Photography courtesy of the author
Tuesday June 2, Plague Day 81, re Curfew Night 1
Here’s what didn’t happen last night: after the president held up a Bible and suggested mobilizing the United States military against the United States people, and the mayor of New York imposed a curfew of 11 PM, tanks didn’t roll up Broadway, not yet, and lines of city officials with white in their hair didn’t link arms to protect the young people fighting for Black life, which is all life, not yet—but at the edges of what did happen, you could feel what might, just ahead, just as you can always feel what’s happened already, like the Lenape councils someone invoked in front of the Stonewall late in the gold afternoon, just before everyone knelt on the street, or the scaffolds at the end of Wall and the execution grounds where the halls of justice are now, where the land-thieves with my ancestors among them demonstrated what’s to be done with rebellion.
Here’s what did roll up Broadway last night: the people I don’t usually see at demonstrations, who didn’t pick up duplicate signs from a pile and walk along the permitted route, framed by the police barricades that always remind me of the walls of a mouse maze in someone’s experiment. Before these past days, I’d forgotten the joy of moving through the city yelling for the end of state murder (this is what all demonstrations are about really, no?) without the permission of the murderers, the edges of the group fluid and alive, so people can come in and out, the people at the front deciding where next, depending on what’s unfolding right now. There was none of that attitude of petition that’s mysteriously persisted in “resistance” movements, even since the election of 2016, none of that insistence on speaking to some delusion of a manager—these were people who knew there’s no manager, who weren’t petitioning anybody, who know that this city belongs to the people who live in it, all of us, and that state murder as an everyday practice within it isn’t going to end through petition. We outside, I heard more than once, from people laughing, their faces lit with a joy I haven’t seen in person before last night. We outside.
I was by myself and biking at the edges and could hear people talking about politics and power with that lit energy of something getting born. They were angry in that way unmaimed people can be, young as they were and are, angry on behalf of life instead of death—they were playing music and laughing and saying the name of the man we all watched the police murder, as if they knew him, so of course they had to be out like this, curfew or no, how could you not get in the street if they come for somebody who’s yours, somebody you love. Someone was playing NWA’s “Fuck tha Police,” someone not born yet when I heard it blasting out of cars in Teaneck, New Jersey, when another cop killed Phillip Pannell thirty Aprils ago—thirty years of Confederacy not undone, and even the first Confederacy another grinding reiteration of those first colonial deathways so many of us still can’t see. They were every color there is, and that New York streetlight off black pavement on a spring night wrapped all their shoulders together as they’d come up to a new intersection, where other New Yorkers would honk their horns and lean out of cars to cheer them.
“Someone was playing NWA’s “Fuck tha Police,” someone not born yet when I heard it blasting out of cars in Teaneck, New Jersey, when another cop killed Phillip Pannell thirty Aprils ago—thirty years of Confederacy not undone, and even the first Confederacy another grinding reiteration of those first colonial deathways so many of us still can’t see. They were every color there is, and that New York streetlight off black pavement on a spring night wrapped all their shoulders together as they’d come up to a new intersection, where other New Yorkers would honk their horns and lean out of cars to cheer them.”
So many people have lost their jobs now, but the carpenters and glaziers had lots of work on Broadway after Sunday night, replacing broken glass and putting up boards on the stores where you can buy a shirt for the cost of a week’s living wage—you could still see the broken glass glint in the street as the demonstration made its way north, and with the rise at Canal, a.k.a. the bank of the buried brook, you could see hundreds more demonstrators up ahead, and feel the joy when the different groups would join each other, their voices drowning out the sound of the police helicopters watching them and sucking the location data out of their phones. By this time it was half past ten, half an hour until curfew, and the lines of half a dozen unmarked police cars with sirens dashing around the intersections would wait at the lights for the marchers to pass, then tear through.
Here’s what didn’t happen then: these people who couldn’t stay home when the state murdered somebody didn’t spend the night in the city that’s theirs, trying to holler loud enough so everyone else would agree that regular life will not proceed at least until the other cops who knelt on George Floyd’s body are arrested—at most, not until this long colonial death-chapter is ended. As we came up to 23rd Street it was almost eleven, and the group was much larger; Orderly or disorderly? I’d heard the police radio dispatcher asking when I listened Sunday night, which seemed to mean Breaking things or no? (Breaking the sleep of people who think electing a man who recommends shooting in the leg vs. the heart will save us didn’t seem included in this.) So by this standard the group was boisterous and orderly, and the police cars speeded up and cops in riot helmets jumped out and formed themselves into a line, close, so they could grab someone and throw him face down on the ground and lash his wrists behind his back, this is the law, and so the demonstrators could throw a couple of plastic water bottles at them, and yell to each other Don’t be scared, Don’t be scared.
In that New York way, another block is another reality—so I’d dip a block west and nothing was happening, or another block west and four kids were breaking a store window, sometimes as a cop car was driving by. When you’re sitting at home, the cops seem obsessed with the looting; at night, on the street, they don’t seem to care about it much at all. What they care about is that word the president used so often while speaking with the governors, the colonial cornerstone: domination.
I’ve been in a curfew once before, in Bethlehem, on New Year’s Eve in 2002; some generous gracious professors gave a party for us visitors at a local restaurant, interrupted by yelling through mounted loudspeakers and tear gas and Israeli soldiers pointing their rifles at us from little tanks we helped pay for. The scared taxi drivers had to try to get us back to our hotel running the gauntlet of the alleys of tear gas and soldiers shooting up into apartment buildings. The first night of curfew in Manhattan wasn’t like that—there was no announcement, 11 o’clock came and went, little groups of demonstrators peeled off onto the side streets to holler elsewhere or to go home. But this did happen: on 28th Street, just east of Seventh Avenue, someone in fine New York tradition was blocking traffic as they tried to parallel park, and someone else had gotten out of the big black SUV to direct the driver when to cut the wheel—except they were soldiers, US Army, in uniform, three on the sidewalk, in masks and gloves, one directing, one behind the wheel.
Someone later told me there’s a Guard post near there. Two skinny boys laughed nervously when they saw them—I doubt they were sixteen yet. They send you for the riots? one asked the director, and he said no. But you goin, right? the boy said.
Tonight the curfew’s set for 8 PM instead of 11. One of the many things I learned in Bethlehem: a curfew isn’t to keep people safe. It’s a way to hide the results of impunity, and a strategy of domination. Last night I kept wishing for lines of New Yorkers with white in their hair to stand between the lines of police and the demonstrators—I wanted to hear in New York accents, “A curfew? Here? You’re kidding me, right?” Today on Twitter you can see the unbought undominated city officials I’m so grateful for, Jumaane Williams and Corey Johnson and Brad Lander, hesitating at the edge of the decisions we all have to make when the law becomes illegal, or is it the other way around. They don’t send out a notice telling you that. You have to figure it out for yourself. Ideally you figure it out before the space in which to do that closes.
Two white women outside my ground-floor West Village window just now, just after the beautiful hollering caravan went down Seventh:
“Okay so we’ll go. We’ll cheer from a distance.”
“It’s so beautiful. But holy shit. Broadway and Houston? Like, the destruction.”
“But I mean, it feels like it’s the entire city.”
May it be the entire city, taking care of each other, ASAP. May domination as a way of living together be coming to an end.
“Before it got dark I went downtown and saw three white boys with baseball caps over furrowed brows trying to wash the words “Black Lives Matter” off the pedestal of the George Washington statue on the steps of Federal Hall—across from the stock exchange, where the cops lined up side by side the night they evicted Occupy from Zuccotti Park, just in case anyone might be confused as to what’s actually being served and protected here.”
Wednesday June 3, Plague day 82, re Curfew Night 2
Since the plague started I’ve been getting texts from the city, about precautions and masks—but I found out from Twitter that the curfew had been bumped up from 11 PM to 8 for Tuesday night, which took me back to the ancient lessons of playground machismo: You’ll take this? Okay, how about this? Except the bullying wasn’t between eight-year-olds but between the officialdom of my city and its eight million people. The text from the city that day made some mental health suggestions, but no suggestions about what to do when the order comes down to criminalize protest of state murder. I had to find those suggestions elsewhere.
I left my apartment about seven and followed the sound of voices, a big group of demonstrators coming down Sixth the wrong way, taking a left on Bleecker—on the way to Washington Square Park, I saw a guy with a bike whose sign said “Death to False Progress,” and remembered sitting with beloved friends cheering Obama on television as he talked about crushing our foreign enemies, and sitting with beloved friends cheering Democrats getting elected the night Steve King the Iowa fascist got voted back in. Later that night I saw that Steve King had lost his primary, to a different fascist named Randy Feenstra, who said in January 2019 as he prepared to run, “We just need a fresh face,” and wondered if maybe all the masks now might make it easier to focus on the structures and not the individuals, and might sharpen that skill of being able to tell who someone is from their eyes.
As usual, the people on bikes were riding in front, circling back to tell the marchers when a cluster of cops was ahead; as seems to be true all over the world, the cops lumber and the marchers move sweet, even if they’re in wheelchairs or struggling to get to the end of the block. The cops put their feet on the streets of the city as if it irritates them, as per the memo from Ed Mullins of the Sergeants Benevolent (that word!) Association: “Help is coming and we will win this war on New York City.” Until there’s an opportunity for violence, the cops plod, where the people in the street move like the city spring-into-summer is pouring up their bodies through the soles of their feet, or their wheels, all day, all night. By the time it was dark it was all young men up front, directing traffic so kindly, making hand gestures to the cars not like orders but suggestions, You might want to turn around, the new day’s coming up behind me.
Before it got dark I went downtown and saw three white boys with baseball caps over furrowed brows trying to wash the words “Black Lives Matter” off the pedestal of the George Washington statue on the steps of Federal Hall—across from the stock exchange, where the cops lined up side by side the night they evicted Occupy from Zuccotti Park, just in case anyone might be confused as to what’s actually being served and protected here. I was stopped in front of that Stock Exchange frieze, the people in the center standing upright, the people at the edges crouched in the tight space of the triangle points, when I saw on Twitter from someone listening to the scanner that they were calling for reinforcements at Trump Tower—maybe that was the crew I met coming down Centre Street toward Chambers, yelling those words, Fuck your curfew, banging the sound of their voices through the corridor of justice buildings with the police headquarters and the high-rise jail just behind.
Along Chambers various neighbors kept leaning out their windows or over the edges of their rooftops, banging pans and cheering—when we got to the edge of the river I stopped a little because the beauty of all that civil courage and clarity was making me dizzy, all those young sneakers on old cobblestones that don’t forget anything, all those voices like one big voice bouncing off the overpass, Fuck your curfew, The state killed somebody again, This fire isn’t getting covered tonight, in clear silhouette because at 8 o’clock in June there’s still time before dark, weaving down the wrong way they were making right, among the cars honking for them, the drivers holding their phones and their fists up, and the police in riot gear behind barricades at the edges or following behind or milling around the side streets looking to take someone, and some of the lines of young people started to peel off and head home, yelling See you tomorrow.
I’d seen hundreds of cops lined up on Sixth just north of Houston earlier, and plain cars with two plain white guys in the front and three in the back, one with a paper license plate (is this what Ed Mullins meant by “Help is coming”?), suddenly lighting up with blue the way they do—You thought I was your neighbor? No! I’m with them!—and in one of those ripped-up lots behind chainlink by the memorial, I watched two guys in soldier uniforms—state troopers?—get out of a big truck and walk toward the river. But there were too many fighters for the new day to arrest at that moment, covering the highway (ah what if it were all of us, I kept thinking), converging around what I still call the pit, the place the towers used to be, which lines of police were guarding as if it belonged to them. No justice, no pussy! a white boy said as we threaded along Vesey, around what do you call them, those pop-up claws that mean the cops own a street. Yo white boy that ain’t funny, someone said, That ain’t a joke, You better chill or it about to get nasty for you, and everyone kept walking.
Downtown we’d turn a corner and come upon two trashed blocks, no broken glass but spilled garbage and planters, What the fuck, someone said, and people cheered for a second but kept their focus—up to the edges of the bridge, where I peeled off and read later the cops trapped them for a long time. I stayed up late watching what was happening to them and transcribing something Bronx rapper Mysonne, who freestyles like he’s downloading from the angels, said on Instagram, which ended like this:
So I’m tellin you: if you a black person tonight, if you a ally tonight, if you a person of humanity tonight, then take your ass outside. If you ain’t been outside, take your eighty-year-old—no, keep your grandmother in the house, because they still got the corona out here. Let them look from the windows. But we gonna be outside. We outside. Wherever you are, take your ass outside. Fuck that curfew. There’s more of us than there’s them. The government don’t run us, we run the government. We run the government. They don’t tell us what to do. I’m gonna be outside every day. Past the curfew. Fuck your curfew. Lock up the officers that killed George Floyd. Lock up the officers that killed Brionna Taylor. You know? Do that. Then we can go home. Then I can decide if I want to go home. But you don’t get to tell me about no motherfuckin curfew. I’m outside. We outside.
I done lost my freedom for shit that I didn’t do. I lost my freedom for nothin. So you think I care about losin my freedom for some shit that I’m willin to die for? All you gonna do is lock me up? Then you ain’t even touchin the surface. I’ll see you outside. ‘Cause we outside.
Thursday June 4, Plague Day 83, re Curfew Night 3
Lilacs were breaking the curfew last night, in the park on the Battery, the first place the white settlers touched—lilacs that smelled so good it could make you swoon, mixing with the smell of weed from the young man sitting by the bush, looking out over the water, breaking the law by being. It was a sweet, warm night, that 8 o’clock June air pressed up against all the downtown stone carved into the shapes of a white settler standing beside a Native man, why do they do that, always two men, one’s chest covered, as if it’s a uniform, one’s chest bare, like a dream or a nightmare trying to tell the truth for generations after, it’s the seal of the city, it’s all over if you look up: the white fantasy of the friendly, with the image of who they called the hostile shimmering beside him, and the ghosts of the people the settlers have murdered and the land they? we? who’s “we” tonight? have raped, gathering and trying to get a word in if you listen.
I was listening for the sound of living voices, letting the bike decide which corner to turn to find them, passing marked cars of police, unmarked cars of police, vans of police, trucks of police; some of the trucks had metal barricades stacked in the back, that’s its own familiar voice, the sound of them dragged across pavement by police deciding where you get to walk today, tonight, now—Chambers Street, last night full of laughing, angry people, intent, weaving in and out of the margins, some arguing with whiteshirt police as if they could convince them of something, was empty, and edged with those barricades, so you have to decide at the beginning of the block which side you’re going to be on. If you’re in, you’re in.
By the landing to the Manhattan Bridge, last night full of voices, were more police than I’ve ever seen in one place except at the second inauguration of George II: Counterterrorism, NYPD, PBMS, TARU, DCPI, even DEA, so many acronyms on their team shirts, making jokes and chains of barricades, making sure that lines of young New Yorkers yelling about their employers’ rights to murder with impunity wouldn’t be crossing that bridge, not tonight, no sir. The helicopters were overhead as usual—maybe that’s the voice of the state, a helicopter’s, with that dim echo of a machine gun in it, combined with the voice of a dragged barricade. You could practically smell the public dollars burning.
It was dark by the time I found the demonstrators, farther uptown than I’ve been since the plague started, past the wifi kiosks flashing names of people the police have murdered and scooping data out of phones at the same time, past empty pizza joints and nervous delivery guys and the UN looking like a half-lit office building the higher-ups have vacated, into those midtown east-side blocks that seem like big stone piles of money, with some signs in ground-floor windows that said “Thank you heroes Doctors FDNY NYPD.” When I turned onto Third Avenue I saw blue lights flashing up north, and then I could hear them, the voices trying to remind us that a right’s supposed to be what they can’t take away. They’d been at Gracie Mansion, trying to talk to the mayor.
Bein black is not a crime, someone was singing, and getting answered back, Fuck the curfew, we still outside, moving all sweet and coherent down the avenue in the dark, like the lilacs downtown in the little bit of wind—Hands up, the streetlight on all the colors, Don’t shoot, another attempt at conversation, as if somebody might answer them some new way. And then we were surrounded, at 51st, blue lights in front and in back and a flurry of fear passed through, scattering people as we tried to turn left, with blue on three sides—and what happened to that one young Black man for his face and voice to be so grown when he yelled Do not run. You can. Not. Run, and people stopped running, as the cops waddled in. Ali Watkins of the Times quoted the police chief the next day: “They have to be off the street. An 8 o’clock curfew—we gave them to 9 o’clock.”
Whose streets: pretty soon they were the rain’s, with the demonstrators running together in the downpour, yelling The people. United. Will never be defeated and ducking under awnings—but before that, the protectors of the peace lined up across 51st slapping batons in their hands, is this part of their training, surveying the young New Yorkers still standing there on the sidewalk, then moved on them: “McDermott!” one young woman yelled, reading the name off his badge, “McDermott, calm down!” the young people trying to put the night back together and the uniforms paid to do what exactly? grabbing people and bicycles and twisting the arms of people half their ages and a third their sizes. I saw one cop the size of a refrigerator bending the arm of a young woman who probably weighed about a hundred pounds. If he didn’t break her arm he wanted to—and someone had told him the plan for the night before he started work, and that wasn’t on the list of what the law said he had no right to do.
I rode home down Seventh with the rain drying out of my shirt and heard my first version of the curfew recording, a white man’s machine voice saying This city is no longer yours, Thank you for your cooperation, passing the desolate New Yorkers with no home to be bullied into, so visible in the emptiness, like someone had ripped a bandage off a wound. “It was so quiet as I walked my bike through the park, toward home,” Ali Watkins wrote, after a similar protection of someone’s rights, but not those of the people in Cadman Plaza. ”Nothing but blue and red lights bouncing off buildings. Slowly, groups of riot cops began walking back into the plaza, laughing with each other as they took off their helmets.” It was such a gorgeous, soft, restless night, lightning flashing beyond the Battery, the rain dipping in and out. Over Sheridan Square, as I passed the Stonewall, for a good full four seconds the clouds blew away from the curfewed moon’s face, just to remind you before the opening sealed again that she’s still there, she’s not going anywhere.
Friday June 5, Plague Day 84, re Curfew Night 4
The guy in Union Square just as curfew fell, in army fatigues and carrying an American flag upside-down, was still there as we walked across 34th Street and knelt in the middle of the intersection, with all the police acronyms milling around at our edges: PBMS (Manhattan South) (the guy in khakis who looks like Steve Buscemi) (and those two I saw last Saturday night in Union Square, one with a beard, laughing when their colleagues looked tense and tired, one who resembled the cop I saw later in someone’s video, throwing a white power sign), DCPI, and the I stands for Information—all these young people raised in the Global War on Terror, G-what?, is that where that soldier was before?, spreading around the best-distributed American product, how many different brands have we produced, of the fear that an American man in uniform is going to kill you if you don’t do what he says, and maybe even if you do. The Information part is to make him look nice at the same time. They can even put a CIA guy in a Black Panther movie now and get people to cheer. So when the soldier with the upside-down flag took a knee in Union Square, while someone played a recording of a Black woman singing the national anthem, I wondered who he was signaling—as I didn’t wonder at all about the guy walking next to me hours later, who quietly told a French reporter he’d been a staff sergeant in Iraq and had never been to a demonstration before George Floyd died.
The flag man was still there through the East 50s where the cops beat people up last night, but someone gave different orders tonight—shouldn’t that be part of civic education, to understand those New York meetings where someone must sit down with someone and say Okay we’re teargassing them tonight, or Come rough, Like this, and Here, with maps, and decide which New Yorkers go home with the domination reminders in their skin and bones and lungs and dreams and how deep. Nine o’clock came and went—this time they waited until 10, when we came west on East 60th to Fifth Avenue, and they’d set up on three sides and waded in, but differently, not swinging batons, just the regular domination we’ve decided is permissible, six of them over one young man face-down on the street, women cops too, busy, as if they’re at a stressful meeting, hard at it, a whiteshirt and three others making that outfacing circle they like, did they learn it from quail, who sleep in an outfacing circle, just in case. (But the quail don’t have information operations, so there’s no confusion sown about who’s the predator and who’s the prey.) Part of the civic education, the practicum, is standing there watching people whose eyes you know over their masks, after two hours of loving on your city together, pushed and downed and lashed and taken, and you watch it happen and you don’t do anything. It spreads the same information the soldiers spread: We own the night.
Just before that was so good, though, when they left us alone, one whole June night hour was ours, from 34th Street until the take-downs at 59th: Black Lives Matter, to the boys playing beats riding bikes like the cubanos, dragging a sneaker on the back wheel because they don’t have brakes, to the young brother with a guitar and a harmonica crossing Park Avenue singing “Tangled Up in Blue”—to the young woman calling out the young man who fist-bumped a cop as we passed a barricade (the cops who walk like men who were boys whose fathers beat them, facing the demonstrators who walk another way, who have to tangle with the impulse to try to connect like a human, raised by mothers and grandmothers and aunts, a little slipped out of the patriarchy meshes), the word “oppressors” so clear in her mouth—and who knew there were still so many people in midtown after the plague evacuations, standing silhouetted in their windows to bang a pan and cheer, as the food delivery guys downtown had done, when the cops were still there (I don’t see no riot here/Why are you in riot gear), straddling their stopped bikes, with orange boxes full of someone else’s feast strapped to their shoulders, like the guy uptown I saw later they’d arrested.
All the varieties of cops stopped following us between 34th and 59th, but there were still little deployments in front of what they thought mattered, as if they were worried the mob in the form of people tired of dying would come for the Chase Bank or the UBS or those big Blackstone windows on 52nd, or boarded-up MoMA with three security guys at the movie entrance, indistinguishable from the other corporations—but the movers of the not-quite-a-movement-yet paid that no mind, they were speaking different languages, the demonstrators and the people paid to protect, one protecting the stuff and one trying to protect the people. This road is long, one boy said to me smiling, I wish you had pedals in the back and I could ride behind you, you been here all the way since Union Square.
—and when I’m home, behind three locked doors, after they’ve scattered us like the clothes on the floor you’ll pick up tomorrow, you’re too tired tonight, drinking in the quiet and the coplessness, typing this, there’s a message, from someone I practice yoga with, C, the radiant daughter of another yoga compañera, K, the daughter Black and the mama white. We went to a demonstration in DC together once, the three of us, and K brought her worn copy of the Constitution. C and I have conspired together, which is to say we’ve breathed together, on mats side by side. I took her ten-pushups-a-day challenge at the beginning of the plague. When I look at her Instagram there are a dozen cops making that outfacing circle, not at the edge of Central Park but in her apartment building on Eastern Parkway, a counterinsurgency night raid in Brooklyn, she’s opened her door on a night of demonstrations in the neighborhood and there they are—they’ve forced through the front door, at least one whiteshirt but there seem to be no grown-ups except young C who teaches math in the Bronx, who’s yelling This is our home, We live here, Please leave.
“The police came into the building,” she wrote. “They pushed through the two front doors. They would not leave. They pushed a mother to the ground while she was protecting her son. They beat a teenage girl with a night stick. They put their knee on a man’s neck. I had to pull his leg off. I was thrown to a wall. They pepper sprayed. They arrested. There were over 100 cops. I ran inside and picked up the phone to call for help, but then I thought . . . Who am I going to call?”
Saturday June 6, Plague Day 85, re Curfew Night 5
Turn around and they’re hollering outside your window, turn around and your street smells like river and weed and some new thing that doesn’t have a name yet—turn around and someone’s leaving trails of bubbles from a car passing the IFC movie theater with “WE’LL BE BACK SOON BLACK LIVES MATTER” on the marquee, and painted on the plywood over the windows, shouldn’t there be some way to tell if there’s art behind there or just more machines to make money—turn around and people in high curfew windows (if you haven’t left the archipelago make some noise) are leaning out and cheering and beating pans, someone’s telling someone they’re marching with, “I was on my way to work and I got arrested,” someone else was arrested cheering from their stoop on the Upper West Side—turn around and that delicate dance between freedom and domination is unfolding, whiteshirts getting out of cars, sweeping eyes over the crowd, assessing the options for crushing it, then getting back in (“Not now?” someone asks, “Not yet,” he answers)—turn and a young marcher is telling a line of riot cops he loves them, and another marcher is putting an arm around his shoulder to suggest alternative contributions, turn, ten white FBI agents in what look like bulletproof vests are chatting by an open car trunk on Seventh Avenue at 19th, 10 o’clock on a Thursday night, and Hannah Shaw who used to work in the mayor’s office says they were in the 78th precinct in Brooklyn too, after she was arrested, and took her into a room to ask “what’s going on with the protests,” clearly not having received the memo that Robert Mueller’s former employer was going to defend democracy and save us all—turn around, Steve Bannon is on a Chinese billionaire’s yacht by the Statue of Liberty, am I dreaming, how do I wake all the way up, declaring the People’s Republic of Anticommunist Counterinsurgent Spookery as five uniforms press a young Black woman’s face against the pavement of her city and it’s starting to rain.
Turn around and the Ferguson uprising is alive, some of the leaders bought and some murdered but the real ones still shoveling true love into the furnace of the hour, even as they have to watch this happen again: Michael Brown’s name hollered on Broadway, at the edge of a different summer, the Hands up, don’t shoot they threw up at the tank turrets, presente, Ella Brown, a Black woman, just elected mayor there, and on all lips, whether spreading realness or fakery, on all the plywood facades, that weirdly tame obvious statement they drove under the mountain to make it start to move: Black Lives Matter. (Ashley Yates @brownblaze in 2016 : “We said #FergusonIsEverywhere in August 2014. If we faced that level of violence in Ferguson, we knew anywhere could see the same. And soon.”)
“The curfew-breaking nights in the streets are like any kind of love, with its rhythms—some loud and fierce and so intense you can hardly catch your breath, and some like tonight, with the sun going down the color of the ripe peaches just up ahead, and two hundred or so young health workers marching, some in scrubs, some in white coats, one with a sign that says ‘Stop Killing My Patients.”
New York has also been yelling something less co-optable: NYPD Suck My Dick, which visibly ruffles the lines of riot cops at intersections, jiu-jitsuing that dick-grab that’s taught in the manual for throwing Black men up against walls, the dick-centered colonial humiliations turned around (first just the reverse, before the new thing’s made yet), you can hear the young men’s elation saying it, skating on the edge of terror so long it starts to transmute into freedom, via raw words that will never be part of the Goldman Sachs diversity private equity and collusion statement, or used to sell beverages or vacations or blue vests or kumbaya conventions or any other weapons of mass distraction. It makes me smile hearing young women yelling it, and sometimes it makes them smile too; NYPD Suck My Tits! someone was yelling tonight for a block or so, until someone else said No, that’s too good, you can’t give them that, and they went back to the original.
The curfew-breaking nights in the streets are like any kind of love, with its rhythms—some loud and fierce and so intense you can hardly catch your breath, and some like tonight, with the sun going down the color of the ripe peaches just up ahead, and two hundred or so young health workers marching, some in scrubs, some in white coats, one with a sign that says “Stop Killing My Patients”—four bus drivers out of six putting a fist up and honking, two turning away, someone up front yelling back over her shoulder I love you guys, her arms crossed over her chest, and the big avenue voice yelling it back, and no batons or throw-downs or zip-ties or rows of shields interrupting when they yell This is our city, walking when they choose and not when the mayor says, they’re triage experts, it’s an emergency, the man I saw at jury duty had been at Riker’s for a year for stealing a doctor’s cell phone, but murderers in uniform are walking free, some for centuries now. In some uninterrupted pockets of fuck-your-curfew nights, where the people disperse when they want to, not through force, it’s as if the woman whose twenty-seventh birthday it was today—someone came out of a pizza place on Sixth Avenue and yelled Breonna Taylor, Say her name, and we did—were alive to hear everyone singing to her, and eight isn’t for the number of bullets with which her free-walking plainclothes murderers on a counterinsurgency house-raid, misdirected by what they later called a “clerical error,” hauled her into their long necrophilic pageant, and thought no one would notice the gap where she’d been being—eight’s for the days in the week available to make something else, something alive and strong, so that even if the phantoms plant someone and blame their planned, practiced crimes on these mountain-movers, even if the Federal Bureau of Disinformation wants to paint their picture, even if Tom Cotton’s dream comes true and he gets to bring his colonial war home, they’ll belong to their city and to the lives of all the people in it, to life, whose turn may be coming.
Sunday June 7, Plague Day 86, re the last curfew night
I didn’t go out Saturday until an hour before curfew, but the day started, as per Mysonne’s feed in the Bronx, with a Taino man bringing Lenape greetings from Ramapo to a Saturday crowd so big it wouldn’t fit in any picture, as his Tlingit wife burned sage, and blessed the four directions and asked the ancestors to watch over the day’s doings and undoings—he and the Baptist preacher from Brooklyn beside him providing living evidence of the failure of the colonial dominance project (as Ann Stoler calls it, “sustained, systemic, and incomplete”), whose emblem I hadn’t been able to stop noticing over the mayor’s soldiers, oops, shoulders, when he spoke from his alternate universe on Friday: it’s the seal of the city, the stealer and the stolen from, frozen in their false kumbaya moment, disinformation à la 1625, nothing to see here, keep moving. It never registered until Friday that it’s on every police badge too. “You’re still here,” the preacher told the crowd, after all this death has swept through. “You’re a miracle. So what are we going to do with our miracleness.” “Breathe life into us that we might not waste it,” he requested, beside his Taino compañero, descendant of the people about whom a vassal man we still celebrate wrote to a king, in a voice that still sounds grievously familiar, “With fifty men we could subjugate them and make them do whatever we want.” Someone said there were 150,000 people in the streets of New York Saturday, suggesting alternative ways to live in this world. So many new-minded, now-minded walkers, connected by a little thread of Is this our last chance, did the plague teach us this. So many statues still to pull down, and so many resources in the forgetful hands of those defending them.
When I rode across town, I saw hundreds of people with signs heading home, about the same color balance but mostly older and/or with more money than the people I’ve been seeing out past curfew at night. If you were watching them from another world, you could think this might be what work looks like, how you give yourself to it and it gives you back that sweet tired shared aftermath walk, toward refreshment and rest and the rebuilding of the eagerness to get back to it again. There were so many of them and they looked so happy—not happy like the first loud drunk finance bros I’ve heard since the plague started, blocking the sidewalk on Hudson with their unmasked outdoor cocktail party, but happy like lovers, weirdly making love and work look something like the same thing.
At the Manhattan Bridge footing, where I’d seen the DEA cops on the third night of the curfew, getting out of their truck and strolling toward the barricade village, both the DEA and the barricades had disappeared—but the SRG was there, the Strategic Response Group, formed in 2015, with the DCU, the Disorder Control Unit, within it. An ABC reporter wrote in 2018, “It’s a specialized squad of 700 highly-trained, heavily armed officers assigned to potential trouble spots throughout the city. Whether it’s patrolling for gang members in Harlem or deterring terrorists in Times Square, the SRG also responds to active shooters and mass demonstrations.”
A photo caption described the reporter who traveled with them as “embedded,” which I guess makes the Group’s work part of a war. Against whom is getting clearer by the hour.
“If you’re wondering why DEA and US Marshal’s Service have been given authority,” Kim Zetter wrote on Twitter, “to conduct covert surveillance of protesters, it’s likely because they have planes outfitted with Dirtboxes—powerful stingray devices that collect data on phones from the air,” a favorite tool of the NSA and the military, designed by Boeing for the CIA. But Saturday it seemed like all the acronyms had designed a different pageant, with genial groups of cops standing around in the sun, riot helmets on the ground, four telegenic women officers together laughing, one with locs, one with a blonde ponytail; of course they would never hurt anyone, this has all been just an unfortunate misunderstanding, have a nice day, be safe out there, I appreciate you. When I passed, it looked like a Coke commercial, those slogans still emblazoned on my mind, forever, probably, “I’d like to teach the world to sing,” almost fifty years ago now and I can still recite it on cue, “Coke, it’s the real thing.”
I found the real real thing coming down Second Avenue, in all its unbought unsold glory, hollering with that same lovers’ joy as the people I’d seen earlier, but with no intention of going home as the curfew fell. It’s true that when we knelt and stopped an intersection, we were taking a Special Forces guy’s suggestion (Nate Boyer’s, who was offended by Colin Kaepernick sitting on the bench for the anthem and suggested he kneel instead) (“After high school graduation in 1999, Boyer moved to Hollywood to pursue an acting career. In 2004 he became a relief worker in Sudan, building camps for refugees of the War in Darfur. After a short tenure there, he enlisted in the United States Army, training at Fort Benning, and later was accepted into the Green Berets”), but the gesture seemed almost all the way alchemized by the depth of what the walkers intended, and I wondered if that’s how they’d felt in Tahrir too, watching the manipulations and information operations and spookery fly around, tangling with the legit uprising power, hoping the alchemy works, the way when Thelonious Monk’s hands meet the oppressors’ piano, Monk wins.
When the river of us turned left on 2nd Street, I could see us reflected in the face of a young woman, a sign under her arm, looking up from her phone to see the torrent of tomorrow suddenly pouring toward her; she was heading home, and they were just warming up. The people in windows and on rooftops were cheering, as the helicopter hovering overhead stuffed its databases with all our queer colored subversive IMSIs, International Mobile Subscriber Identities—is the acronym pronounced Imshi, like Arabic for Move—and a slightly too telegenic guy in a beret, with a megaphone and no mask on, was climbing up on hydrants and exhorting people, at one point trying to lead us in saying United. The people. Will never be defeated.
We poured east to the river, shutting down FDR drive just north of the Williamsburg Bridge; I was keeping to the edges so I wouldn’t get arrested, and ended up next to a crew of cops on scooters on an on-ramp, shouting at each other and into their radios, pissed off because the protesters had stopped the traffic, so the scooters couldn’t move. It was a deep brief lesson in the control of public space, although I need a new word to replace “control”—after spending days trying to escape police enclosures (and locating them in myself: lessons from sports and from arguments, so much violent knowledge about how to seal off an opponent’s exits), I was weaving the bike through a little interval of freedom the crowd had made without planning to, just by moving together, just by being. When we got under the bridge, I heard the hiss of spraypaint, two boys, looking over their shoulders, one quickly, deftly writing and taking a deep counter-terrorism pull on that blunt after, with the sirens going and kettled scooter cops revving behind us.
When we passed under the Baruch Houses, who had their water cut off three times in one quarantine week at the end of March—how is it possible that we still haven’t solved the most basic problem of making sure everyone has a decent place to live?—maybe some of the six billion police dollars could be devoted to this—there were so many people leaning out the windows; when we passed the Seward Houses it was dark and you could see the silhouettes of people standing by their sills and hitting skillets, and I woke up this morning hearing the voice of someone who couldn’t have been six years old yet, invisible in the little park between the marchers and the buildings, saying jubilantly No justice, No peace.
In the morning I saw a CNN video of the last night chapter of the kumbaya pageant: Inspector Elias Nikas walking with “the last few hardcore Manhattan marchers,” telling them,”We’re all God’s children”—and then who should appear but the beret man trying to look like a Panther, who bent the Chilean chant on 2nd Street, still not wearing a mask, so you could see him more clearly saying “I appreciate you” to the Inspector, whose job in 1995 according to the Daily News was “working undercover looking for stolen cars,” and sponsoring an annual Christmas party for poor kids in Gravesend. “Most kids, even the very young ones, are wary of cops,” he said. “It sends a positive message just to see us in a different light. We’re out of uniform; they see another side of us. We play with them.” A reporter called the beret man “organizer Perris Howard,” a model and actor turning his talents in other directions for the night, and someone on Twitter called him “an impressive and eloquent figure”; “Perris Howard is not a leader in this movement,” someone else tweeted. “He brought a megaphone to the rally thus his voice was loud. He is collaborating for the NYPD.” And someone else: “listen I get this is an acting job for you and a portfolio builder but whatever thin veiled idea of black liberation you have is a sack of shit bro. You need to pick up a book and stop embarrassing the people that died for you.” I also saw that demonstrators in Bristol had taken a statue of charitable philanthropic 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston (“He helped so much of his community and this is how [sic] repay him,” someone wrote) and threw it into the sea.
“What I would love to see happen,” Ferguson’s Tef Poe told PBS, “is for both black and white police officers to really open up their third eye and understand what is happening here. You are allowing yourselves to be weaponized to the good of the oligarchs. You have become the toy soldiers of the rich. And that could change right now.” The oligarchs have been busy this week; “Trump delivers for Wall Street,” British economist Ann Pettifor wrote. “They will make sure he wins in November, and stays in the White House,” after Antonin Scalia’s son’s dream came true Wednesday and Blackstone sucked a $400 billion US retirement fund, what Benjamin Braun called “the country’s single largest pool of money,” into the private equity casino, whoosh, but hard to hear when the police were beating the shit out of protesters a block away. When we passed their windows the following night, there were two calm men in the lobby the size of a dozen New York apartments, “alternatives managers,” chatting as if nothing were happening outside.
Ann Pettifor was also noting the drip, drip of restive generals last week, one after another, and I remembered that tweet the week Trump was elected, “Richard Engel just said on NBC that some generals are reading the Constitution to determine their authority to override the President. Wow,” and Ed Snowden’s a little later, soon deleted: “Romney is a sideshow. The real story you’re not hearing about is a revolt within the US Intelligence Community.” It made me think of Basel al-Araj, who spent his life fighting against the Israeli enclosure of his Palestinian village, who died in 2017 the way Fred Hampton did in 1969, shot in his bed by soldiers, in al-Bireh, where I had dinner once and the lights went out briefly and our gracious host said, “I hope they’re not going to assassinate anyone.” He and five friends had been imprisoned the previous April and tortured in a Palestinian Authority prison, and the women in the funeral procession sang Once the Authority, once the Army, Why Why Why. As the struggle between the fascists and the imperial overlords started to appear here in 2016, @zeinobia tweeted from Cairo, “this is so familiar!!” “Ay querida all snake-slaying suggestions welcome,” I wrote to her, and she wrote back, “Defend the Constitution and do not give up protesting too easily.”
The mayor dissolved the curfew Sunday morning, but I didn’t hear the news until late that afternoon; Dodai Stewart of the Times tweeted info about an app at scanmap.frnsys.com and I watched the groups of protesters move around the map of the city the way they’ve been watching us all for days, “shut down Manhattan Bridge,” “800 people sitting down in the street.” It’s almost dawn now and there are rumors that police are resigning; and "Minneapolis City Council members have announced their intent to disband the Minneapolis Police Department," as sharp-eyed poet Trace DePass pointed out, "Keyword: intent."
Last night LA rapper Thebe Kgositsile aka Earl Sweatshirt tweeted, “there is no ‘regular’ to go back to. we either goin 2 establish some new systems or the old one is gonna come more vicious than this generation has ever felt,” and 171,000 people had agreed before I went to sleep, and 194,000 have agreed by now. The counterinsurgency apparatus likes nothing better than to bend your mind—but I’m not sure it’s seen these minds before, or this moment they’re meeting with a power that’s making foundations tremble. I’m thinking about the first thing I heard them say, when I went out two Saturday afternoons ago, on lower Broadway, just north of Union Square, and saw a young woman holding up a painting of George Floyd’s knowing face. It’s another domination-tainted tool (is it possible for any tool now not to be tainted?), what they were waking up the city with, a chant that started in the Naval Academy, a call and response, and became among other things a song recorded by Pitbull. But Black people in the Américas have known for a long time how to turn poison into power, into beauty beyond description, and that’s what I heard pouring down Broadway, when I first went out and heard them saying back and forth, I believe that we will win.