Note: This is part two of our coverage of the Black Lives Matter rally in Ithaca. For the first part, click here.
ITHACA, NY – After gathering at Southside Community members, more than a hundred people marched to The Ithaca Commons, carrying signs calling for an end to police violence and chanting “Say His Name!” and “No Justice, No Peace!”
At The Commons, primary organizers including Dubian Ade and Cornell Professor Russell Rickford revisited some talking points touched on at Southside, while also exploring new ones.
Ade led a call and response chant, reading the names of two black Ithaca residents who were killed by police: Shawn Greenwood, killed in 2010 and Keith Shumway, killed in 2011. Ade read off their names, with the crowd responding, “Say his name.”
Greenwood was shot when he attempted to flee a warrant for his arrest for suspected drug trafficking, striking an unarmed Dryden police officer with his vehicle in the process. Shumway was shot when he reportedly grabbed an officer’s weapon and fired at the officer, grazing his leg. He is then reported to have pointed the gun at another officer, who shot him. The handling of both situations has been questioned and criticized by some members of the community.
Ade said, “They were killed by IPD [Ithaca Police Department]. So if you hear an IPD police officer say anything like, ‘IPD is an exceptional police department,’ I want you to correct them and let them know the blood that is on their hands.”
“The cycle has to stop”
New speakers added their voices as well. Several speakers from out of town, including some from the Bronx, New York, Chicago, Illinois and Flint, Michigan, shared their struggles with systemic racism.
“The water crisis is a genocide against black people,” said Cameron Banks referring to the pollution of the water supply in her home city of Flint, Michigan, which is majority black.
“Change happens when the wisdom of the older generation is combined with the energy of the younger generation,” said Jazavia Ridley of the Bronx, expressing hope that the multi-generational Black Lives Matter movement would continue to thrive.
Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, a county Legislator, also spoke at the rally.
“I was talking to someone today… and they said, ‘The good police officers are getting gunned down.’ And I said, ‘The good black men are too,” she said. “This cycle that is happening over and over again has to stop… It’s gruesome, it’s deliberate.”
She urged white allies of racial justice not to “return to their places of comfort” and to stand with people of color when things get difficult. “We need you to be where it’s unsafe. We need you to be where we are,” said McBean-Clairborne.
“You can’t write a god-damned letter”
A woman spoke, becoming emotional as she called for letters to be written to police organizations such as the Fraternal Order of Police, but her sentiments were challenged by some of the main organizers.
“I don’t need white tears,” Ade said. “Every person of color who came up to say something did not cry. You know why? Because we are so vulnerable that crying in front of a group of white people is unthinkable to us. It’s unthinkable!”
“So when I see white people cry, I get confused,” he continued. “We have to cry in our own personal quarters. We have to come out here, or go to work, or wherever we be where whiteness is at, and be as strong as we can be. Don’t cry, if you’re a white person. That’s not what we need. We don’t need white tears. We don’t need letters. How easy it to ignore a letter?”
Cornell professor Russell Rickford criticized these ideas as “confused liberal thinking.”
“It’s like begging your oppressor for mercy, begging a slave master for mercy.” Rickford said, adding that he thinks organizations like the FOP exist to rationalize, protect and justify a racist system.
“There can be no human system under capitalism. Capitalism is an anti-human system,” Rickford proclaimed. “If you’re interested in a human society, if you’re interested in salvaging yourself. If you’re interested in repairing the damage done to your soul, to your heart… you have to be committed to doing the work yourself. You can’t write a god-damned letter. You’ve got to organize!”
Rickford continued, saying that the movements needed be led by the common people on the grass-roots levels, not the elites or political parties.
“We need people power,” Rickford said. “We need to build a grass-roots, anti-racist, multi-racial, democratic movement.” He called upon people to not think on national, but international terms, and push toward allied progressive government and non-government organizations worldwide.
Calls to action
As the demonstration drew near an end, the Black Lives Matter Ithaca organizers presented a series of calls to action for those interested in fighting racial injustice. They were as follows:
1 – Organization. “Organize, organize, organize. The same people have been doing vigils and protests and rallys. We need everyone to organize… Everybody is a leader. Everybody can organize,” said Ade.
2- Defunding the Ithaca Police Department. Ade highlighted the fact that IPD’s SWAT truck appears at every Black Lives Matter Ithaca event, asking an open question to the officers present if the truck had ever been useful.
“It’s been useful terror,” called someone from the audience.
Ade seized on this, adding, “It’s been useful for intimidation. It’s been useful at Southside, at festivals and community events, so people of color can see the militarization, the police presence.”
Ade suggested that the truck should be sold and the monies used for things like education. He also suggested it might be put toward fixing the lead contamination in Ithaca, referring to Beverly J. Martin school specifically, as a place where people of color attend.
3 – Community police alternative. Building on the previous action point, Ade said that as a person of color he did not feel safe calling the police. The group advocated organizing some sort of community group to deal with issues in lieu of the police department.
4 – Labor organization. The group called on people to organize action at their job, saying that the fastest way to ensure action from the establishment is to stop labor. He said that people could depend on each other for the needed resources that they need.
5 – Community among people of color. Lastly, the group called for people of color to build a stronger community, moving past things like classism, colorism, patriarchy, transphobia and other forms of discrimination and division.
The group invited people of color to join Black Lives Matter Ithaca, while white allies of the movement were invited to join the Ithaca Chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ).
Before the crowd dispersed, Russell Rickford led it in thunderous chants of “I believe that we will win!”
Ask for an interview or clarification on some of their calls to action after the rally, the Black Lives Matter Organizers declined to say much. Asked how they might see the defunding of IPD happening, for example, they said it would be “up to the people” and indicated that having an answer published in the press would be counter-productive, as IPD would then be aware of their proposed approach.
The organizers expressed their skepticism of local media, saying that local media outlets, including The Ithaca Voice, over-reported crimes committed by people of color while ignoring serious white collar crimes. They also stated that the media highlighted drug crimes of people of color, while ignoring the rampant drug use among predominately white college students.