Moving Together to End Police Brutality

March 14, 2015

South African police block a march by protesting miners in Rustenburg after a security crackdown in the restive platinum belt where officers shot dead 34 strikers (Photo Credit: Alexander Joe/AFP/GettyImages).

I spend my evenings reading Twitter these days. Scroll, refresh. Scroll, refresh. I’m looking for news, yes, but I’m really looking to see if the people that I know who are protesting are still safe.

Last night, I clicked on a video of protestors gathered in front of the Ferguson police department chanting, “Why you wearing riot gear? We don’t see no riot here!” In the echo of that chant runs an anxiety based on experience: that the tension in each new moment could explode in a canister of teargas or pepper spray, in the blast of a sound cannon, in the firing of rubber bullets.

It’s a cycle perpetuated and perpetrated at every turn by a policing system obligated to uphold the rights and dignity of all people. And yet each new moment has also been an opportunity for a movement to grow, for each of us to commit and recommit to our values and to humanity. If we believe in human rights, if we believe in dignity, we must demand accountability and respect from law enforcement.

Amnesty International USA activists stand in solidarity with protesters in Ferguson, Missouri in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.

This weekend is the International Day Against Police Brutality, which is an opportunity to celebrate the power of a grassroots movement by continuing to build one. For decades, Amnesty International USA has worked on police brutality in the United States, elevating cases and working with communities in Chicago, Los Angeles, New YorkPrince George’s County, and more. Community groups across the country and the world have done the same, and have made tremendous progress.

Beyond the persistent work of many groups for many years, it’s the power of young people standing up over the last several months that has moved hearts and minds, and revitalized a movement demanding human rights and accountable policing.

Father of slain 19-year-old Tony Robinson fights tears. His son was killed March 9, 2015 in Wisconsin. (Scott Olson/Getty Image)
Father of slain 19-year-old Tony Robinson fights back tears.  (Scott Olson/Getty Image)

It’s that movement that has made sure we know the names and stories of Mike Brown, Tanisha Anderson, Rekia Boyd, Tony Robinson, Anthony Hill and so many others. It’s a movement that has built community and pushed us toward huge reforms and policy changes. And still, there’s so much work to be done.

Police brutality continues to be a part of the felt, lived experience of people every day, not just in the US but around the world. While people in New York City, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, and Chicago feel the brutality of racial profiling, of living in fear of being stopped by police just for walking down the street with skin too brown or too black, people in Brazil have been suffering the same. Just as protesters felt the brutality of teargas in Ferguson, so have communities in in Hong Kong, in Turkey, and elsewhere. As Jorge Lazaro Nunes struggles for justice for his son, lost to the barrel of a military police officer’s gun, the people of Ayotzinapa are struggling with the brutality of mass disappearance, of losing children.

Pro-democracy protesters put their hands up in the air in front of the police in Hong Kong on September 28, 2014. Police fired tear gas as tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators. (Alex Ogle/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-democracy protesters put their hands up in the air in front of the police in Hong Kong on September 28, 2014. Police fired tear gas as tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators. (Alex Ogle/AFP/Getty Images)

But as those 43 young people have become the seeds of resistance in Mexico, activists around the world are countering police brutality with courage that is founded on and fueled by love. From Oakland to Ferguson to Chicago to New York, from Mexico City to the West Bank, from Chibok to Caracas and more, people are standing up to demand safety, justice, and accountability.

It’s people who feel their human rights in their bones, who see abuse in their communities, and who refuse to stay silent that are leading the way toward change. They are fighting back with passion born of dignity, with the skill and creativity instilled through struggle, and with the strength of solidarity.

The strength and opportunity of this movement is in the growth of community in Ferguson, and in the testimony of activists in Chicago. It is in marching across the Brooklyn Bridge to remember Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, Shereese Francis, Kimani Gray and others, as we open our 2015 Human Rights Conference; it is in conversations between youth leaders from Ayotzinapa and Hong Kong and Ferguson that will happen in the subsequent days together in New York. It is in paying attention to each other, to cheering each other on and acknowledging each other’s pain, and to sharing resources and ideas for change.

Now is the time to lean in to the knowledge that comes from solidarity and connection, and to do more. Now is the time to build bridges across borders, to recognize the humanity in struggle and in streets around the world. Now is the time to transform this next moment into energy that fuels even more movement.