LOS ANGELES – There is a ritual underway in Pasadena as nine black actors enter the underworld, mourning those lost to racist violence. The ritual is called What to Send Up When It Goes Down.
Ariel plays a character called Made, described as, a woman of her own devising. In the vignette that repeats itself, over and over, Made works for Miss, a white woman who demands respect despite knowing she is a racist boss.
Made is supposed to be working, Miss insists, but instead she is sharpening a knife, she is cleaning a gun, she is loading a rocket launcher. Miss arrives on the back of a black man to demand, with all her Southern passive-aggressiveness, emotional labor from Made. Made is already working. She steadfastly refuses to comply, with Miss insisting to the point where Made jumps up and throws a right hook, then a left, kicking and punching her until it’s finally a furious kiss that sends Miss into conniptions and onto the floor.
Later, Ariel sits in a classroom in South Los Angeles with other activists, mostly black and brown. They have been called together by Unión del Barrio to organize a coalition. Though there are only around 25 people present for this meeting, the dozens of flags and banners hanging up in the classroom connect them to a larger historical struggle with billions of other people. These 25 people represent their different communities and groups and have come together for a single purpose: to end police brutality through community power.
The discussion is lively, and led mainly by women. They are discussing strategies, tactics, solutions and education.
This is the coalition’s second meeting, but Ariel is eager to participate, offering her time since she is recently unemployed. She sees a relationship between the powers that be and white supremacy, police brutality, and her inability to find sustainable employment as a young black woman in the United States.
Likewise, she is an actor, and she recognizes the role that the corporate media has in reproducing white supremacy and erasing people of color.
Across town, the Black Lives Matter movement has been camping outside City Hall since July 12th. Though it is the longest-running encampment in the United States, longer than the encampment in New York where protesters pressured the city into dismissing Police Commissioner Bill Bratton — though it turns out that he was only a year away from retirement anyway.
I asked Britany Craig, who had been at the encampment since the beginning, why she thought the national media wasn’t covering the protest, and their demand to fire LAPD commissioner Charlie Beck. “Our protests in Los Angeles have been so very peaceful,” she says. “You’ll notice when protests are mentioned, it’s always mentioned in the context of violence and looting.”
“Los Angeles is such an important city as far as tourism goes.”
In much the same way as the Bahamas issued a travel advisory to tourists seeking to go to the US, Brittany reasons that “…if tourists find out that Los Angeles is as dangerous as it is, that could affect the economy.”
Britany hasn’t been involved with politics for a long time. The first march she ever attended was for Alton Sterling on July 12th. She was sick of seeing people who looked like her family experience the harsh realities of life in the US.
“The week that Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, the Orlando thing… all of that was happening back to back. And I found myself pretty much crying myself to sleep every night. Feeling really hopeless, not knowing what to do. It was just like a really disempowering feeling, to know that these things are happening and feel like there’s nothing that you can do to stop it. There’s nothing you can do to protect the people who are being targeted. So when the opportunity came, there was no question.”
“A tree has roots. And the tree will always have those roots until something changes, right? The country was definitely founded in racism. In 1776, when America gained its independence, it was still a slave-holding state. So, America gained its independence and its people were free. Except for people who looked like me.”
She speaks about how both she and I probably knew people when we were growing up who used to tag – that is, to spray-paint – buildings. “The current system says that that boy should have been arrested, gone to jail, been put in an environment with people who might have actually committed crimes much more heinous than his, be mentally affected by those people, getting into fights in there, and then come out and be expected to function in society as, you know, another person who hadn’t been in that situation.”
She speaks to me about the 14 year old boy, Jesse Romero, who was killed by police in Boyle Heights on August 10th while he was out tagging. I am reminded of the man who laid in front of a line of police with a megaphone, screaming about the death of Tamir Rice, who was 12 years old when he was killed by police in 2014.
For perspective, after seven people were poisoned in 1982 Tylenol issued a massive, nation-wide recall campaign on 300 million bottles of Tylenol. It bought advertisements telling the public not to consume products with acetaminophen (paracetamol) in them. The action cost the company more than $100 million and its stock crashed. But children were turning up dead, and the company knew that if it wanted to have any kind of lasting power, it would need to take immediate and drastic action. Of the seven people killed, six were adults. One of the victims was a child.
According to the Guardian, the police in the United States have killed at least 13 children this year.
Since the beginning of 2016, according to the Guardian, police have killed a total of 751 people this year. According to the website killedbycops.net, that number is actually 808.
When the NO PLATFORM project started a little more than two months ago, the number of people killed by police was was 596.
There have been no massive recalls of police. There has been no elaborate PSA campaign warning people against interacting with the police until the recall has been completed, and new, non-fatal police were on the streets.
Instead, from the makers of law enforcement, much of what you hear is silence. Much of what you see is inaction.