February 26, 2015—This past Saturday at the Justice & Unity March in South Los Angeles, hundreds took to the cordoned off streets to express their outrage at police brutality. Escorted by the Los Angeles Police Department for two miles, mostly on Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., from the Southwest LAPD station to Leimart Park, the marchers evoked both optimism and frustration.
I attended the march with an interest in solutions and solidarity. There was more of the latter than the former. Fine. That’s typical for any protest. But if not a unifying call to action, what is the benefit of unity? The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter makes a valid point, but what’s next?
Democratic Congresswoman Karen Bass, whose district covers parts of L.A., addressed the crowd for two minutes. It was a stump speech. Encouraging, yet unfulfilling. She took the opportunity to raise questions asked of her: “What is the point of the march?”, “Why did we come together to do this today?”, and “Do you really think anything is gonna change?”
Bass’s answer was that “I absolutely believe things are going to change, because in my lifetime I have seen that change take place. We are not done. We have more to do. We have further to go. Stand Your Ground laws need to be eliminated. Racial profiling needs to end.”
Bass then brought up another question: “What is different today?” To which she answered, “A cell phone camera is what is different today. You can’t get away with it anymore.”
Rousing. So I went to my cell phone, not for the camera, but to look up in an instant her record on police militarization. It’s mixed depending on the level of lenience you allow a politician. What I found was she voted against ending the 1033 program, how the military funnels its surplus equipment to police across America. I waited for Bass to finish taking photos with fans to ask my question.
“During your speech you asked people to keep the struggle going. Do you regret the vote to advance the police militarization program when you voted against Alan Grayson’s amendment?” I asked.
She wasn’t “exactly sure” the vote I was referring to, but was sure she didn’t regret the vote. So I looked up the amendment and went back to give her the details. This time her press secretary and other staff tried blocking me, following me and standing with their backs against me. “Congresswoman, I just want to let you know the vote was June 19, 2014, less than a year ago. It was HR4870, and it was Alan Grayson’s amendment you voted against.”
Bass’s perturbed press secretary offered me her card and I followed up. The press secretary emailed me with an explanation:
Rep. Bass opposed Alan Grayson’s amendment because it would have prohibited the transfer of even pepper spray, which is a useful nonlethal tool, and aircraft, which law enforcement and rescue personnel need in both urban and rural settings. Under the program, police can cut costs by repurposing rescue and patrol helicopters and airplanes.
However, she is opposed to police militarization which is why she supports Reps. Hank Johnson’s “Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act.” That bill would improve transparency of the program and prevent transfers of war equipment inappropriate for local policing, such as military-style firearms and explosives, armed drones, and mine-resistant armored vehicles.
The “Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act” was blocked from being voted on, but I believe Bass cares about this issue enough to support that bill. But to say local police forces should be dependent on the federal government, the same entity keeping the War on Drugs alive and black men imprisoned, for pepper spray and helicopters? How much do #BlackLivesMatter in that vote to advance the police militarization program? The militarization of cops continues, not for the black lives, but for the pepper spray and helicopters.
Back to the Justice & Unity March. I caught up with Shirley Husar, founder of Urban Game Changer, a conservative-leaning group for community empowerment. I asked her about her general feelings as the event wrapped up and how unity and accountability can coexist at such a gathering.
“Unity is always good, because no matter what party, what belief, what ideology that might be out there, we all are here uniting and that’s what’s important. It’s important that we bringawareness that people as well as the ministers have great concern of true justice. Legislation, it seems to me they’re trying to do something, but yet they do the opposite, especially people like Karen Bass. When she stands on the stage and says she’s trying to push a better, reconciled situation, but her pen says another. So what we have to do is approach this in a more logical manner and expose ill wrongs among the people. And what we do by doing that is letting them know who’s doing that, in essence, elected officials, who’s not being held accountable,” said Husar.
I still[spn-media-asset pos=3 align=right] don’t know what the future of #BlackLivesMatter is. There’s definitely a beginning to this story, but the structure is a bit wobbly. Beyond raising voices, the clearest vision of any of the rally speakers came from the Nation of Islam’s Minister Tony Muhammad:
“We want freedom but we want a full and complete freedom. We want justice but we want equal justice under the law applied to all. We want equality of opportunity but we want it for all. But if you can’t give us freedom and you can’t give us justice and you can’t give us equality then it’s time for a damn divorce.”
Secession. Interesting! But I know where this is going. Not the libertarian kind of secession, which is just so controversial to the media when Dr. Ron Paul brings it up. Brother Muhammad was taking us on a different ride:
“What does justice look like for God? I say we need to separate. Oh, y’all don’t like that. China got a town, Korea got a town, Jews got a town. Where is Africa Town? Any construction that’s going on in this community that we ain’t workin’ — shut it down! Any business that’s in this community that’s not helping us — shut it down!”