Photo provided by Justin Delinois 7/8/16
Our community magazine is all about webs of relationships spirally outward. At the Black Lives Matter rally last Friday at the Liberty Pole Way, great to see Mary Lupien from the Bernie Sanders campaign. And Abby Glogower from the University of Rochester showing support.
At the rally I met Justin Delinois. From Rochester, Justin graduated from McQuaid Jesuit High School in 2015, now attends the University of Rochester, and was scheduled to speak at the rally.
Our conversation quickly became philosophical and far reaching. At one point, Justin described himself as a young progressive black man and a young black professional. On an afternoon when over 400 Rochester progressives and supporters gathered in protest and solidarity, for Justin the Liberty Pole Way was the place to be.
At my suggestion, Justin readily agreed to write a piece on what it means to be a young black professional in Rochester. Many things, of course. Deep reading and self-discovery. Barack Obama’s Dreams of My Father is near the top of Justin’s reading list. And branching out socially such as attending a Young Rochester Professional event at the George Eastman House.
The next day when I emailed Justin the picture of him speaking, he wrote back:
Unfortunately I have just been released from the Monroe county jail. I was arrested for peacefully protesting. I am just getting home after a very long night and I’ll be able to write that piece for you I just need a little more time. I need to sleep and reflex on what just happened before I can do my piece true justice. So sorry if this causes an issue I just do not want to give you mediocre work. j.d.
The young black professional article could wait. We had a new story.
Later, Justin and I agreed his plan to write the essay suddenly interrupted by his arrest was metaphorical of his life. As a young black man, Justin never knows when an encounter might turn negative. And his life suddenly shift.
Below is Justin’s story of the rally and beyond, up to the point of his arrest.
I stood in front of my closet staring at the bright blue dashiki. I had purchased it on a recent trip to Florida and had been waiting for the right moment to wear it. I finally convinced myself that as a Young Progressive Afro-Latino I had a duty to wear it. I slipped it over my head and instantly felt the energy of an African warrior. My dashiki was my strength and my shield and I wore it proudly!
We walked up to Liberty Pole and I was astonished at the size of the crowd. But I felt an overwhelming sense of love and community. We were all there to love and support each other. I made my way through the crowd attempting to get a better view of the stage and find Fredrick Douglas, so I could check in and get set up to speak. I waited anxiously in the crowd watching the other poets go before me. I was nervous; they were great and I had not performed in a while.I heard my name and very wobbly took the stage. I looked out at the crowd and was so happy to see the diversity of people standing before me. Whites, Black, Latinos, LGBTQ, and many more. People united for the cause. With my dashiki shield and the love of my community I began to perform a piece by the author Katori Hall. I felt the African Warrior deep inside of me come charging out, with him came messages of hope. Hope that Americas promise land is so close. Hope that war, poverty, hunger, and color will one day cease to exist. I poured my entire being into that piece hoping to inspire all of us that we can and will see a change. I finished my piece and finally had a good sharp look at my brothers and sisters before me and was overcome with peace.
We marched, chanted, sang, danced, cheered, cried, together. We linked arms with are neighbors and introduced ourselves. AINT NO POWER LIKE THE POWER OF THE PEOPLE CAUSE THE POWER OF THE PEOPLE DON’T STOP rang throughout downtown. We marched all over downtown peacefully. We burned sage to cleanse ourselves of any negative energy.
We began to encounter police in riot gear as we marched peacefully around downtown. We met the Rochester Police Department outside of the Strong Museum. In riot gear and a swat team in the background. I’ve seen more ruckuses on St. Patrick’s Day! Why did they need riot gear and a swat team? As we began to come face to face with officers I moved myself right to the front line with my best friend to my left and a mother and child to my right. We chanted, HANDs UP DON’T SHOOT! Slowly we lifted our hands in the air. HANDS UP DON’T SHOOT, over and over again.
The officer in front of me pointed to my Kairos cross from my high school McQuaid Jesuit (’15). f you attended a Jesuit School, you would recognize it immediately. I nodded my head and then me motioned for me to calm down. I lowered my left and and raised my right and in a strong fist and stood silently staring him down until he finally looked away.
The RPD began to march towards us batons on hand and in full riot gear. They marched hard towards us and then one of them pushed Fredrick Douglass and began to get excessively aggressive to the point were he was pushed backwards with such force it knocked him and his wife over. We grabbed them both removing them from contact with the police. He attempted to go forward again and I grabbed him and pulled him back. As I pulled my brother back I could feel the power that was in my hands. This truly was Fredrick Douglass’ spirit alive and thriving. I yelled “My brother We are here we have nothing to fear because WE are here.” Two African Warriors fighting side by side.
We continue to march and we finally arrived on East and Alexander. The heart of the City on a Friday night is East and Alexander. We sat in the intersection knowing that this is what it would take to get people to listen to our message and take us seriously. When you mess with the cash flow people always seem to take you seriously. We sat peacefully on the ground linking arms, making new friends, burning sage, and chanting. We shared libations and provisions to keep our energy up but morale was low. We had been out there all day and the hot July sun was weighing heavy on us. The police in full riot gear with batons roughly larger than a baseball bat, continued to advance on us. We noticed a white man walking through the crowd with a dog that sniffed us. We saw other white men attempting to create chaos in our mix, but even these police agitators were no match for the peace and love beaming from our spirits.
After a time, the police continued to advance towards and we refused to move. We refused break our peaceful protest. They would move closer and trample over people. They would move closer and drag people away. They met peace with violence, not love.
They became so rough we finally had to stand up. Everyone wobbled as they attempted to gain footing. As people scrabbled to their feet the police moved even faster towards us. They attempted to remove Fredrick Douglass yet again from the crowd, police went in to grab him only this time they went in with a clenched fist and punched him in the right side if his ribs. The crowd broke into uproar at the violence happening against us. Everyone grabbed him and pulled him away from this policeman who had been so rough, even a fellow officer pulled him away realizing what his colleague had just done. Refusing to accept this I grabbed the bullhorn and began to lead us in a chant, IT IS OUR DUTY TO FIGHT FOR OUR FREEDOM! IT IS OUR DUTY TO WIN and HANDS UP DON’T SHOOT. I walked around the crowd and continued to lead us in our chant. I hugged people who were in tears, held hands with people who need strength and smiled at my brothers and sisters who were not afraid.As I turned to walk in the opposite direction 4 or 5 officers walked from behind the line and came directly for me. I said my last chant, secured the Puerto Rican Flag around my neck, and spread out my arms ready to be taken by police. They grabbed my arms yanking me back and forth. One officer Grabbed my wrist and forced the bullhorn out of my hand. The other to attempted to drag me away. I told them I would peacefully go there was no need to pull on me. They didn’t listen.
I am an Afro-Latino Male in the United States. I am both Black and Latino and we have it extremely hard in this country. The officers who are sworn to protect us are slaughtering us. I cannot stand by and watch this happen and not say anything. If you can live your life knowing that people are being gunned down BY AGENTS OF THE LAW, just because of the melanin in their skin, then SHAME ON YOU! No, seriously shame! If you cannot stomach that idea, then get out here with us and help create change! Grab your own dashiki, your own flag, and get out there and protest. The only way we can create change is if do it together.
That night I realized two important things. Always standup for what is right and with peace and love we are strong!