Originally published on theguardian.com
Photograph: Michael B Thomas / AFP / Getty
An 18-hour ride on an old – and late – charter bus would be enough to fill the most seasoned traveler with apprehension and anxiety. But waiting to board exactly such a bus with 40 other black people, mostly strangers, to ride halfway across the country to St Louis, Missiouri, we were praying for more than just functioning air conditioning.
On our way to Ferguson as part of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) ride, we were hoping for safe travels: some of us were aware that hundreds of black people traveling long distances could easily be cause for police stops; others had stories to tell about their encounters with police. When we arrived and met people who had been on the road for 36 hours or more, we were hardly even tired, despite the uncomfortable rest. But we were all rightfully enraged, and ready to fight for justice.
The BLM Ride was organized in the spirit of the early 1960s interstate Freedom Rides in the racially segregated south, after the visuals of Michael Brown’s lifeless and blood-drenched body brought to mind images of lifeless black bodies hanging from lynching trees in the all-too-recent past, after the militarized police forces looked all too similar to the response of police to protestors during the civil rights movement.
The ride was a call to action for black people and their allies to fight for justice – not just for Brown and his family, but for all of us. It was a tangible example of self-determination in the face of anti-black violence on the part of Ferguson residents and those of us who traveled from across the country to join them.
But the real work begins now: Nearly a month after Brown’s brutal killing, after the camera crews have left and in a moment when justice has yet to be realized, many more of us have decided that we could not allow Ferguson to be portrayed as an aberration in America: it must remain understood as a microcosm of the effects of anti-black racism.
So, many activist groups have returned to our local communities prepared to fight for justice. Several hundred BLM Riders – many of whom possess expertise in community organizing, law, youth development, public policy, media, the arts and more – will actively support the demands set forth by the local Ferguson community and will work both within our respective communities and nationally to address blue-on-black violence.
We may have ridden home by now, too, but we won’t forget Ferguson:
- We will seek justice for Brown’s family by petitioning for the immediate arrest of officer Darren Wilson and the dismissal of county prosecutor Robert McCullough. Groups that are part of the local Hands Up Don’t Shoot Coalition have already called for Wilson’s swift arrest, and some BLM riders also canvassed McCullough’s neighborhood as a way of raising the public’s awareness of the case.
- We will help develop a network of organizations and advocates to form a national policy specifically aimed at redressing the systemic pattern of anti-black law enforcement violence in the US. The Justice Department’s new investigation into St Louis-area police departments is a good start, but it’s not enough. Our ride was endorsed by a few dozen local, regional and national organizations across the country – like the National Organization for Women (Now) and Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation – who, while maintaining different missions, have demonstrated unprecedented solidarity in response to anti-black police violence. We hope to encourage more organizations to endorse and participate in a network with a renewed purpose of conceptualizing policy recommendations.
- We will also demand, through the network, that the federal government discontinue its supply of military weaponry and equipment to local law enforcement. And though Congress seems to finally be considering measures in this regard, it remains essential to monitor the demilitarization processes and the corporate sectors that financially benefit from the sale of military tools to police.
- We will call on the office of US attorney general Eric Holder to release the names of all officers involved in killing black people within the last five years, both while on patrol and in custody, so they can be brought to justice – if they haven’t already.
- And we will advocate for a decrease in law-enforcement spending at the local, state and federal levels and a reinvestment of that budgeted money into the black communities most devastated by poverty in order to create jobs, housing and schools. This money should be redirected to those federal departments charged with providing employment, housing and educational services.
We have to move out of our myopic understanding of local organizing and build a national and international movement that prioritizes all black life. Local, community-based advocacy organizations like the Organization for Black Struggle and Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment, as well as groups organized by fearless young activists like Lost Voices, have committed to fighting until justice is served for Mike Brown. Our group is proof that dedicated and skilled black folks can work – together – to end state violence, homelessness, joblessness, imprisonment and more inside black communities.
We have a moment, inspired by those working on the ground in Ferguson, to transform black people’s relationship to this country. The time is now. If we don’t pick up the mantle for justice, we will miss it yet again.