Hands Down, Fists Up: Unity and Resolve at Jordan Baker Rally
Text and photos by Jane Nguyen
“I want you to follow along with me in a chant!” shouted activist Deric Muhammad at the Jordan Baker Rally on Monday, December 29th. “And raise your black fist, brown fist, white fist — whatever color your fist is, raise it high. And we gon’ teach ‘em and tell ‘em how to spell justice.”
Inspired, about 150 protesters chanted: “J-U-S—T—I—C-E!…..J-U-S—T—I—C-E!…..J-U—S-T—I—C-E!…..”
On an unusually cold, gray afternoon in downtown near the criminal justice courthouses at 1201 Franklin, Houstonians stood strong in coats, jackets, hats, and scarves – carrying signs in their hands and steely resolve in their hearts — for Jordan Baker.
Back in January, the 26 year-old father and Houston Community College student was shot and killed while unarmed by a police officer, Juventino Castro, in highly questionable circumstances.
Many who were already outraged by non-indictments in the cases of Mike Brown and Eric Garner feel a slap in the face all the more stinging from this non-indictment, for it hits so close to home. This time it’s personal; Baker is one of ours.
As such, protesters and organizers made clear on Monday that they intend to do right by him, even if, thus far, the justice system has not.
The event started at Shape Community Center around 1:45 p.m. About fifty people made their voices heard as they marched for close to three miles along the sidewalks of Alabama, then San Jacinto, shouting, “What do we want? JUSTICE! And if we don’t get it? SHUT IT DOWN!”; “Stop Killing…Our People!”; “All lives matter! Black lives matter!”
The police presence during the march was moderate and hands-off, with little to no interaction between officers and participants. Instead, just a handful of officers quietly walked on the street next to protesters on the sidewalk. This was exactly as the Baker family — who organizer Tarah Taylor described as “not anti-police” – had requested. They wanted no agitation of officers; they wanted only to call to account the corrupt justice system and the institutionalized racism that continues its deadly bias against black and brown people.
This way of thinking was reiterated once the march reached the courthouse and numerous people spoke through a bullhorn. Hatred of police officers, they said, was not the point, nor the intent; neither was devaluing any one group of people to make another more important. What mattered was dismantling a system that continues to oppress and kill with impunity.
“Don’t lash out at the police,” one man said, gesturing toward officers who stood looking on about 50 yards away. “They’re caught up in the system like the rest of us. We need to show them love and get them back to protecting and serving us like they’re supposed to.” At the same time, he said, officers need the type of training he’d had in his military service in Iraq. “Our first line of defense was rubber bullets or hand-to-hand combat. Police need to be trained to de-escalate first, to not be so quick to fire a gun.”
One woman said in an especially emotional speech, “People need to understand that there is a system. There is a pattern of police targeting people of color. We need our white brothers and sisters to understand something: we stand with you when you face injustice. And we know you sometimes do. But we don’t need to be overshadowed when we talk about our struggles. We don’t need to hear ‘all lives matter.’ We know your lives matter. We know. And we will be with you if racism starts to affect you the way it affects us. But hear us when we say…we’re being killed in the streets. They aren’t calling white people thugs. They aren’t calling white people illegal immigrants.”
Activist Kamil Khan said, “I got a lot of anger, I got a lot of pain, and not enough words to express it. But what I do gotta say is that this is about police brutality and the pervasiveness of institutionalized racism. And remember we’re only hearing about Jordan Baker, Eric Garner, and Mike Brown because they got killed. What we’re not talking about is the daily injustices and indignities faced by minorities every single day. There are no news cameras out there for that.”
Other speakers also pointed out systemic problems, noting the way structural racism has changed but continued to persist, first as slavery, then as Jim Crow, and in the present as mass incarceration.
As people moved even closer to the courthouse and converged on the steps,Deric Muhammad continued to exhort the crowd, which had grown larger. Some speakers urged people to apply to serve on grand juries, but Muhummad cautioned people not to place all their hopes on body cameras, increased ethnic diversity in police departments, or greater minority representation on grand juries.
“We do need to push for those crucial reforms,” he said, “but there is no substitute for justice.” With this, he referred to protesters’ demand that Jordan Baker’s killer be fired and that a separate investigation be conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice. “When they ask why we are here today,” he shouted, “we are here to demand justice for Jordan Baker and his family and all others who have been shot down in cold blood in Houston and across the country and across the world! That’s what we’re here for!”
Muhammad concluded by telling the crowd that the day’s gathering was just the beginning – a mere first step toward more to come in 2015 in which fed-up Houstonians would continue to stand outside the courthouse in downtown until their voices demanding justice for Jordan Baker are not just heard but acted upon.
“Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” has been the battle-cry of police brutality protesters across the nation for months. On this day, as the crowd affirmed Muhammad’s call for ongoing resolve, that gesture of surrender and defenselessness was abandoned and replaced with “Hands Down, Fists Up!”
With a sense of unity and determination meant not just for a day, a week, or a year, but for the long haul, they shouted, “Black, brown, red, white! – Same struggle, same fight! — Black, brown, red, white! – Same struggle, same fight!”
Taylor was pleased with the day’s events, saying that, “a group of young leaders has emerged and a community of all different races, faiths, and creeds has been awakened. Jordan Baker’s death won’t go in vain because the loss of him activated people to make systemic changes that will not only get restitution in his case but justice for anyone after him. That’s a long-lasting legacy that I hope he and his family can be proud of.”
by Guest Author