Movement for Black Lives Conference Demonstrates Power of Organized Community
Activist and journalist Rosa Clemente discusses The Movement for Black Lives Conference held in Cleveland last weekend
JARED BALL, PRODUCER, TRNN: What’s up world, and welcome back to the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore.
Well over 1,000 activists gathered in Cleveland this past weekend for the Movement for Black Lives conference. Attendees gathered to take another swing at organizing in this Black Lives Matters moment around issues of unabated police violence, increasing criminalization, a failed economic system, broken or properly functioning education system, and the loss of black communities to gentrification and development as well as issues of defining blackness and ensuring room in the struggle for black LGBTQ community members.
But almost on cue, seemingly inevitably the conference ended with an incident involving local Cleveland police, the use of pepper spray, and at least one young black man taken off to jail. To offer us this initial report back in a kind of preview of forthcoming more complete coverage from our comrade Eddie Conway is Rosa Clemente. Clemente is a scholar, longtime activist, journalist, and former vice presidential nominee for the Green party and joins us now from New York City. Welcome, Rosa, to the Real News Network.
ROSA CLEMENTE: Thank you for having me, Jared.
BALL: So if you would, just give us a rundown of what happened there at the tail end of that conference from your perspective. I know you were there firsthand on the ground as a witness. And then tell us–we’ll take a few minutes after that to talk a little bit about your thoughts about the conference more generally.
CLEMENTE: Well first, he wasn’t arrested. I mean, he was detained. So I think that’s the whole point of what went down. So after the closing ceremony there were hundreds of people walking back to the dorms to either get in their cars or their buses to go back home. It had just closed, the entire convening. And as those folks were walking they saw that a young man had been detained and observed that he had gone to the ground.
So immediately, these are organizers and activists in the Black Lives Matter movement, and they began to record, they began to question the police, form a perimeter around the car, and were basically saying we’re not going to let you take him. And as that was happening, obviously as people are walking, people are stopping, some of the women organizers had reached out to him to make sure that he could pass the numbers so that they could call his mother since he was a minor, he was 14 years old.
And for the next hour and a half there were over 200, or I would say 150 to 200 people that locked down on Euclid and 22nd right on Cleveland State University’s campus, and were saying that this child was not going to be taken and they were not going to leave until his mother got there and he was released into the custody of his mother. And that’s what happened.
But obviously before all of that, the big thing is that 14 folks had been pepper sprayed immediately. Not from the Cleveland Police Department but from the transit authority officer who did the initial detention. And their job is to just monitor things that happen on the bus, and they said that he had an open container, that he was visibly drunk, and that he was also trying not to pay to get on the bus.
BALL: So thank you for those clarifications. I appreciate that. But so as we understand, this was not in response to activists engaged in a march, or some sort of action, but this was more of an individual incident around which activists gathered to show community support and strength, and making sure that this young man was not abused further?
CLEMENTE: Yeah. I’m glad you said that, because other reporting has said they were protesting. People were going home and they saw what we see every day, the harassment of young people. And obviously as Black Lives Matter organizers and activists we’re not going to let a 14-year-old be kidnapped, disappear, and possibly found dead a couple of days from that. So it was a conflation of this movement convening, going home, and what happens every day. And it just happened that it was 200 people that intervened at that moment.
Let me say, this is really important. With the help of lawyers, and mostly women, including Chokwe Lumumba’s daughter [Rakia] Lumumba, Patrice Beckford, and other women who actually negotiated the actual release of this young person to his mother’s custody.
And the last thing we saw, which was a very liberating moment and I hope people just don’t watch the footage of the pepper spray. That’s the sensational aspect of it, and these organizers and activists are prepared for that. But the unity, the strength, the discipline. And as this young man got in his car and his mother drove home all we said was we love you, we love you, we believe we will win. It was an incredibly uplifting, inspiring moment to see every theory put into action, but also really the theory of self-defense. And it was just incredible.
BALL: So I know we’re going to have more coverage of this conference coming up here at the Real News, but we did just see a statement put out by our brother and comrade Davey D sort of summarizing the vibe that I think you just described there. Could you just tell us in a very quick moment, minute or two, what the vibe was like and what you expect to come out of this conference?
CLEMENTE: Well look, it was an incredibly conference. Trans people were leading. Afro-Latinos were in the house. Black people from Canada were there talking, building, not making agendas but making plans, learning from other communities what they could do in their local community.
And I uplift that last moment after the opening ceremony because these things are–we have to view them as victories. We don’t get them often, right. And to see a community for an hour and a half say you are not going to disappear another person, we’re not going to allow you to take the space that we have for three days of black love, of accountability, a strategy session, of challenging discussions, of tears of joy, of five-year-olds in freedom schools to 92-year-olds to folks that are disabled, to again, the trans community really taking leadership.
I think what that did was finally bring everybody together into a space to say, now we can carry this forward as we build nationally and internationally, what do we do every day home on a very localized level.
BALL: Rosa Clemente, thank you very much for joining us here at the Real News Network. And definitely vinceremos, that sounds great. Thank you for this update.
CLEMENTE: Thank you for having me.
BALL: All right, and thank you for joining us here at the Real News. For all involved, again, I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore. And as always, like Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace if you’re willing to fight for it. Peace, and we’ll catch you in the whirlwind, everybody.
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