Watts: A Day of Resistance

Revolutionary Worker #1146, April 14, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org

We received the following letter from Joe Veale, spokesperson for the L.A. Branch of the RCP,USA with help from the Watts RCYB.

Dear RW,

Saturday, February 9, was a very good day for the people in Watts! The Watts RCYB and youth from the Nickerson Gardens housing projects had issued a call for: A DAY OF RESISTANCE! A call to everyone, the young, the old, Black, Latino, and others who support-to join us in resisting the criminalization of an entire generation. A day when we say to friend and foe: we do not accept the lockdown on the lives of our youth! We do not accept the daily brutality and constant disrespect brought down on them by the police and the ruling authorities. As their flyer said: YOUNG PEOPLE AIN'T THE PROBLEM-THE SYSTEM IS! Youth from the neighborhood, adults, the Watts Committee Against Police Brutality, The Watts Drum Core, Black and Latino, took up this call.

On this day the people took back the day and night from the police who treat our young people as criminals on GP (General Principle). For a few sweet hours they were greeted with the organized resistance of the people. Thirty-five people dressed in black gathered in a park inside the projects. The park is right across the street from where the police murdered Chubby Dotson about two years ago. The entire park was roped off with yellow tape. The same kind of tape the police put up when they murder one of us. Only this time the yellow tape was put up to keep the police from coming into this area to carry out their mistreatment of the people and as a way for the people to stand up and fight against this. The tape was stapled with pictures of the police shooting someone down and the words in bold letters: "Danger-Police in the Area." Every time they drove by they would be greeted with foghorns, whistles, other noisemakers and shouts of: "Murderers! murderers! Asesinos! asesinos!" and "Pigs in the hood!" And people would snap their pictures. It was loud and clear the enforcers were not wanted in this roped-off area.

Living in the projects has always seemed to me to be as close to the penitentiary as you can get without actually being there. You are constantly living under the gun (tower). Another thing they would do in the pen -- they would paint all the cells with the same "soft" colors. All the cells are painted in the same drab and dreary colors so that they will not inspire excitement, incitement, or hope. When I was there it was white or gray.

The projects here are all painted white. On the morning of "Youth Resistance Day" as it came to be called, the monotonous white walls of the projects were splashed with color as youth from the neighborhood and the RCYB decorated the area with banners they'd painted, declaring, "Young people ain't the problem, the system is!" "Stop disrespecting, degrading and brutalizing us!" and "NO-We will not accept a future of prisons and punishment!" The word was out, and the projects buzzed with conversations as pockets of people throughout the area spoke bitterness about the way young people are treated and warmly welcomed the idea of resisting this and fighting for something different. Controversies erupted as well, as people debated what was the best way to go about trying to change things.

The high point of the day began around 4:30 p.m. The park is really a small field in the middle of the Nickerson Gardens projects that has some trees, a few scattered picnic tables and a grill or two sticking out of the ground. On warm days it's not unusual to see groups of old men sitting around the picnic tables talking, or young kids chasing each other around the trees, or passing women with strollers pausing to chat with one another.

On this day, the picnic area became a center of celebratory, yet fierce, resistance. A crowd of people gathered at the picnic tables around two puppet-effigies hanging from trees. One was a bright pink pig with bloody fangs and a blue LAPD cap; the other was Uncle Sam, complete with graying beard and USA top-hat. Uncle Sam, as the representative of the "American way of life." A life that means 70 percent of the poorest 3-year-olds living in the inner cities today will be caught up in the criminal justice system before they are out of their teens. The LAPD pig puppet represented the brutal police forces that carry out the repression and suppression of the people for their Uncle Sam masters. Together these puppets would soon be subjected to the well-deserved wrath of the masses.

Members of the Watts Committee walked up together and brought a banner they had made expressing support for what the youth were doing today. Banners in English and Spanish were hung from the picnic tables and yellow tape.

Events started with statements of support and people speaking openly and frankly about how the police treat the youth. One of the most moving scenes-a scene that choked you up with pride and determination-was to see a little girl of about 11 get on the bullhorn and talk about how Black people have been treated since slavery. She talked about being inspired by a book she read about Harriet Tubman. How Harriet had risked her own life to free her people from slavery. She talked about how Black people are being abused and mistreated by the police today. She said the police do this for no other reason than Black people are Black. She and another little boy about the same age said they had a dream that one day we would live in a world where people are not treated like this. It just made you swell up with pride and determination to see and hear this.

An inspiring and joyous moment was the moment of justice. A brother from the Watts Committee grabbed the bullhorn and said: "we want justice for our people murdered by the police!" He then held up a baseball bat. The first to grab it was an 87-year old Black man. He swung that bat with the determination of someone who has been through 87 years of hell. He almost finished off that LAPD puppet in one swing. Everybody was bent over with laughter on seeing that! His powerful swing spoke for all of us. A kid from the drum core who was next in line was fidgety and impatient. When someone asked him why he was so impatient he said: "The pigs tried to kill me! If that old man hits it again it might not be nothing left for me to hit!" Another drum core youth who came up to bat yelled "Free Mumia!" into the bullhorn before smashing in the chin of that red, white and blue puppet head of Uncle Sam. Both of these symbols received very powerful and swift blows from the people. Then the effigy was set on fire as people celebrated and jumped around the flames.

After the destruction of the puppets, the crowd heard a statement from some youth who had been walking around the neighborhood, dressed in black, with large flashlights, foghorns and whistles. These youth announced they had been carrying out a peoples' patrol all around the projects ever since we had been in the park. They said they were making sure the police carried out no flagrant harassment or brutality on this day. Whenever they would see the police they would loudly announce: "Pigs in the hood!" and demand the police show their ID. This is a revolutionary new thing that comes out of the struggle of the people. This group was given a loud applause from all in attendance.

While all this was going on many different police cars constantly circled the area. They did not like what was going on. They would blare their sirens as they rolled by, trying to intimidate us and drown out what was being said. You could tell they wanted to vamp. They thought about vamping. But they also thought that if they did they might have bigger problems than what they started with.

What they did was send in some residents who work with the "Residency Management." One of these "thangs" openly said the police paid them to try and stop what we were doing. A couple of them came into the park and tried to get Blacks to fight against Latinos. But their weak shit failed as the people surrounded them and made it clear they were not welcomed around here. They ended up walking away like a dog with its tail between its legs.

As night fell, someone made a call to march and: "take back the night!" In the evening dusk, we lit torches, and took the street. Our torches lit up the sky like our voices of resistance lit up the faces of everyone we passed on the street as we began to march. To the authorities we were menacing!

To the chants of "No Justice, No Peace! No Murdering Ass Police!" and "Take Back the Night, Take Back the Day! The Youth Are the Future and We Are Here to Stay!" The voices of the marchers bounced off project buildings in a raw, but brilliant sound. Members of the Watts Drummers for the Future pounded out accompanying beats with all their heart. The onlookers lining the streets outside their apartments and people driving by in their cars were a welcoming support base for those marching as they nodded in agreement, raised fists in the air, or yelled, "Right On!"

A high point of the march came when we approached the corner where 10 to 20 people stood and a police car with two pigs inside-headlights off-waited. When the march got to the corner we suddenly stopped and people chanted: "Murderers! Murderers!" (in English and Spanish) and pointed our fingers at the sitting pigs. Youth from the people's patrol approached the car and lit it up with their flashlight. The youth got right in their face and yelled: "Let me see some ID!" The police are always creeping around the projects with their lights off sneaking up on people and then shining their lights on us and asking for ID. Now the tables were turned. People shouted: "How does it feel?!" Then everybody broke out in a big belly-shaking laughter!

All this was new. It's not normal to see this kind of thing in Watts, in the projects. People here usually see this kind of thing on the news because it is taking place in another part of the city or in another city all together. The masses loved it! It's a sign that the times are changing!

When we got back to the park spirits were high. One young brother broke out his boom box and people sang and danced along to Dead Prez and The Coup-"Party Music" CD-as they rapped: "It's time to get up right now..."

After a while, we walked each other home. People were very proud that Black and Latino, young and old were able to come together in this way and in their own neighborhood to express their determination to fight for a better future for this generation of kids. On February 9, people in the Nickerson Gardens said, "NO!" to police brutality and flagrant harassment of young people! "NO!" we will not accept a future of prisons and punishment!

As we celebrated and walked each other home I kept thinking of Darrel Dawkins. Darrel came straight out of high school into the NBA in the '70s. He would do these hella dunks where he would shatter the backboard. He would give names to the dunks he did on the opposing player. "Chocolate Thunder!" and the "In Your Face Disgrace!" is what I remember. I kept thinking of Darrel because I felt on this day the people had given the police, and the system they protect and serve, a little taste of our version of the "In Your Face Disgrace!" A little taste of the "Thunder" to come.

Yours in Struggle,
Joe Veale, spokesperson for the L.A. Branch of the RCP,
with the help of the Watts RCYB

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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