A tale of two protests

Author’s note: This article was published on several other movement blogs in April and May 2012.

By Jehovah Jones


April 24, 2012: The Free Mumia Abu-Jamal (‘and Bradley Manning!’, an addition which seemed hastily pasted on at the last minute) rally at the Justice Department drew many angry and some fairly incoherent people. But not quite the usual Occupy suspects; The New Black Panthers were present, of course, and making use of the Occupy-popularized ‘Mic Check’, a phrase originally borrowed from rap music.

And I got to march with Chuck D.

The Panthers’ newspaper, which their olive-drab-encrusted ‘soldiers’ relinquished with suspicion to the cheeky white boy in kente cloth — obviously a cop —  after he made with the required cash ‘donation’, contained some articles that actually made sense, showed reasonable, logical development. Not all of them, no, but some, especially those explaining why they don’t view Obama as their president.

Warm day. Sunshine everywhere. Except along the sidewalk in front of Justice. Cold, forbidding, like an alleyway that runs through Red Riding Hood’s forest. The man on stage announces that he just got a text from Chuck, and that he’s “circling.”

While we wait for Chuck, and get word that Danny Glover had to bail, Ramona Africa of MOVE and a bevy of less-inspiring, less-talented and less-imaginative rappers and speakers fill the flatbed of the AAA Emergency truck that serves as a stage. A moronic call-and-response that serves no apparent purpose except to pump the egos of the callers: “When I say ‘Free ‘em’, you say ‘all’!”


The American Indian Movement rep tries his hand: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few!”


A phone call from Mumia, in prison, is garbled and mostly unintelligible, thanks to the brilliant plan of holding up an iPhone to a mic. I assume he’s confirmed that he is still in jail, on questionable charges brought by a criminal justice system that had no credibility whatsoever*, and that he’d like to get out sometime soon. We knew that, and that’s why we’re here.

Chuck’s speech, when it comes, doesn’t inspire me as much as his lyrics, but the way he walks down the street later, just being one of the crowd, does. No security; I was behind him for awhile as we marched from Justice to the White House before I realized it was him, alone except for one other man helping to carry the sign. Hey brother, he smiles when he sees me looking, slaps my hand.

When Kevin Zeese makes his impassioned plea for freeing Wikileaker Bradley Manning from military prison, a few people sign up for the rally the next day at Fort Meade. I am torn between that event and the rally at the Supreme Court, which will begin hearings on the noxious, racist Arizona immigration law.

In the end, the ‘civil disobedience’ promised by the organizers of this march didn’t come at Justice (“just ice,” per Chuck. Maybe speaking in the cold shadow of the building inspired him) but rather at the White House, where the march ended after circling the Justice Department building. And it was so long coming that many drifted off, exhausted by all the waiting. Why, in the name of all that is allegedly holy, do they take so long to arrest someone who’s been warned, and who so clearly wants the arrest as much as or more than the cops want to arrest them? Why the need to surround them with trucks, push everyone back behind police tape, then metal barricades, carted in by the truckload, then painstakingly unloaded and used to slowly push the crowd out of Pennsylvania Avenue,or whatever that pedestrian walkway is now called in front of the White House? The kids are sitting, waiting to be arrested so they can make their statements. Total time, for the posturing, the pomp, the gassing and everything: 7 hours. Clearly intentional; make the protestors work for the arrest.

Next Day: Supreme Court. Arizona SB1070 protest. Lots of angry people screaming, no one could reasonably hear what they were saying. More deeply moving and unintelligible call and response. Much marching and chanting. Many people being interviewed by their friends, presumably for blog/Youtube immortality.

A black man in a robe blows a flatulent blast on a shofar.

I yawn, then leave the court and stroll, looking for a cuppa.

Half a block away, a pedicab driver stops, says I’m walking like a man with back pain. Wants to give me a ride. He’s in the mood for a chat. First we discuss whether I look like the sort of man who needs and can afford another man to be his donkey. He smiles, asks if he’s guessed right. Yes, I am having back pain; a poor night’s sleep in a narrow bed at the Friends’ hostel, I suppose.

He says he’s having ‘home pain.’ I inquire, and he says he’s from Arizona, and that it was never like this when he lived there, that “a bad crowd of neocolonists” has since moved in and ruined the neighborhood.**

“My friends were citizens but their parents weren’t, and now they deport them, 20 years later, separating them and their kids. That’s fucked up. When people ask where I’m from, I usually say ‘DC’.”

Yes. The land where citizens are denied the right to a vote in Congress.

A neocolony.

The man blows the ram’s horn again.

*The police who beat, shot, and arrested Mumia in 1981 were at the time being investigated by the Department of Justice. (Obviously this was at a time, long past, when Justice was occasionally a valid description of what this agency is practicing.) Then, for the first time in our history the federal government sued an entire police department for civil rights violations, and charged the Philadelphia Police Department with police brutality. The DOJ suit said that the Philly cops made a practice of shooting nonviolent suspects, abusing handcuffed prisoners, suppressing dissension within its ranks, and engaging in a pattern of brutal behavior that “shocks the conscience.” Within days after Mumia’s trial ended in his conviction for the shooting death of Officer Daniel Faulkner, 15 of the 35 police officers involved in collecting evidence in his case, including Alfonzo Giordano, the police inspector who controlled the Faulkner crime scene and led the Mumia investigation, would be convicted and jailed on federal charges of graft, corruption, and tampering with evidence. The federal investigation did not provide relief for defendants like Mumia who were convicted, presumably fraudulently,  by these corrupt and convicted cops. Some justice, hmmm? 

**  In a 5-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court soon ruled on Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070 , declaring several key provisions of the law to be unconstitutional,  but allowing Arizona law enforcement officers to ask for documentation from people they believe might be in the country illegally. In other words, profiling is allowed.


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