Before and after the announcement that the Ferguson grand jury would not indict racist cop Darren Wilson for unjustly murdering unarmed Black teenager Mike Brown, Pittsburgh activists and community members rallied to demand action against an unjust system that they recognized not only affects Ferguson but Pittsburgh and the rest of the country.
More than 50 protesters gathered at 5 PM in front of Allegheny County Courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh in anticipation of the verdict announcement. The protest began with a 4 ½ minute moment of silence symbolizing a minute for every hour Mike Brown lay dead in the street. Favorite chants of the protesters included “Justice for? Mike Brown! Racist
cops? Shut them down!” and “Indict! Convict! Send those killer cops to jail! This whole damn system is guilty as hell!”
Protest organizer Julia Johnson of Pittsburgh for Justice opened the rally with a set of questions to those in attendance. “What are we going to do about it? How are we going to fight this massive system that oppresses us? We have to unite, we have to strategize. We have to put the pressure on, because right now they think that we don’t give a damn.”
“I hate waking up and wondering if the United States of America thinks my life is worth living,” said Joan Mukogosi, a high school student organizer with Pittsburgh Students against Police Brutality who had lost a family member and partner to police violence.
Raghav Sharma of University of Pittsburgh Students for Justice in Palestine connected the Ferguson and Palestine struggles through the munitions manufacturer Combined Tactical Systems Inc. in Jamestown Pa., which sold tear gas to be used against protesters in Ferguson, Palestine, Turkey, and Egypt. “All oppression carries within it the seeds of its own demise,” Sharma stated. “No wall can withstand the weight of mass resistance, and all it takes to tear down the wall is the realization that it’s happened before, and it’ll happen again.”
The protest ended with a die-in; activists wrote the names of victims in the chalk outlines. The Associated Press said protest was “short-lived,” a quote that was blindly copied-and-pasted throughout reports of protests across the country. However it lasted for two full hours. The only thing short-lived here was the capitalist media’s attention span and commitment to the voices of poor and oppressed people.
After the disgraceful verdict was announced, about 50 protesters gathered for a midnight rally at the corner of Penn Avenue and Highland Avenue in East Liberty, a working class Black neighborhood currently facing gentrification. The spontaneous rally was called with less than two hours of planning and social networking. After a 4 1/2 minute moment of silence, the protesters shouted with all the rage fueled by the verdict, “No justice, no peace – no racist police!”
Celeste Scott shared words that inspired her from her friend Julian Long: “It is clear to me that the system that I once counted on for life is killing me. I must change my relationship with it. I don’t know what comes next. But I know that I cannot live within a body where my last act of revolution is synonymous with my first breath. This is my first breath.” The mood seemed to be shared by all those gathered.
Black protesters joined hands in a circle to scream out and weep in anguish at another cop vindicated in unjustly murdering an unarmed Black youth. They asked white protesters what they would do and sacrifice in order to fight back against the racist injustice system. White activists responded that they would organize and risk their own comfort and convenience to challenge racist friends, family, coworkers, and the system itself.
In downtown Pittsburgh the next afternoon at the Moorhead Federal Building, symbolically chosen to demand federal intervention in the Mike Brown case, over 200 people turned out to castigate the system that has repeatedly shown that the lives of people of color have no value.
“This is about a system of injustice that’s been happening since 1619,” shouted Pastor Shanea Leonard of Judah Fellowship Church. “This is about a system of injustice that is predicated on keeping a group of people underfoot, disenfranchised, at the bottom, struggling.”
Nicki Jo Dawson told the crowd, “We cannot be comfortable with people killing us…. You have to fight. You don’t lay down and take anybody else’s abuse.”
The rally ended with a larger die-in with some protesters writing the names of their own loved ones lost to racist police violence in the chalk outlines.
In the evening, over 300 attended another rally that had only been planned and announced less than 10 hours earlier. Many were high school and college students who shared their stories of racist police brutality
Malcolm Williams, a freshman at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, shared several experiences of police brutality against his father and other loved ones that he witnessed as a young child. “Why am I walking debt in a country that doesn’t care about my life?”
Party for Socialism and Liberation member Jessie Farine spoke about the media’s racist portrayal of “looting” and rioting in Ferguson. “No amount of ‘looting’ will ever compare to the wealth and economic security systematically stolen from and denied to Black people throughout this country’s history. No amount of cop cars destroyed will ever compare to the number of Black lives destroyed at the hands of police.” He also called out the founding myth of the United States – the revolution of rich, white, slave-holding, landowning men – which all institutions celebrate and said that instead “we should celebrate the revolutions of the poor, Black people, and all people of color.” At the end of his speech, the crowd raised their fists and shouted “Mike Brown means fight back!”
After the speakers were finished, the crowd poured out into the busy intersection and formed a human chain around it to hold their moment of silence for 4 ½ minutes. Nothing broke the silence, not even car horns, until protesters began chanting “Indict! Convict! Send those killer cops to jail! This whole damn system is guilty as hell!” Then protesters began to march through traffic down Forbes Avenue. A Black worker left her job to stand on the corner and watch. Sobs racked her body as protesters shut down three lanes full of traffic on the busy strip shouting “Hands up – don’t shoot!” They chanted “Cause Mike didn’t get it – shut it down!” as they marched back up Fifth Avenue, another three-lane strip. Altogether heavy traffic had been shut down for over half an hour between the two streets. No arrests were made. Protesters gathered once again at the corner and chanted, “We’ll be back!”
Protest organizer Julia Johnson gave a statement to Liberation News on her motivations for building this movement:
“The murder of Mike Brown and the unanswered calls for justice that followed exposes the hypocrisy of our society and institutions within them. We are reminded once again that the system we live under perpetuates the violent racism and oppression people suffer through, especially Blacks and people of color. Enough is enough, it’s been time to bring an end to this cycle of injustice.”
Over the course of the four rallies, over 300 people signed a list with their contact info, showing that there is a large base of people
committed to building the movement and organizing against this racist system.
Actions will continue throughout Pittsburgh in the coming week. On December 1 there will be a student rally at 4 PM at the Community College of Allegheny County campus at the corner of Brighton Road and Ridge Avenue in the North Side, and on December 5,high school students are organizing another rally at the corner of Forbes Avenue and Bigelow Boulevard in Oakland at 5 PM.