Black Protest Organizers Share the Awful Aftermaths of Police Targeting

After protests end, many Black organizers face serious repercussions. Three Black organizers share their experiences as police targets and what came after.

Police Targets
Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

Police Targets

When thinking of the 2014 Ferguson protests, many forget their political prisoners. The positive impact of the Black Lives Matter movement did not save Ferguson protestors—who rose up in the wake of the killing of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old Black man—from getting lost in the emotional burden and politics of social justice. In fact, the last political prisoner from Ferguson, Josh Williams, is seeking parole after serving an eight-year sentence for a charge fabricated with little evidence. When Williams was locked away, he was only 19—still a teenager. Years later, many Black youth organizers and activists are fighting to protect their rights and personal freedom.

The 2020 protests in the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others slain by police and racial terror catalyzed change toward equity across the world. While protests decreased toward the end of the year, many Black youth change-makers are currently facing serious repercussions for challenging the system. 

Over the course of the summer, police used many tactics to suppress the protests and subsequent demands of the Black Lives Matter movement. Between May 26 and June 5 alone, Amnesty International documented 125 incidents of police brutality at protests across the nation. The assaults spurred a number of articles that educated the public on police suppression tactics such as kettling and the use of unmarked vehicles. These tactics, which use herding techniques to confine and isolate groups of protesters, along with unidentifiable police transports, traumatized victims who were taken for targets and observers. In some cases, police targeted and isolated individuals they considered leaders of the movement. 

Between July and August 2020, Tianna Arata, Derrick “Dwreck” Ingram, and Jalen Kobayashi  were targeted by  local police officers for demanding justice and seeking systemic change. They spoke with Complex about their experiences and the unfortunate aftermaths of the 2020 summer protests.

“I intuitively knew they were coming for me,” Tianna says. “I was targetable.” 

The young college student always knew she wanted to positively influence people. Her nomadic upbringing also gave her a sense of open-mindedness and optimism. Ultimately, these qualities propelled her to take a stand against systemic racism after the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. 

Tianna says it had been a while since she led a community protest, though she started organizing at 14 years old. During the start of the George Floyd uprising, the oblivious peace in her then-California residence, San Luis Obispo,  propelled her into action. With her mom and friends, she led a small two-hour demonstration at a community gathering where residents were showing off their vintage cars. The crowd attempted to silence the demonstrators using their voices and car horns. Tianna recounts one person shouting for her to leave the city if she wasn’t happy there. She says this same person later tried to hit her and her mother with his car. According to Tianna, the police were aware of this incident, yet they allowed the perpetrator to get away, setting a precedent for what was to continue over the summer. 

After asking thrice what she was being charged with, Tianna says they responded, “We don’t know yet.”

By July 21, Tianna says she had led and attended many actions, so the rally and march she organized in response to a county sheriff saying, “I’ve never seen any indication that systemic racism exists in this county,” was likely far from surprising to SLO police officials. In the park where the rally was held, Tianna says, “We were being heard and listened to by members of the community. It was a validating experience.” When the march component was over, Tianna and her friends stayed behind to make sure everyone properly dispersed. As the crowd dissipated, Tianna recalls police slowly circling her and her comrades from afar.

Moments later, SUVs came out of nowhere. Tianna says six officers walked up to her, grabbed her, and put her in a van. After asking thrice what she was being charged with, Tianna says they responded, “We don’t know yet.” She was first taken to a holding cell and eventually  to the county jail, where she was held for several hours. Tianna felt supported knowing that 100 people were outside demanding her release. She was released that night and charged with a slew of felonies and misdemeanors, including false imprisonment for a protest held on the freeway. The felonies have since been reduced to 13 misdemeanors, including six counts of obstruction of a thoroughfare, five counts of false imprisonment, one count of unlawful assembly, and one count of disturbing the peace by loud noise.

On Aug. 15, moments before Jalen was targeted and arrested by police, he delivered a speech at a downtown rally. That day became one of the most violent protests of summer 2020. Many videos and firsthand accounts identified the police as exceedingly aggressive. Jalen was a witness to much of this violence.

Jalen Kobayashi

When Jalen was growing up in Humboldt Park on Chicago’s West Side, he considered being a rapper, then a teacher, then a thoracic surgeon, and even a politician. Seeing violence in his community caused him to think about diverse ways to resonate with different community members; playing baseball helped him value teamwork and hard work. Jalen simply seeks to serve people. “I want to make people feel good about themselves. I want to get us free with resources. I want to be able to talk to anyone,” he says. 

Embracing and learning about his Afro-indigenous identity helped him envision the person he wants to be, and fuels his desire to connect with people through his gift of mediation, service, and oration.  At the start of the August demonstration, Jalen and Alycia Kamil represented GoodKids Mad City at the rally. Afterwards, they began to march with the rest of the crowd, until they were kettled by officers. As Jalen explains, “They wouldn’t let anyone leave unless they’d been searched and patted down”—otherwise known as stopped and frisked

Earlier, witnesses informed Jalen that police officers were pointing in his direction. However, Jalen says he was preoccupied with looking out for his friend Alycia and calming fellow protestors who were having panic attacks. Moments later, he and Alycia were aggressively captured by police officers. This all happened in the late afternoon; Jalen was not released from jail until around 3 a.m. the following day. During his time in jail, Jalen attempted to assert his rights, but he says the officers present were dismissive, and even expressed disbelief that his last name, Kobayashi, was his own. Knowing that many had set up a small encampment right outside of the jail encouraged him. He was charged with inciting mob action, but with legal assistance,  the charge was dropped.

On Aug. 7, the only thing Dwreck knew to do was pray. He prayed and FaceTimed his parents, who live elsewhere. “My mom told me to make sure I had on fresh underwear in case I got arrested,” he says.

Dwreck spent much of his younger years watching shows like The Today Show and Face the Nation, as well as stanning Rachel Maddow. The activist created a pathway to leadership for himself. From running for secretary in middle school to leading his first protest in high school, Dwreck was determined to work for the people. “I was politically active because I grew up in many white spaces,” he says, “I felt like I had to be [a] representative for those who didn’t have the same resources.” Additionally, he was one of the few Black students on his high school wrestling team, where he received his nickname. To this day, the name Dwreck sparks pride for the Black students who joined the team after him. 

Dwreck’s inclination to create space for change and his history of volunteering mobilized him to co-found Warriors in the Garden that summer. The organization has led numerous actions in New York City to nonviolently combat police brutality and systemic racism. Consequently, Dwreck’s public leadership caught the eye of the New York City Police Department, which he says singled him out as a target. 

At 7 a.m on Aug.7,  Dwreck woke up to knocking at his door. When he looked through the peephole, he saw a police officer he recognized from a protest. Through the door, the officer asked for his name; he indicated he had a warrant, which prompted Dwreck to ask him to slide it under the door. While waiting for the warrant, Dwreck called his co-organizers, who encouraged him to go on Instagram Live. He took the advice, and recorded for hours. 

Eventually the officer said he did not have a warrant, but probable cause. Knowing his rights, Dwreck did not open the door. Over the next few hours, more and more officers gathered outside of his apartment, on his fire escape, on nearby rooftops, and in empty apartments across the street. Meanwhile, a crowd of friends, building residents, and general supporters of the BLM movement gathered outside of his apartment complex to support him. 

Being a Black youth organizer is sometimes heartbreaking. We know what we need to be free, but it is not immediately achievable.

The audible chanting and support encouraged Dwreck and kept him grounded. At one point, a Black officer on the fire escape attempted to get Dwreck to comply. Dwreck told the officer, “Do not let them kill me.” The views of guns aimed at him from the placements of the many officers surrounding the building worried him. He says he even caught the sight of a drone outside of his window. 

Through FaceTime, Dwreck and his parents sought to prepare for what could come, until his phone line was cut off by the police. Then Dwreck realized his calls were only being pushed to the terrorism and hostage negotiation unit. Between the blocked calls, drug dogs, battering rams, and emotional manipulation that ensued over the course of six hours, Dwreck believes that the police did everything in their power to intimidate him and others protesting in NYC. Later on, Dwreck was notified that he had been charged with several misdemeanors; as of now, the case is still open. 

In regards to the incident, district attorney spokesman Danny Frost said their office “does not condone the extraordinary tactics employed by police on [that day],” and “these actions were disproportionate to the alleged offense that occurred two months ago, and unjustifiably escalated conflict between law enforcement and the communities we serve.”

Although time has passed since the police targeted and terrorized Tianna, Dwreck, and Jalen, the effects are still present. “The police and judicial system can try to do anything to destroy your life,” Tianna says. That realization is a heavy burden to carry. 

According to New York attorney Kenneth Montgomery, reliance on police recitation in the courtroom poses the biggest problem in cases involving targeted protesters. “[Protesters] have the constitutional right to protest and assemble peaceably, which is guaranteed in the First Amendment of the American constitution.” He explains, “However, those rights are challenged when the government claims you have violated those laws and you have a militarized law enforcement culture and a complicit government.” 

Montgomery identifies disorderly conduct, obstructing governmental administration, and unlawful assembly as the common charges placed on protesters. On contesting these charges, he says, “You either are going to trial or you’re convincing the government through their own evidence that they are mistaken.” For cases that result in trials, he advises, “In addition to traditional defenses like reasonable doubt and credibility, you should most certainly have a political defense, since it’s the pink elephant in the room.” 

Possible legal repercussions cause many to debate the risk of protesting and speaking out, which Tianna, Dwreck, and Jalen say is the point of targeting. Following his own experience, Dwreck says, “I believe police tactics as such intimidate people from protesting. It’s a terrifying thing. At the same time, it also made people more engaged to know their rights.” 

“The experience was harmful,” Jalen says, “and it caused me to think about things differently, as all harmful experiences do.” Afterwards, he took some space to focus on himself and his wellness. Tianna and Dwreck endeavored to do the same. 

At first, Dwreck disassociated from what happened. A Lupus flare-up that occurred two days later was a signal that the experience had impacted him more than he thought; he hadn’t had a flare-up in years. Still, he kept organizing and protesting because he felt like he had to. Eventually, he said to himself, “The movement doesn’t rest solely on me. What will make me OK?” This question catapulted him into therapy and a renewed commitment to self-care. 

For Tianna, the imminent terror has only recently eased up. “I was homeless while going through this, initially,” she says. “People were showing up to our house saying, ‘Who do you think you are, [N-word]?’ Someone even tried to break in.” Uncomfortable with staying in her house, Tianna and her mother hopped the couches of relatives and family friends and stayed in their car for weeks. They only recently found secure housing.

Tianna, Dwreck, and Jalen want people to understand that Black youth organizers are real people with real feelings and real experiences. “Being a Black youth organizer is sometimes heartbreaking,” Jalen says. “We know what we need to be free, but it is not immediately achievable. The first thing you see when you look someone up is what they did and not what they have been through.” The media is rampant with narratives vilifying protestors as agents of chaos, thugs, or other tropes; hardly ever are stories told from an unbiased lens. 

All three interview subjects believe society might view Black youth organizers as a “threat.” Jalen adds, “They don’t know any experience similar to ours. They can’t understand so they make assumptions.” Still, self-validation and community drive them through the adversity they face, during their fight for justice and freedom. “It’s my life, my dad’s, my granny’s. Humans deserve an infrastructure that allows us to grow and have basic dignity,” Tiana says. 

After the traumatizing events of Aug. 7, when police descended on his home, Dwreck says he “leads from a place of hope.” “We haven’t made all of the progress we need to, but we have made so much. From sundown towns to women’s rights to LGBTQ+ rights, Black people have been through so much, and still we are resilient and fighting.” 

Jalen shares that he will never give up on Black and brown people. “I want everyone to have the world they want to see before they die,” he says. 

Tianna, Dwreck, and Jalen are sure of one thing: in their dream world, there are no police. Instead they envision safety, health, peace, joy, community gatherings, systems that allow people to take care of their neighbors, and true liberty and justice for all.

“Whoever you are, make sure you are checking on your people,” Tianna says. “Be kind to people you encounter. You never know what people are going through.” 

To support Tianna, Dwreck, and Jalen in navigating their trials and healing, follow their social media, donate to their causes and/or to them directly, and join them in the fight to protect Black lives. 

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