Though Tamir’s death was ruled a homicide, no charges have been filed against the officers.
In Cleveland, people are also anticipating results in the trial of police officer Michael Brelo, charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter for his part in the brutal shooting of Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell after a high speed chase on November 29, 2012. Ofc. Brelo was the only cop charged though a mob of officers fired 137 shots at the couple. Ofc. Brelo fired 49 of those shots and continued discharging his weapon as he stood on the hood of the vehicle the couple was in.
In addition, Atty. Crump said, another hot spot is Louisiana, where in New Iberia, situated 148 miles from New Orleans, police there insisted for at least five months that while handcuffed and after two pat-searches, 22-year-old Victor White III produced a gun and shot himself in the back of a cruiser, March 3 of last year.
“All these people are trying to be patient and wait on justice, but still there’s no justice,” Atty. Crump stated. “When you think of it, it’s sad because it’s almost becoming an epidemic of people of color being killed by law enforcement officers and America continues to sanction the killings of these people of color when nobody is held accountable,” he continued.
The officers have been charged in the Freddie Gray case, but it’s too early to celebrate, Atty. Crump told The Final Call.
“It’s a long journey to justice, and it’s just a first step when you have charges filed, but it’s a significant step because it shows that prosecutors do have the power to go ahead and charge police officers just like they charge regular citizens, but they always want to try to punt and pass it on to a grand jury to try to make a decision that they were elected to make,” Atty. Crump said.
Ticking time bomb
Police brutality stems from mass poverty and mass incarceration that’s affecting Houston and nearly every city where Blacks reside, Ms. Muhammad said. The situation is bigger than police brutality, and the consequences in terms of people’s outrage and protests cannot be averted, she said.
“It’s ethnic cleansing and genocide taking place, just as they did with us in Africa … with our young brothers and even young sisters, they are actually hunted down and killed,” Ms. Muhammad continued.
She cited the case of 18-year-old Chad Holley as another example of why the whole country is a ticking time bomb in terms of police murders.
Anger and outrage ensued in Houston after an all-White jury acquitted a White, former city police officer on May 16, 2012 in the controversial videotaped beating of the Black teen in 2010.
Andrew Blomberg was among the officers fired after a surveillance camera caught them on videotape brutally kicking, punching and stomping the then 15-year-old, who was accused of burglary.
According to KTRK News 13, ex-cops Raad Hassan and Phil Bryan, indicted on the same charges along with Drew Ryser, pled no contest and received probation and fines of $750 and $500, respectively, but no jail time. Mr. Ryser was convicted of a misdemeanor and received two years’ probation and a $1,000 fine.
Cops receive slaps on the wrists and barely that for brutalizing and murdering unarmed Black and Brown people, activists argue. A solution is to keep applying pressure to the system in terms of demonstrations and organizing on all levels for police reform.
The ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition has encouraged people to join protests in Baltimore and their own cities and towns to demand justice for Freddie Gray, an end to racist police terror and to stand in solidarity with the people of Baltimore.
In addition to demonstrations planned in Baltimore, ANSWER’s website listed actions held in California (Davis, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego), New Haven, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Tampa, Fla., Chicago, Ill., Boston, Mass., Minneapolis, Minn., Albuquerque, N.M., New York City and Syracuse, Portland, Or., Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pa., and Blacksburg, Va.
“I think uprisings are possible anywhere injustice is a consistent reality. There is only so much abuse people are going to take before they explode,” said Sanyika Bryant, of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, which has written reports on the continued problem of police brutality.
He lives in Oakland where there have been a lot of uprisings. Many (as in the case of Oscar Grant, III killed by then BART officer Johannes Mehserle) have captured national attention in the last few years.
“It is likely to happen again, especially because the state is becoming more repressive and because we are also seeing a rise in overt racism in the general White civilian population. I hope Black people also take time to develop a strategy and a plan of action to address the multitude of issues impacting our people,” Mr. Bryant told The Final Call in a written statement.
Ron Scott, founder of the Detroit Coalition against Police Brutality, underscored the strength of organizing and mobilizing for police oversight.
“I think Americans have a very short analysis in terms of the particularities of different circumstances and how they play out,” Mr. Scott stated. “It’s not a question of Ferguson versus Baltimore versus another city. In fact, we had calls from people in Baltimore six months ago that spoke to the need for police oversight, an oversight commission, which we’ve had a strong one since 1974,” he continued.
Mr. Scott said he doesn’t see an uprising happening in his city’s immediate future, because of people’s heavy organizing history which has allowed them to put pressure on institutions, including the police. But, still it could, he noted.
“I see five cases a day of some type by some agency, so it’s going on and on and on. The terrorism and the militarism continues,” he said citing the case of Terrance Kellom, shot multiple times by an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) task force officer April 27.
“That’s straight up murder as far as we see … and I have about four others with similar situations with these task forces. I think it’s important to mention that these specialized task forces got money from the federal government to augment police departments, and so these task forces are sort of operating above citizens’ oversight,” Mr. Scott noted.
The key is citizens control the police and not the other way around, he argued.
“We’re trying to get people organized so that when they do throw a punch, it could land successfully as opposed to just being disbursed,” said Mr. Scott, also a spokesman for the family of Aiyana Stanley-Jones’.
While authorities announced they wouldn’t try Detroit police officer Joseph Weekley a third time for fatally shooting the six year old as she lay sleeping on her grandmother’s couch during a nighttime raid filmed by a reality TV show “The First 48.” The community hasn’t given up on her case, Mr. Scott told The Final Call.
“The officer’s back to work. We’re just waiting. We’re going to put some more pressure on that too because we want this cop off the force. We don’t want him to be the one that’s coming back to work after blowing the head of a young Black girl off,” he said.