Members of Asian solidarity group #Asians4BlackLives, including two Indian Americans, block the entrance to the Oakland Police Department headquarters in Oakland, Calif. Dec. 15 as part of a protest calling for an end to violence against the black community. (Bay Area Solidarity photo)
Two Indian Americans were part of a diverse group of protestors who chained themselves to the front door of the Oakland Police Department headquarters Dec. 15 in a civil disobedience protest demanding an end to police aggression against black people.
The action, organized by newly formed groups Blackout Collective, #BlackLivesMatter and #BlackBrunch, began at 7:30 a.m. with about 250 participants and supporters calling for an end to violence against the black community.
Indian Americans Nadia Khastagir and Gopal Dayaneni chained themselves to the doors of the police station as part of Asian solidarity group #Asians4BlackLives, joined by white allies in the Bay Area Solidarity Action Team, who blocked other entrances of the police headquarters.
Khastagir, 49, comes from a legacy of Bengali activism including family members who were freedom fighters against British colonial rule in India. She was arrested for participating in civil disobedience tactics during the anti-apartheid movement in the ‘80s while at college.
“While our experience as targets of racial profiling in the United States are more recent, black communities have faced what some would call a war on black people,” she told India-West via e-mail.
“‘Broken windows’ policing, stop and frisk, and other practices have institutionalized the racial profiling of black people,” she asserted, adding: “We are demanding an end to state-sponsored violence against black people and the war on black people. We need to stand up for justice and claim that ‘Black Lives Matter.’”
Along with the blockaded entrances, roads in the busy downtown intersection outside the police headquarters were shut down. One protestor also climbed the flagpole in front to fly a banner in memory of the lives taken by police violence.
Members of #BlackLivesMatter and Blackout Collective sang freedom songs for the black people killed at the hands of police, while protestors held banners that read “Black and Breathing” and “End the War on Black People.”
The action was sustained for four hours and 28 minutes — the former symbolizing the time Michael Brown’s body lay in the street in Ferguson, Missouri, after being killed by a police officer, and the latter representing the fact that every 28 hours in the U.S. a black person is killed by police, or military or security personnel, according to #Asians4BlackLives.
Dayaneni, a 45-year-old father of two children, has been participating in recent protests to “show my children that it is unacceptable to stand by when people are suffering, when a people are oppressed.”
He told India-West in an email, “Our traditions of resistance — between African Americans and Indians — are linked throughout history. Satyagraha in the Indian independence movement and civil disobedience in the civil rights movement are sister strategies for freedom.”
“I hope that my fellow Indians here in the U.S. recognize how we have silently supported the violence against black people and that we must not continue to do so,” he added. “I hope to show the black community that South Asians are in solidarity with their struggle, and that we inspire others in the Indian community to take action.”
Khastagir also drew similarities between the Dec. 15 protest and the coordinated direct action used during the civil rights era in the 1960s.
“We knew we were heading into a volatile situation, so it was scary meeting the police on their own territory,” she said. “However, as Asian allies we believed it was critically important to put our physical bodies on the line. We used direct action as a strategic tactic to elevate the message from the black organizers.”
Around 40 people were arrested in the protest, with some misdemeanor charges.
When asked how he felt about participating in the action, Dayaneni said he was initially “nervous.” But he told India-West, “I took courage and energy from all of the other Asian and non-Asian allies who also participated in the action. We supported each other and kept each other safe. My children cheered for me when I got home and that made me proud.”
Dayaneni said if he had to take part in the protest again, “I would change only one thing — use stronger chains.”
The groups united to call for an end to racist police violence and press for the Ferguson Action demands to be implemented immediately, including the de-militarization of local law enforcement across the U.S., as well as support for the passage of the End Racial Profiling Act, among others. The full list of demands is available at http://fergusonaction.com/demands/.