Perhaps the most chilling chant at Black Lives Matter or left-wing protests begins with, “Say their name!” The response goes, “Which one?” Signs have appeared at protests since May with the simple request for police to, “Stop killing black people!” With too many names to highlight at any given protest, each name as important as the last, protesters demand that there be, “No more names.”
But still, trigger-happy police take more black and brown lives, and more names are added to the list.
Walter Wallace, Jr. was a husband, a father, a twin brother and a son. He was a 27-year-old aspiring musician who lived in Philadelphia and who also happened to be bi-polar. On Oct. 26, he was having a manic episode. Worried about the safety of her son and the people around him, Walter’s mother, Cathy Wallace, called 9-1-1 requesting an ambulance and medical assistance. Police showed up instead.
In the video that documents his killing, Walter has a knife, but his mother is not afraid of him and is pleading with him to calm down. Throughout the duration of the video, Walter walks—never runs—and never gets close enough to the police to be able to hurt them. Standing ten to 20 feet away from him, the two officers shoot seven times each, hitting Walter at least ten times and killing him.
Two days later, Walter’s wife gave birth to a baby girl.
Following the surfacing of the video, an uprising in Philadelphia took place. “Insider” quoted one Philadelphia resident, who told the story of getting hit with a rubber bullet, a baton and pepper spray at the same event. The police response, coupled with its broader pattern of violence towards protesters since May, pushed Philadelphia’s City Council to pass a ban on less-lethal weapons on Oct. 29.
Police violence was not just directed towards protesters. In one particularly horrifying story caught on video, a black woman with her deaf nephew and a toddler in the car finds herself on a street where police are chasing protesters. As she tries to turn the car around, a crowd of police frenziedly smash every window in her car, drag her out, throw her viciously onto the sidewalk and arrest her and her nephew. The police also knock the nephew’s hearing aids into the street and grab the baby out of the back seat. The Fraternal Order of Police then took a picture of the undoubtedly traumatized black toddler being held by a white female police officer and posted it onto Facebook with the caption, “This child was lost during the violent riots in Philadelphia, wandering around barefoot in an area that was experiencing complete lawlessness… The only thing this Philadelphia police officer cared about in that moment was protecting this child.” The post concludes, “We are the Thin Blue Line. And WE ARE the only thing standing between Order and Anarchy.”
Much of the media did what they usually do; focusing on the violence of protesters and the entirely irrelevant criminal history of Wallace. FOX News ran the headline on their website: “Walter Wallace Jr., who was shot by Philadelphia police, had a criminal history, rapped about shooting cops.” In the sub-heading, it read: “He also rapped about social justice and police injustice.” Yahoo and PBS reported on the protests, both citing the police claim that 30 officers were hurt, but neither saying anything about the actions of police.
What we are witnessing is the drawing back of the curtain that hides the fallacy of, “American Democracy.” What has been known for a long time in heavily policed minority communities is finally being made evident to previously ignorant sectors of society. The police are functioning as paramilitary wings of authoritarianism.
On Oct. 28, I joined a weekly protest organized by Black Lives Matter Los Angeles (LA) that marches to a polling station to encourage people to get out to vote. The protest calls for the ousting, either by vote or resignation, of LA’s District Attorney Jackie Lacey, who out of more than 600 police shootings that have taken place during her tenure, has only prosecuted one cop. The entirely peaceful march passed by the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles where the Sheriff’s Department met us with comparable numbers of police in riot gear. As we left, despite there having been no confrontation with them, the police continued to increase their numbers around the prison.
My comrade, Hannah Levy, who was legal observing, said that when she and the group of legal observers, “weren’t leaving because we were trying to get the name of their commanding officer which they would not give us, they attempted to… intimidate the [legal observers] who were just trying to get that information, by pushing [us] back. They were stepping towards us in an aggressive manner.”
The next night, activists joined on the south lawn of City Hall to hold a vigil for Walter Wallace, Jr. Throughout the night, for what wasn’t even a protest, our group of maybe 35 had a helicopter floating overhead with police cars surveilling and pointing their flashlights at us. As I was leaving, I saw a small group of activists had gathered across the street to confront the officers from five police cars that had been standing by. One young woman respectfully said, “We are holding a vigil for people who lost their lives to police violence. Your presence here is triggering to many, could you please go away?”
The officer responded, “How about you go away!”
Another officer then asked, “What about all the cops who are stabbed or shot!”
These are not “peacekeepers.” They are political actors.
Every Saturday for months, Trumpistas have gathered at Beverly Gardens Park in Beverly Hills, getting people to honk for their cause. These gatherings are often met by counter protests. On Oct. 31, I joined a group that marched to the park where, according to the Los Angeles Times, 2,500 Trump supporters had gathered. We were between 50 and a 100.
When we got there, the police line faced us and not the Trump supporters, despite numerous and some successful attempts by Trump supporter to break the line and confront us. My comrade Sasha recounts, “I saw a young man holding a pole with an American flag at the top having a heated exchange with an antifa member on our side. All of a sudden and with no physical provocation, the Trump supporter backed up and cracked his pole into the side of the antifa man’s head. The man crumpled to the ground and his fellow antifa members rushed to pin down the aggressor. Like clockwork, police moved in, pushed our men aside, created a protective circle around the Trump supporter, and escorted him behind police lines. He was neither handcuffed nor arrested, only taken care of.”
As I followed the police who were escorting the Trump supporter away, a police officer stepped in front of me, pointing a baton at me. I stopped walking, but I also didn’t step back from the police officer. Another officer then pointed a rubber bullet gun two, maybe three, feet from my face. It was illegal, for rubber bullets are only non-lethal if they’re pointed at the body. Our gathering was then declared unlawful and we were followed by police out of the area.
Veterans often commend anti-war activists, as they feel they fought overseas to defend our right to free speech. Police are different. There is no conspiracy, for it’s human nature. When we got to the Trump rally, there were Blue Lives Matter signs and flags with the blue line in them as we were chanting “Abolish the police.”
Of course, the police like them better than they like us. Systems of power don’t like to be challenged and the cogs in that system’s machine have been led to believe that the system functions justly. What the police have shown since George Floyd was killed is that we aren’t even allowed to question obvious abuses of power. In an ideal society, smaller things like a rubber bullet gun being pointed at my face, should be easily dealt with. He threatened me with death for protesting and should be fired from the force because of it. But we can’t even get justice for Djon Kizzee, shot unarmed 16 times.
The names keep coming in. Fred Williams is another one and he was killed by LASD in Oct. Justice for the names that keep being added to the list will come when the system is dismantled as a whole.