Nights in the streets of US cities find not so much twinkling stars overhead, even on full-moon evenings like February 3, 2015, but twinkling candles underfoot. When did this become a regular night’s outing? What neighbors and friends do to find each other and talk face-to-face in public?
It is the new normalcy of this, the increasingly routine ritual, the familiar faces that greet each other with inadequate words that is perhaps most disturbing. Well, not the most disturbing. That is reserved, always, for why people have convened, hurriedly, from interrupted dinners or plans, from school or work. Word had gone out a mere few hours ago that another dead body lay in another road covered haphazardly by another cloth, surrounded by the crew of murders and their accomplices who did the deed.
When did that become the policing norm, whether for alleged shoplifters or purported car thieves, for those without homes, for those going through a physical or mental health episode, for those sitting in a car or walking down the street, for those asserting their humanity? When did policing become even more of a farce — a tragedy?
When will it stop? And how?
The two hundred or so who converged on the dimly lit, economically and politically neglected corner of 34th and Hollis streets, on the border of Oakland and Emeryville, on the border of class war and state violence, spoke in hushed tones. They set out candles, flowers, and hastily made signs — another DIY shrine, like the ones that grace so many other incomprehensible death spots from those of Mike Brown to Alex Nieto. Those who came out into the night stood awkwardly, not knowing quite what to do to mark the fresh killing of Yvette Henderson, a thirty-eight-year-old black woman, who died only about a thirty-second-walk away, in an area still taped off and guarded by police. One could feel the rage, sorrow, disbelief yet weary belief, weariness that it happened again, and that it will happen again, and that all the many nights of marches inspired by Ferguson seem for naught.
Remembrance, resistance, rest in power, and yet so much powerlessness.
Vigil lingered; march moved out; people went in somber procession by Home Depot, paying visit as witnesses that this store called the police on a purported shoplifter, and the police then chased down another black person to put seven bullets into their body as judge and jury and executioner.
A lone brick met a lone window at Home Depot, and brick and broken glass lay side by side on the ground — another DIY shrine to life wasted by police over nothing. Over everything: white supremacy, capitalist dispossession, power, fear.
The funereal march returned to square one, battered sidewalk at curb with, now, taller candles twinkling out grief. The tape and police had vanished. Hands moved candles over to the death site / crime scene, a spot overlooked by drab building, surveillance cameras, urban decay, loneliness.
A few candles were set down by white-painted lines on the dirty ground in the tiny setback of a parking area — lines that embraced Yvette’s body for hours after she was murdered, where the police left her, enshrouded without dignity in a blue-plastic tarp. Those candles sat pitifully amid broken glass — shattered car window, shattered by police bullets.
Another, lone candle placed a few feet away was encircled by more broken glass and what appeared to be an oversize glob of blood or tissue — the third DIY shrine, but this one the forgotten, ill-cleaned up traces of the life cut short.
A young — so young; too young — black girl asked her mom if she could have a closer look at this work of cop crime — a toddler who has already lost a family member of her own to police. She walked by the fragments of twinkling glass and small number of twinkling candles and fresh evidences of murder, as if in a playground. As if this is what kids do these days, these nights, when they aren’t being killed, on other future full-moon evenings, by those in blue with badges, guns, and impunity.
When will this stop? And how?
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(Photo by Cindy Milstein, RIP Yvette, 34th and Hollis streets, Emeryville, February 3, 2015.)