Do Our Lives Matter Before We’re Shot At?

Saying you’re an ally to the Black Lives Matter movement doesn’t fully prepare you for being shoved to the ground during a peaceful protest and having a police officer kneel on your back for trying to protect a child from police brutality.

Like Mr. George Floyd, I couldn’t breathe.

Unlike Mr. Floyd, I didn’t think I was going to die because I am a middle-aged, disabled, white woman.

This is how our brothers and sisters of color suffer — and too often die — on a daily basis at the hands of police. I glimpsed a fraction of that ongoing horror while pushed face down into the ground with the cop kneeling on my back. The BLM organizers deal with this brutality and worse every day.

The sad irony is that the peaceful protesters are being attacked because they want answers about a police brutality case.

This wasn’t in Portland, Chicago, or New York City. This was in a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama. Not even in Birmingham proper — this was in a city called Hoover; a city created out of white flight. A city with a sign placed on the city hall grounds stating, “A Great Place to Live”. Perhaps it is, just not for black people.

Hoover, Alabama has been the subject of some controversy since the shooting death of Emantic J. Bradford, Jr. on Thanksgiving Day, 2018 in the Riverchase Galleria Mall. The protesting of his wrongful death, and the subsequent lawsuit had been quiet until the recent Black Lives Matter protesting over George Floyd’s horrific death. That’s when some young activists took up the cause to demand justice for EJ and started protesting again, using the momentum to hopefully gain media attention but to little avail. Cell A65 has been gathering on the public spaces of Hoover City Hall, along Highway 31 since May 30.

At each protest the organizer, Satura Dudley, has been arrested. On July 4, she was arrested before the protest even started, grabbed at gunpoint as she exited her car in the library parking lot (the primary parking area).

Another woman, Erica Robbins, was also arrested and charged with disorderly conduct — she is the Executive Director of Be a Blessing, a community program that supports the homeless in Birmingham and is usually the person that manages the bail fund for the protesters. Since May 30th, there have been over 200 arrests, each time the police escalating the violence, as shown by videos posted to Facebook by various protesters and even now on the Hoover Police Department Facebook page itself.

Photo courtesy Tim Majors

On July 18, police allowed counter protesters to stand on the sign of City Hall and jeer at the protesters. These counter protesters were protected by bicycle racks acting as barricades, as well as police officers wearing Blue Lives Matter masks. The protesters were not allowed to approach the sign after the counter protesters left — and then they were pulled off the sign and arrested. Even a chaplain from the children’s hospital was tackled. That video went viral locally — because he is a 63-year-old white man. Little to no other media attention has been paid to these protests other than the occasional small blurb on a local news website or Facebook page along with the requisite nasty comment section.

On July 25, another group called Alabama Rally Against Injustice protested against what happened on July 17. This time, the barricades were placed in such a way that the protesters were forced to go into the street around them, an arrestable offense.

Aerial view of protest showing barricades, “allowed” areas and areas of altercations
Aerial view of protest showing barricades, “allowed” areas and areas of altercations
Image courtesy of Scott Landers

After much meditation, I decided that I needed to be there. Not just to see for myself and experience it, but to use my privilege as best I could. To push past my fear that my disabled body would be a hindrance rather than a help. To push past any fears of COVID-19 transmission (everybody wore masks at the protest and remained at a distance). I made a conscious decision that day to allow myself to be arrested if need be, to protect black bodies, specifically Satura Dudley, the organizer and persistent target of Hoover PD’s ire. The videos of the day tell the story, and there are plenty out there, including from my own phone as I was the last to be arrested and the people filming were chased away before they could record it. (Warning, these videos can be triggering to some people.)

Unlike the people of color protesting, I was given many chances to walk away, to just go home. More than any other person there. I was warned as soon as I neared the barricade that if I crossed it, I would be arrested. I was warned again when I did go around it, but by then the younger people were already on the *sacred* City Hall sign that only white supremacists, apparently, are allowed to stand on and the scene was chaotic. It’s only a few minutes, but it feels like hours.

When I saw Aliandra, the 17-year-old daughter of a rescue associate, being tackled by multiple policemen, I started toward her, protesting that treatment. A legal observer nearby asked me her name. As I was giving what information I knew, a cop said, “If she’s a minor you shouldn’t have brought her.” “She’s not MY kid! But she’s still A child. Would you want YOUR daughter treated like that? Get them off her!” I yelled at him.

I’ve known Ali since she was 11, and in my mind, she was still that little girl, I hadn’t seen her in such a long time. I am just walking around with my cane, getting in the way, checking on people, and the police aren’t paying me any mind. My phone was in my hand, and I started filming and saw a girl who had been pepper sprayed sitting in handcuffs, I saw another girl in the street having a seizure with no medics to be found. I watched the cops carry a woman hog-tied to the curb. I was utterly horrified at what I was watching, and all these people were kids, young women. The Mom Rage set in.

I turned and saw the last of the black women on the sign, Satura waving the Black Lives Matter flag, and then the police coming for her. On one side of me is little Ali — sure she has a black belt in karate and is fighting off four cops, very well in fact but that didn’t matter to me. At that point, she was just little Ali to my Mom Rage.

Satura Dudley stands triumphantly on the Hoover City Hall sign. Moments later she will be pulled down.

On the other is Satura — No black bodies left alone. Especially Satura; she is a target for the Hoover police and has been arrested at least 20 times, and each time they’ve hurt her worse and worse. She’s only 20 years old, slightly older than Ali. As they pulled her down I moved toward her and put her into a bear hug. “They will not hurt you while I’m here. I have you.” The police pushed me away, forced me to release her and they took her into custody, carrying her upside down like an animal.

I turned toward Aliandra, an officer following me. I know I’m in for it now, I’ve touched their sacred cow. I’m screaming for them to stop hurting Ali, that she’s just a child. She has “Seizures” written on her arm, for God’s sake. I am in full Mother Mode. DO NOT HURT THESE CHILDREN OR YOU SHALL FEEL MY RAGE. I’m hurting, I’m limping, I’m trying not to use my cane as a weapon as I know what that will do to me. “Ma’am, get off the grass.” They’re being “gentle” with me. I don’t know how many more times I’m warned. At one point, one of the cops counts to three and then took me down. They took my cane from me and I was tackled from behind.

As a survivor of domestic violence, this puts me into fight-or-flight mode. Once upon a time, I’d have cowered at the idea of a man being violent to me. Now, I fight. I fight like hell. But I’m still screaming for them to let go of Aliandra.

Honestly, I don’t know what was going through my mind other than GET OFF OF HER, GET OFF OF ME. One, or two of them are on my back, knee (perhaps?) pushing me down into the ground and a hand pushing my face into the grass. For a few seconds — it wasn’t long — I couldn’t breathe. “I can’t breathe. Oh my god. This is what it feels like. I can’t breathe. OH MY GOD I CAN’T BREATHE.” Then the weight lifts and they say, “We’re going to help you to your feet now.”

I am utterly enraged and don’t want their help. I don’t want these assholes touching me, much less lifting me to my feet. WHY did they feel the need to put zip ties AND handcuffs on me? What could I do after they took my cane and flipped me around? I don’t know why I went in a separate car and not on the bus with the other protesters either. Because I’m disabled? Is that why I was afforded special treatment? I certainly didn’t get much special treatment at the jail.

I do not remember the ride to the jail. I have narcolepsy, and I must have dozed from all the stress. Satura was already at the jail, in solitary. Of course, without my cane to lean on, I needed to use the walls for support. I asked for my phone call three times. I knew that Cell A65 already arranged for bail and legal support, so I wasn’t worried about that, but I WAS concerned about my dogs, all rescues and all of them seniors. I hadn’t arranged to have someone check on them later in the night, as I’d gone to feed them earlier. I never got my phone call.

Seventeen of us were in the holding cell, social distancing rules be damned. The girls who were pepper sprayed were never given any kind of medical attention. I did my best with the water from the toilet/water fountain combo until we were given some sort of wipes. The girl who had had seizures was given a mat to lie on after we begged for it. Kaylen was also seriously injured, and we begged for a couple of hours for a bedroll for her, finally getting it after she started vomiting.

We begged for drinking water for a couple of hours, and we finally got some, but I was told this was not normal. They had been denied water during prior arrests — in the heat of an Alabama summer. We asked for a mat for me to lie on as well, as my body was having muscle spasms (part of my disability — fibromyalgia), and I was denied.

We were able to get a fruit cup for one of the women who had type-2 diabetes, as she started to have blood sugar issues. Apparently, she had a blood sugar crisis during a previous arrest, and they left her lying on the floor for quite some time without medical attention. The Hoover Jail is rife with civil rights violations.

It took more than five hours to process and start releasing us. I was one of the first to be released and came directly home after getting a ride to my car in the library parking lot. I needed to write down everything I remembered while it was still fresh in my mind. I needed to not be in that jail any longer, even to take part in the “after-jail party” that happens in the lobby with the rest of the protesters. I’m old. I’m tired. I’m not used to this. I was up way past my bedtime and worried about my dogs (a friend was monitoring social media and found out what happened and took care of them for me).

Now, a few days later, I am still furious. I have been tweeting and posting about these protests for weeks and weeks on end, and no one seems to care. Not the local media, not the national media, no one. These protesters were attacked and arrested on the same day that the national media gathered a couple of hours away to honor Rep. John Lewis in Selma, Alabama. These kids are continuing John Lewis’ legacy, in his home state, and being ignored. Hoover, Alabama, and its police department are crushing their civil rights, their First Amendment rights and NO ONE CARES.

I am writing this so that hopefully, by reading it, you care.

“What a radical idea. What a revolutionary notion. This idea that any of us ordinary people, a young kid from Troy, can stand up to the powers and principalities and say no, this isn’t right, this isn’t true. This isn’t just. We can do better. On the battlefield of justice, Americans like John, Americans like reverends Lowery and C.T. Vivian, two other patriots we lost this year, liberated all of us. The many Americans came to take for granted. America was built by people like that. America was built by John Lewises. He, as much as anyone in our history brought this country a little bit closer to our highest ideals.” — Barack Obama, at John Lewis’ funeral 7/30/2020

Postscript: This past weekend (8/15/2020) another dual protest occurred — a die-in at the Riverchase Galleria mall and the usual protest at City Hall. The protesters at the mall were pepper-sprayed, tased and attacked in full view of shoppers for practicing civil disobedience. Multiple views are available to see how the police came in to arrest the 10 people participating in this secret (aka not advertising on Facebook) protest.

At city hall, a credible threat of a shooting after one of our protesters heard the unmistakable sound of a large-caliber gun being locked and loaded in the parking lot. We immediately created a perimeter of OUR OWN BODIES around the people of color to protect them while the police just sat in their cars. Not one of them moved to even check the threat and see if we were safe.

Yeah…so…I’m guessing that’s what it will take.

Pagan, Buddhist. Dog Lover. If you gotta be stuck in Alabama, try to make it better. #BlackLivesMatter #MentalHealthMatters

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