Dying to Live

A Die-In by POC 4 Solvency, NYC

Photo by Frank Multari, https://twitter.com/frankmultari/media

The mother in my chest runs amok as my body lays on the cold concrete, still as a firmly fastened window. Despite the sun that greets our skin, it’s not a pleasant day in Washington Square Park.

POC 4 Solvency, a new organizing group, gathered last Sunday to die in. The plan was simple: gather at least 50 people of color to lay their bodies down (simulating Michael Brown’s dead body which was left in the street for 4.5 hours) while non-poc’s stood around the bodies holding various signs in solidarity. We had seen this peaceful tactic pop-up all around the country and chose it as our primary tool to charge the United States with genocide (in solidarity with #wechargegenocide). Though we, the six organizers, had anticipated a possible police encounter at some point, no one expected the pre-stationed cops dispersed around Washington Square Park, nor the unrelated sporadic piano concert that had begun to attract a small audience at our meeting point.

Bodies checkered in front of the fountain. One by one, the winter coats met the ground. In the beginning the pianist and horn players continued their concert uninterrupted, as whiteness often is, by our dead bodies. My mind wandered back to the previous Tuesday at work — the day the Eric Garner grand jury decided not to indict his murderer; a different week, same result. As I silently mourned at my desk, I watched my unaffected co-worker complain about the untidy workspace, wonder when her friend would arrive at the office, and debate their plans for the ordinary night. My gut became a tight knot; I prayed that my Black could make it past 34th street with all its blood in tact.

Five days later I am on the ground as the voice of the lead organizer bellows our manifesto into a megaphone:

We Charge Genocide. The United Nations defines genocide by the following terms: Killing members of a national or religious group, deliberately preventing birth, causing serious bodily or mental harm, and deliberately inflicting conditions of life to bring about its physical destruction. We have been under systemic attack since the illegal transportation of our bodies to this land. We demand that the United Nations hold America accountable to these violations of our Human Rights.

Photo by Frank Multari, https://twitter.com/frankmultari/media

Over and over again, her voice fights with the sounds that litter the air: the piano player bows out fairly soon, the wind oscillates in and out of a howl, a helicopter hums in the sky with its eye on us, a fleet of pigeons weaves in and out of the space we have claimed, but the horn players have surprisingly subscribed to our rhythm, playing in tandem with our manifesto.

The pigeons are the most invasive force. The flight pattern of the seemingly aimless school of birds positions them as either a far off ceiling, or walking between our bodies. At some point the pigeons linger so close, I question if even they’re negotiating our humanity, mistaking us for hollow statues they can curl their feet on, rest comfortably on, while we remain still, no matter the invasion or violence.

We begin to chant We charge genocide! in a call and response with the lead organizer. It is the voice that reminds all the elements that the assembled bodies are human. It is the voice that reminds me that no matter how I fear the reaper, today I am only playing dead.

My voice first comes out like a wobbly crawl, but it somehow graduates to upright baby-steps and I begin to silently sob. Maybe I cry because the horns play a dirge, maybe it’s for the daughter or son that could be Mike, Tamir, Aiyana, or Tray, or maybe it’s in recognition of the chalk line I could be. All of a sudden I’m shouting.

Following the cues of organizers, together we rise from the laying dead to our knees and creep our hands above our heads. All of our voices form a choir charging the immediate police, standing on the periphery, with the genocide of all the names we know and recite to our younger siblings as warnings.

Call: Hands up!

Response: Don’t Shoot!

Photo credit by Frank Multari, https://twitter.com/frankmultari/media

These Die Ins are not for the purpose of moseying away from the immediacy or urgency that is the wellness work that needs to be done in our own communities, but instead a way to charge the police and the United States with the systematic genocide that preys on Black and Brown bodies. Why would one allow a body to lay in the street for 4.5 hours other than to send a message of fear and devaluation? The work of organizations like POC 4 Solvency, In Defense of Black Bodies, Dream Defenders, etc., is simply to demand that the country in which we are born acknowledges our right to live as long as our bones will last, raise children, and enjoy our humanity. We demand the right to be human, not brutes, not oversized Hulks.

On that ground comes the hard task of knowing that as a person of color we’re one police stop away from death being a reality. My brain sifts through funerals, close calls with death, and questions why I’ve been spared, so far. However, what also rises is a sense of readiness to do the work, support from the loving allies who encircle our bodies in solidarity and protection of our demonstration, and the understanding that this is the beginning of a movement. We are dying in and marching on all around NYC for the right to live .

We charge genocide, we charge genocide, we charge genocide!

If in NYC, connect with our organization and be a part of the work. To join our effort email: poc4solvency@gmail.com.

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