Black Lives Matter: A mass movement emerges

Black Lives Matter sign, Oct. 2016.

Four years ago, riding my bike home from the park, I saw this sign in the front yard of a house in the “streets neighborhood” of Chico. It was October 2016, a few weeks before the fateful presidential election that gave Donald Trump the office of the presidency. I’d heard the slogan before, but I was compelled to photograph the sign because it was the first such sign I’d seen around town.

The Black Lives Matter movement was founded by three women, Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, after the acquittal of vigilante George Zimmerman who fatally shot Trayvon Martin, a 17 year old unarmed Black high school student, in Sanford, Florida in 2012.

Today, October 1, 2020, in the aftermath of the brutal murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and Breonna Taylor by Louisville police, it seems as if nothing has changed since the day young Trayvon Martin’s body lay on that dreadful patch of pavement in Sanford, Florida.

But something has changed, because now, wherever I bike here in Chico I see the familiar “BLACK LIVES MATTER” signs. They’re found on businesses, carried on signs in protests, and even worn on people’s bodies, but mostly they’re found in the front yards of the most ordinary and modest of our mutual Chico homes.

 

The Pageant Theatre in downtown Chico, closed now due to the Corona-19 virus pandemic, but still relevant in our community.

 

The Blue Room Theatre, downtown Chico. Closed now due to Corona-19 Virus.

 

Sheri Scot’s booth at the Saturday Farmers’ Market, Chico.

 

Bob Crowe, member of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Chico, hangs a BLM banner on the roof of their meeting hall.

 

A pub on Park Ave., Chico

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dist. 7, City Council candidate, Rich Ober’s house.

 

A few days after the police killing of George Floyd a peaceful protest was held at Chico City Plaza.

 

Two peaceful protesters of George Floyd killing, Chico City Plaza.

 

A human being at the peaceful protest against the killing of George Floyd, Chico City Plaza.

“The names below belong to Black people killed by police (including off-duty and retired police) in the United States between the years of 1998 and 2020. It is by no means a comprehensive list; the Black lives lost to police violence and white supremacy are  incalculable. Between 2015 and 2020 alone, police have killed at least 1,296 Black people (more than double the rate that white people have been killed by police).” ACLU News, summer 2020.

During the debacle of the first presidential debate between Trump and Joe Biden, Trump refused to condemn violence by far-right extremists. Instead, Trump told the white supremacist group, Proud Boys, to “stand back and stand by.”

 

 

 

Supporter at Concerned Citizens 4 Justice (CC4J), Chico, press conference.

 

Supporter of CC4J at press conference.

 

 

 

 

 Two powerful songs with videos, see links below:

“Change Is Gonna Come”  by Sam Cook:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEBlaMOmKV4

“Ella’s Song” by Sweet Honey and The Rock:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6Uus–gFrc

 

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