Thank you, Dream Defenders

by Joe Courter

Never in my nearly 70 years on this planet has there been as much heightened consciousness about systemic racism and brutality dished out on people of color as right now. 

Thanks to cell phones and people not afraid to get them out and record, as well the requirement that police wear body cameras, and that their dash board camera footage can be forced to be released, has the public actually seen what has been going on for, well, centuries.  

Rodney King, in 1991, was one of the earliest recorded examples of police brutality on a Black man. People realized that without that footage, there never would have been a case. And if there had been, it would have been localized to a Los Angeles courtroom. Now, with social media, the power of images such as these has multiplied exponentially

The awareness of police conduct and their use of violence has been growing and growing. The shootings, the tasings, the takedown of teenagers by burly cops,  the verbal bullying – like what happened to Sandra Bland – and the wrist slaps or lesser judgements against cops who kill have built up a bubbling resentment and righteous indignation.  

But certain incidents take it to another level, like the cold-blooded killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. We all saw the police officer’s knee on Floyd’s neck, with his hand casually in his pocket, looking right at the camera. 

Those seven plus minutes reverberated around the world. The visual penetrated into the sports world, into soccer stadiums, hockey arenas, basketball arenas, football fields and onto athletes’ jerseys.  After 400 years of not mattering, now, a turning: Black Lives Matter.

The killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky in March, while there is no film as of yet, has had powerful reverberations as well. No-knock raids were already controversial, and there have been a bunch that have gone bad. But the circumstances of this one – not only how it went down, but who she was, and then the long stonewalling, followed by the grand jury decision to charge only one officer with shooting errant bullets hitting walls in another apartment – well, that was unacceptable, and now, in an unusual move, Grand Jury members are requesting the transcripts be made public.

With that in mind, the Gainesville Dream Defenders organized a rally for Breonna Taylor on Saturday, Sept. 26.  

About two hundred people, all masked, many in their 20’s, Black and White, heard speakers and poetry. During an open mike, UF students reflected on the racism they feel at UF, including within their student government, and the lack of progress addressing the buildings named for racist persons. 

Opposition to gentrification was expressed. A supportive father accompanied his 10-12-year-old daughter who spoke about how she did not want to grow up into a racist world, and the pain and hopes she felt. Adam Christiansen, a candidate for U.S. congress (and actually the youngest candidate for Congress in the country) spoke. (Read more about Christiansen on page 12.) The adults need to be ready to follow, because youth are on the move.

Rally organizer Dream Defenders came into being following the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012. They are radical in their views, thinking big, and challenging the status quo. They embrace the term abolitionist:

“We are fighting for a world without prisons, policing, surveillance and punishment. We know that prisons aren’t about safety or accountability but about control and domination over large segments of the population, especially Black people, in order to make a profit. 

“We are different from prison reformers because reformers often create situations where incarceration becomes even more entrenched in our society. Instead, we are fighting for solutions that will produce decarceration, fewer people behind bars and a future world without prisons.

“In order to get us closer to this vision, we must begin to build community alternatives to dealing with harm and violence. Dream Defenders practices transformative justice, an abolitionist way of dealing with conflict and holding people accountable in opposition to the punitive nature of the prison system that treats people as disposable, locks them up and throws away the key.”

One of the direct action programs they embrace is After Care.

“When the pandemic hit, we knew some communities in Gainesville would be hit harder than others. Concerned for our people locked inside of Alachua County Jail, we formed the 352-Freedom-Fund in partnership with Florida Prisoner Solidarity and other local organizations. 

“Our effort to release people from our local jail stemmed from the mutual understanding that public officials in Florida perpetuate the negligent treatment of people in jails, prisons, and detention centers. In these centers for incarceration, social distancing is not possible and administrations show no concern for public health. To support the folks we release, we formed the After Care team. Our group of over 15 volunteers performs weekly check-ins with the 50+ people we have released since late April. We support them emotionally as well as materially with food, bill support, and navigating the injustice system. 

“We firmly believe that alternatives to incarceration are possible and are committed to building these alternatives. The community support for people on the margins of society is essential for the revolution. To support us in supporting our people please donate to our cashapp so we can continue this work: $GoDDsville”

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