‘Protesters are NOT the problem’

An open letter to the head of the Durham, N.C., Police Department from Lamont Lilly.

According to Chief Jose Lopez of the Durham Police Department, “outside agitators” have now penetrated Durham’s local protest and social justice movement. According to Chief Lopez, out-of-towners are the culprits causing trouble and influencing our city’s peaceful protesters to block traffic and storm shopping malls.

Unfortunately, Chief Jose Lopez could not be more wrong. Most of us are not outsiders. We reside right here in Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill. And as far as we’re concerned, our acts of civil disobedience are not the problem; they’re effects of the problem.

The real problem, Chief, is the repressive occupation of modern-day slave patrols in Black and Brown communities — police officers who are direct descendants of slave catchers and state militia who reinforced our ancestors’ captivity. The problem is your department’s excessive use of force, its blatant brutality and well-documented racial profiling. The problem is the state-sponsored beating of Stephanie Nickerson and John G. Hill, the deaths of Jesus Huerta, Derek Walker and Jose Ocampo. The problem, Chief, is the militarization of police departments nationwide — the manifestation of a police state that values profit more than people. And a very big problem is the judicial system that always seems to justify such savagery.

The problem at hand is not the various tactics of local protesters, but the continued perpetuation of political, social and economic inequality for the masses of nonwhite males. Blocking traffic and interrupting profit margins is not the problem here, Chief.

What has angered a great mass of people, both locally and nationally, is the preponderance of mass poverty and the school-to-prison pipeline, voter suppression and the presence of armed police in public schools. Our collective frustration is the lack of concern for and daily indignities of Black life in this country. We are angered that private prisons are no different than the Convict Lease System during Reconstruction. We are pissed off that advocating for justice equals state surveillance and undercover police officers attending our organizing meetings.

What has truly enraged us is that throughout this country’s history every journalist, labor or civic leader who stands up and speaks out for the poor and oppressed has been targeted by the FBI. Every artist, musician or organizer who dares speak truth to power has been imprisoned, unjustly harassed or simply assassinated by some form of state and federal law enforcement.

These factors combined are the real reasons we’re protesting, Chief. The connections of oppression are much deeper than Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and they’re much more meaningful than your obvious attempt to “red bait” local socialists and anarchists. Do we always agree on best practices and perspectives? No. But anyone who stands up for Black folks’ right to breathe is a comrade to me; your personal philosophy is irrelevant. So please, Chief, stop trying to divide the movement. Stop trying to redirect the focus from injustice to those who resist it. And please stop demonizing us with your cast-off labels and outdated political hashtags.

We are not “trouble makers” and “outside agitators.” What we are is a new generation who are no longer standing down to the repressive tactics of fascist police departments. What we are are descendants of the Abolitionist, Civil Rights, Stonewall and Black Power movements. We are truth speakers and justice seekers. We are students, workers and parents. We are sons and daughters, neighbors and teachers. We are one people, one movement, one resistance.

We are freedom fighters who clearly realize that body cameras and better police training are merely bandaids on a broken system. What we are is a new voice of promise and hope — fearless visionaries who have reimagined a just society for all and not just a few. And you know what, Chief, we do believe that we will win.

Power to the People.

Lamont Lilly is a contributing editor with the Triangle Free Press and organizer with Workers World Party. Follow him on Twitter @LamontLilly.