This is What Democracy Looks Like

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Today marks the 19th annual National Day of Protest To Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. It also marks the 74th day since Michael Brown was killed by Ferguson Police Department officer Darren Wilson. It has been 74 days since Leslie McSpadden hugged her son.

When unarmed Brown was shot down on August 9, I, like many Black people across the country, cried out in horror and rage. Only a few days before, unarmed Eric Garner was killed by NYPD officers. And Ted Wafer was found guilty of murdering unarmed Renisha McBride in Michigan. The lives of those of us who are poor and Black show us the fissures in America’s promise. In the land of the free, too many of us do not enjoy the freedoms promised.

First a whisper, and then a shout: Black lives matter.

A few weeks after Michael Brown’s death, as the media and the National Guard were leaving Ferguson, I arrived in St. Louis to work with local community members who yearn to end the troubling practice of extrajudicial killings. I also joined nearly 600 Black people from across the country for a Black Lives Matter Freedom Ride to Ferguson.

As we marched through Ferguson, Black families came out of their homes with their hands up over their heads, a symbolic tribute similar to the three-finger salute in The Hunger Games. Dozens more formed a circle around Brown’s memorial, held hands and cried as a downpour washed down over us. In St. Louis there is solidarity, there is hope, there is memory. We fight like hell to make sure there is not one more Michael Brown and, perhaps even more importantly, not one more Darren Wilson.

In front of Brown’s memorial, children as young as 3 lay on the ground as if they’d been shot dead. Some got on their knees with their hands above their heads.  The collective grief of St. Louis and of women across the country who have lost children to state violence has something to teach us all about a new democracy. St. Louis has become a symbol of our collective rage, in the same way that Los Angeles did when Rodney King was brutally beaten by LAPD, or that Oakland did when Oscar Grant was killed by BART public transit police.

Through the eyes of St. Louis, we see clearly what a new democracy must look like that ensures our collective survival. A democracy rooted in the dignity and respect for Black lives. A democracy where police are not allowed to act as judge, jury and executioner.  A democracy that keeps families together—whether it be the Black family in the Canfield Green apartments in St. Louis or the Latino family in Phoenix.

Today, let us be reminded of the burden that women bear when police take the lives of our children. Today, let us remind ourselves of the ways in which women hold our communities together. Today, let us celebrate the roles that women are playing to call forth a new democracy where not one more family is decimated by the loss of a child to police or vigilante violence.

Women who are sick and tired of their families being torn apart by police violence and deportations are rising up to bring forward the country that we deserve. We are the face of a new labor movement, and a new movement for democracy. The leadership of women of color and poor women will take us from a moment of grief and rage to a movement for democracy and dignity. We are stepping forward to say that Black lives matter, the lives of our children matter and we will not rest until justice and accountability comes.

Photo of students at Howard University protesting police brutality with the “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture, from Flickr user Debra Sweet under license from Creative Commons 2.0

About

Alicia Garza is the Special Projects Director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance. She has been the recipient of multiple awards for her organizing work in Black and Latino communities, receiving the Local Hero award from the San Francisco Bay Guardian and the Jeanne Gauna Communicate Justice award from the Center for Media Justice in 2008. She has twice been honored by the Harvey Milk Democratic Club with the Bayard Rustin Community Activist award for her work fighting gentrification and environmental racism in San Francisco's largest remaining Black community.