Digging in and Throwing Down: Direct Action at Union Station

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Yesterday, I joined a group of around 150 protestors at a #BlackLivesMatter event at Union Station in Chicago. It was the first protest I had attended since the president of the New York Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch, blamed the deaths of two police officers in Brooklyn on “those that incited violence on the street under the guise of protest.” Rather than fault the dead man who apparently shot the two officers, Lynch predictably and opportunistically focused his rage on those whose politics displeased him, including New York City’s current mayor. All of this, of course, was aimed at quieting the voices of demonstrators who, for months, have filled the streets to protest the norms of a system that has deemed them disposable.

I never believed that the young organizers in Chicago would be cowed by the theatrical blame game that’s been staged by men like Lynch over the past few days, but it was still heartening to see them up close, standing strong.

Around 4:30pm, a large, diverse crowd gathered in the main hall of Union Station to, in the words of organizers, “protest every case that mirrors that of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner.” Attendees stood in a circle between a police line and a festive holiday display, and for a time, transformed that space into a stage from which black voices, and the voices of their allies, could be heard. After a speak out on some of the current struggles in Chicago, and a series of powerful chants (such as, “We know why you’re attacking! Your system is collapsing!), the protestors staged a die-in.

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

This event held a great deal of meaning at this juncture, not simply because it was a powerful action, but because it was a statement affirming that these protestors are prepared to hold fast in the face of vilification and threats of “war.” Police agencies in the US have long demonstrated that they are capable of waging war on the black community, treating black men, women, and children as either enemy combatants or acceptable collateral damage. They have occupied communities of color and violently enforced the norms of a structural system of oppression.

And let me stress: It’s very important to remember, at this critical time, that police do not enforce laws. They enforce the norms of a system that serves the privileged. When those who are marginalized on the basis of race, gender identity, or ability disrupt the norms that ensure the comfort, safety, and profit of those with more power than themselves, they are taken out like trash.

In practice, that’s what police officers are: maintenance workers tasked with the violent upkeep of an unequal society.

This has nothing to do with safety, and little to do with the law. The “rules” change from moment to moment, at the discretion of the gang in blue, because they have the guns, power, and authority to force the oppressed into submission.

One of the most compelling moments in yesterday’s event came when a young black woman called out, “All lives matter? Yeah, that should be true, but take a look at the scorecard!”

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

These young people are forcing the world to look at the score card, and face the realities of our system, and they will not stop until they get free.

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)(Photo: Kelly Hayes)