Summer of 2020, Detroit Police Department responds to non-violent protesters with violence
By Sammie Lewis
Just the other day, I strolled with my nanny baby through the quiet Bagley neighborhood of Detroit, crossing the familiar streets of 6 Mile (McNichols) and San Juan. All I could hear is the crisp autumn wind and cars passing by, which feels so weird when just three years ago this same location was filled with violence and concerned people screaming, “Black Lives Matter!” I so vividly remember this day like it was yesterday, when the news quickly erupted that right at this intersection, a 20 year old Black boy was executed by no other than the Detroit Police Department.
In the summer of the George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery uprisings, July 10, 2020 marks the day of the Hakim Littleton uprising. Protesters quickly piled up to the scene on San Juan to demand answers as to what happened to Hakim. Then Police Chief, James Craig, responded by sending cops in riot gear that swung batons at activists’ heads, my fresh stitches, and pushing us so hard to the ground with shields, that some people are still recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs).
As I continued walking, I went on a trip down memory lane and I reflected on the similarities between the Black Lives Matter movement and the Free Palestine movement. I see a lot of discourse online in relation to Palestine and Israel. A frequent question from liberals and fascists alike is, “why couldn’t they fight back in a peaceful way?” In response, I quote Malcolm X as he once said, “You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace, unless he has his freedom.”
Peace cannot exist when there is oppression and it is not up for those not facing that oppression to decide how to fight against it. When non-violent protesters gathered at a fatal and tragic scene to demand answers as to why one of our own Black boys could be shot down in cold blood, the police responded with more violence, but where were these hypocritical peace preachers then?
Throughout Hakim Littleton’s short life, he knew what it meant to be Black in this country, and in a city like Detroit, where he was stalked, harassed, and preyed on by the police. When tragedy struck, the usual pattern followed, the victim was criminalized, and soon, we as protesters would be too.
Stories broke out that we as activists were aggressive, when the only thing we used were words and chants. As soon as the 2020 protests began, so did the stories of “looters” as if property was more important than the lives of Black people. If that happened to us, imagine what mainstream media can do to twist stories of the oppressed people of Palestine.
Images of dead and injured Palestinians are used against them with false claims of these people being Israelis, attacked by Palestinians. The media and even President Joe Biden have shared misleading, racist propaganda that has no reliable source.
Palestinians are labelled as terrorists for rising up against Israel, a country that didn’t even exist until after 1948, when the Nakba took place, permanently displacing Palestinians from their home. I can’t help but think about the way this ethnic cleansing shares similarities with the events of Nazi Germany and slavery.
While some may argue that they are not their ancestors or that it’s time to move on from things that happened long ago, I cannot move on from events that have forever impacted the racist and violent systems of capitalism and imperialism. I know that the injustices and inequalities that I and all oppressed people face stem from these systems and events. If slavery didn’t happen, then the system of police wouldn’t be the modern day slave patrol. If Nakba didn’t happen, then Palestine would be free and Israel quite frankly wouldn’t exist. It isn’t that complicated to understand, unless you of course don’t want to understand.
Just as I will never forget the brutality we faced or the lost life of someone who still had his whole life to live, I also haven’t forgotten the Power of the People that same day in 2020. I can’t forget the residents that empowered themselves to push the police out of their neighborhood. That effort of self determination was the response the people had to systemic violence and oppression, much like Palestine’s recent resistance to Israel.
It’s unsurprising to me that those siding with Israel are the same people that side with the police, despite historical evidence of police brutality and the violent settlerism in Palestine. Imperialism is everywhere and we can only fight against it, and fight for true peace, when we align ourselves both nationally and internationally with oppressed people.
Globally, we struggle against colonialism, white supremacy, and fascism. I have seen Americans celebrate death, showing their true colors as both antisemitic and islamaphobic. As the world, and many in our country, including politicians and leaders cheer for genocide, I can feel it in the pit of my stomach what that means for all Black and Brown people in America, and all over the world. The tolerance for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, a modern day Holocaust, shows me that we have not come very far in our society, in efforts to build a world that would not repeat the same catastrophic events.
What this says to me is that the fight for liberation must continue and that we must resist by any means necessary. While my heart breaks for Palestine, I will not allow defeatism to take control of me. The struggle continues, and we must too. There is power in the people and we must organize, for all oppressed people everywhere.
I can’t forget the things that happened to me for fighting against my own oppression as a Black person. I can’t forget Hakim Littleton and July 10 or any of the other dates I faced police brutality just for protesting against it. I carry these traumas with me, even on regular days that don’t feel so regular when I remember this location so differently.
Regardless of how hard it was to face these memories, I am glad I returned to this intersection to remind me of the mirrored struggles between Palestinians and Black people. There is no Black liberation without the liberation of all oppressed people. The movement for Black lives and the movement for Palestine must be fought for together, and with that, they shall be won together too.
As I braved these flashbacks, I looked down at this sleeping baby and remembered I am in this struggle not just for myself, but for the future generations, in which I envision a more peaceful world. I wish Palestinian children a life of peace, where they can hear birds instead of bombs. All power to the oppressed people. Free, free Palestine.