Durham, North Carolina: Reflections on march for Chuey Huerta (USA)
The report below is only a snapshot of what occurred on November 22nd. Our experience did not occur in isolation as a set of incommunicable facts and feelings. It is also not a historical narrative which swallows everything it does not crush. We hold out hope for some other form of thinking somewhere between the two.
“The police kill us youth, us young people, because they are afraid of us. They are afraid of the things we think and the things we know.” – one of Chuy’s friends, at the beginning of the event.
On Tuesday, November 19th 2013, Jesus “Chuy” Huerta died of gunshot wounds to the chest and head in the back seat of a Durham police vehicle. While police reported that the 17 year old was in the back of the cop car because he had been arrested for trespassing, the presence of a gun – an impossibility according to normal search procedure – has yet to be explained. The circumstances surrounding Chuy’s death have been obscured.
The following Friday, November 22nd, roughly 200 people gathered at CCB Plaza in downtown Durham to join a demonstration organized by Chuy’s friends and family. For half an hour, those closest to him grieved and remembered their son, their brother, their classmate, and friend. They cried and begged for answers. But not only.
Some of Chuy’s friends, wielding skateboards and rolling deep, trembled with rage. Though their voices shook as they choked back tears, they boldly informed the crowd that it was now – finally – time to yell “fuck the police.” The organizer announced that his intentions were to remain peaceful and safe, but that he understood that some people were angry. In a rare moment of honest solidarity he advised the crowd to respect each others wishes and space and to not stop the angry ones in the event of conflict.
The crowd flooded the street and headed directly toward the police station nearly a mile away. The march was immediately followed by cops on bicycles that had staged during the rally. Some demonstrators began to light road flares and pass them into others’ eager hands, filling the streets with smoke and the beautiful glow of fire. Participants transferred firecrackers to one another and cheered as they were lit. As the march passed through a tunnel, the noisey explosions and cheers echoed while some people covered the walls in anti-police graffiti. The situation became more desperate as police presence grew. Every tactic was thoroughly generalized and elaborated. Participants chucked explosive firecrackers at squad cars and their smoke bombs at police officers. There were no cries for nonviolence or for peace.
Once the crowd arrived at the police station, someone threw a paint bomb. Others rushed the building and smashed a half dozen large windows of the station as police watched from inside, scared and confused. The crowd erupted in cheers and applause. “For Chuy!” they yelled. These gestures emerged from an entire sea of young latin@s, of heart-broken neighbors and parents, of masked black youth, of wild skateboarders, of anarchists, of immigrants, of small children, and of excited onlookers. This context cannot be understated. The gathering was heterogenous and fluid.
Having rounded the corner of the police station, the crowd faced a brief moment of disorganization. Had this become something else? Was this a riot? The uncertainty was obvious and threatened to stop everything. What saved the march in this moment was the equal hesitation of the police, probably ensured by the materially evident anger of the crowd and the inexperience of law enforcement with rowdy demonstrations in the city. After a minute that felt much longer than a clock would have measured, the crowd came back to life and surged back the way it came.
In the front of the march, a masked demonstrator threw a hammer through the back window of a cop car, spraying glass into the vehicle and out onto the street. They were chased and a scuffle broke out in the center of the crowd between the police and demonstrators. The front section of the march sprinted off and the vandal escaped, but a few people did not. At this point, the future of the demonstration, and how it was remembered, was all on the line. Either the crowd would scurry off, fearfully and reasonably, having secured their own safety and a memorable send-off to their young friend, or it would keep pushing on and establish a new consensus: that violence against the police can be justified and desirable. Everyone agreed upon the latter, and it became clear that there is something worth more than mere safety and that this thing, whatever it is, can be built between strangers.
Now surrounded by at least 20 squad cars, cops on bicycles and motorbikes, and police on foot, everyone marched back into the city center. Youth held the streets as the entire crowd chanted “fuck the police”, at times throwing small stones, cursing, and shoving cops. The demonstration was pushed onto the sidewalk over and over again by officers trying to contain the crowd. Each time the people gathered their strength and moved back into the streets. Teenagers locked arms with adults to protect one another from arrest. A few more people were nabbed, but a few of them were quickly released without charges. As of this writing, two teenagers are facing charges from the march.
SOME THOUGHTS ON AFFECT AND GESTURE
From time to time, social antagonists, insurgents, radicals, anarchists – or whoever else – open ourselves up to the struggles of others. We do this for a lot of reasons – to push toward insurrection, to beat back liberalism, to exploit openings, to show solidarity, because we feel guilt, whatever. We participate, we intervene, we mix.
Freed of the guidelines that direct the currents of existence into the routine of daily life, the streets can become the space of possibility for a new sort of encounter. Each time, we meet this possibility with dispositions that persist seperately from our conscious intentions or articulated discourses: We are either more or less open, or more or less closed, to the affects — the unexplainable bodily stirrings that are felt, not thought — of others.
A more closed disposition leaves us relatively disempowered. We may feel ambivalent to the success or failure of a moment. We may feel indignant, cynical; mechanical, rigid. Conversely, an openness upon either entrance or departure produces a very different relationship to our power. We may act naively and we may embarrass ourselves, but we may also discover new elements, new relationships, that allow us to discover things about ourselves and the world around us. As we open ourselves, we can feel that the joy of a particular gesture – a smashed window, a lit flare, a cloud of smoke – is only a part of a larger moment that escapes every explanation. And when we step away from the uninhabitable discourses that proliferate among the different activist or militant sects, we become sensitive to the new ethical ties that link us to others: the bonds across time and space that connect the Kurdish militant occupying Northeastern Syria to the chapullers of Istanbul, the squatters of the ZAD to the drop-outs of the Albany Bulb; that connect the Brazilian favelas to the Warsaw ghettos, the Roma of Paris with the Underground Railroad.
Some endeavor to explain away these links.Others, more pathetically, have chosen to ignore these things completely. Instead, we might choose to follow this sensibility without backing down – to follow the line along which power grows.
To build materially what already exists spiritually – the ties the link across our struggles to the struggles of others – could be the most important task ahead of us.
Jesus “Chuy” Huerta
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This entry was posted on Sunday, December 1st, 2013 at 12:13 am and is filed under Autonomy.