Patrisse and Mark Anthony lived for a time in St. Elmo’s, a community started by a Black artist and his nephew in 1969. The artist and his nephew worked with their Black councilman to create a place during the Vietnam War where life could be lived in peace, planting redwoods and gardens that are still there. Over the years, the residents painted murals and told the world that everything that was beautiful was possible. This was the one place Patrisse felt she could live safely and fully as herself, a feeling that was taken from her during the raids that came after she demanded that police stop killing Black people.
Patrisse describes the history of St. Elmo’s in order to highlight the type of community she has chosen to live in—one that prioritizes making artists of color feel safe in a racist country that makes them feel so unsafe most of the time. She also notes that the police took this sense of safety was taken from her, as they’re part of an institution that only claims to care about safety while targeting people of color.
It is summer 2013, and police helicopters are flying above Patrisse’s cottage in St. Elmo’s. Patrisse and Mark Anthony have two cottages there and have used them to help Monte heal. Lately, Dignity and Power Now has been demanding that the sheriff’s department be held accountable but also supporting the BLM movement, which makes them a police target. St. Elmo’s was raided earlier in the year (the first time police had entered the village), before BLM began but after protests had started across the U.S.
As in other sections of the book, helicopters symbolize the power and pervasiveness of the police presence in Black and Latinx communities in LA—in addition to police cars, helicopters ensure that Patrisse’s community is surveilled from every angle. Patrisse shares about the activism work she’s been engaging in to show that none of it is criminal or violent, yet helicopters are still flying low over her house, implying that any sort of demand for police accountability will be met with more surveillance and possibly violence.
Patrisse, her friend and fellow BLM activist JT, and his daughter hide in a corner of the cottage as the helicopters get louder. They aren’t sure if they are actively being monitored or just being reminded that, as people of color, they can be taken or killed at any time. This reality has been proven over the years: Oscar Grant, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, and Clifford Glover were all killed by police while simply living their lives. Other people who understood this reality include Ida B. Wells when she exposed the names of white lynch mobs, the Deacons of Defense when they protected Black people from white vigilantes and police in the 1960s, and the Black Panthers when they challenged the Oakland Police Department in 1966.
Patrisse reflects more on how the helicopters are part of the police force’s attempt to intimidate her and remind her that they do not care about her safety. She shares examples of Black people who have been killed by police without doing anything wrong to suggest that police are uninterested in protecting people, only in controlling them. She names other historical figures and organizations who tried to hold police accountable in order to show that this is not a new issue—she believes that Black people have been treated like their lives don’t matter for all of U.S. history.
Patrisse and her community are the progeny of these freedom fighters, while police are the progeny of slave catchers—no isolated act of decency can change that. Their goal is to control and kill, not to protect, as evidenced by gang policy doing nothing to end violence and 50 percent of all homicides in the U.S. going unsolved. Someone is killed by police in California every 72 hours, and 63 percent of victims are Black or Latinx. Black people are only six percent of California’s population, yet they are killed at five times the rate of white people and three times the rate of Latinx people.
Historically speaking, police forces in the U.S. emerged from the “slave patrols” in the South in the early 1700s that were organized to stop slave revolts and catch runaway slaves. Patrisse shares this history to contextualize her claim that prisons and policing are institutions that exist to control and kill, not to keep people safe. She also shares data that proves gang policy did nothing to actually address violence, especially violence against Black and Latinx people—which suggests that policymakers, like police, also cared less about public safety and more about controlling people of color.
Patrisse shares these statistics whenever she is asked to speak somewhere, noting that there aren’t stats for all of the Black people who indirectly lose their lives due to racism, such as grief leading to addiction, which leads to cirrhosis, which leads to death. These undocumented and slow deaths come from being told daily that your life doesn’t matter. When police kill, the assumption is that they did so in the name of public safety rather than due to poor training and racism. JT and Patrisse discuss this as the helicopters hover, and they know that even if the police aren’t there for Patrisse, they’re there for another Black or brown person.
Like usual, Patrisse critiques the overt violence of the police alongside the more subtle violence of everyday racism stemming from policymakers and the public—for Black people, addiction and health issues are inherently tied to trying to survive in a racist society. Patrisse does not believe that police kill in order to keep people safe, but because they don’t care about Black people’s lives.
Patrisse will not be shocked when police use tear gas and tanks against people protesting the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. The federal government has provided these weapons to local police departments for decades. (LA was the first place where a SWAT raid was undertaken.) Sitting in her cottage, Patrisse tries to stay alive and prepares herself for the news of another child being killed or arrested and tortured the way Monte was. Have any Black kids been given a slap on the wrist or pointed toward therapy? Why aren’t people like Trayvon, Clifford Glover, or Rekia Boyd given a first chance or a second? Rekia was simply talking with friends in a Chicago park when shot and killed by a cop.
Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, leading to massive protests. (Patrisse will describe Michael Brown’s death in more detail in later chapters.) Patrisse juxtaposes how the criminal justice system treats Black children like they are inherently criminal with how non-Black children are often given a slap on the wrist or empathetically encouraged to seek therapy—again suggesting that prisons do not exist to protect Black people but to control them.
Someone bangs on the door, and Patrisse answers to protect JT since he is dark-skinned and large. If Trayvon, Oscar Grant, and Ramarley Graham could be killed for no real reason, JT could be, too. Patrisse hugs JT’s daughter and then slips outside. She knows that police can’t come in without a warrant, and that they’ve done nothing criminal—just protesting, organizing meetings, painting murals, crying, and demanding justice. Still, she’s terrified to find 12 police officers in riot gear pointing guns at her home. A Latinx officer explains that someone tried to shoot up the police station and may be hiding in the village. Patrisse says no one is here, and the cop asks why she’s shaking. She says that she is scared because of the guns, but that there is no one here, and goes back inside.
Patrisse is worried that the police will target JT because she believes that large, dark-skinned Black men have historically been treated as inherently violent just for existing. The fact that there are 12 police officers in full riot gear pointing guns directly at Patrisse based on the incorrect belief that someone might be hiding inside shows how police are primed to treat innocent Black people as violent and dangerous.
Inside, Patrisse and JT hug and try to breathe. They hear the police talking loudly outside about how Patrisse must be afraid because someone inside is manipulating her. Patrisse knows they are inventing a reason to gain entry without a warrant. The police bang on the door, telling them to come outside, and Patrisse wonders if they will be killed. They decide that JT and his daughter should leave together, hoping that they won’t kill him if he’s with her. They are all immediately surrounded at gunpoint and forced into the courtyard outside while other officers raid Patrisse’s house and search it for four hours. Patrisse doesn’t know what they take or destroy—she is treated like a prisoner in a cell who can be removed at will. After this, she moves out.
Apart from when Patrisse was handcuffed in front of her class in middle school for smoking marijuana, this is her first personal experience of being targeted and intimidated by police, and it solidifies her belief that police do not think Black people are worthy of basic respect or decency. There is no one hiding in Patrisse’s home, and she has done nothing wrong, yet she is treated like a criminal. More than that, JT’s six-year-old daughter is also treated as a criminal, even though she is a child. The implication here is that a non-Black child would not have been treated this way. That the police invent a reason to come inside and raid Patrisse’s home for hours shows how disinterested they are in treating her with respect.
The first time police entered St. Elmo’s was in February 2013. Patrisse got home from a late-night comedy show and found Mark Anthony handcuffed outside and in pajamas. Before this, no one locked their doors in St. Elmo’s, so a couple police officers had easily gained entry and dragged him out of bed. They said he matched the description of someone committing robberies in the area. Patrisse was furious, wondering how many white people were dragged out of bed after Dylann Roof massacred people in prayer, when Ted Bundy was killing women, or after Columbine. (Most mass shootings in the U.S. are committed by white men.) Patrisse explained that Mark Anthony was her husband, and the police let him go before spending two hours asking questions to find a reason to take him away. Their tactics remind Patrisse of the SS and the KGB, of real terrorists.
The SS was a Nazi paramilitary organization, and the KGB was the Soviet Union’s main security agency. Both organizations were known for enacting extreme amounts of violence on innocent people. Patrisse compares the police who raided her house to these “terrorist” organizations because she believes they were more interested in harassing Mark Anthony than actually keeping the community safe.