Since January 2015, New York activists have gathered every Monday evening for “People’s Monday.” Organized by NYC Shut It Down, the event draws protesters to Grand Central Station and other locations, where they share one story of police violence against a person of color. They then set out on a march – chanting along the way and stopping in crowded areas to continue telling the victim’s story. Each week in January, one People’s Monday participant will share their story with Narratively’s Daniel Krieger and explain why they’re taking action.

Bento and other People's Monday participants at Grand Central Station.
Bento and other People’s Monday participants at Grand Central Station.

Who: Mike Bento, 31 – Hospital Food Service Worker, Harlem

I’ve been an activist since high school. I grew up in San Diego and got involved in educational racial justice. Later I lived in London and worked with Unite Against Fascism, a coalition put together to fight groups like the English Defense League and the British National Party, who are now friends of Trump. The way I see it, we’re part of a liberation movement that’s building a culture of resistance. When the indigenous people were being forced out and exterminated by the United States government in the west, they developed a “ghost dance ritual,” where they’d dance for hours on end as a way to make the white colonists leave. They chose to fight instead of going to the reservations. That’s how I see People’s Monday. It’s our ghost dance to deal with the tragedy that’s befallen us. It’s our vow to continue to fight.

When we started doing People’s Monday two years ago, the mayor announced the NYPD’s new Strategic Response Group, an elite unit equipped with all the latest technology like sound cannons and stingrays that capture cell phone data. Their stated goal was to fight terrorism…and protesters. As if they are the same thing. That unit was at every one of our protests for the first six months. We had people with machine guns following us. When you see us now chanting things like “Fuck the police” and “no more pigs in our community” that is because we learned that when you stand up for black lives, the state organizes to shut you down and shut you up.

In 2015, a police officer choked me out, threw me to the ground and wrongfully arrested me. This was all caught on video. I have an open civil case against him.

For People’s Monday, we want to make sure we highlight cases that represent the entirety of the oppression – including black gay lives, black trans lives and black women’s lives. Every month we do two men and two women. I do the mic check and read the facts of the day’s story. People like my voice on that. To prepare, we read dozens of articles, look at case files and autopsy reports, and we contact the victims’ families. We do 52 cases every year. This is about getting the story right and countering the police narrative. That’s a big thing, especially for the families of the victims. This week we highlighted the case of Darnisha Harris, a 16-year-old black girl in Louisiana who was shot in 2012 by a police officer who was never indicted. One big thing that struck me about her case is that it shows how the police can control the narrative. They came out early with a story, and all the news publications basically repeated that same story. It also shows how women of color are brutalized by police, and there was the insinuation that she was crazy, with the narrative of the “crazy” black woman.

It’s tough to be hopeful, especially in light of the election. The Trump administration promises to be a direct assault on people of color in this country. That’s his promise. That’s why he was elected. So we need to prepare. We need to start building communities to defend ourselves. But what gives me hope is that we’ve been going for two years and we still have a group of very dedicated people who are willing to fight the system.

Some groups say we need to work to get better police. Others are working to find more alternatives to policing, empowering the community to solve their own problems. I’m on the side of police abolition. The institution of the police is about holding the racial line. It’s not about security.

What we’re trying to drive home is that justice doesn’t come from a judge, justice doesn’t come from a police officer or detective or any member of the state, because the state is itself about injustice. What we hope to accomplish is to get people to break their allegiance to that state. That’s the biggest thing that black people can do for liberation – to break their allegiance to the United States of America, which came about by stealing and colonizing indigenous land, attempting to exterminate the indigenous people and colonizing stolen African bodies. We’re fighting colonialism and imperialism, and that means we’re fighting the state, which is why we have to break from it.

Martin Luther King said, “I fear I am integrating my people into a burning house.” And that’s what this is. Do we really want to integrate into a burning house? Or do we want to make sure it burns down?

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Come back to Narratively every Wednesday this month for more Protest People.

Daniel Krieger

Daniel Krieger, a contributing editor at Narratively, is a freelance journalist in New York. He contributes to The New York Times and his work has also appeared in Fast Company, Wired, Slate, Salon, and New York magazine.