For many of the young activists in the Black Lives Matter movement, the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of vigilante George Zimmerman by a Sanford, Florida jury of Whites marked a tragic coming of age. Until that moment, most Black millennials in the U.S. operated under the illusion that they were somehow beyond the times when they were still susceptible to being harmed by the police or racism.
However, the millennials view of the way things were supposed to be was skewed as they watched Zimmerman walk after confronting and fatally shooting the unarmed 17-year-old headed home from a nearby convenience store.
Recent police-involved killings of Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York; Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; Freddie Grey in Baltimore, Maryland; and the recent deaths of Sandra Bland, Kindra Chapman, Ralkina Jones, and other women while in police custody, has reinvigorated national protests and other acts of civil disobedience. Activists and groups have taken aim at the troubling treatment of the Black, Brown, and poor in underserved communities by law enforcement and are advocating for widespread and significant reform of the criminal justice system.
“When Michael Brown (died), it was clear to me that there are linkages between the Arab, Muslim, and Black communities because they all face the same enemy,” said Yasmina Mrabet, a D.C.-area activist and specialist in conflict analysis and resolution. She said a FBI program, established in 1956 and supposedly closed in 1971 was responsible for the increased targets on Black, Muslims, and Brown people.
According to the FBI website vault.fbi.gov/cointel-pro, COINTELPRO was created to disrupt the activities of the Communist Party of the United States. In the 1960s, it was expanded to include a number of other domestic groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Socialist Workers Party, and the Black Panther Party. “COINTELPRO is still being used to target and criminalize Blacks, Arabs, and Muslims who speak out against racism, discrimination, and inequality,” Mrabet said. “People are targeted not for what you’ve done but who you are.
“They (Metropolitan Police Department) use the tactics of an occupying force. They occupy Black and Brown communities and target people in different ways. I felt it was important to draw these linkages for myself and to constantly link these struggles. The only way to dismantle the system of oppression is to see the linkages.”
Mrabet, 27, is a Moroccan-American who spent significant portions of her childhood in Qatar and the Middle East. She’s a founding member and organizer of DC Ferguson, which since its inception last year has organized sitins; disruptions on city streets; and marches to protest instances of police brutality, harassment, and “jump outs” – similar to ‘stop and frisk’– in the District by the Vice Unit of the Metropolitan Police Department, she said.
“Police violence is normal against an oppressed community,” Mrabet said. “There’s no trust to be built between any system of policing not rooted in trust but rooted in evil. They’re not accountable to anyone. We’ve seen reduced violence when the community polices itself.”
Desiree Griffiths, 31, of Miami, holds up a sign saying “Black Lives Matter”, with the names of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two black men killed by police. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Mrabet said she finds it strange that people are only now realizing that women have been heavily involved with the movement. “I can’t speak for the past, but women have always been on the frontlines, at home, on the streets – they’re always playing a role,” she said. “People try to act as if all of a sudden, women are coming out of the woodwork but they’ve always been there.
“Women are expected to look and act a certain way but in D.C., women have been present from the start and haven’t played a lesser role,” she continued. “Men tend to hold more power and position. It may seem that they’re out front but they’ve always interacted with and consulted with women leaders.”
Mrabet said she believes law enforcement has to be confronted head-on. Her views are similar to civil rights matriarch Dorie Ladner. Both contend that it’s law enforcement’s role to keep poor White and Black people under control while protecting property. “I have
my own voice. No man can delete me from the narrative,” Mrabet asserted. “I don’t work under anyone; I’m not in a male-dominated industry. I have my own voice, no one can fire me from the movement.”