21 activists arrested, some in U.S. Senate chamber, calling for accountability for police murder and U.S. torture

Photo by Justin Norman

Photo by Justin Norman

From Ferguson to Guantánamo: White Silence Equals State Violence
Demonstrators Interrupt U.S. Senate; Block D.C. Central Cell Block Entrance

from Witness Against Torture

Witness Against Torture held one action at two locations on January 12 in Washington, D.C. condemning domestic racism and the violation of human rights in the War on Terror.

Inside the United States Senate chamber at 2:30 pm, eleven demonstrators interrupted Senate proceedings to call for prosecutions of those who committed torture, as detailed in the U.S. Senate report on CIA interrogations. Chanting “Torture, It’s Official, Prosecute Now!” the protestors addressed the Senate before being arrested by Capitol Police. In the Senate Visitors Center, another group held banners with such slogans as “Accountability for Police Murder, Accountability for Torture.” Ten were arrested in the Visitors Center.

At 4:45 pm, members of Witness Against Torture obstructed the entrance to D.C. Metro Police headquarters for 28 minutes, in recognition that a person of color is killed by police or vigilantes every 28 hours in the United States. They recited the names of dozens of victims of police violence and spoke the words of men indefinitely detained in Guantánamo Bay calling for justice. Activists from the D.C. Hands Up Coalition stood outside chanting and singing.

Earlier at the Department of Justice, Witness Against Torture joined the Hands Up D.C. Coalition at their Justice Monday Vigil to call for the indictment of law enforcement officers who have killed people of color. The two groups brought coffins marking the deaths of three African-Americans killed by police to the doors of the Justice Department and were addressed by the mother of Emmanuel Okutuga, killed in 2011 in Silver Spring, Maryland. They also conveyed the stories of men still detained at Guantanamo, despite being clear for release by the U.S. government years ago.

“Grand juries refused even to indict the police murderers of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, just like the Justice Department has refused to prosecute CIA torturers, whose crimes are detailed in the Senate report,” said Marie Shebeck, from Chicago, Illinois. “Where is justice if we are not equal under the law, if some people can literally get away with murder and torture.”

“We came to the U.S. Senate, the Justice Department, and a D.C. jail,” says Uruj Sheikh, from New York City, “to convey with a new voice that racism and Islamophobia, torture tactics in U.S. prisons like extended solitary confinement and the torture of indefinite detention at Guantánamo are two parts of the same system of white supremacy and militarized violence.”

The actions were the culmination of a week-long series of demonstrations calling for the closure of Guantánamo Bay prison, an end to torture, mass incarceration, and police violence.

# # #
Day 8 – Monday, January 12

Today, we conducted 1 action in 2 locations. At the Capitol, one group of us went in to the Senate Gallery and another group went to the Visitor’s Center. Later, yet another group went to the Department of Justice, then proceeded to the DC Central Cell Block.

In the Gallery, eleven people got arrested. Sitting in three different locations, they waited while Senator Dick Durbin, the only Senator on the floor, made a speech that began with expressing solidarity with French terror victims and then focused on Homeland Security and the Dream Act. While he was talking about supporting the immigration reform bill, our group rose in three waves and chanting:

U.S. Torture
It’s official
Prosecute now!

It’s official
Prosecute now!

Rectal feeding
It’s official
Prosecute now!

Within five or so verses of “Prosecute now” they were ushered out of the chamber. They continued chanting while being removed into the hallway. There, they were interviewed by reporters and handcuffed. Surrounded by officers and members of the press, they called for Dick Cheney’s arrest and continued to chant loudly, “Prosecute torture,” “Torture is a crime,” and “Shut down Guantanamo,” their voices echoing through the tiled hallways as we observers walked away.

The action in the Visitors’ Center was set into motion as the observers returned from the Gallery. Banner holders and chanters took their place, forming a large circle in the middle of the open floor. The banners read, “Ferguson 2 Guantánamo: White Silence = State Violence” and “We Demand Accountability for Torture & Police Murder.” A reading took place mic-check style, with three members of the group taking turns as the leader. Police soon descended on the group, pushing observers out of the room and making arrests. Nine [or ten?] were arrested.

At 4 pm, we joined the Hands Up Coalition for their weekly vigil at the Department of Justice. With the enormous help of Tighe Berry of Code Pink, we arrived with three cardboard caskets draped in canvas, labeled with the names of Emmanuel Okutuga, Tanisha Anderson, Matthew Ajibade, three young people murdered by the police.

Olubunmi Oludipe, mother of Emmanuel Okutuga (“Mama Emmanuel,” as Marsha affectionately calls her) shared her grief with those gathered, crying at the microphone and saying, “My children do not want me to be out here because they do not think that I can get justice. But I am here because I want to help save other mothers from going through this pain. I don’t wish this on my worst enemy.”

Marsha Coleman-Adebayo of the Hands Up Coalition criticized the hypocrisy of our elected officials, who ostentatiously empathize with French victims of terror and say, “Je suis Charlie,” when we have never heard them say, “Je suis Tanisha Anderson.” She called out the “pattern of abuse, genocide, reckless abandonment of laws of this country” and invited Witness Against Torture to describe the relationship between our two campaigns.

Uruj Sheikh spoke for WAT, saying that just as the military occupies Afghanistan, so the police occupy our streets here, picking off brown and black bodies. Incarceration and murder are not solutions to the problems of our society. We challenge the white supremacy that underlies anti-black racism and islamophobia both, and we are here to break the silence.

We processed from the door of the DOJ down the block led by Emmanuel’s mother and the caskets carried by an honor guard of four, followed by the orange jump-suited and hooded detainees. As we walked we sang, “We remember all the people/the police kill/we can feel their spirits/ they are with us still.” Then several people spoke to the group, including Emmanuel’s mother, who cried as she talked about her son. She moved all of us so much.

We then took to the streets – took the streets – and marched with caskets and detainees to the Central Cell Block stopping traffic as we went, singing “I can hear my brother saying I can’t breathe/Now I’m in the struggle singing I can’t leave/Calling out the violence of the racist police/We ain’t gonna stop ’til our people are free/We ain’t gonna stop ’til our people are free.” There was a lot of visible support from people on the street.

Many of us stayed on the outside of the building, holding banners and singing. Each of us who identified as white took the mic and said why we were “breaking white silence” and invited other white people around the country to also break their silence and stand against racism. We also read the names of those black people murdered by the police this past year.

We had impromptu participants as well. One man of color who stopped to listen and watch shared that he has been brutalized twice by the police. A woman came forward as well, sharing her struggle as an African-American lawyer who cannot enter a courtroom without using hair product, as the very hair that grows from her head is criminalized.

Twenty of our group went inside the police station. They read the names of those killed by police. When they tried to go through the metal detectors, they were stopped by a black police officer. He said he agreed with the message, but asked us personally not to take it to the next level by pushing through to get arrested. He asked our group to just make their presence without coming further. Our group agreed and stayed for 28 minutes representing black men getting killed every 28 hours by a police officer, security agent, or vigilante.

Later in the evening, we met in a circle that included Mama Emmanuel. She thanked us and told us about how the police destroyed evidence, saying it’s as if her son weren’t killed by the police. She said she believes her son’s spirit is coming back from the grave to keep his case alive.

At this writing, our 21 comrades remain in jail. The word is that they will be there for the night. We can’t wait to see them soon.

As the week comes to a close, we are all exhausted, grateful, and so very moved. We hope we don’t have to come back again next year, but we are prepared to do so.

When I say we are, you say together. When I say we are, you say one family…