25 Jun, 2020

kendrec mcdade’s last words: “why did they shoot me?”…

25 Jun, 2020

L: Black Lives Matter poster designed by Minal; R: a poster at the Juneteenth protest

“This is where he began to run,” Jasmine, a Black Lives Matter-Pasadena representative, spoke into a microphone at the Orange Grove Boulevard and Marengo Street intersection in Pasadena, California. “Eight years ago, Kendrec McDade was just 19 when he was stopped by cops at this corner.”

Last Friday, my 15-year old daughter Minal and I—along with a group of Pakistani friends—were with several hundred participants at the Decolonize the Pasadena Police Department rally. Organized by Black Lives Matter-Pasadena, the march had started ten blocks away from the Orange Grove-Marengo crossing in front of Pasadena’s police headquarters. The rally’s kickoff was marked by the arrest of a homeless black man, who had stepped in the midst of protest organizers who were chalking the sidewalks. The man was handcuffed and driven away in a police SUV.

“I don’t know why the cops handcuffed the man,” Jasmine told the crowd once we assembled in the courtyard outside the headquarters. “He wasn’t bothering us…The cops say they took him to the hospital, but they didn’t provide information. We don’t even know his name.”

Attendees took turns at the mic to share their reasons for joining the anti-police rally that was more subversive than the official NAACP gathering just a block away, after which our rally turned into a street march. The MC, Jasmine, shared out a lawyer’s number. “He’ll help you pro bono if you get arrested,” she said. “We do not have permission to march.”

No one was deterred. About 200-300 of us marched up Marengo Street, blocking traffic on one side of the main road. When we crossed the 210, we held up our posters and cars below honked. After the freeway bridge, we walked down a block lined by a mix of homes and apartment complexes, a neighborhood with which I’m familiar even though my family and I are newcomers to Pasadena; Minal’s high school is on Marengo Street.

As we walked and chanted, residents stepped out on the street to cheer. Some grabbed their face masks and joined our march. At the corner of Orange Grove and Marengo, the BLM-Pasadena organizers halted the crowd. Some of the protestors who were white, stepped up as allies and held up their posters to line up along all four corners of the intersection to halt traffic.

“The cops showed up to arrest Kendrec McDade because a shop owner called 911 to report that his laptop and backpack had been stolen—he lied about being held up at gunpoint,” Jasmine informed the crowd.

We turned left on Orange Grove and continued our march down a few more blocks to where the street intersects with Fair Oaks. Once again, organizers stopped to form a circle. White allies formed an outer circle to block the intersection.

Jasmine picked up the speaker and stepped into the middle. “This is where Kendrec McDade was killed by cops,” she said. “He was only 19 years old.”

After the march, while Minal and I drove home, she found more information on her phone and read details out loud: Kendrec McDade, a 19 year old who had just started college, was killed by two Pasadena police officers on March 24, 2012. The officers did not turn on their police sirens, which would have activated a camera. Despite the fact that the officers’ actions were “troubling,” they remained in their jobs and did not face any penalty for the murder they committed.

Kendrec McDade was unarmed and had no criminal record. He was killed before the Black Lives Matter Movement that was sparked off in 2014 by the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. By then, Eric Garner, who is remembered for his last words—”I can’t breathe”—had also been killed.

The Los Angeles District Attorney said that the Pasadena officers acted “lawfully in self-defense.”

Today, one month has passed since George Floyd was murdered. In 2020 alone, according to the Washington Post, more than 100 black men— including Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta a few weeks ago—have been killed by police officers. These are the names that we know. Many more murders remain hidden.

And eight years ago, Kendrec McDade whose story deserves to be known, was killed by two white police officers in Pasadena, California. There was no video footage of the murder.

Kendrec’s last words were to his ambulance driver. “Why did they shoot me?” he asked.

Allyship equals listening and learning about the community around us.

Allyship equals thinking globally / acting locally.

Allyship means finding names like those of the man who was thrown down and arrested before we arrived at the Decolonize rally.

Allyship means saying his name and demanding justice: Kendrec McDade, 5 May, 1992 – 24 March, 2012.

I read this blogpost on June 25 at a virtual reading, YOU DOWN FOR THE CAUSE OR WHAT? Writers of Color Discuss Allyship; organized by Los Angeles Public Library and Book Swell. Link to FaceBook Live reading

Black Lives Pasadena Juneteenth protest outside Pasadena’s police department with Pasadena City Hall in the background where another rally was being held