Having spent the last decade organizing against police violence and for queer youth of color in Springfield, MA, STiCKii and ShaeShae break down their thoughts on the protests against police violence.
STiCKii: My dad was black and he passed away when I was 4, leaving me to be raised half the time by his family and half the time by my white mom. I had a lot of privilege because I didn’t have many interactions with the police, but there was a time when my mother had a friend who was a Black man, and my neighbors were in their cars.
My mom is out there with a Black man and immediately the cops show up. I remember my mom going ham in the cop’s face, showing her whole ass. It happened to be a woman cop, and it was a mess. My mom got to walk away from that and luckily the black man wasn’t harassed.
My black family taught me strict guidelines and rules about how to deal with the police. And then to see my mom disregard all of those rules, and the cops not do anything to her. My black cousins were telling me, “your mom is crazy, but they didn’t do anything to her because she is white.”
That was one of the first dynamics of seeing the police and blackness. At that age, I didn’t have anyone to ask questions about it. I am the only black person in my white family. Me and my older sister are the only white people in my black family. We were in a league of our own trying to navigate that.
ShaeShae: For me, it’s this complicated thing about anti-blackness in Latino communities, and Latinos assimilating and trying to align themselves with the police state and shit. In my younger life, we never called the police. It was never a thing.
When we first moved here to Springfield, we would walk to school. There was a kid who would sick his dog on us every time we went to school, because we would walk through one of the richest blocks in Springfield. Every day walking to and from school, he would let his dog out to chase us, so bad, I would catch an asthma attack. My siblings would block the dog so I could get a safe enough distance away. It’s this very complicated thing of growing up and there are these power dynamics in the city and you never even expect the police to be there to protect you.
Growing up on our block, we lived behind an apartment building. There was a guy living in the apartment complex, and for all intents and purposes he seemed like a pedophile. One day he was saying nasty things to my sister and me. Another man on the block was a construction worker. He was bed ridden at the time, but he hopped out of bed and came outside and whipped this guy’s ass. We’ve always relied on people in the community to take care of us even in the fucked up toxic ways it exists right now. As I got older and older, it became more and more obvious why.
It’s not just police, it’s the whole system. At one point my brother got arrested. They arrested him originally for driving without a license and then they decided to slap on an additional charge for drag racing. Our family all went into court the next day, and tried to talk to the assistant DA, who was prosecuting his case. The lady looked at my mom in the face. She said she was going to make an example out of him. Luckily, thousands of dollars that we didn’t even have later, my brother didn’t have to serve time. But, I remember after it was all over, feeling like the cards were stacked against us. It was so clear the DA wanted to see my brother behind bars. It took years for me to realize we were just one of many families fucked over by this white supremacist, classist system that operates with impunity.
STiCKii: My mom was also a drug dealer. She sold prescription pills to other white people. She ripped this guy off who was a Blood and he had been hanging out around the house for years. There were 4 or 5 hood niggas my mom engaged with when it came to hood dealing. She was a white woman crying about the pain she was experiencing, and they would write a huge script in the late 90s and early 2000s. She was getting 100-200 pills. Her prescription was 8 or 9 Percocets a day. I think I was in high school when her and her abusive white boyfriend at the time were getting into some shit. It was the beginning of the downfall. They were doing more drugs than selling. It was getting toxic and violent. So she sold a bag of baking soda. I remember my bestie and I hear this man yelling in the house. I’m like, let me make sure this crazy woman didn’t do no fuck shit. There was a guy with a gun. The guy saw me and he could tell there were kids in the house. We were trained this time. I go upstairs. He said to my mom, “you are lucky I have respect for your kids, ‘cause I would take everything in this house and blow your brains off.” Never in that whole interaction, did I think, “oh, shit, I should call the police.” I experienced a lot of violent shit and never once did it cross my mind to call the police. Even when my neighbor’s brother had a seizure, I didn’t want to talk to the operator on the 911 call. I remember it being such a tumultuous process. Cops came banging on my door wanting to talk to me. I just thought to myself, “I don’t want to talk to none of y’all.”
Years later, I remember that one time when I just started Copwatching. We got all these great skills and ideology and fundamental ways of challenging the police and I was in my young untouchable “I’m going to save my community” place for the first time. I was across the street from a meeting and I saw a police car drive up, so I took out my phone. I was clearly filming this guy in the interaction. He looks at me, realizes that I’m filming him, and says, “if you want to film me, you can come sit on my face.” I realized I was not safe in any way. I was 16 and just got sexually harassed by the cop. You know, the cops are just pulling people over and sending them to jail and getting away with it. It took the wind out of my sails. It made me realize the body I was in.
You get into this shit, you get the tools. You finally feel an ideological liberation. You see this shit. You have words to name it, to claim it. You see the bigger system. It’s not just isolated incidents that happen to other people. “No, I know your role mother fucker, and I’m going to challenge you,” I thought. But, as we see over the news, our efforts are stomped out. “I don’t care about your fucking video camera, I’m still going to stomp on you,” the police and system tell us in their actions over and over again.
“No, actually, I’m not free,” I realize. I just have the language to know I’m locked up in this mess. That’s what happens to a lot of shit in these moments. If we look at 2014 and the moment of Mike Brown, and then shit started popping off after Philando Castile was taken in 2016. Boom, goes the dynamite. “Grab your shit, we are fighting for our freedom, and there’s enough people hurt, enough to really get some traction,” I was thinking. Then you have activists found dead in their cars. The shit they never share in the media starts happening, and you realize that this is bigger than you could ever imagine. The police are made for this type of repression.
Right now, amidst these latest protests, I’m so pissed at my communities in a real way. We are always going to be seen as the aggressors. “Literally your existence is going to be the aggressor, so we better be ready to take it as far as we can.” But, people still seem to think, “I want freedom, but I don’t want to pay for it.”
ShaeShae: This idea of nonviolence is a white supremacist tactic. Nonviolence is always weaponized against black people. No one talks about the six days after MLK died. It’s a fake ass idea that black folks are going to get free by being peaceful. Telling us that being docile is what saved us. Nah, burning white people’s shit is what saved us a little bit of time.
It’s complicated. They purposefully erase history. It’s this whole act of learning and unlearning because we are literally brainwashed. This moment of uprisings is happening because of COVID. That’s not to say that I don’t believe in the power of the people. I know that in 2015, they were killing Black babies in their beds and in the park and on the street. And I was like, “how can we get any madder?” But there wasn’t the traction we see today. Even here in Massachusetts, this so-called progressive place, the Springfield police are out here framing people, beating people. It’s the same shit. People who were employed are all of the sudden out of work. People are being paid to be home and so now you have people who want to be out, being cooped up. We can’t go out and do the things that help us feel whole. Everything is charged, so then you see this very public, very gruesome death of George Floyd, it’s the match. It’s just this perfect storm of circumstance, which is beautiful to see. But also, Tony McDade, a trans-masculine person, was murdered by the police at the same time, and there were crickets. Breanna Taylor was also murdered by police at her home during the pandemic and there wasn’t this public outcry. People are upset, people are posting about it, but also patriarchy is a mother fucking beast and that’s why these stories are not highlighted in the same way.
Wishing there was also more political education happening. What some folks could be asking for might not be what is actually going to get Black folks free. I want to see liberation and I know it is going to have to be something of this caliber — burn every building – tear it all down because everything is trash. It is the rioting and the anger that has shifted things, even in the little bit that it has. Minneapolis is doing something amazing right now.
STiCKii: Out Now (a queer youth organization in Springfield Massachusetts) has been trying to move a campaign about police liability insurance for years and it got no traction in a real way. Now that this happens, everyone thinks police should have liability insurance. Now, people are talking about defunding police. It seems, people need years to chew on a radical idea before it can even become molded into a reformist idea. We don’t have the time for that. Who has the time and luxury for that? Not black trans women, not Black non-binary people, not Black trans men. I can’t understand why it is that people can’t connect the dots. Why people can’t see how as long as there are folks policing white supremacy, and policing gender, we’re never going to really find the liberation we are looking for?
ShaeShae: It’s interesting to watch black capitalism right now. There was a lot of conversation about black businesses being harmed during these protests. But if these black-owned businesses haven’t even ever said, Black Lives Matter, or that they stand with us in the struggle, why should we be supporting their businesses right now? How does that not echo white supremacy?
In terms of tactics, the unplanned shit seems more interesting than the shit that people are planning. Even with so much intention and so much care, watching these things that even black folks put together is like a train wreck. But also, you want this to be better. You want to have a better future. If STiCKii and I are killed by the police, no one is gonna burn a building. No Amazon building is burning down because we die. It’s always centered on black men unfortunately.
The people who are challenging that are ending up dead. Whether it’s the mental and emotional strain, the stress on our bodies, whether it’s being killed by loved ones, killed by people in the street. It’s difficult watching your own people die. We have seen a lot of organizers die in this work. I have this bitterness, wondering, if we had had our shit together five years ago, how many people would still be with us?
In part two of this conversation, STiCKii and ShaeShae discuss the lessons they’ve learned in the fight against police violence and what is giving them inspiration to stay in the struggle.