A “12th man” for the struggle

December 18, 2014

Michelle Farber reports from Seattle on another demonstration against police violence.

SOME 300 protesters, most decked out in Seahawks gear, rallied outside Centurylink Stadium in downtown Seattle on December 14, before the Seahawks-San Francisco 49ers matchup.

The protest was called by the Outside Agitators 206, a radical Black youth-led group. As the organizers stated on their Facebook event page, "We are coming to the game to show solidarity as we call upon the Seattle Seahawks players to take a stand and say Black lives matter."

The spirited protest began a few hours before game time. The impetus behind organizing a protest for the day of a major sporting event was not only to send an anti-racist message, but to use the idea of the "12th Man," as Seahawk fans refer to themselves. Protesters brought signs and banners that read, "The 12th Man Can't Breathe" and chanted "Black lives matter, and not just on the field." The group stated that in order to be a true "12," one must support the struggle for racial equality, on and off the field.

Most fans accepted the protesters' presence, but some told the activists that they should "take their protest somewhere else" and that "today is for football." Some white fans fist-bumped police and thanked them for "keeping us safe."

Protesters outside the Seahawks' stadium in Seattle call for taking a stand against racism
Protesters outside the Seahawks' stadium in Seattle call for taking a stand against racism (Erick L Sims)

Following a die-in on the main road outside the stadium, the protesters gathered for a speak-out. There, one speaker declared, "If you love Richard Sherman [the star cornerback for the Seahawks], and you don't care that he was called a thug, you're a hypocrite, and you aren't the 12th man...If you're wearing a Black man's jersey, and you're mad that we're saying "Black lives matter," then you need to take it off and burn it, because you're a hypocrite."

Black youth spoke out about the importance of continuing to agitate and organize from high school and college campuses. They spoke of the systematic and institutional racism that has lead to continued assaults on Black communities and the rise of mass incarceration.

One woman led the crowd in chanting and said that usually on Sundays, she is in church, so she would lead the protest in the style of testimonials, with fellow Black youth asked to speak up. At that point, one fan present for the game stepped forward and said he supported "everything you're doing."

AFTER THE game began, protesters moved toward the county jail, where some of the 21 people arrested during protests against police violence, all of them completely peaceful, have been held, some with felony charges against them. One organizer of the protest said we shouldn't call these arrests since "only legitimate governments charging people with legitimate crimes can say those were arrests. These people were engaging in peaceful protest. So let's call this what it really is: these people were kidnapped."

As the demonstration moved toward the jail, however, bicycle police blocked the way. In a scene that is becoming increasingly familiar to those participating in protest actions in Seattle, police blocked public sidewalks, refusing to let demonstrators past. After being unable to use the road in front of the jail, the demonstration congregated on the steps of Seattle's City Hall.

The protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful in Seattle, yet since they began, the city has reported spending close to $586,000 in overtime pay for police officers. It is now asking that protest organizations submit applications for protest permits.

The Seattle police, meanwhile, recently came under investigation by the Department of Justice, which found that the department has engaged in a "pattern of excessive force," with one of every five violent encounters infringing on an individual's constitutional rights.

At City Hall, one of the organizers talked to the crowd about the issues raised in the investigation and then asked protesters to raise their hands if they had been assaulted by a Seattle police officer since protests began. Roughly half the crowd raised their hands, and several came forward to tell their story. This writer had her breast grabbed so hard that it caused soreness and bruising of the ribs during the Black Friday protest on November 28.

With plans for more protests to come, the demonstration broke up after organizers led the crowd in chanting an Assata Shakur quote that has become popular among anti-racist protesters: "It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains."

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