Written By Katherine Bryant
Photographs by Filomene Morrison
How does power move through institutions? Systems? Communities? Bodies? How can we localize power and grapple with it? What are the leverage points of this power – and how can you access them?
On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, hundreds, perhaps nearly a thousand, congregated at Underground Atlanta in response to the Grand Jury’s failure to indict Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown. It was pretty easy to find the crowd – after passing about 6 different news trucks, we saw the 103.3 FM tent, live broadcasting the protest. Another sign was the presence of three helicopters continuously circling above the crowd.
The event began with a 4-minute moment of silence, which had been requested by the Brown family after the announcement of the verdict. Four minutes for the four hours that Mike Brown’s body lay on the pavement after being shot by Darren Wilson. From there on, at the top of every hour, hundreds of people paused and reflected silently for four minutes. I thought about Mike Brown’s parents seeing their son’s body, slumped over in the middle of the street.
The hours-long event was packed with poets, professors, artists, and musicians. There was spoken word. There was dance. There was singing. There were powerful speeches. There were young people, scared for the future of their generation, but still full of energy and ready to start a revolution. There were older folks, bringing historical perspective, and no less passionate.
The action demonstrated the incredible power the community has when it comes together to share information, pain, and strength. As multiple speakers stated, this was not just about Mike Brown, but about Trayvon Martin. Charles Smith. Ezell Ford. Vonderitt Myers. And many others we don’t hear about. Like Kendrick Johnson, a teenager whose body was found face down in a rolled up wrestling mat in a high school in South Georgia. Federal investigators were brought in after evidence of wrongful death and a coverup by school officials and Sheriff’s office were discovered by an independent pathologist hired by Johnson’s parents.
There is no way for me to do justice to what was said, or summarize the speeches effectively. The best I can do is tell you what I heard and felt. I heard people taught to be ashamed of their heritage. I heard people whose lives meant being ostracized. I heard people who were getting the message, loud and clear, that their lives didn’t have value and weren’t worth protecting by those in charge. I heard people who didn’t feel at home in their own country, a country that generations before had lived in, and built. I heard people who were tired of trying to explain why they deserved to live, and were tired of fearing for their children’s lives.
I left before the protestors marched and eventually physically shut down traffic, with just their bodies, on the I-75/I-85 connector. That’s right – Atlantans, with their hands raised, marched onto the highway and shut it down. SWAT teams appeared, with tear gas canisters; 40 were arrested.
For a moment, the system was shut down, and the police were forced to respond. A leverage point, perhaps small, but important, was used. Since Tuesday, there have been actions nearly every single day, including a staged die-in, an educational flash-mob and a Moral Monday event at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, which included a speech from Attorney General Eric Holder.
What kind of clout should we expect from an embattled bureaucrat like Holder? What structural change we can hope for when the nation’s first black president declines to visit the site of Michael Brown’s murder? I don’t know. But here’s what the people of Atlanta have to say about it:
Hands Up – Don’t Shoot . Black Lives Matter. We Charge Genocide. Shut It Down.