I saw sitting in the library at the University of San Diego trying to start a reflection paper on weeks of instruction on ISIS and the theories surrounding communicating with ‘terrorists.’ I was really tired from being in the library all day, feeling the guilt of not having already finished the assignment due to dealing with unexpected family circumstances back home, while at the same time trying to stave off another emotional response as I caught myself up on the latest episode of police brutality, but this time occurring in El Cajon California, close to the location of my graduate studies program in Peacebuilding.
Two hours later I stood in a sad but determined crowd gathered outside the World Beat Café in Balboa Park, mourning the loss of another unarmed Black man shot dead, this time by El Cajon police on September 27th 2016. His name was Alfred Olango.
After a week of protests, calling for a Federal investigation into the murder, this Saturday a large crowd prepared to march through downtown San Diego to the Hall of Justice. A woman rallying the the group of protestors spoke the words of MLK saying “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” I stood with people from all walks of life, women and men, children and elders, young-adult punks with Metallica patches on their vests, and tie-dyed women burning sage that helped me relax. I stood with students, Imams, Filipino Community Leaders and moms with little toddlers on their shoulders. I heard one little boy who must’ve been three ask his mother what they were doing. She whispered back: “We’re at a protest.”
“True peace is …the presence of justice.” On September 27 police arrived on the scene 50 minutes and three 911 calls later after Olango’s sister called for the authorities for help, warning them he was mentally unstable and unarmed. The call was classified as a mental health emergency, a “5150 case,” however a Psychiatric Emergency Response Team was unable to respond so instead two officers arrived to the scene. Olango was tased and lethally shot five times after he supposedly failed to comply with the officer’s instructions. He later died in the hospital.
Let me be clear: If I, Savannah, a white, young-adult, was having a mental breakdown, acting a bit erratic in a public place, I could bet the house I would not be shot. I sure as hell wouldn’t be lethally shot five times!!! According to research done by the Washington Post, for the first six months of 2015 “On average, police shot and killed someone who was in mental crisis every 36 hours...” http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/investigative/2015/06/30/distraught-people-deadly-results/ For both 2015 and 2016 the Washington Post has catalogued police shootings, their location and circumstance, viewable in an interactive map.
From listening closely to the demands of families, organizers and community groups at the march for Alfred Olango, the people want: 1. Recognition that it is never ok to kill another human being. 2. Justice for Alfred and his family (and the victims and families of all other innocent Black men shot dead by police) in the form of investigation and prosecution of the officer that shot him, whereby ending a widespread culture of police impunity. 3. Intensive training on mental health issues, and emergency response protocol for police officers, in conjunction with community oversight boards. 4. Community Tribunals to discuss and tackle issues of misunderstandings and violence between police and specific San Diego communities.
I want to take a minute to recognize how it was I got to this march in honor of an innocent life lost. I was having a personally draining day, yet two of my fellow students strongly encouraged me to get in the car and join them in solidarity with other Black Lives Matter activists. The time had become now. The atrocity this time occurred in our very backyard.
Debating in the library whether or not to go the march I guilted myself thinking back to the students of the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). They literally risked everything, their education, their careers, being arrested or killed for the Civil Rights Movement. It was their risk, bravery and mobilization as students that pushed the movement. In comparison, I think I could put off my academic paper for a few more hours (what difference was that going to make anyway?!).
When we got to the rally, I was reenergized by the crowd, but my friends seemed nervous. I was then able to shift their encouragement of me, back to them. I reassured them we would be safe and that we would stick together….. Then I suggested we get tacos while we waited, which always makes everything better! (Shout out to San Diego Taco Company!)
This exchange is important to mention because I’m always wondering how to mobilize young people en masse? When will an event hit them so close to home, they have to get involved? I think young adults are so distracted by social media’s constant feed of national and global horrors, that we become numb. Tragic events start to run together, and it’s hard to emotionally set them apart. At the same time, we are dealing with life! We’re human. We’re tired, we’re sick, we’ve seen tragedy, we’re dealing with trauma. Sometimes it’s hard to get up and get going. I want to remind us to help each other along. We need to encourage each other. When the protestors of the Civil Rights Movement got tired, they kept going. They sang, they prayed, they had fellowship with one another, and when one person was tired, another would pick them up..
We also need to encourage each other to show up. I should have spread the word and invited my whole class to be there but I didn’t. Before we marched downtown, the lead organizer encouraged us all to connect with one another, to exchange contact information in order to create a coalition strong enough to unfailingly support each other in the fight against racism and police brutality. As he reminded us “The real work begins when the cameras are turned off.”