“If he was black, he’d be dead. You better believe it,” Denver civil rights activist Virgil Robinson said about Dylann Roof — the young white man who murdered nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina last week.
“Cops got him Burger King,” someone called out from the back. “It’s bullshit!”
Around 50 people gathered to rally against white supremacy in the wake of the Charleston shooting. It was a loosely organized event, drawing from various groups committed to anti-racism. Coffee Not Cops — an anti-cop group that meets weekly for coffee and anarchist agitation — and the Denver Branch of the International Socialist Organization (Denver ISO) were hosts of a Facebook event billed as a “Rally against White Supremacy!” until the page was deleted promptly after the event.
“America has always celebrated murderers,” said KGNU DJ and founder of Denver Cop Watch Shareef Aleem. “Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, all of ’em murderers and killed Indians. This cracker right there with the rifle in his hand —” Aleem gestured to the iconic statue of a Civil War cavalryman standing alone in front of the State Capitol. At this point, the protestors had taken shelter under trees. “Why do you think he got a rifle right there in the middle of Denver, Colorado? ‘Cus he murdered Indians. He killed ’em and made the way for white people to come right here,” Aleem said.
[pullquote]“When we’re talking about white supremacy, whiteness is not the color of someone’s skin. I want to make that clear. It is a legal, political, social, religious status.”[/pullquote]
Since the Charleston shooting, people in South Carolina and all over the country have questioned whether the confederate flag — a symbol associated with a long history of racial violence — should still fly in public. Aleem questioned whether Colorado’s own Statehouse statue is any better. A plaque beneath it explains that the cavalryman was part of a Union army attack on Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians on the banks of Sand Creek that left 150 men, women and children dead.
“This statue is such a clear example [of white supremacy]” said Josie, a community organizer. “It commemorates a soldier who is essentially a racist militia man who massacred indigenous people — a murderer. And here, you know, people don’t want to talk about the state sanctioned violence against indigenous people that still happens today.”
Aleem told the crowd that “indigenous” doesn’t just refer to Native Americans. “We’re all indigenous. We all come from Africa, no matter what shade you are, what color you are. You come out of Africa.” So race relations in America is not a black and white issue, he said: “When we’re talking about white supremacy, whiteness is not the color of someone’s skin. I want to make that clear. It is a legal, political, social, religious status.”
When Aleem was finished, Alex Landau bounded up to the front. Landau is a progressive activist and community organizer. In 2009 he was bloodied by police in the streets of Denver. Two years later, he got a $795,000 payout from the city to deal with persistent scarring and neurological damage.
Landau echoed Aleem, saying that white supremacy is “a culture [that] includes violence, disproportionate incarceration rates, racial profiling by law enforcement, and it includes brutality and homicide of community members who are black and brown who are of unacceptable origin in the eyes of individual law enforcement officers.”
For Landau, eliminating white supremacy “here locally is about removing administrative power that has supported that culture and oppressed other groups.”
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The administrative power Landau and others are working to remove is Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey.
“Part of understanding white supremacy in Denver is having an understanding that Mitch Morrissey, our current DA who has been in office for 11 years, has not once ever indicted an officer for excessive force or homicide,” said Landau.
When the DA decided not to prosecute any of the officers involved in the fatal shooting of teenager Jessica Hernandez, Landau — in his post at the Colorado Progressive Coalition website — launched a recall effort. Morrissey has acknowledged citizens’ right to organize a recall, but called the stated grounds of the petition “factual misrepresentations.” In response, Morrissey released a list of 25 officers who’ve been charged by the Denver DA’s office for force-related offenses.
Landau, on his part, takes issue with the list because 15 of the 25 cases cited took place before Morrissey took office in 2005. Two were sealed, four pertained to off-duty officers and none were fatal shootings.
Organizers need 53,925 signatures by August 4 to get the measure on the ballot in November.
Protesters moved to the sidewalk where they lit a Confederate flag and an American flag on fire, saying both are symbols of oppression. It took awhile to get the blaze going because the flags were damp.
“Come on,” someone called out, “We’re all socialists here. There’s gotta be lighters!”
Protesters brought a second, larger American flag to the edge of the road, waving the flaming flag for passing drivers to see.
The mood on the sidewalk was deviously celebratory. People chanted “fuck the flag!” and “God hates flags!” while some banged on paint-drums in unison. Demonstrators broke up into smaller groups to chat, chant or smoke cigarettes before dispersing back into the city.
A black man walking past yelled, “You’re all terrorists!”
An SUV driving by slowed down to let the whole family gawk through the window. After a moment, the Latino man behind the wheel gave a yell of approval and drove away.
Photo of Virgil Robinson by Nat Stein. Photos of flag by Direct Autonomous Media Collective (DAM).