By Shermeeka Mason
On June 9, 2016, the day of the Shut This Shit Down: Black Lives Matter Rally organized by Building Leadership and Community Knowledge or B.L.A.C.K. went into effect.
The event was a response to the brutal murder of Alton Sterling, a Black man who was gunned down by a Baton Rouge police officer because he was suspected of pointing a gun at someone (Sterling was armed, but Louisiana is an Open Carry state, so his death was completely unwarranted). The Shut This Shit Down event here in Rochester was one of the plethora of Black Lives Matter demonstrations taking place throughout the country and internationally.
I arrived at the rally a little after 4:00 p.m., joining the massive crowd of protesters at the Liberty Pole. I instantly felt the positive vibe of those around me, straining to hear the slam poets and activists speaking into a weak microphone.
When the pep rally came to a close, we headed towards the street, our spirits high while chanting “Black Lives Matter” and some others to maintain the momentum. As we turned the corner, however, I and a few others beside me immediately spotted a swarm of police cars settled near the curb, occupied by officers in full riot gear. We made comments about how unnecessary the riot gear was, considering that we were peacefully protesting, and moved on. We continued to march down our designated route, crowding the street during rush hour, hyping up the drivers that believed in the cause. We then headed towards Monroe Avenue, the synergy increasing and evident…
Until we were met with a line of riot cops near the Strong Museum of Play.
They were silently waiting for us, batons in hand. We approached them, determined yet peaceful while chanting for them to hold themselves accountable for working for a corrupt industrial complex founded to target the disenfranchised. It wasn’t long before members of the SWAT Team began charging at us in a militarized formation.
I grabbed the arm of one of my friends and frantically informed him that we needed to leave the scene effective immediately. Neither of us can afford to be arrested, as I have mental health issues and he is a trans man who had just had knee surgery not too long ago. Plus, his son was graduating and he was not going to miss the opportunity to see his baby walk across the stage. There were folks who stayed to continue to protest the heavy presence of law enforcement, but I didn’t know what happened to them until I eventually returned home, where I watched footage that was uploaded on Facebook by protesters. Those who confronted the cops at the Strong Museum were shoved by the latter, even though the former did nothing physically to provoke violence.
There were also videos of protesters on East Avenue area doing a peaceful sit-in being physically assaulted by riot police. I watched angrily as one cop lunged at one of the demonstrators (a friend of mine) and punched him in the face before one of his partners pulled him away. Remember that the Black Lives Matter rally was nonviolent from beginning to end, yet the heavy cop presence resulted in seventy-four protesters being detained and taken into custody—many of them being friends of mine.
So when Mayor Lovely Warren and Rochester Police Chief Mike Cimerelli expressed support for the cops and declaring that protesters weren’t physically harmed (even though two people were hospitalized while some others suffered injuries), when East End business owners complemented law enforcements’ conduct towards those who did nothing, when both local and national media portrayed the Black Lives Matter rallies as violent and disruptive (while broadcasting heavily edited footage of protesters shouting at law enforcement), I was infuriated, frustrated, and completely through.
I knew what occurred because I was there. I witnessed with my own eyes the police’s aggressive behavior toward us. I watched the unofficial footage protesters posted on social media, which further discredited what was being reported. So I shouted at the live news report reeling on my computer screen, updated Facebook statuses with my thoughts on the aftermath of the rally, and corresponded with friends and follow activists who knew what the fuck was up. But what bothered (and triggered) me the most were the lies that compounded the issue at hand.
Of course, this is nothing new—we Black people have been battling for our liberation for over 600 years and counting, often dying unjustly due to the various industrial complexes propagating falsehood. But in the 21st century, modern technology made it easier for the local, national, and even independent press to report misleading information about Black people (educated ones in particular) as 1) we become the majority in the United States and internationally and 2) we challenge White supremacy and how it affects everyone (White folks included) through our right to peacefully assemble. These facts and many others are the reasons why we are frequently targeted by oppressive industrial complexes (law enforcement being one) to the point to losing our lives.
Since the start of the Black Lives Matter movement, more the 1,134 Black men were murdered by cops in 2015 alone. Over 500 Black men lost their lives in 2016 and the year is only halfway over. And these numbers don’t even include the trans men and women who were killed while either in police custody or harassed by them. I myself had had run ins with the police—one of those incidents involving my former housemate, Kelliegh. She called 911 because she thought I attempted to physically assault her when I did not. Her erroneous accusation literally placed me at risk of being killed by the two officers that responded to her call. And since law enforcement aren’t properly trained to handle those who’ve been previously mental health arrested, the risk of death would’ve increased had I not been medicated.
This is why I am extremely antagonistic towards both the so-called Blue Lives Matter and All Lives Matter campaigns. Besides their utter ridiculousness, they are used by the press and uninformed people to spread more lies about Black people and Black Lives Matter in general. Y’all, I can’t even tell you how many White and non-Black people of color I’ve dragged for filth because of them defending these campaigns. For one, those entering law enforcement chose to participate in that industrial complex and wear the required uniform. My skin, however, is not a uniform I can unbutton, step out of, and hang in my closet with the rest of my coats. I am Black all day, every day and there is no reprieve from the negative stereotypes associated with being so.
In regards to All Lives Matter, it doesn’t ring true because it isn’t. Let’s be honest here: if all lives mattered, why aren’t these folks organizing or working alongside people of color? Why aren’t they fighting for the liberation of prisoners, the safety of sex workers (most of them being transwomen of color), victims of sex abuse or untreated mental illness and so forth? They will swiftly accuse Black Lives Matter activists of “reverse racism,” homophobia, and divisiveness, not even acknowledging the members of the LGBTIQA+ community involved in BLM (regardless of ethnicity). I also want to point that when a 16-year-old White boy was killed by a cop, it was Black Lives Matter who not only protested on this young man’s behalf, but launched a fundraiser for his family. Meanwhile, the All Lives Matter people were completely silent as they ALWAYS are when injustice occurs. And when they are speaking out, it’s always in the form of perpetuating dangerous misinformation rooted in the very racist ideologies designed to dehumanize and annihilate Black people.
So, long story short, the Rochester Black Lives Matter rally and the events following forced me to fully recognize the extent that oppressive industrial complexes will go to fabricate stories about the disenfranchised—even when the truth is documented on film. It further demonstrated how many White and non-Black people of color blindly give credence to the false information the media broadcasts about a movement they choose not to research. But more importantly, I refuse to ignore the high level of trauma these industrial complexes inflict on Black people by not only internalizing the misinformation associated with us, but becoming increasing desensitized to our suffering by utilizing their resources (and our tax dollars) to commit acts of abuse that usually results in a senseless death.
Author Bio: Shermeeka M.L. Mason is a self-published author, blogger, and volunteer radio show host. She recently published the political science-fiction novel, The One Taken from the Sea of Stars under the pen name Octavia Davis. She is also the creator of and contributor for two blogs, The Possible World and The Chuck Taylor Buddhist (both available on WordPress.com). In addition to being an active author, Mason is currently one of the co-hosts of The Bonfire Talks on WAYO 104.3 FM. In her spare time, she reads, performs with the Rochester Womens’ Community Chorus, binges on Facebook, and spends time with beloved cat-son, Tobias.