Photo: Isma'il Latif

What Speaking at a Rally Against Police Brutality Taught Me

“If this work can contribute in any way toward proving this, and at the same time arouse the conscience of the American people to a demand for justice to every citizen, and punishment by law for the lawless, I shall feel I have done my race a service.” – Ida B. Wells (Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases)

This past Saturday, I took part in the #MakeItPlainPhilly rally in downtown Philadelphia, which brought together over 200 people to demand justice in the ongoing trend of excessive force and murder of Black men and women at the hands of law enforcement. Muslims Against Police Brutality was the theme, although we were joined by people from all walks of life and faiths.

I came. I spoke. I learned.

It was a day I won’t forget for a number a reasons.

To paint the picture a little more, if you’ve been following my posts over the last few months, I’ve written a lot on the cases of Michael Brown and others murdered by cops, and the issues surrounding them. At times it can be emotionally heavy and overwhelming to keep up with; we’re living in a time where America’s racial tensions are boiling over.

Last week at Oogeewoogee we were wrapping up our coverage of the March on Washington in DC. In our 3-part series, my colleague Antonio and I talked to different people in the crowd and also shared our thoughts on the effectiveness of protests in today’s movement against police brutality.

I had always been skeptical mainly because I don’t believe in appealing to the conscious of the racist mindsets that have shaped this country, and over the years it always seemed like that was the goal, to get White people to change their perception of us. (More specifically I had my issues with Al Sharpton’s skewing of the #BlackLivesMatter message).

A few days later, I interviewed Erika Totten, the fearless young woman who boldly took over the stage and demanded that protesters from Ferguson have a chance to speak.  After chatting with her, feeling her passion for making a difference and the tactics she’s been a part of, I gained a greater respect for my peers who have been on the front lines organizing the waves of protests and die-ins taking place over the country since the murder of Michael Brown and countless others.

As Totten put it: “We’re not asking anything, we are demanding!” I could get with that. It was clear that the new cadre of activists emerging aren’t for the BS.

As I continued to question myself on the best ways to play a role in this struggle, ironically, I was asked to speak at a rally this past Saturday. I started to shy away, but instead accepted the invitation. I have a voice, so why not use it for good? More importantly, I feel like each generation has a duty to take on the challenges of the time, and as a writer, that obligation filters into my work as well.

We began the rally with traditional Muslim prayer known as Salat. Organizer, Kameelah M. Rashad, opened up by sharing heartfelt words on her anxiety as the mother of Black children. “I’m not sure if my son is going to come home after he goes outside to ride his bike,” she expressed.

Kameelah Rashad 2

        #MakeItPlainPhilly Organizer, Kameelah M. Rashad; Photo: Isma’il Latif
 

Speakers also included various community organizers, religious leaders, and artists, as well as the mothers of Brandon Tate-Brown and Frank McQueen. My brother-in-Faith and peer, renowned spoken word artist Seff Al-Friqi moved the crowd with his piece titled “Black Boy”.

Then there was me, another young voice, passionate about justice for my people and perpetual public speaking avoider.  As my nerves came and went, I felt the spirit of Ida B. Wells and so many other Black writers that have come before me to lay the foundation of intertwining art and activism. This was the baton that had been passed, and I had to do my best not to let them down.

“Over the last few months, I’ve seen that protests have their place in showing solidarity and keeping these issues in the forefront…” I started out.

Shahida speaking

I put this idea of solidarity into practice as we circled around City Hall threes times (which symbolizes purity and self-examination) chanting “No justice, no peace!” and “Hands up, don’t shoot!” and  stood in support as participants laid on the ground for a die-in. There were things I chose not to do, due to personal stances. (i.e. I will not put my hands up in surrender or lay dead in resistance to oppression.)

But, this is what solidarity entails, unity that produces or is based on common interests, objectives and sympathies. It was an important moment for me not only as a Muslim, but as a Black person, to show support of  the efforts being made within our community. Every tactic may not be our individual cup of tea, but I support and stand with those convicted enough to do something. The demonstration also debunked the myth that Muslim women are suppressed, as the rally’s main organizers were two professional women (Kameelah M. Rashad and Donna Auston).

This act wasn’t for show. Everyone involved was sincerely committed to demanding justice – this was our common objective. We created connections, partnerships, and heard words that can inspire us going forward as individuals and collectively to produce change.

“I used to be like you,” a young man who has been very active in local protests told me afterwards as he handed me a flyer for another demonstration. “But this is the benefit of things like this, you get to meet others who want to do something and build.”

As I’m learning, I see that not only do various tactics have a role to play in this fight, but each of us as people do as well, if we’re up to the challenge. And we have to constantly define and reflect on what that is. Also, I realized that as a writer, my responsibility may be greater than I had previously imagined, because to quote Ida B. Wells once more: The people must know before they can act, and there is no educator to compare with the press.”



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Tight roping, side-eyeing, and analyzing my way through the complexities and spaces where life, art, and culture connect.


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