CLEVELAND (AP) — Leaders of black activist groups from around the country are gathering in Cleveland this weekend to share thoughts, ideas and stories at a conference aimed at furthering the creation of a modern-day civil rights movement to address systemic problems of police brutality and socio-economic deprivation.
Organizers of the Movement For Black Lives say Cleveland is an especially appropriate venue given what has occurred here in recent years, from the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams in a 137-shot barrage of police gunfire; to the shooting death of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy holding a pellet gun, by a rookie patrolman; to Tanisha Anderson, who collapsed and died after police struggled with her as she was having a mental health crisis.
One of the event’s organizers, Maurice Mitchell of New York City, sees the Movement for Black Lives as a “political reawakening” to confront the conditions that millions of black Americans face today. He sees this newest wave of activism as an extension of the civil rights movement that began in earnest during the 1960s.
“I think we’re part of the same continuum,” Mitchell said. “Folks who were involved then are involved now. We’ve learned from our elders and we’re building on that foundation.”
Mitchell said some people have framed their efforts as a “hashtag” movement that relies on social media, but he added that fundamental organizing remains Black Lives’ strength. The conditions that millions of black Americans face are untenable, Mitchell said, citing the lack of access to quality schools, housing and healthy foods.
“This is a human rights fight,” Mitchell said.
Activist Rhonda Williams, a history professor at Case Western Reserve University, stirred the crowd at a welcoming event on the Cleveland State University campus Friday morning, citing the various police custody deaths that have aroused her and others in the city and elsewhere to protest and seek justice.
“All around us, people are treated like refuse,” she said. “This is the stuff we must confront.”
After her address, Williams said the conference is about bringing people together to dream about and envision how society can make long overdue changes in how black Americans are treated.
“These are the struggles we’ve been fighting for generations, for decades, for centuries,” she said.
The movement is paying special attention to youth, women and people who identify themselves as lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender.
Elle Hearns of Columbus, a transgender woman who helped organize the conference, said transgender women live on the margins and are too often victims of violence. She said three transgender women have been slain in Cleveland in recent years.
“The element of police brutality is just one of many,” Hearns said.
In the audience for the introductory session was 16-year-old Mauvion Green, who stood at the window of her home as her mother, Tanisha Anderson, struggled with two police officers, one white, one black, last November. The Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s has said it would present evidence in the case to a grand jury to determine if criminal charges are warranted.
“All I care about is justice for her,” Mauvion said. “That’s all I want.”