South L.A. Communities gather for "The March"
“We’re gathered here today because we are tired of the senseless killing of our people,” said Malaika Tawasufi of the US Organization. “This is a protest to say we’re not gonna take it anymore.” On the 50th anniversary of the assassination, or martyrdom, of Malcolm X, hundreds of community leaders and members of South Los Angeles’s churches, labor unions, and neighborhoods marched along Martin Luther King Boulevard from LAPD Southwest Station to Leimert Park to protest police brutality.
While publicized as an event calling for justice for Ezell Ford, who was killed by LAPD last August, “THE MARCH for Justice and Unity” and the rally that followed did not focus on a single individual. The names of several nationally recognizable Black boys and men whose lives concluded with a confrontation with police rang through the normally quiet neighborhood surrounding Leimert Park: Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown, Oscar Grant, and Ezell Ford.
Another name was added to this list, although he still lives: days before this rally Jamar Nicholson was thought to have a replica gun as he walked to school with friends, and was therefore shot by LAPD according to The Brotherhood Crusade and The Sentinel. Nicholson’s sister made an appearance and thanked participants for their support, but could not speak about the ongoing investigation.
These names were followed by demands for justice, the proposal of “no peace,” and a gesture of surrender, “hands up, don’t shoot,” followed by one of power, the “Black Power” fist. This was not about any single individual, but rather a community doing things it’s members often say it needs to do: uniting, speaking out, and “staying woke.”
“THE MARCH” was organized by The Sentinel publisher Danny Bakewell Sr., The Brotherhood Crusade, The Black Community Clergy and Labor Alliance, The Black Leadership Coalition, and labor groups such as SEIU “who thought it was necessary to get out en masse to protest the goings on of today,” according to Tawasufi.
The rally signaled a shift from a protest to a platform to speak out beyond shouting “No justice, no peace.” Black Nationalists, Christians, members of the Nation of Islam took the same stage to present a united front where radical thought was not suppressed. California Representative Karen Bass’ declaration that communities “have to stay in the streets” while representatives get solutions through Washington, was followed, in the space of an hour, by a call to Black Liberation, or separatism, from community activist Brother Tony Muhammad, who asked the LAPD, “Do you want us to kill you back?”
“It is imperative that we send a message of unity,”said Reverend Rosalynn Brookins of Temple AME. “ When Black children die on the streets it is not about what denomination you come from, it’s about us coming together with a collective voice saying, “enough is enough.”
“Literally,” said Bakewell Sr., “our children and our future’s lives depend upon it.”
Members of the US Organization, a Black Nationalist organization established by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966, took the opportunity to make demands for the indictment of the officers involved with the shooting of Ezell Ford, the placement of body cameras on all law enforcement officers, and the collection of data for all law enforcement stops, including the ones without cause. They also took the time to call upon Attorney General Kamala Harris to establish a special unit to investigate law enforcement in cases that involve the use of lethal force.
“The police cannot police themselves,” said Chimbuku Tembo of the African American Cultural Center.
While the designation of police brutality as a humanity issue could translate to demonstrating outside a community directly affected by it, participants seemed to emphasize the need for the community to become more self-reliant.
At its most radical, this idea manifested itself as separatism’s call for Black Americans to reclaim their freedom. However, among other participants this translated to a refusal to solely wait on local, state, and federal institutions or the public at large to become their ally. “This is something that we’re doing on our behalf and in our interest. If we don’t do it, we can’t expect anyone else to speak for us,” said Tawafusi.
For Rev. Brookins, the community’s self-reliance begins with its self affirmation. “Change begins within, not without. When we can affirm who we are, our greatness, our brilliance, and our own geniuses, we can collectively come together regardless to what someone else thinks.”
Santa Monica College had its own event in celebration of Black History Month, as the Black Collegians Program organized one to have “everyone on campus just come together and celebrate living.” Members of the program and those in attendance donned “Black Lives Matter” and “We Can’t Breathe” shirts to express solidarity with recent victims of police brutality.
Performers included a poet named Quinoa, who spoke out against both police brutality and systematic racism while performing her original piece “My Country Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Slavery,” and Ubiquitous Love Tribe, a hip-hop group whose performance was cut short by Associated Students over a dispute about the use of foul language.
Tijera Erncher, a member of the Black Collegians said “[the purpose of the event] is to have students come together to express talent through music, poetry, and dance.”