Inside Protests: Intimate Glimpse Into NYC Events

An interview with an activist, "NYC Shut It Down" and "Black Lives Matter" reporter Ash J.

The issue that bothers many today is the violence within American police. Unfortunately, the Black community is much more exposed to the problem than the White community. For example, Black Americans killed by police twice as likely to be unarmed as White Americans. The number of Blacks killed by police this year is almost 2.5 times higher than the number of Whites if counted per million. This is something to be shared and taken to the streets! Today we are talking to Ash J, an activist, a freelance reporter, a person who is always there with the people fighting for justice. You can hardly find his own photo but there are hundreds of photos and videos taken by him all over the internet and on his Twitter account.
Good afternoon, Ash! Could you tell us about your background, how did you become an activist fighting against state violence?
Ash J
I guess I have always been interested in issues about state violence particularly against the people of color. Two years ago, I graduated from journalism school and before then, I was always into these issues so I figured I must as well use my education to further the fight against state violence. Then when Black Lives Matter popped up, I decided to join and be actively involved. Right now, I mostly do freelance reporting on the protest here in NYC on all persisting issues. I do stuff on immigration, workers rights and so on, let’s just say against oppression and humiliation in America.
Police tend to have a ‘special’ attitude towards people of color. We are often called ‘thugs’ and a violent behavior is something that is attributed to Black people. This is how they explain their own violence. What do you think about it?
Ash J
I think it is nonsense. I mean, in every colonial situation, colonial subjects were called ‘violent savages’ and ‘primitive,’ and they needed to be colonized and oppressed. There’s always been the excuse given by the oppressors to continue the oppression. Violence is caused by poverty, people living on top of each other pretty much and so on. In such situations, they do what they have to do to survive and then violence comes out of that. The people maintaining such situations, the police, then turn around and say, this is why we should be violent towards them.
The issue of police brutality against people of color is pressing. Do you think that it’s possible to change highly racist Criminal and Justice system? How close are we to putting an end to this issue?
Ash J
I think that there’s a little bit progress in the last year or two because of what happened with Eric Garner and Mike Brown, and the Black Lives Matter movement. A lot of national attention has been brought to it, some district attorneys have been kicked out of office (ex. in Chicago and Cleaveland). As far as ending police brutality totally, I believe that’s not possible unless the police are outrightly abolished. I think the police currently is a violence institution and an outright racist institution. And I think violence against the people of color is pretty much insane. So you can’t separate the violence from that institution.
There are different ways to fight against police brutality and racism in the police. What is your way?
Ash J
Mostly, I write about protests and visit them. This helps me to have a vivid description in my articles. The main goal is to spread the message and get facts out there about the daily humiliation and oppression that the people of color go through at the hands of the state, the police for example. Besides, I try to support parents and family members of people what have been shot and killed by the police. Recently, I was outside of the Brooklyn DA’s office and we had a rally for Nicholas Heyward Jr., a kid who was shot by the police in 1994 in Brooklyn, by a police officer. This kid, 13-years-old, was shot because he had a toy gun in his hand and the toy gun looked obviously like a toy gun. So, I was there recording on that rally and giving my condolences to his father who have been fighting for over two decades. Also, I reported recently on Akai Gurley who didn’t receive any sentence behind bars. I had to go in front of the Brooklyn DA’s office where the protest was being held at 12 midnight just for videotaping and getting the news on twitter, thereby spreading the message and reporting what activists are doing on the grounds.
What can a common Black person do to change the situation?
Ash J
I just want to speak in general, because not only the black community is affected. The systems in place are corrupted and should be brought down, economically, it’s capitalism, the state, police. All oppressed people should work together in bringing down capitalism, the police, state, homophobia, etc. It’s not going to end by putting a Democrat in power because oppression with a smile is still oppression. So these institutions need to be dismantled, they need to be abolished!
Would you like to add something that should be brought to light, read and heard by every American?
Ash J
Well, I think that one thing that should be brought to light is that the daily violence that the police commit, they also work hand in hand with the media. They do this to promote lies about protestors and the people of color.

In December last year, there was a protest here for Laquan McDonald, the kid who was shot 16 times in Chicago, and the video came out and a lot of outrage came out because of it. So, here in NY, there was a protest group called “NYC ShutItDown” that set up a protest which started at the grand central. So, basically, what happened was that the protestors took the streets, chanting Laquan McDonald’s name and went to several other locations in the city. At one point, when they got to Rockefeller, where the tree is and the police were following the protesters, trying to keep them on the sidelines just to make things really difficult for them. The protestors went into the Rockefeller center, went in, walked around but didn’t get anywhere near the tree. So at one point, the police put a barrier between the protesters and when the other group wanted to join the others, the police became very aggressive towards them, not giving them the way of passage. After that, 5 people (4 women, 1 man) got arrested. One woman got cut on her face and there was blood coming down her face. One of the women was with a high school student who was a minor and to my surprise, the Daily News wrote a story about it the next day headlining it as ‘The Protesters Tried To Climb The Rockefeller Center Tree’. Now that never happened. The protesters never got near the tree. There is a video to prove all this. So in perpetrating a lie, they helped the police run away with brutality. Even though some of the protesters were interviewed, and they explicitly said that none of the protesters went near the tree, they refused to change the headlines. Luckily, the video went viral and through the comments of many people, the protesters were released.

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