Ground Zero in North Carolina: When Dream Freedom Fighters and (White) Cops Collide

“They may kill me, but they cannot kill my ideas. They can crush my body, but they will not be able to crush my spirit.” – Bhagat Singh”

Today, as I watch daybreak in Los Angeles, I’m thinking about Indian freedom fighters — Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru — who strategically threw a bomb in an assembly session in opposition to a legislation that would have given more power to the brutal police in India, willingly turned themselves over to the same cops and conducted a hunger-strike in prison for more than 40 days so that India could be free of British rule. They were not out to hurt anyone — Bhagat Singh and his friends were trying to make a big enough noise with the bomb so that the deaf (British) could hear. Their actions were completely unsupported by established and celebrated Indian leaders such as Mohandas Gandhi and the Congress Party. All three of them were hanged till death in their early 20s and their deaths spurred thousands of young Indians to rise up against the British empire.

I’m reminded of these great revolutionaries due to the actions of Mohammad Abdollahi, Dr. Isabel Castillo and Viridiana Martinez, undocumented youth activists from Michigan, Virginia and North Carolina, respectively. They were indiscriminately arrested for taking part in a civil disobedience action in North Carolina on Tuesday and they are still in jail, facing the prospect of deportation from their country but still resolute in their desire and ability to affect change.

Led by Mohammad, Isabel and Viridiana, undocumented students took a stand for justice on Tuesday afternoon at the Central Piedmont Community College, protesting the discriminatory policies towards undocumented students at community colleges and the criminalization of the undocumented community as a result of programs like 287g and Secure Communities. Among those arrested includes Santiago Garcia, 20, of Asheville, NC; Cynthia Martinez, 20, of Sanford, NC; Martin Rodriguez, 20, of Hamptonville, NC; Marco Saavedra, 21, of Cincinatti, OH; Alicia Torres, 25, of Carrboro, NC; Manuel Vazquez, 21, of Raleigh, NC; Angelica Velazquillo, 25, of Charlotte, NC.

These undocumented youth willingly tested the waters of the recent announcements by the Obama Administration to designate young students as “low-priority” for the purposes of deportation, and their fate may prove that these announcements are simply of no substance and immigrant youth continue to be targeted, detained, and deported on a daily basis.

Early reports from friends on the ground indicate that the Charlotte cops arrested people indiscriminately, including paramedics providing water and someone trying to ask a question. Police also threatened to put the person video-taping the arrests in jail unless he shut off the camera. A photographer was elbowed, cops drove into protesters with their cars and spit on their faces. Most of the people arrested on the scene were not given Miranda warnings or a reason for why the arrests were taking place. Taken together, these allegations amount to Section 1983 constitutional violations, which begs the question: who’s really illegal in this land of the free?

I’m worried about my friends, who have temporarily given up their freedoms and risked their lives so that so many others could be free. And even though they have been vilified by many — including immigration reform organizations and other undocumented students — I also fully support them and their actions.

Much like me, they are also beneficiaries of the DREAM Act, a legislation that would allow undocumented youth a pathway to citizenship. They wouldn’t need to put their lives on the line if they did not feel so castigated and disenfranchised in their own homes, constantly let-down by existing institutions and organizations, and if their families were not under attack by an Obama Administration committed to deporting 400,000 people per year. But they did so valiantly and willingly, knowing and accepting the consequences of their actions.

Over many hard years, lost opportunities and deferred dreams, America has taught us to fight vociferously for our freedoms, to speak up when we are wronged and to not take no for an answer. When we vilify young undocumented youth for exercising the rights enshrined in our Constitution and lock them up in our jails, we end up rejecting the fact that they are in fact, doing precisely what America has shaped and taught them to do. My friends are Americans in waiting, and they have made it their job to make sure that so many others like them don’t have to wait in limbo only to get deported silently away from our homes. They have claimed their place in history but they also have a role to play in our lives, homes and communities, and their sacrifices shouldn’t go in vain. Nor should they have to spend 40 days on a hunger-strike in jail to get justice for our communities.

You can donate to the bail fund to get the Dreamers out of jail here:

Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamaare dil mein hai. Dekhna hai zor kitna baazu-e-qaatil mein hai.

Photo Credit: Felipe Vargas and Kemi Bello

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