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October 13th 1997 Speak Out! Against Police Brutality

On October 13, 1997, Speakeasy Cafe hosted and StreetWrites MC'ed Seattle's second annual Open Mic in support of the second annual October 22nd National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality.

The issue of police brutality and harassment is very immediate for the poor, the homeless, those with mental health issues, and all of the marginalized. Two-thirds of the audience attending the Speak Out were from the homeless shelters of Seattle.

I had felt a little like this might not be useful because we were, after all, preaching to the converted. I mean, I asked for a show of hands of anyone there who supported police brutality, and I didn't get any takers.

But as one of the October 22nd organizers pointed out, people feel isolated, vulnerable, helpless in the face of institutional cruelty -- part of the purpose of the October 22nd event is to show them that they are not isolated, are not helpless, do not have to be vulnerable.

I had brought the poems of several people who couldn't come because their shelter report hours are early, or for other reasons. Three artists of the StreetLife Gallery sent over art for display. I talked about the woman barricaded in her home because she resists forced psychiatric medication, and other cases of institutional harrassment of the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill, racial and sexual minorities, and just plain anybody who looks or acts funny. Everyone had a story that made the cause a wider issue than the behavior of individual policemen.

Melissa, a woman in the shelters, was the heart of the evening. She told about a 65 year old homeless woman back in Indianapolis who became her friend, and about staying by the woman's bedside while she was dying. Her friend sent her away at the very end, but left a letter for her: "You are stronger than you think you are. It takes a lot of strength to do what you've done for me. Now, for me, go help others too." Melissa said, "Everyone in this room is strong. Together we can help each other, and help others, and we can stop the violence."

I do not have the best part of the Open Mic on disk, spontaneous speeches by people who poured out their hearts -- like Melissa. This is what I do have of the readings done:



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