As We Honor the Living - Ayotunde Pt. 1
Freedom fighters are not typically written about, talked about, or thought of as revolutionaries within the duration of their time alive; for a moment, they exist solely in the minds of those who recognize them. The meaningful change that these activists have imparted upon the world isn’t tallied up until the end of their days, and nothing but air that receives our soft thanks. One could argue that this is an immoral or a merciless shifting of the eyes. This ignorance of the countless terrifying hours of labor - sitting in at protests or riots, arguing with police officers to negotiate their humanity, speaking to monsters to enact policy change (read: actually just empathizing with human beings) is ultimately shifting the stitching of the fabric we are walking on for a better tomorrow. In every sense, this is endless and ultimately thankless work.
Before there was COVID-19, and the 2020 riots, and the undelicate constant trash fire of noses sticking out of masks, and the unethical nature of politicians claiming you “ain’t black if you don’t vote for me,” there were the protests of Joseph Mann.
In 2017, which feels like two hundred years ago in Corona time, outside of the Sacramento News and Review building, one could see from a distance the silhouettes of a couple dozen people holding illegible signs on white cardstock. Upon closer inspection, they read ‘WHITE SUPREMACY IS TERRORISM,’ ‘I can’t breathe!’ and ‘BEING BLACK IS NOT A CRIME,’ among others. It was unusually quiet. Everyone at the demonstration had already done a few rounds around the block and was preparing to head home.
On the curb outside the building, they walked in light delicate steps, weaving through people, staring down those who objected with their car horns and the occasional raised finger. Earrings jingled faintly as they looked from one side to the other repetitively scanning the scene.
Ayotunde Khyree Ikuku, with a daring laugh and smile, the glitter in their eyes would taunt any driver to come closer. Sometimes, they would dare to come nearer and nothing would happen. It’s interesting to see subtle racism - or systemic racism - lick Ayotunde’s cheek for just a moment and the response of this very specific, tall, and beautiful Black person to be simply a giggle.
Ayotunde carries themself in such a demure and gentle way. Ayo’s presence causes racists this profound cognitive dissonance. This confusion can force a racists’ loaded words, remain stuck in their throats, with their mouths clamped shut.
Fast forward to March of 2018, Sacramento Police Department brutally slayed a Black man in the setting of his grandmother’s own backyard with nothing but a cellphone in his hand to defend himself. Intentionally misdirected reports of what happened that night were issued by the department. Justice has still not been found for Stephon Clark. His family is still suffering the consequences of the languid and tasteless approach that Sac PD has taken towards the Black Lives Matter movement and all matters regarding race and police brutality.
Stephon Clark's name was not released to the public on the night he was murdered. Furious texts are repetitively issued until the people with Black friends and family are met with responses. Sirens, accompanied by flitting lights, jolted past my apartment window in South Sacramento. Our Black neighbors could be heard calling their loved ones in the area too, having the same question as ours. Who did not survive the police tonight?
As memorial posts bloomed across my social media timelines over the next few weeks, anger bubbled up, teeming at the surface of my chest. It was with this anger that myself and others are wrapped into Ayotunde’s revolutionary world. In this world, the justice in your mouth and the demand for equity was not loud enough. We cried tears of frustration and placed our hands on each other’s backs in support.
We chanted, “No Justice, NO PEACE, NO RACIST POLICE!” as we marched to block traffic, as we marched to scream in the faces of police officers, as we marched and and marched and marched and didn’t stop marching. We ripped away at police comfort carefully, and interrogated their reasoning for joining the force that now lays eternal violence upon People of Color. At the front, danced Ayotunde, calmly speaking to police officers, even when met with silence, about their colleagues, and who they had murdered that day, that month, or that year.
Ayotunde had always seemed unshaken, but the killing of Stephon Clark did something unthinkable. His murder woke up Ayotunde’s generation in Sacramento, and consequently triggered a slew of activists who are instrumental in changing the way we see the police. They have devastated white supremacy and the way that the media consequently portrays People of Color, and especially Black people.
to be continued in Part 2