George Floyd, Minneapolis, Minn. and Desmond Phillips, Chico, CA.

Minneapolis, Minnesota is a long way from Chico, California but the two cities now have something awful in common: both towns have had an African-American man killed by their own local police.

On March 17, 2017, Desmond Phillips, a young black man suffering from mental illness, was shot to death by Chico police in his father’s apartment. According to Rain Scher of Justice For Desmond Phillips, “Dave Phillips called for medical assistance because he had learned to recognize the early signs of Desmond’s mental illness before there was escalated behavior. The paramedics and the police escalated things.”  Instead of helping, the cops broke down the door, tased Desmond, and shot him dead.

I’ll never forget the day I went to Mr. Phillips’ apartment a few days after his son’s death to take photos while my colleague interviewed him. I had to try hard not to cry when Mr. Phillips told us what had happened that day. Desmond Phillips came to live with his dad, here in Chico, because the cops in Sacramento would frequently harass him and, consequently, Desmond was terrified of the police.

Vigil for Desmond Phillips outside of Chico Police Dept. 3/19/17.

 

Vigil for Desmond Phillips outside of Chico Police Dept. two days after he was killed.

 

Chico Police Chief Mike O’brien was in charge at the time of Desmond Phillips death.

It made me sick to my stomach to see how many bullet holes riddled the walls of the apartment, some of which went clean through to the apartment next door. If the students next door had been home I feel sure one of them would have been hit too. Seeing the broken, kicked-in front door and the bullet holes in the Phillips’ apartment and those in the far walls of the apartment next door it was obvious to me that the police had no hint of how to de-escalate a situation like this. They never thought to call an ambulance or Behavioral Health or pursue any number of other solutions. Desmond Phillips did not have to die.

 

Dave Phillips at Chico City Council meeting demanding justice for his son, Desmond Phillips, as Police Chief O’brien looks on.

I know that George Floyd and Desmond Phillips are just two of so many African-Americans, men, women and kids, in so many towns and cities across this country, who have lost their lives due to the ignorance, hatred and violence of their local police. I’ve seen the news reports of thousands of protesters being tear-gassed, shot with rubber bullets and beaten simply for demanding that our “leaders” put and end, once and for all, to the violence and murder of our fellow black American citizens.

I resisted for a long time, but I finally made myself watch the video of Mr. Floyd as he was being tortured and then killed. I heard him, a grown man, cry out for his mother to save him.

Desmond Phillips’ mother, Delphine Norman, from Sacramento.

I thought of the words to “Ella’s Song” by Sweet Honey in the Rock that sums it all up for me:

“We who believe in freedom cannot rest, until the killing of a black man, a black mother’s son, is as important as the killing of white man, a white mother’s son.” 

Link to “Ella’s Song” –   https://ellabakercenter.org/blog/2013/12/ellas-song-we-who-believe-in-freedom-cannot-rest-until-it-comes

A poem for May Day, remembering the young women who died: “The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire”

This is a true story told in Robert Phillips’ poem.

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

by Robert Phillips

I, Rose Rosenfeld, am one of the workers
who survived. Before the inferno broke out,
factory doors had been locked by the owners,

to keep us at our sewing machines,
to keep us from stealing scraps of cloth.
I said to myself, What are the bosses doing?
I knew they would save themselves.

I left my big-button-attacher machine,
climbed the iron stairs to the tenth floor
where their offices were. From the landing window

I saw girls in shirtwaists flying by,
Catherine wheels projected like Zeppelins
out open windows, then plunging downward,
sighing skirts open parasols on fire.

I found the big shots stuffing themselves
into the freight elevator going to the roof.
I squeezed in. While our girls were falling,

we ascended like ashes. Firemen
yanked us onto the next-door roof.
I sank to the tarpaper, sobbed for
one-hundred forty-six comrades dying

or dead down below. One was Rebecca,
my only close friend, a forewoman kind to workers.
Like the others, she burned like a prism.

Relatives of twenty-three victims later
Brought suits.
Each family was awarded seventy-five dollars.
It was like the Titanic the very next year-
No one cared about the souls in steerage.

Those doors were locked, too, a sweatshop at sea.
They died due to ice, not fire. I live in
Southern California now. But I still see

skirts rippling like parachutes,
girls hit the cobblestones, smell smoke,
burnt flesh, girls cracking like cheap buttons,
disappearing like so many dropped stitches.