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Warriors in the Garden, by Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr. This American Life (March 5, 2021)

Author: Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr.

Tejan-Thomas, Saidu. “Warriors in the Garden.” This American Life, Resistance on Gimlet, 5 Mar. 2021, www.thisamericanlife.org/733/warriors-in-the-garden.

This week, three men who came together to protest the murder of George Floyd. They were unified, loud, and impressive, but over time these three friends end up in three very different places.

Prologue

by Emanuele Berry

When Executive Editor Emanuele Berry’s friend pitched her a show about Black Lives Matter activists, she was not sure. He made it anyway and it’s really good. Today we are featuring some of Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr.’s reporting from the podcast Resistance. He’s captured a story about Black Lives Matter that has always been there but nobody ever tells. (4 minutes)

You can hear Resistance from Gimlet, a Spotify company.

Act One

by Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr.

When Saidu’s friend Marcus-David Peters was killed by police, he wanted to figure out what to do with the weight of that loss. He began following three men who began protesting after the murder of George Floyd. They seemed to know what to do when faced with police violence. Saidu tells the story of their lives after they began protesting with the Warriors in the Garden. (30 minutes)

Act Two

by Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr.

We continue our story about three members of Warriors in the Garden. After a summer of protest, the Warriors have to figure out what to do when their activism draws the attention of the police. (25 minutes)

Song:

“FIGHT!” by Wyatt Waddell

Transcript

733: Warriors in the Garden

Note: This American Life is produced for the ear and designed to be heard. If you are able, we strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes emotion and emphasis that's not on the page. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Prologue: Prologue

Announcer

A quick warning, there are curse words that are unbeeped in today's episode of this show. If you prefer a beeped version, you can find that at our website, thisamericanlife.org.

Emanuele Berry

From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Emanuele Berry, the show's executive editor. I'm in for Ira Glass. This week's show is reported by a friend of mine, Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr. Last spring, he gave me a call. He wanted to talk about a show idea. His big pitch-- a podcast series about activists.

I was not into it. I had covered protests in Ferguson the year Michael Brown was shot. Spent late nights watching protesters standoff with police, weekends at marches. I know how this goes. It's always the same story-- chanting, impassioned activists talking about why they came out, hopeful, forward-looking statements. I watched as the story replicated in cities across the country with Black death after Black death.

Saidu and I talked for an hour. I wasn't sold. He ignored me and made the show anyway. It's a podcast called Resistance. And I cannot bear how happy me saying the next few words will make Saidu, but it's good. So he didn't make the story you'd get by going to protest after protest, like I feared. Instead, he told stories that unfold over time, about people's lives being changed by the decision to protest, what happens with their personal relationships, home life taking a backseat, exhaustion, egos, celebration, and arguments.

Saidu made the story that's always been there, but no one ever tells. There's this perception of Black Lives Matter, that it's this one thing. But of course, the larger social movement of our time is really a loose collection of different groups with different personalities, goals, and methods.

And Saidu made a series of stories about one of them, a group called Warriors in the Garden. It was started by about a dozen activists, mostly in their 20s, Black and Brown-- a handful of women, but mostly men. They're students, marketing directors, waiters, and models. Derrick Ingram, one of the founding members of the group, says a thing that unifies them is that each one of them is the loudest person they know.

Derrick Ingram

Think about this. Like, I saw 5,000 people marching and I thought, I can lead them. I need to get in front. How narcissistic do you have to be to jump in front of 5,000 people and just start screaming at them? Like, I mean-- but I did it.

Emanuele Berry

All the Warriors in the Garden did it. And they found each other because they were all at the front of the marches. And very quickly, they became one of the best known groups in New York City organizing protests after the murder of George Floyd.

The group is cool. They look cool. And they built a huge social media following. When people showed up to their protests, they made sure they had a good time, which meant a lot of chanting and dancing and music being played. They were explicitly a nonviolent organization because they didn't want their events to feel like endless clashes with police. They wanted them to feel like celebrations.

Derrick Ingram

Our actual marches are like club promoting. Like, we have digital campaigns. And a lot of groups don't roll like that. They make these half-assed flyers on Canva. They don't even know what their route's going to be. People are high out of their minds, screaming, tagging shit. That's not how Warriors roll. Yeah, there's a level of professionalism, joy. Not to bastardize or commercialize what we do, but people have called us the Summer Jam or Coachella of protests.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

[LAUGHS]

Derrick Ingram

I'm just saying. They have! They have. They really-- I mean, multiple people. It's because it's a vibe!

Emanuele Berry

That's Saidu laughing. And on today's show, we're going to bring you some of what he found. He got very interested in three of the Warriors in particular, three people Saidu really identified with-- men who entered the movement with similar ideas and motivations, who changed over the course of 10 months and ended up in very different places with different conclusions. But the story is not just about them. It's also about Saidu. Here he is.

Act One: Act One

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

When the Warriors in the Garden and people all around the world started going outside and protesting last summer, I'm kind of ashamed to say that I was on my couch playing video games. The most I raised my voice for anything was to talk trash to my friends over a headset.

But it was during one of these games that my boy asked me, yo, did you hear about what happened to George Floyd? I hadn't yet, but these days, your homies don't ask if you've heard what happened to a Black man you've never heard of, unless that man is already dead. And I really wasn't trying to hear that because I've been down that road before.

Just six years ago, in 2015, when I was in college, I went to some of the first Black Lives Matter protests in my city. I remember shouting the names of Trayvon and Tamir and Sandra and Akai and countless others, until I lost my voice to tears. But it didn't stop this shit from continuing. The names still piled up. And there was nothing that told me that anything I could do would slow it down.

My last act of resistance, the last time I thought it was worth it to engage with the death of another Black man, came three years later, in 2018, the year the police killed my friend. His name was Marcus-David Peters, the only man I ever met with two first names. We met while working together as RAs in college, and the man was so strange in all the best ways.

He carried a flip phone and didn't have social media. He was the only person in the whole dorm who outfitted his windows with satin curtains, deep red. He would burn expensive candles on his kitchen counter that he probably bought from Williams-Sonoma or something like that, we worked out together at the school gym, and our whole RA staff would just fry him about how much of an old man he was-- his two tight shirts, his cheesy smile, his bald head, the way he always reminded you to carry cash for emergencies whenever you leave the house.

A couple of years after we graduated, Marcus stayed behind to become a high school teacher in Richmond, Virginia. He was having a mental health episode one day, when the cops showed up and murdered him, just two miles away from where we'd gone to school. His death felt like this huge weight that all of a sudden now belonged to everyone who knew him. And I didn't want it. I started doing anything I could to get rid of it.

So my last attempt at activism was trying to get the leadership of our university to acknowledge what Marcus meant to our community, to make a commitment that they would prevent something like this from ever happening again. I called their office and told other people to flood the phone lines, too. But then, nothing from leadership-- no statement, no acknowledgment.

I could have kept at it, kept pushing to make something out of this tragedy in order to feel a little lighter. I thought about flying back to Richmond and protesting, or calling up his family to ask what they wanted me to do to help to get justice for him. But the longer I waited, the more the whole thing felt so damn heavy. What am I supposed to do with this? When you become somebody who knows someone killed by police, when police violence touches your life, what do you do next?

I've struggled with this question for three years, ever since Marcus died. And it's that question that drew me to the Warriors, the group of protesters that I followed for 10 months. It's that question that drew me to three men in particular who were trying to answer it.

The first Warrior I met was a man named Chi, Chi Osse. I called him up for the first time one evening in early June, but he was busy.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

Hey, Chi.

Chi Osse

Hey, how's it going? You're on speakerphone. I'm with my stylist, Brandon.

Brandon Tan

Hi.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

You said you're with who?

Chi Osse

My stylist.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

Chi says he's with his stylist. I had done a little digging on social media so I knew that he was really into fashion. I also knew that he was young, 22 years old. He has somewhat of a baby face, but takes really good candid photos that make him look much older and hella confident.

Last May was the first time Chi had ever protested. And like so many people that watched the video of George Floyd's murder, it wrecked him, and he decided he couldn't just sit at home anymore. On his Instagram, you can see how quickly he took to protesting. He went from being Chi, the fashion enthusiast, to Chi, the co-founder of Warriors in the Garden, in just a matter of days.

Chi Osse

The first day, I wore shorts. I brought some water and some chapstick. That's the most immature, I mean, protesting outfit you could bring.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

But he was still so new to all this. In Chi's Instagram video from that very first day, you can hear him crying from behind the camera. And it's obvious that he did not expect things to go as far as they did.

Chi Osse

Oh my God.

I saw a police car get burned. I was like, whoa, it's really like this. I didn't know it would get that far.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

By the end of that first day, what was your overwhelming feeling?

Chi Osse

So I cried that first day in the middle of the protest, but then it was like anger. I've never been so angry at police officers before, when these motherfuckers are beating us and spraying clouds of pepper spray for people frickin' chanting.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

Seeing police violence in person made Chi more determined to keep coming back to the protests. So on day two, Chi comes correct. He's looking like he's ready for battle.

Chi Osse

The next day, I was-- you know, safety glasses and covered my entire face, pants, combat boots, not for combat, but for just toe protection.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

By day three, he looks like a seasoned revolutionary. He's in Times Square on a stage, holding a microphone, in the middle of a sea of people.

Chi Osse

Everybody! They're trying to strike fear in our hearts! If they do not kneel with us, they are fucking against us.

[CHEERING]

Don't let them break you. Be peaceful. Don't break. They want us to break. If we break, we give them what they fucking want. No justice!

Crowd

No peace!

Chi Osse

No justice!

Crowd

No peace!

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

The next time you went out, is that when you wore the beret?

Chi Osse

The beret was day three. That was when I was finding my own, and people were listening to me, and people were recognizing me. And I was like, let's go. If we're going to do this, let's bring fashion to it, too.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

So Chi was the first Warrior I started paying attention to because it's wild to see someone so good at something they just picked up yesterday. The second Warrior I noticed those first few days was Derrick Ingram. He's the one who compared the Warriors protest to Coachella. He's always out there in a tank top and leather baseball cap.

Derrick and Chi are both queer, but unlike Chi, Derrick wasn't new to this. And honestly, I was probably drawn to Derrick because like me, he was skeptical of protesting. He tried the marching thing back in 2014 and quit when nothing much changed. He'd moved on. He was settling into New York City. He had a new apartment without roommates.

Derrick Ingram

I finally saved up, got all this money, got my place in Hell's Kitchen. But this was like my party pad. Like, get to know people, go to the club, bring somebody back. Like, I thought this was going to be my summer.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

But then, George Floyd was killed. And his friends pushed him to come back out and protest again. So Derrick threw himself back in. The third Warrior I started watching is a man named John Acosta. John is extremely intense, no matter what he's talking about. But it doesn't take more than a few minutes to realize he can be a real softie, too. John will tell you how much he hates white supremacy and how much he loves you, and there will be a vein popping on his forehead both times. This is John.

John Acosta

It's Black lives, baby. All day. All lives, that just sounds stupid. Of course, all lives matter, but right now, it's Black lives that are getting taken the fuck out.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

Most of the Warriors are in their early to mid 20s. John is older. He's 32. He's got kids. He grew up in the Bronx. And up until the protest, he worked as a security guard at the World Trade Center. When Derrifck asked John if you wanted to join the Warriors--

John Acosta

He said, yo, you want to be a part of the Warriors? And I was like, sure, I'll be a part of that. Let's go. Fuck yeah.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

Last summer, I kept coming back to see what the Warriors were up to. I'd watch them lead protests of thousands, walk for miles, shouting, "Black Lives Matter," "Hands up, don't shoot," "NYPD, suck my dick," and my personal favorite, "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, fuck 12." I also watched as they formed bonds with each other, sleeping over each other's houses, going out for drinks. I rode along as they traveled to other cities to protest.

When they talk about those early days, it almost sounds romantic. They use words like "fate" and "destiny" to describe meeting each other. It's low key corny, but kind of cute. The murder of George Floyd brought them together, but it also brought police into their lives in a way they'd never been faced with before. I hadn't figured out the right way to deal with the space that police violence took up in my life, but they seemed to be on a path to figuring it out for themselves.

The Warriors were pretty successful straight out the gate. They started organizing their own huge protests. They got a ton of media attention and built a big social media following. Chi in particular became a really recognizable face in the movement. He figured out early on something that takes a lot of first-time protesters a while to come to terms with, which is that at some point, the attention will die down and the streets will clear. And then what? Just a couple of weeks in, Chi was already starting to think about the future. And then, he got a text from his auntie.

Chi Osse

Well, she was giving some critiques to my brothers and I over a group text a couple of weeks back about how young people don't know about their council members and was challenging me on all of this and that. And I didn't know, so I took it upon myself to do the research. And--

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

So he learned who his city council member is, and he also learned that that guy wouldn't be running for re-election in 2021. There was going to be an empty seat. He texted his auntie back.

Chi Osse

Like, hey. Well, I think I'm running for city council now.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

When I heard Chi was running, I kind of wondered if he just got caught up in the moment of last summer. He's a 22-year-old. What does he know about policy, facts and figures, crafting a political message, how to reach voters?

He started bringing in the Warriors to act as his political advisors. They asked Chi about any incriminating posts he may have made on social media, debated if he should tone down his chants, the merits of his whole beret look. And then, just a few days later, on Juneteenth, Chi attended a public meeting on Zoom with a bunch of New York political heavy hitters-- the leader of the New York County Democrats, a sitting city council member, and a few other public servants who had been in the game for years. Chi took his turn to speak.

Chi Osse

I do applaud the passing of initiative 760-A, 721-A, and T2020-6267 yesterday, but I'm looking forward to the proposed $1 billion budget cut and the repeal of 50-A.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

I heard that, and my first reaction was like, what? What is 760-A, 721-A, 2020-626-- like, what is that? This is the moment where I was like, oh, shit, this man has been doing his homework. This isn't just about berets and looking good for him. He's actually got receipts, and he isn't afraid to show them. It was really impressive.

Chi Osse

It's just the tip of the iceberg. I challenge you all to go further than $1 billion in NYPD budget cuts. I challenge you to go further in passing legislation that prevents police brutality and systemic racism within policing.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

He caps it off with this.

Chi Osse

Also, I'm announcing my campaign for city council, district 36, 2021, Chi Osse.

Woman 1

Thank you so much, Chi.

Woman 2

We really, really appreciate you being here.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

By June, the Warriors had a political candidate. By July, they applied for nonprofit status so their work could extend beyond the protests. And in August, in response to their activism and protests throughout New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo repealed 50-A. It gave the public open access to police disciplinary records for the first time in nearly 40 years. This is the kind of legislative victory that Chi wants to secure for the movement by running for office. But he is still a Warrior, which means he's still out in the streets with the rest of the group.

Being Black and choosing to fight for justice is like putting a second target on your back-- the first you're born with, the second you're literally volunteering for. All summer, I watched protesters being tear gassed, kettled, and beaten by cops. The cops were so persistently violent that the state attorney general would later sue the NYPD for, quote, "pattern of using excessive force and making false arrests against New Yorkers during peaceful protests."

The Warriors were already mostly Black. They already had that first target. They were about to find out what exactly that second target could look like. One Thursday night in August, Kiara, one of the Warriors, along with Derrick, decided to go out for drinks.

Kiara

We were drinking. We were dancing. We were singing. It just felt like it was fun.

Derrick Ingram

I had a couple of shots, and I had two or three of those. And I was slammed-- slammed! Having fun. Like, we were just hanging out outside. We were having a blast.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

Around 2:00 AM, Kiara and Derrick and a few of the other Warriors split up from the bar and made their way home. Derrick told me that he drank so much that night that when he got home, he tried to cook a whole steak at 3:00 in the morning, which-- who can't relate? He didn't end up going to bed till around 4:00.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

What do you hear at 7:15?

Derrick Ingram

A knock at the door. Boom, boom, boom.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

Derrick drags himself out of bed to go see who it is.

Derrick Ingram

I have the deadbolt chain on. I looked through my peephole-- short white guy. He asked the address, and I told him my address. And then he asked my name, and I told him my name. And he was like, I have a warrant for your arrest.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

It was the police. Derrick had no idea what this was about. He asked the cop to slide the warrant under the door. He looks down, but he doesn't see anything. He didn't know what to do. So he alerts the rest of the Warriors in their group chat that the cops are outside of his door. And pretty soon, all the Warriors are awake and alarmed. A lot of them start checking their own windows and looking through peepholes to see if cops are at their houses, too.

Warrior

I was scared for him. I was scared for myself.

Kiara

Are they coming to my house next?

Chi Osse

Are they going to knock on my door?

Warrior

Like, how is this going to end?

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

When the rest of the Warriors don't see cops at their doors, they start strategizing about how to help Derrick. Some of them want to head to his apartment ASAP. But others say, no, what if the cops are expecting us to do that? And once we show up, they just arrest everybody? Then Chi comes up with another idea.

Kiara

Chi instantly was like, "Go live, go live, go live, go live."

Warrior

Everybody said, go live.

Chi Osse

Document that shit. I mean, if they're banging on your door, lying about a warrant, people need to see it.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

The Warriors had been amassing a huge social media following all summer. Before, it was basically just a tool to keep young people engaged in the movement. But now, they were telling Derrick to go live to their 40,000 followers in hopes that it would keep him safe.

Derrick Ingram

I don't know what the fuck is going on. Honestly, I have no idea what I did. So, this is crazy.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

In the video, Derrick is wearing the same clothes he wore out drinking the night before-- a leather baseball cap, a navy blue button down, and a silver ring that shines whenever he touches his face, trying to figure out what to do. In the comments, Derrick's friends tell him to go back to the door and ask for the warrant again.

Derrick Ingram

Officer?

Cop

Yes, sir.

Derrick Ingram

What's going on? Did you have the warrant?

Cop

There's probable cause to arrest you right now.

Derrick Ingram

Is there a reason they haven't called me about this investigation? Is it active?

Cop

It's active, yes. For assault.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

The cop says yes, it's active. It's for an assault.

Derrick Ingram

OK.

Cop

That's why I'm here.

Derrick Ingram

To detain me?

Cop

You will be arrested, yes.

Derrick Ingram

Oh, Jesus. So there's that.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

Sitting back down in front of the camera, Derrick takes the cap off a gallon of water and starts chugging it. He doesn't know why the cops are here. He wonders if this has to do with a complaint he filed against the police a few weeks back. Was this retaliation or something? He's not sure. An hour passes.

John Acosta

So, I get a message saying that, yo, there's a bunch of fucking cops up in front of fucking Derrick's crib. And I was like, what?

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

John immediately hopped on his bike and flew over to Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan, as fast as possible. It's not unusual for cops to show up to arrest someone without a warrant. What is unusual, though, is what John saw outside Derrick's apartment that day. It wasn't just like one or two cops in a patrol car at Derrick's. It looked like a full-on tactical operation-- large NYPD trucks, men in suits going in and out of the building, a battering ram. They'd even begun closing off the block with barricades.

John Acosta

So I get there. I'm rolling up. I'm like, what the fuck? Yo, to see all those officers outside, bro, was intense. What I saw that kind of baffled me, that let me know that, oh, shit, they're treating him like a terrorist, was when I seen the canines. When I seen the dogs, I say, they got him like he's a fucking terrorist.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

For all his intense energy, all John can really do at this point is be a witness. So he stays out there on his bike. Back inside, Derrick realizes he's surrounded.

Derrick Ingram

So, y'all, officers in the hallway, officers with guns, officer in empty apartments in the building across from me. They're banging on my door. They're literally peeking in my curtains. I had to put up a sheet. Like, there's over 30 officers here.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

At this point, Derrick starts thinking about his parents. They don't even know what's going on. So he calls his dad.

Derrick Ingram

And I Facetime my dad because he doesn't know how to use IG. His first reaction was, call the cops. I was like, are you serious right now? I was like, you want me to call the police on the police? What are they going to do? Like, he was deadass. He was like, no, bring a captain out. I was like, nah, that's not going to work, man.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

Oh, man, that's really interesting because--

Derrick Ingram

My parents are--

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

But that's what parents tell you to do. You know what I'm saying? Like, wait, something bad is happening? Call the cops.

Derrick Ingram

I'm like, yep. And I'm showing my dad, like, yep, there's three out of my window right now, one on my balcony, a couple in the building across the street. He's like, oh my god.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

Derrick's friends kept telling him not to open the door. But the Warriors didn't really have that many other options.

Derrick Ingram

I didn't know what to do at that point. So I felt like I can get riddled with bullets if I open this fucking door, but I was thinking about, fuck it, I'm going to put my body on the line. It's going to make a difference. I'm just going to open this door. If they fuck me up, that was a thought, too. Like--

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

The thought of dying for the cause.

Derrick Ingram

Yeah, the thought of dying or getting hurt was definitely a thought briefly.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

Wow. Where do you think that came from?

Derrick Ingram

Thaddeus.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

Thaddeus McCarroll was Derrick's childhood friend. They went to school in St. Louis and would run around church camp, playing pranks together. Derrick and Thaddeus lost touch for a while, but linked up years later after high school. It was 2014, the same year Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, not too far from where they grew up. That's when Derrick went to his first protests.

Derrick Ingram

And Thaddeus was with me there the whole time. Unfortunately, he was struggling with mental illness.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

Almost a year after the Ferguson protests, in 2015, Thaddeus was at home when he started having an episode. He locked himself in his house with a knife, so Thaddeus's mom did what Derrick's dad had suggested-- she called the cops. After a long standoff, Thaddeus opened the door.

Derrick Ingram

And he came storming outside, and he was shot several times, riddled with bullets. And that's how I felt. I felt like I was barricaded in here. And if I surrendered, that I could have met that same fate.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

Thaddeus died. It's messed up to feel a kinship to somebody in this way, to know that y'all are part of some depressing brotherhood of people whose friends were killed by police. And I didn't have to be trapped in a room and get threatened by cops to identify with the thing that Derrick is feeling now-- that he might be next. It's a thought that I've had many times since Marcus was killed. But I always talk myself down. Like, there's no way something like that could happen twice in one friendship. But here was Derrick in that exact scenario.

3 and 1/2 hours in, the cops have officially closed off Derrick's street on both sides. So anyone else who wants to come and try and help is going to have a hard time. So Chi comes up with a new plan. He gets on the next train to Derrick's apartment, and when he gets off at the stop, he ducks into a nearby corner store and buys a jug of milk. When he gets to Derrick's block, he walks up to the cops at the barricade.

Chi Osse

I said, what's going on here? They're like, there's an incident over here. We're closing the street off. So I was like, I'm subletting at 146, right over there. I have my milk. I don't want it to get spoiled. And they were like, sorry, sir. Blah, blah, blah. And then I dropped my milk.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

His plan fails, but across the street from Derrick's apartment, a small group of protesters have started to gather in a park. Chi runs over and joins them. Back inside, Derrick is on the phone with a lawyer, and things start to get even more intense.

Derrick Ingram

They literally cover my peephole. They had a battering ram, so all of this stuff on my wall is falling. I heard a pop, pop, pop.

[BATTERING]

Cop

Derrick, you're the one making this difficult. We're just trying to get you to come outside. Derrick, do you understand what I'm saying?

Derrick Ingram

Bro, this is--

Cop

There's no hostility. You're the one being hostile right now.

Derrick Ingram

I'm not being hostile. I'm calm. I'm calm. I am chill.

Police Radio

I'm sorry, I think I lost you. Um, hey, Derrick--

Woman

There's no warrant.

Derrick Ingram

And then at another point-- and this was caught on camera-- they were like--

Cop

So why don't you be the warrior you state you are and come out and let's face the situation?

Derrick Ingram

--why don't you be the warrior you say you are?

[KNOCKING]

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

Derrick only has two options-- stay inside or open the door. And as the police ramp up the pressure, it's getting harder and harder to know which one to choose. The lawyers he's on the phone with have been trying to negotiate a peaceful surrender with the police, but haven't had any luck. So now they're just trying to help Derrick stay calm.

Derrick Ingram

There's a lot going on.

[KNOCKING]

Yes, yeah, I'll--

Cop

Did you hear what I said, Derrick?

Man

Derrick--

Cop

Now could you acknowledge me, please? I'm treating you like a gentleman.

Derrick Ingram

OK, I'm so overwhelmed.

Cop

Right? I'm treating you like a gentleman.

Derrick Ingram

I just want to get this over with, and it's too much. It's too much.

Man

No, I hear you. I hear you.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

By noon, almost five hours into this whole ordeal, the crowd of supporters is getting bigger. A couple hundred people have tuned into the Instagram Live to watch. And at this point, Chi is pissed. He and the rest of the Warriors realize that what they have to do now is start putting as much pressure on the NYPD outside as they're putting on Derrick inside. So Chi grabs his megaphone and gets to work.

Chi Osse

If there was a reason for his arrest, they would have arrested him by now. It's been five hours. Where's the warrant? Where's the warrant? Where's your warrant? Where's your warrant?

Derrick Ingram

And then at one point, I could hear my friends, I could hear some of the protesters chanting from my windows. "Where's the warrant?"

Chi Osse

Where's your warrant? Where's your warrant?

Derrick Ingram

And it was Chi.

Chi Osse

Where's your warrant?

Derrick Ingram

I felt protected because there were so many eyes on me. I felt like, they're not going to kill me on live. They might hurt me. They might do some fucked up shit, but I feel protected. Like, that's how I felt.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

This was wild to me, because cops killed people in front of an audience all the time. But Derrick felt comforted knowing that his friends were outside. So finally, he decides to open the door.

Derrick Ingram

I literally had my hands on the door, and I see a message. Says, don't open it, DWRECK. Don't open the door. They're leaving. I hear cheering outside.

[CHEERING]

I was like, oh, shit, they are leaving. So I didn't open the door.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

With no warning, no obvious reason, and almost as quickly as they'd shown up, the cops had packed up their stuff and bounced, just like that, after more than six hours. The moment the police left, John took off towards Derrick's building.

John Acosta

That was a good moment, man. I'd seen him, he'd seen me. He'd seen that it was somebody that loves him that was there. It wasn't some fucking cop ready to take him out and shit.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

Did you just hug him?

John Acosta

Hell yeah, man. I hugged the shit out of that man. I'm proud of that man, yo!

Crowd

The people united will never be defeated. The people united--

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

The next day, Derrick went with his lawyer to turn himself in at the precinct. They figured he'd be safer that way so something like this wouldn't happen again. And that's when he found out the charges against him-- assault of a police officer for allegedly shouting into a cop's ear with a megaphone at a protest. They also charged him with obstructing governmental administration, which basically means getting in the way of a cop doing their job.

I tried to get more information from the NYPD about why all this happened, but they wouldn't tell me anything other than a generic statement, saying a police officer had tried to stop Derrick from entering a, quote, "frozen zone" at a protest, and, quote, "a struggle ensued." I'm not sure that explains deploying the full force of one of the most militarized police departments in the country for one man for six hours.

I couldn't think of any justification other than they wanted to intimidate Derrick and the growing movement against police violence. Derrick was shook. But he told me after the whole thing, he also felt pretty victorious. He had been able to capture the police abusing their power to intimidate an unarmed Black person.

Derrick Ingram

Literally, that's what this whole movement is about. And that's what they did to me, publicly, in Hell's Kitchen in Manhattan. It made them look savage.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

Derrick did have a second target on his back. He was Black, and now he was a prominent enough activist for the NYPD to come after him. But the Warriors' tactics, the thing they'd been doing all summer, made him safer. They won.

A little while later, I was talking to John on the phone about that day at Derrick's. He mentioned that he got a message from an anonymous account on Instagram. He hadn't noticed it at the time when he was focused on the cops. But later on--

John Acosta

And as I'm looking, I'm like, what the hell is this? I open it, and it says, "You are next." I was like, what the fuck? Like, this is a threat.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

John laughed it off. He sent the guy an emoji of a middle finger and a message-- "You'll have to catch me first."

Emanuele Berry

Coming up after the break, revenge. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio, when our program continues.

Act Two: Act Two

Emanuele Berry

It's This American Life. I'm Emanuele Berry, sitting in for Ira today. Today on our show, Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr. is telling the story of three activists in the group Warriors in the Garden, who, like Saidu, are trying to make sense of the question, what do you do when police violence finds you unwittingly? When we left before the break, the Warriors' activism had started to draw the attention of police. Here's Saidu again.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

By the end of last summer, almost all the Warriors said they'd gotten death threats on social media, all except John. John got his first one that day outside Derrick's apartment, when he was watching the police siege. He got in a message from an anonymous account on Instagram, saying, "You are next."

John Acosta

I didn't really pay any mind to it like that because-- I asked people, because this is my first threat. I asked people. I was like, yo, I just got threatened. This is my first threat. What should I do? Oh, ignore it. I have so many. And I said, all right, I'm not going to be worried about it, you know? But I'm going to be wary. I'm going to be looking around, making sure everything's OK. And then, boom. Then I got caught with my pants down.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

Within two weeks of the siege at Derrick's, John got on Instagram Live. He was holding up bloody wrists to the camera.

John Acosta

Hey, what's up, everyone? I just got hit by a car. I'm 100% sure they just-- they tried to kill me. They hit me and they booked it out of there.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

He pans the camera to show a couple of nasty scrapes on both his legs. He was riding his bike when he got hit. I can tell John is shaken up, as he tells the people watching what just happened.

John Acosta

I'm moving out of his way. I'm moving more to my lane, and he just jumps the line and hits me, looks back, and then bounces. The man sees me. It's like he seen me. Clear-- I'm wearing fucking red. What the fuck? It's mad lit out here.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

John says he looked up at the car as it drove away. A Chevy Impala. Chevy Impalas are the kind of cars the cops are known to drive when they're undercover.

John Acosta

Shit, man. I don't even know what to really think right now. I just wanted to let y'all know because this is some crazy shit right now. I can't even call the fucking police because they're not going to do shit. Fuck 12. So I don't know if there's a way that I can prove that it was them. I'm looking for some cameras, but anybody that's out here in these streets, man, just be careful.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

With protesting, Chi, Derrick, and John have all faced off with police. But John has spent years dealing with cops threatening his life. He grew up in the Bronx, where cops are notorious for harassing the Black and Brown people who live there. When he was a kid, John says cops showed up to his house and pulled a gun out on him and his mom in their home. They were looking for somebody else. Later, in high school, he and his friends were celebrating graduation at one of their houses. He says the cops showed up then, too, kicked down the door, and pointed guns at them.

John joined the Warriors because they were the community he'd been looking for, the people who would help them fight back against this enemy that loomed large over his life long before last summer. But when he got hit by the Impala, something started to switch for John. I called him up a few days later.

John Acosta

This shit changes everything. Cops did this shit to me. That's what I believe, because it was a fucking Impala. These motherfuckers tried to take me away from my family, man. All I want now, I want revenge.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

This was the first time I had heard any Warrior talk about vengeance. They talked about not backing down, about marching until they could secure some real wins for the movement in New York City, but never in the context of revenge. The Warriors were deeply committed to nonviolence, and John was committed to the Warriors, so he'd agreed to that, too. But after the hit and run, he was questioning everything.

John Acosta

You think I give a fuck about some peaceful protest now? Nah, man. I didn't do shit, bro. Every single time one of these motherfuckers is in my face, doing some bullshit, I don't knock them out. I don't kick them in the dick. I don't kick them in the knee. I don't kick them in the face. I don't do any-- I just go, aight, that's cool. And I take the high road. This was an attempt on my life, man. I'm not going around sleeping anymore. Like, that shit woke me the fuck up. It woke me the fuck up.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

I have no way of knowing if the car that hit John was an undercover cop. The NYPD did not respond to our questions about this incident. But John didn't want to take any more chances. He told me he tried to get security camera footage from a nearby business to try and prove that it was a cop who hit him. But he says they wouldn't give it to him. So now he just doesn't leave the house without strapping a GoPro camera to his chest so he can review his own footage every night when he comes home.

He admitted he was paranoid, but I understood where he was coming from. He just watched his friend be trapped in his apartment for six hours by the NYPD. If Derrick wasn't on Instagram Live the whole time, who would have believed the shit they pulled? John didn't have evidence. He just had his word and plenty of examples to point to of police forces surveilling, harassing, or killing Black leaders. MLK, Fred Hampton, Nina Simone, Malcolm X-- the list goes on. John told me he started pulling away from the Warriors. The protests with all the singing and dancing just didn't seem right. It felt too much like a parade, instead of a protest.

John Acosta

I love it when they're happy. I do, man. It makes me happy, too, man. But we just have no time for that. And when I seen them, I just feel like they're losing sight of what's going on. I've been thinking about that solid, like solid. All this bull, and we out here giving out Black joy. I was fine with it for a little bit. Then I started to realize, yo, what the fuck is going on? I looked at myself. I'm like, where the fuck is the rage, bro? I'm not feeling this no more.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

The Warrior stance is that Black joy, that celebrating in Black life in spite of everything that's trying to keep you down, is a radical form of protest. You take up space in the streets. You dance and chant unapologetically. But you don't engage with the police. You keep it moving. But John didn't want to hear that anymore.

John Acosta

Let me ask a fucking question. When Breonna Taylor was slain in her bedroom, was she giving out Black joy? Was she listening to music? Was she bopping her fucking head? No, no music, it was just rings-- gunshots. Why the fuck are we giving them our Black joy? They don't deserve our Black joy. They deserve the Black rage we have, every ounce of it. This is war.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

There was a truth to John's anger that was hard to look away from. I recognized his rage. When Marcus, my friend, was killed by the cops, I didn't realize how angry I was until I walked into a chicken spot on my block, and I saw a customer threatening to fight my favorite cashier. I didn't even know the cashier that well, but I wanted to beat the brakes off this customer for no good reason, other than he was a threat to somebody I knew, somebody I liked.

But nothing happened. So I just wandered aimlessly around my block and considered walking into traffic. But I never did. I just swallowed my anger and pushed it somewhere I could never access it again. When I met John, he seemed to be at a similar crossroads-- swallow his anger or do something with it. And by now, I knew from listening to him that he's not the type to walk away from a fight.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

The way you move and the way you use your anger, I don't know. It feels like maybe the anger helps somehow. There's something good about it. There's something that I could actually learn from it.

John Acosta

So what the anger does, it takes that person that is afraid and tells it, shut the hell up. Let's go. I think you not allowing yourself to continue to fight got you mad. And I think who you were mad at was not on anybody else but yourself, because you knew what you were doing was wrong. So you weren't mad-- you were upset with the police at what they did, hell yeah. But the person that you were really mad at was yourself because you were walking away from what you were believing in. You gave up on you.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

One day, at the end of one of our conversations in September, John invited me to a protest. Maybe he was trying to help me see something, or maybe he wanted to prove to me that he wasn't all talk. But he told me to meet him at a park in the Bronx the next day.

It's about 4:00 PM when I pull up. There's a small crowd gathered at the center of the park, no more than 100 people. And the first thing you hear when you're approaching the crowd is something like, if you're not comfortable being arrested, this is not the place for you.

Woman

I know some of us are and might be. We don't like those fascists, but we know--

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

It's not a Warriors protest. This one was organized by a couple other groups John's been spending more time with since his hit-and-run. They're protesters who are a little more willing to antagonize the cops. I find out from somebody what I already suspected. The goal of this protest is to march onto the George Washington Bridge and shut it down. There's a few Warriors who have shown up. But I don't see Derrick. He told me later that this was not his kind of protest.

Derrick Ingram

I said, John, I don't think the Warriors should participate, and I cannot participate. I think you like the idea of taking a bridge because it sounds cool. I didn't hear any demands. I didn't hear an endgame. I didn't know what a resolution was.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

There may not have been a specific set of demands, but there was an endgame. And it seems like the cops know about this plan to take the bridge, too. Because just a few feet away from where we're standing, patrol cars and vans are starting to pull up to follow the march, a long row of red and blue lights flashing down the street for blocks. I start looking around the crowd for John, but I spot Chi instead.

Chi Osse

You like my collared shirt today? Do I look like a politician today?

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

You do look like a politician today.

Chi Osse

Nice.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

In his sweater/collared shirt combo, Chi tells me he's been asked to give a speech. He walks up onto a makeshift podium in front of the crowd.

Chi Osse

How are we going to change the course of this war, the course of this battle against criminal injustice in New York City, criminal injustice--

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

Like John, Chi also believes that they're in a war. But he believes it's a war best fought through legislation, from inside the walls of city council, once he wins-- not on the George Washington Bridge.

Chi Osse

Our ancestors have fought so hard for the right to vote.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

Once he finishes his speech, Chi gets ready to leave.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

So you're about to leave?

Chi Osse

Mm-hmm.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

Why don't you want to stay?

Chi Osse

Because I have other things to do today. I have other campaign matters to attend to today.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

All right, man. Be safe.

Chi Osse

And tomorrow. Yeah. Yeah, you, too. The cops are already out here today. You can tell that the energy is a little different here in the Bronx in terms of just the police that have already arrived. My power is outside of those bars. I will not be arrested. I won't. There's some of-- OK, there's some people here-- I'm not snitching-- in bulletproof vests. It's not my energy. I can't be doing that.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

This did not calm my nerves, because Chi was right. What the hell was I doing out here? But before I can think about it too hard, I finally spot John. He's dressed in all black-- black pants, black long-sleeved shirt, black Kaepernick jersey, black ski mask, and a black bulletproof vest. Just as Chi's about to leave, John calls him over. They chat, they hug for a second, and afterwards, I walk over to John.

John Acosta

I'm not surprised myself.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

What's up, man? How are you doing?

John Acosta

Disappointed.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

Why?

John Acosta

I'm proud that everybody's out here that wanted to come out here because it just shows me who has heart. But then it just shows how many people are cappin', how many people are just running their mouth. I'm not an asshole. I love my squad. But where's Chi now?

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

Not long after, the protest starts to move.

Man

It's important that we keep it tight and that we keep it structured. All right? Who's with me?

[CHEERING]

If you're with me, put your fist in the air! If you're with me, put your fist in the air.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

The George Washington Bridge is a major revenue source for the city. The protesters believe if they shut it down, they'll cost the city money, get a lot of news coverage, and a lot of attention for the movement, too. As we march from the park into the streets of the Bronx, John moved through the small crowd, checking in on people. After a while, we finally reached the George Washington Bridge. And when John sees it, his eyes seem to light up through the holes in a ski mask.

John Acosta

This is the bridge.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

Oh, shit.

John Acosta

Watch this magic. Watch. Watch this beautiful shit.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

I'd never seen the George Washington Bridge on foot, all 4,760 feet of it just towering right in front of us. I look over at John, and he's having a moment.

John Acosta

Oh, yes! Oh, yes! My heart is racing, and I feel so good! Yo, I feel like a-- I feel like an orgasm. I feel like I'm about to hoop-- ah-- all over the NYPD, baby!

Man

For too long, we're taking half steps. This is a full measure. Are you ready?

Crowd

Yeah!

Man

Then let's go.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

John rushes to the on-ramp with the other protesters. They grab giant construction cones and place them in front of traffic. And pretty soon, the whole upper deck of the bridge, eight lanes wide, from New York to New Jersey, there's no cars-- just this small group of protesters suspended above the Hudson River, standing shoulder to shoulder, arms linked, hyped about what they're accomplishing. I find John darting around the crowd.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

How does it feel, bro?

John Acosta

We the few! We the few are many! That's how I feel. Look at the power we have! And none of our brothers and sisters came out to support us! None!

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

John and the other activists keep the upper level of the bridge shut down for about an hour. The whole time we're up there, the police are nearby, watching, looking annoyed. They had the bridge, but what these protesters really wanted was to show how violent the cops can be. They want to prove the police will act with impunity, hopefully get it caught on camera, it goes viral, and they make their point.

After 45 minutes, the cops finally move them off the bridge relatively peacefully. But unsatisfied, the group marches towards a nearby precinct. And the whole way there, more cops start to appear from the dark, dressed in riot gear right behind us. When the group gets to the precinct, there's more cops waiting out front, too.

Man

This is where we stand. This is where we stand. We got it jammed up. This is where we stand.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

At that point, the cops have had enough. They gave a quick dispersal warning. Not long enough for people to actually respond to, but long enough to say they did it. I got the sense that they knew what this was, too. So they gave them what they came for. They started charging towards us and violently snatching people out of the crowd.

Cop

This is the New York City Police Department. You are unlawfully in the roadway and obstructing vehicular traffic.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

We all started running away. And in the chaos of bodies bumping into each other, I tripped over somebody trying to escape. I quickly got back up and backed away from the crowd to look at what was happening from a safer distance. And some people were crying. Others were screaming in pain. And John was still darting around the crowd. It definitely felt like a war, and I think some people didn't realize that's what they were signing up for.

I saw John walk up to a couple who were frozen with fear and crying in each other's arms, and he told them to go home, to get out of here. The night ended with at least six people arrested. One of them was a good friend of John's. I understood then why Derrick didn't show up for this and why Chi left. It all felt pointless. When I spoke to John later, I told him that.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

When we went out there, by the end of it, people were trampling over each other, dog. People were literally crying. I don't know. It just didn't seem like the anger was useful in that moment. It seemed like it was more destructive than anything.

John Acosta

You didn't see it then.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

Say it again?

John Acosta

You didn't see it then.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

John tells me the goal here was to expose the police and their brutality, that this is how they will make sure their message is heard.

John Acosta

Isn't that the point, to prove how disgusting the system is? I am looking at the goal. The goal for me is abolishing the police, tearing down the whole system. So, in order to have everybody see why, because there's people that don't see why. Let me show you why. Keep exposing them. Keep exposing them. Keep exposing them until everybody sees.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

I don't know. I just hope that there's a more safer way to do it.

John Acosta

There's not. And if there was, we would have gone about it that way. But every time that we go safely about it, nothing happens. There is no safe way of doing this. I'm sorry.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

I did see the thing John wanted me to see. I saw that the police were being unnecessarily violent. I'd experienced that at lots of protests. But I also saw this other thing. I saw John telling people to get to safety and trying to pull protesters out of the grasp of cops, but he couldn't save everyone. He couldn't be everywhere at once. If you are running headfirst into a war, you're going to lose people. But I guess we're losing people either way.

The Warriors felt like John was crossing the line they'd set as a group at the beginning of all this. For a nonviolent group, John was flirting too much with chaos and vengeance. They told him they were worried about him and encouraged him to take better care of his mental health because they knew John suffered from depression, and he was off his meds. They had a series of disagreements about how to move forward with John. But eventually, they decided to just air it all out on a Zoom call. Here's Derrick.

Derrick Ingram

He literally said, I want every single person to say their issue with me back to back. I won't interrupt you because I want to hear all of this. And I want to know how to respond.

John Acosta

And immediately, it just turned into an attack on me. It didn't feel like they wanted to keep me. It felt like they were just trying to find a way to out me.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

What was the first thing they said?

John Acosta

Kiara started. It was she doesn't trust me because of-- I'm a liability or something like that. I'm a risk or some shit.

Kiara

I told John, I said I personally would not like you in the group anymore because of your actions. Personally, we all love John personally. But when you see kind of the shift in character and a shift in beliefs, we had to come to an agreement. Like, OK, what's best for the group?

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

The Warriors told John that if he was going to stay in the group, he'd need to commit to three things. First, that he'd make his mental health a priority. Second, he'd need to pledge his loyalty to the group. And third-- maybe the biggest point-- that he'd need to commit to being non-violent.

Derrick Ingram

But he didn't want to really address our three demands. And he couldn't. He couldn't commit to them.

John Acosta

And I just couldn't focus. I was mad, and I was angry, and it wasn't supposed to go that way. It was supposed to be something really, really calm. Really, everybody talk respectfully. But nobody was doing that.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

Finally, the Warriors decided to call a vote on whether John should be allowed to stay in the group or not. They voted no. Later in his apartment, John is still replaying how things went down.

John Acosta

I-- this is fucking-- like, what's that shit called? Survival island or some shit like that? I got voted out. Like, what the fuck? [LAUGHS] That shit was unreal, son. It was unreal for me.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

He cycles through a bunch of emotions, laughing, shouting about it. On his bedroom wall, I see this black and white photo of the Warriors together from the beginning.

John Acosta

It was a family. I learned that it was like my family. I spoke to Derrick. Yo, Derrick, I love you, man. Don't get it twisted. I didn't like how the shit went down, but I love you. It just hurts. It hurts. They betrayed me, bro. [EXHALES] It's been hard, man. Yo, those Warriors, man, they betrayed me, man. They betrayed me, son. They left me out there in the cold to rot, bro. Did me dirt.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

Ever since my friend Marcus was killed, I've been sitting with this question-- what am I supposed to do with this weight? With the Warriors, I think I had this expectation that when police violence lands in your lap, there's only one right way to deal with it. I thought with John, Chi, and Derrick, I might finally figure out what that one way was. But the three of them have each landed in three very different places. John is still running headfirst towards cops at protests and getting arrested, now with a different group of people. He's not playing it safe, and he's OK with that.

Chi is nine months into his political campaign. I've gone out canvassing with him. Just the other day, I watched him basically obliterate his opponents at a debate.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

Do you feel like you're becoming a better politician?

Chi Osse

I don't like to consider myself a politician. I would say I'm more of a public advocate, and I'm running to be a public advocate. I'm a candidate for public advocacy.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

So the answer is yes, you've become a better politician.

Chi Osse

Does it sound like I have?

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

You just sidestepped my question and put your own rhetoric out there in the most seamless way. So I think--

Chi Osse

I've become a better public advocate. That's the right answer.

Saidu Tejan-thomas Jr.

OK.

Derrick is still going to protests all the time with the Warriors and Chi, but he's grown to be a high-profile activist now with a huge platform. He's now working with places like Amnesty International and Reebok to bring attention to police overreach. He's found his life's work. All three of them have figured out what I still haven't.

On Martin Luther King Day, there was a protest at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. And everyone was there-- Chi, John, and Derrick. By now, tensions had cooled, and they were all smiling and talking to each other, just catching up. At some point, dancing broke out, as it always does. People formed a circle, and Chi got in the middle for a second and hit a few moves. I looked off to the side, and Derrick was joining in. When I turned around, I couldn't believe it. There was John, getting low, dancing along with them.

I'm always happy to see them together and enjoying themselves like this. I'm also haunted by this other thought. It's this. Think of all the other things these talented, creative people could have been spending their enormous energy on. How far could Chi have taken his love for fashion if he'd never seen that George Floyd video? What could John be doing with all the time he's been spending going to neurological appointments for injuries from being beaten up by cops? What if Derrick's apartment could have just stayed a party pad and didn't have to be the site of a police siege? Who could these three men have been if their paths weren't defined by these tragic events?

That day, they're dancing. And for a moment, they're just people. Chi is just a 22-year-old dude with his friends. John isn't angry, and Derrick gets to just be there for the both of them. I think I've been paralyzed by this question of how to respond to police violence. Because for me, every answer feels like another loss. Toward the end of the night, we march to City Hall. Then, the police started violently arresting people. That ended things-- the way they always end.

[SHOUTING]

Emanuele Berry

Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr. You can find Saidu's show Resistance on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

[MUSIC - "FIGHT!" BY WYATT WADDELL]

Credits

Emanuele Berry

Our program was produced today by Chana Joffe Walt. The people who put our show together today include Ben Calhoun, Dana Chivvis, Sean Cole, Aviva DeKornfeld, Hilary Elkins, Damien Graef, Stowe Nelson, Katherine Rae Mondo, Nadia Reiman, Ari Saperstein, Robyn Semien, Alissa Shipp, Laura Starcheski, Matt Tierney, Julie Whitaker, and Diane Wu. Our managing editor is Sarah Abdurrahman. Our senior editor is David Kestenbaum. Special thanks today to Anna Carlsen, Richard Symister, Eileen and Bobby Berry, Sarah McVeigh, Wallace Mack, and the entire Resistance team.

Our website, thisamericanlife.org, where you can stream our archive of over 700 episodes for absolutely free. This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. Thanks to my boss, Ira Glass. He has an instruction manual for anyone who hosts the show. It's confusing how it starts, just all caps.

John Acosta

There is no safe way of doing this. I'm sorry.

Emanuele Berry

I'm Emanuele Berry. Ira Glass will be back next week with more stories of This American Life.

[MUSIC - "FIGHT!" BY WYATT WADDELL]

DMU Timestamp: February 27, 2021 01:26