Antelope Valley Stolen Lives Tour Report

It was a real struggle putting together this “No More Stolen Lives” event this weekend.  We were having complications with student organizations at the local community college and could not secure a venue.  However, through our local coalition building we were able to get access to a building in a local strip mall, the Self Improvement Community Development Center, through Justice or Else.  We reached out broadly for support from local activists and organizations and were able to put together a panel that included the mother in law of Leroy Browning, who was killed by Palmdale Sheriffs on December 20, Nikki Uhuru, fellow SMIN community activist, Student Minister Ansar Muhammad of the Nation of Islam and Marc C. Hodges, Attorney at Law and local community activist and supporter Cynthia Beverly of One Way UP to discuss mass incarceration and police terror.  Leroys’ mother, Hazel, sister, Angel and girlfriend and mother of his children, Sky were in attendance as well, though not on the panel.  There were some shortcomings, but overall the event was a success and hopefully a steppingstone to another speaking event in the near future at Antelope Valley College.

            We had actually been pushing a panel discussion of this sort with Antelope Valley’s Black Student Union a year ago and were not able to gain any traction, however the new BSU leadership seemed more open to the idea but nothing ever materialized so we decided to look elsewhere for sponsorship and found it with the local Justice or Else chapter and formed a coalition with them. 

            Stop Mass Incarceration Networks, Cliff Ross hit the campus everyday passing out fliers and talking to people, even set up office hours at the campus cafeteria.  Nikki Uhuru, being a member of the BSU was able to write up a proposal for access to a venue on campus and invited us out to a meeting to publicize the event on the 26th and seek support for an event on campus at a later date.  Myself, Cliff, Nikki and Alexandria all attended the Friday meeting before our event at the community center.

            We all staggered in late at different times 10-15 minutes apart and seated ourselves as polite and quietly as possible, completely disrupting the meeting.  They happened to be discussion the local mayoral race and the importance of voting both locally and nationally.  We simply looked at each other with childlike, mischievous grins anticipating our chance to stand and challenge the narrative being presented.

            Towards the end of the meeting, Nikki gave a general outline of our organization what we stand for, and why we need their support for the speaking tour. I followed with a scathing condemnation of this system and its consistent attacks on the poor and oppressed while denouncing the electoral system and its impotence in terms of ending the oppression faced by the most vulnerable oppressed groups. Cliff finished it off by reading the statement by the students of SF State calling for a national student strike on April 21. The crowd reacted with enthusiasm, support, clinched fists and nodding heads. They voted to secure a venue for the speaking tour on campus to be announced. We passed out fliers for the event scheduled for the next day and I thought, “We got ‘em, we will definitely see some of these people tomorrow at the community center”

            March 26th came and there we were, all four of us, and three SMIN members that came up from Los Angeles to support, standing outside of the community center at 10:50 am, the only ones there.  Slowly our panelists started trickling in, followed by some community members.  By 11:15 we were ready to go with almost all 30 seats filled, some local activists, basic folks from the community, close relatives of Leroy Browning, local press, and even two local politicians running for office. I was shocked to see not one person from the community college showed up. There was one guy in attendance from Los Angeles representing a group called Critical Resistance who was there to talk to us about a campaign to stop the building of a woman’s prison, slated to be built in this community and asked for our support.

            I made the opening statement, followed by Salena, the mother of Leroy’s girlfriend who has been active and speaking at our demonstrations and becoming a budding activist herself.  She told the crowd about the Leroy not mentioned in the press, the great father who loved to dance with his children, who loved her daughter, who was a dependable friend always there for others in their time of need, whom she could always call and ask for anything. The audience was visibly moved, especially Leroys’ mother, sister and girlfriend as she recounted stories and anecdotes of the slain young man.  The panelists were sharp and intelligent in responding to my questions regarding mass incarceration and police brutality, followed by a stirring speech from Cynthia Beverly, whose two sons are both facing audacious sentences in prison that moved Christie to tears.

Cynthia presented a bag full of letters from incarcerated people facing ridiculous terms in prison, one who has been inside for 40 years on a 10 to life sentence.  She is attempting to reach out to the families of these people to organize an event in which their families from all over California can hold a type of No More Stolen Lives event so they can be heard as well.  This is an endeavor that I think the Stop Mass Incarceration Network should get behind.  We in the Antelope Valley are in full support of her effort. 

To end the speech and panel session, Cliff from the Revolution Club and Stop Mass Incarceration Network  made a plug for Revolution Newspaper and encouraged the folks in attendance to get into the revolution and come to our next meeting.  This was followed by a break in which attendees were encouraged to write questions for the panel and get a bite to eat.  Meals were kindly provided by the Nation of Islam.  The crowd, which by now had thinned out to a few had great questions for the panel that turned into an intimate discussion about just about every kind of injustice perpetrated by this system and how we should deal with it.  Sky spoke passionately and eloquently about her struggles since her children’s father was murdered, her dissatisfaction with the system and the mayoral candidate in attendance and challenged us and Minister Muhammad on how we expect to get the “hood niggas” in here to fight this system.  She wrapped up with a powerful poem hours after the event was scheduled to end.

Though the crowd was great and responsive, one thing that bothered me was the lack of young people in attendance.  Most of the audience was well over 40 and we have to sum up why we failed to get much buy in from the younger generation.  Hopefully we will be able to pull in more young folks when we hold the event on the college campus. Another lesson we learned was, never invite people to break and eat when we expect them to come back, especially when we are already over the allotted time.  Overall, we think the event was a success, Leroy was portrayed in a positive light, Salena represented the family well, our panelists were excellent and we even made some great connections with other activists we may be able to work with in the future.

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