Organizing Anguish: DC’s #NMOS14

Last night DC residents gathered at Malcolm X Park (Meridian Hill Park) for a vigil to honor the memory of those killed by police. My own strongest impression was how raw everything was. This was an outpouring of pain.

Various people had various proposed solutions–the Socialist Workers were there, doing what they do best, i.e. holding up well-designed signs (“END MASS INCARCERATION, THE NEW JIM CROW”), and there were some other groups at various points along the spectrum of plausibility. But if the crowd’s obvious anguish is going to be directed toward political change that will have to come later.

I was juggling various commitments, so I got there slightly late and left when the vigil/rally itself ended, before the march down toward the White House. I was standing on the murmuring fringe of the crowd for much of the vigil. A man stalked behind us yelling, “F*** peace!,” calling the rally attendees coons and Uncle Toms. He kept up this cry for pretty much the entire vigil, including the moment of silence itself. People mostly tried to ignore him or drown him out. There was a point at which a man was speaking unintelligibly into the rally’s official microphone; a Howard University student was calling out to the crowd about Howard alumna Mya Aaten-White, shot in Ferguson; and this yelling man was stalking along the edge of the crowd, calling for violence. A Cerberus of pain, frustration, and anger.

I was forcibly reminded of Riot Grrrl: the anguish, confusion, and urgency. The frustration of not knowing what we can possibly do to stop the violence with which we’re threatened, and the shame at this lack of solutions, our inability to end rape or brutality. The frustration–the crowd was chanting, “We’re fed up! We can’t take no more!,” and I heard a woman say bitterly, “I remember these chants from the Jena Six rally. I’m sick of them.” And the meta-frustration, because really, what good does “What good does it do?” do?

I do think there are pathways toward a less-awful world. Here are a few relevant links. There’s already a bill being prepared to limit police miltarization. That in itself isn’t enough, obviously–police were attacking and killing unarmed black people before “the rise of the warrior cop“–but militarization has worsened the ethos of the police. The SWAT teams and camo, the costumes and equipment and recruiting videos, change the mask of command which a cop wears. But my main point is just that last night wasn’t a ten-point plan; it was the thing which comes before these plans and motivates them, the raw human emotion which politics (even best-available politics) can’t encompass and often betrays.

About Eve Tushnet

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