Revolutionary Worker #1007, May 23, 1999
Riverside, May 14, 1999--"Justice for Tyisha!"
"Enough is enough!" "No justice, no peace!" 1200 people jammed the Riverside, California civic center on Monday, May 10 demanding justice for Tyisha Miller.
May 6, the Riverside DA issued a report saying that he would not prosecute the four Los Angeles police officers who shot the 19-year-old Black woman. The killing happened after one of Tyisha Miller's cousins came to help her with a flat tire at 2:00 a.m., December 28 last year. She found Tyisha unconscious, locked in her car with a handgun on her lap, and couldn't wake her up. When she called 911, they sent the police. The cops refused to wait for another relative who was coming with a key to the car. Instead, they broke out the window next to her face, and immediately opened fire. The police put 12 bullets in Tyisha's back. Before, during and after the shooting, they were heard to make racist statements and cop-jokes.
The DA's report was based on the four officers' unsworn statements, given to fellow cops, that they had heard a shot...or seen Tyisha's hand move...or seen her grab the gun. The statements were totally contradictory. But the DA's conclusion was backed up by the California Attorney General, who made a big show of sending 12 attorneys and investigators to Riverside and said they all agreed. It was a sickening report, delivered behind closed doors in a city in a state of siege--with police on alert all the way to Los Angeles.
The people's response was angry and determined. The Tyisha Miller Steering Committee had already called for a rally on May 10, but when the DA gave his press conference, it turned into a protest of that decision. By the 10:00 starting time, the City Hall plaza was packed, and more were arriving. CORE organized three busses to give people rides from L.A. There were delegations and activists from the NAACP, SCLC, Project Islamic Hope and the Nation of Islam. The city authorities closed some city buildings, as they had during the May 6 press conference, and a lot of the workers were watching from the sidelines. One of them, a Black man, told a reporter, "It's happening to all different types of people all over the country. It's an epidemic. It's called police brutality."
It was one of those rallies where all the signs are homemade: "Fight the Power," "How do you justify murder?", "Crime: Sleeping/Punishment: Death" and "Justice: Cops that kill must be stopped." Friends, relatives and total strangers held pictures of Tyisha with her award-winning smile. One had a message: "Tyii loved her life and we loved it too!!" A friend of Tyisha's cousin told the RW, "We don't wish this on no one. We wish it wasn't Tyisha, but since it is, we're here to march for her." He also talked about being stopped for DWB (Driving While Black): "They were like, `why y'all got your hands like that [on the steering wheel]?' and I'm like, `Because I don't want y'all to shoot me,' and then they walked over to the side and they started joking about it."
Like a lot of smaller cities, the cops in Riverside thought they could do whatever. A Black woman in her 50s who's lived in the same Rubidoux neighborhood as Tyisha Miller's family for 18 years said that Black people aren't allowed to go to the parks. If you go there, the cops come up and ask you what you're doing. A 23-year-old Black youth said he got stopped and questioned by the police when he was sitting on his porch.
But now there's something else going on. Thousands of people in this city of 250,000 have marched and protested for Tyisha since last December. A Black woman in her 40s talked to the RW on the eve of the recent protest, as 500 people packed the Life Church of God in Christ in Rubidoux to hear Pastor Ron Gibson and the Rev. Al Sharpton. She poured out the reasons she was taking off work to go to the march, "I think this is long overdue. Too much racism. It's about time we stood up for our rights--discrimination in the workplace, police brutality, stopping Black people just because you're in a car. The prisons are populated more and more by minorities--it's just time for someone to take a stand. I grew up in the '60s, so I knew about a lot of this, and it's time. I have a job to do in the morning, but this is more important. I have children and grandchildren and so this is like one of us. It's to gain some respect! Like, leave us alone! Let's all be equal, everybody be equal and get along. We built this country. It's about our grandparents and their grandparents, the slaves--it's about a lot of stuff. I just want to be there because somebody's got to do it."
There were a lot of people who lived miles away and felt the same way. A couple activists from Phoenix came in on the Greyhound: "It's to the point where they're doing all this ethnic cleansing anyway and it's like a message for everybody, that if you don't stand up for what you believe pretty soon, you're not going to be here to do anything." Rev. Sharpton, Dick Gregory, and Martin Luther King III all came from the east coast to speak. A school teacher from New Orleans was visiting friends in Riverside and said as long as he was in town he was going to be marching for Tyisha. An older Black man said he flew home from a business trip to Tennessee after friends called him.
A group of Mechistas from the University of California, Riverside told how they were on the Internet and watching TV the Thursday before, and when the DA let the cops off, the students made plans to join the protest. They said others came from Riverside Community College and San Bernardino Valley College. There were Native Americans with American Indian Movement T-shirts. There were youth from Food Not Bombs. Steve Figueroa, National Vice-President of the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA) marched with a delegation. He's been in this fight from the beginning, and was later arrested for blockading the police headquarters. He said, "They beat 78-year-old Helario Martinez and threw him in the lake. They followed them all the way to El Monte and beat the immigrants [Alicia Soltero and Enrique Funes]. And no prosecutions. We're here to support them and to say `What you do to our brother, you do unto us.'<|>"
Professors, ministers and lawyers all came to demonstrate. But a big section of the protesters were young proletarians. Some were wearing work shirts because they sneaked out of work or took a long lunch. Three young men, one white, one Black and one Latino, came from an auto repair shop. At first they were too angry to talk, but then the Latino brother said, "We're tired of Mexicans getting beat up, we're tired of Black people getting beat up."
A contingent from the October 22nd Coalition and Stolen Lives Project came with a huge banner: "Stop Police Brutality." As a march to the police headquarters two blocks away kicked off, they led the chant: "No justice! No Peace! No murdering police!" The crowd surged around the front door of the police station as a group stood in front of the doorway in an act of civil disobedience. One by one, 46 people were arrested, including Sandra Moore from CORE, Don Evans of Families to Amend California's Three Strikes (FACTS), actress Kim Fields, Rev. Al Sharpton, Dick Gregory, Martin Luther King III, notorious flagburner Joey Johnson representing the October 22nd Coalition, Rev. Bernell Butler, Tyisha's uncle and family spokesperson Rev. Ron Gibson. There was a big ovation for Larry Holmstead, a white minister who joined the Steering Committee. Those arrested were held for up to two hours, and charged with trespass and "failure to disperse."
After the arrests, hundreds of people wanted to stay and make a statement, including a number of proletarian Black youth. The cops rode at the people on motorcycles with sirens blaring. Chanting "Hell, no! We won't go!" people stayed toe-to-toe with the cops in the street. The police arrested one young man and clubbed him seven or eight times as people shouted "Let him go!" He was later charged with felony assault on an officer.
One of the last to leave was a 29-year-old Black man. He shared some of his thoughts with the RW. "When we do come in peace, although we in large numbers, and we still come in peace, they get scared and still don't give us no answers. They think they can do whatever, but one day, the people is going to have to stand up and go against the police until we get some justice around here. I mean, they don't listen to us, they kill us in the street, we're guilty until we prove ourselves innocent, and the police are still on the payroll. We pay their salary and we still can't get no answers. Enough is enough! Eventually one day we going to have a civil war where the law enforcement is against the people of the city. That's what it's going to come down to. There's going to have to be some more bloodshed, there's going to be a lot of people that go to jail in order for us to get our voices heard, in order for something to be changed. The whole justice system needs an overhaul. We need to do something."
The police have just about promised that there will be more Tyisha Millers. The day after the DA's report was released, the Riverside Press-Enterprise talked to police in Riverside and neighboring cities, and concluded, "Police reaction to such life-and-death situations is unlikely to change...."
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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