Memorial to Mike Brown, one year later. Photo: Katina Parker, 2015.
Article & Photos by Katina Parker (Durham, NC)
Just over one year ago, on August 9th, an 18-year old boy affectionately known as “Mike Mike” was walking to his grandmother’s house with a friend when a White officer approached them. Witnesses say the officer was aggressive and accusatory from the start, with no obvious provocation.
Whatever the details, Mike Brown’s body was leveled by several shots from the gun of Darren Wilson. While Brown bled out in front of horrified friends and neighbors, Wilson lived to tell his story and netted $1.5 million dollars via exclusive interviews and online fundraisers. He was never indicted. In fact, Wilson’s openly racist otherizing of Brown as an “it” or a “thing” so overwhelmingly scary he needed to be killed on site, was defended and upheld by politicians, a tampered-with grand jury, and police officials.
Brown’s death sparked the Ferguson Rebellion, a movement that has led to 365+ days of sustained civil disobedience in St. Louis County and other cities throughout the U.S. The Ferguson Rebellion dovetailed into the ever-burgeoning Black Lives Matter movement which began with the acquittal of George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s killer.
Many of us, myself included, are putting our lives on the line, because we simply cannot take it anymore.
I cannot watch another White police officer manipulate a Black woman and her children into believing he has her best interest at heart, as he restrains her and will not let her go, despite her pleas, and even though she is not under arrest. I do not want to see dash cam videos that have been hack edited to omit the moments that led up to the murder of a righteous Black female activist by a White police officer who overreacted when she would not obey him. I cannot hear one more officer proclaim how scared he was or that he thought the car was going to run over him — after he shot the man for not producing his driver’s license, as if that man’s lifeless body, bleeding out in front of him, is not in fact dying while he checks his own body for scuff marks. I cannot.
In response to our emphatic push back against the everyday murder of Black people for innocuous things that attract police attention — like selling loose cigarettes in front of a bodega, playing with a toy gun at a park or carrying one in a Walmart, changing lanes without a signal, or simply asking an officer why you are being stopped — some of the sketchiest dregs of White supremacy have surfaced. Mass murders of innocent people while attending church service; conspicuously-armed Neo-nazi groups riding through Black neighborhoods; Klan rallies on state grounds and youth recruitment training camps; pro-Confederate flag marches throughout the South; and White militia groups like the Oath Keepers patrolling the streets in military fatigues with high-powered rifles, threatening to shoot Ferguson protesters.
This is no coincidence. We can no longer deny the obvious relationship between the police, elected officials, and White supremacist groups. When we see Mike Brown’s body left out to cook on the summer asphalt in front of family and neighbors for four and a half hours, know that the Klan and other vigilante groups left the bodies of those they lynched swinging in the trees until animals ate them, as an example that we must comply — or else.
We must push back. We must infiltrate. We must expose. We must transform and/or obliterate White supremacy.
In the coming weeks and months, there will be widespread acts of civil disobedience throughout the U.S. to honor the lives of Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, Aiyana Jones, and so many others. I implore my Alternate ROOTS family to either re-commit or get involved with the movement against state-sanctioned violence, i.e., White supremacy and all its branches — racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, xenophobia, ageism. There are endless access points for organizers and artists. They include:
- Taking it to the streets to protest;
- Mobilizing people to show up in court for unjust cases of police retaliation (i.e., the Carlos Riley, Jr. case in Durham, North Carolina);
- Hosting screenings of films like Fruitvale Station or FERGUSON: A REPORT FROM OCCUPIED TERRITORY (a documentary that I co-produced for Fusion TV/ABC-Disney);
- Staffing a jail support hotline for protesters;
- Cooking food for protesters;
- Leading teach-ins and learning exchanges about civil disobedience, doing anti-racist work, becoming a street medic, coding, filmmaking, etc.;
- Donating money, food, gas masks, and other supplies to organizations that are on the ground;
- Counter-protesting when the Klan, Confederate flaggers, or other White supremacist groups hold rallies.
These are several organizations you can connect to for information and actions:
Black Lives Matter — for African-descended activists to access resources, training, and organizing calls.
Ferguson Action — for alerts about conference calls and national days of action that you can launch in your community. Open to all.
Hands Up United — Ferguson-based organization that runs a national network of “Books and Breakfasts” programs. You can start a revolutionary book club in your community too!
Organization for Black Struggle — to stay up-to-date on St. Louis-based organizing for community-accountable policing.
Southern Movement Assembly — get involved in the 2-year action plan for collective liberation.
The notes that follow were penned to friends and family and posted to Facebook during July 2015. The gravity of my words and the severity of these circumstances are not lost on me. A year ago I would have never imagined that my life purpose would regularly bring me into such close proximity with the most blatant forms of White supremacy.
The same day that the Klan rally I discuss in the following paragraphs occurred, there was yet another Confederate flag rally just 40 minutes away from my home, that drew thousands who insist that the flag is about heritage and not hate. As I write, there is a Confederate flag rally creeping its way down Highway 70 through rural White sections of North Carolina.
These rallies are springing up everywhere in response to the movement for Black Lives.
Please find your access point and get involved. Now.
July 17, 2015
Good morning, family/friends.
Tomorrow, I drive into South Carolina to document the Ku Klux Klan rally in Columbia. The rally goes from 3pm to 5pm at the statehouse. It’s being hosted by the Loyal White Knights. They are based in Pelham, North Carolina, just an hour away from Durham.
I will be riding with friends and connecting with other activists there. I return tomorrow night.
There’s a cross-burning at dusk in Gilbert, South Carolina. We may document that as well.
We will get to both locations early to determine multiple escape routes and to check for potential forms of entrapment — dogs, gates, bunkers, etc.
I will be filming with long lenses and plan to keep my distance from the Klan. I anticipate being called a nigger, being lunged at, getting into some scuffles, being followed, or being tear gassed.
I will fly under the radar. I don’t intend to get arrested. I will carry whatever protection is legal within the state of South Carolina.
I have friends in Charlotte and a couple here in Durham who are on call to come to my aid, if need be.
I am concerned. I am not scared. I go with my mother’s blessing and support. I take with me the fierce love and protection of my great grandmothers and my grandmother before me plus many other ancestors who survived this type of tyranny and who are calling me forward to do this work. I also take with me Rachael’s protective guidance.
I am calling upon each of you to pray me in, pray me through, and pray me out. When I return home, I may need some help unpacking what I’ve witnessed and moving it away from my spirit.
In my bones, I know that I have many, much more time on the planet. And yet, I must request: If anything happens to me, please look out for my mother, Rachael, and Adele.
July 18, 2015
Taking a moment to breathe before we start moving again. The protesters have cleared. The Klan has scurried off to Gilbert to do a cross burning at dusk. I am in awe of the stance that police and military took to defend White supremacy. There were barricades, hundreds of police, SWAT hiding in ambulances, etc. — set up to defend maybe 150 nazis, Klansmen, whatever they call themselves. They swung their flags; goose stepped; yelled “White power”; called people “Nigger,” among other things; and threatened protesters with violence — from behind steel barricades. There were snipers on top of the state house. Waiting. Many of the police officers who protected them were Black.
There was a lot of running. Chaos. Uncertainty. Concern that we were being ambushed. Trying to keep up but not overheat from the sun. We chased the Klan — and the cops. I saw police throwing Black men to the ground. A wheelchaired old White dude in a Confederate flag emblazoned hat pulled his taser on my friend. A lot of one-on-one confrontations popping off everywhere.
But it’s a new day. The old guy who wrapped his body in a confederate flag like he’d just won a soccer championship, he got wheeled out. Laid flat. Three sheets to the wind. Pun intended. That White woman who tried to raise up on the Black folks around her left holding her bloody face. Both had police escorts. At the end of the rally, police with semiautomatic guns and all manner of weaponry escorted the Klansmen back to the parking structure where they’d left their (raggedy) cars — and actively shoved Black people out of the facility, including me and my crew, even though we had a parking ticket for the facility.
They needed to be escorted. Close to a thousand mostly Black protesters were in heavy pursuit, ready to throw down.
I’ve never seen anything like it.
The police then caravanned with the Klan folk to get them safely out of harm’s way, like the CIA does the president, but not before one of them took out a street light trying to get away. Pole on the ground. Disconnected from its base. The police let them go. Didn’t take a plate number or issue a citation. Because protesters had swarmed around the marooned vehicle and snatched their Confederate flags out they car.
Confederate flags were burned on site. By us.
Black and White folk chased them up out of here. I like that they left Columbia, South Carolina with the sight of Black folk trailing them in they rear view. Ready.
I’m still processing. Baffled. But not surprised. To be continued….
Katina Parker is a filmmaker and photographer who teaches at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. Her work focuses on African-American-led social protest and creating platforms for Black Queer people to tell the personal stories. Please follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Vimeo @katinaparker; and on Instagram @katinanparker.