First Person: “The Police Are The Only Terrorist We Know”

Trans activist Cherno Biko addresses the intersectionality of Orlando, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.

Cherno Biko is the co-founder of Black Trans Lives Matter and a New York-based media activist and human rights advocate.

Over the last 30 days, folks like us have endured enough tragedies to last a lifetime. While the police brutality we’re experiencing isn’t a new phenomena, the technology being used to capture these moments is.

Millions of people all over the world watched in horror at videos of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling being murdered by racist cops. Even the initial moments of the Orlando massacre were posted to Snapchat.

alton-sterling-and-philando-castile

Now more than ever we must recognize the connectedness between these injustices.

We’re already seeing the negative effects of increased policing in our sacred spaces: Earlier this week in Brooklyn, Krys Fox was dragged off of a gay beach by undercover officers while screaming “Help me!”

riis beach

His crime? Being nude on a gay beach.

Our bodies are being criminalized, just like they were in 1969 when people like Miss Major Griffin-Gracy and Marsha P. Johnson fought back at Stonewall.

We must never forget that the first Pride was a police riot.

Stonewall Riots, June 28, 1969 (2)

We cannot allow the authorities to use these incidents to increase their power. In the words of Patrisse Cullors, we must defund, disarm and demilitarize the police. It is our only hope at winning this war.

Since the killing of five police officers in Dallas, some of our less radical comrades have tried to distance themselves. As if our beloved freedom fighters like Harriet Tubman and Nat Turner wouldn’t be labeled as terrorists in this day and age.

While it’s true that violence only begets more violence I won’t apologize on behalf of Micah Xavier Johnson—his life mattered and American citizens should never be blown to pieces by robotic bombs.

I remember learning about the double victory African-American soldiers fought for last century—not only were they trying to win victory in wars oversees but justice here at home, as well.

Image of inflamed brain next to soldier

I can only imagine how this week’s events must have triggered Micah back to his time serving in Afghanistan. Did the blood of Alton and Philando remind him of all the brown bodies murdered overseas in this unjust war on terror?

Why aren’t mass shooters of color afforded the same nuance in media coverage that Dylan Roof was?

Those who claim that Black Lives Matter was too slow or too quiet in responding to the Orlando shooting couldn’t be more wrong. As a first responder and the co-founder of Black Trans Lives Matter, I called for our own investigation, and that call was quickly answered by the leaders of the Black Liberation Movement.

Within minutes, they provided me with resources to travel to Orlando, and they also contributed to the fundraising efforts for the victims of the shooting and their families.

Many leaders in the Black Lives Matter movement are queer and trans, just like me. We are keenly aware of patterns of abuse and the tactics of police brutality. When national LGBT organizations refused to include the names of black trans women murdered by the state, the leaders of Black Lives Matter stood in solidarity with us to fight for justice for Deonna Mason and Mya Hall.

black trans lives

Through our tears and our pain, we put aside our differences and put our heads together in the interest of our collective safety and survival. The expertise and support of these seasoned organizers, already stretched thin working on the campaigns to Jasmine Richards and Josh Williams was invaluable.

They are helping to dig deep and uncover the truth about the tragedy in Orlando and the perpetrator, a long-time employee of the world’s largest security company—and an aspiring police officer.

Some of the passengers on my flight to Orlando were from local, national and international media outlets. It wasn’t hard to spot them: Instead of luggage, they all were carrying large telescopic cameras and tripods. I touched down on Sunday at 8pm and went right to Pulse nightclub.

Cherno Biko

I spoke with eyewitnesses, residents and LGBT community members who came to show support. Some agreed with initial reports that mentioned the possibility of more than one shooter.

But I was most devastated to learn that nearly 24 hours after the attack, there were still dozens of bodies inside the club.

ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 12:  Orlando police officers seen outside of Pulse nightclub after a fatal shooting and hostage situation on June 12, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. The suspect was shot and killed by police after 20 people died and 42 were injured. (Photo by Gerardo Mora/Getty Images)

Dressed in the traditional mourning style of all black, I waited until night to go beyond the yellow police tape. With each step closer to the Kayley Street and North Orange, where Pulse is located, the spirits of the fallen victims began weighing on me.

I fell to my knees, as I crawled closer. I felt them calling out to me through the thick humidity of the summer air, as my sweat and my tears soaked the blood-stained ground.

I couldn’t stop thinking about Eddie Justice, one of the people held hostage in the bathroom, and the final text messages he sent his mom.

eddie justice

Some survivors told Anderson Cooper that Mateen said he didn’t have a problem with blacks and didn’t intend to kill many of the African-American hostages in the bathroom. That’s when I realized that the four gaping holes in the rear of the club were the result of the SWAT team’s failed attempts to detonate bombs.

I couldn’t help but think their use of an armored tank could have been responsible for the death of Eddie Justice. At that moment, I shrieked as I felt a lizard slither next to me, giving away my hideout.

That night, as the death toll rose, I barely slept. I kept checking my email for White House updates. I returned to ground zero the next morning around 9 am to find that the FBI had largely taken over the investigation.

Large white tents had been erected to block the club from our view. There was also a huge increase in media presence. I also noticed the white cis leadership of national LGBT organizations had come down for their 15 minutes of fame.

In the spirit of Marsha P. Johnson, I was armed with a bouquet of 100 flowers to honor each of the 103 victims, and I planned to stage a die-in in protest of the gross misconduct of the police. At noon, I walked up North Orange Avenue, past the crowded Subway restaurant that was serving as a media hub, and again went behind enemy lines.

An Orlando police officer sitting in his patrol car tried to call out to me but I ignored him and kept walking as he called for back up. Once I reached Kayley Street, a SWAT officer named Chisari came running towards me from the club. I was trapped.

getty police

I thought, surely this what it meant to walk in the valley of the shadow of death. I should have known I was safe with the whole world watching on live television—they even offered me a drink of water. I declined.

They offered to deliver my flowers to actual scene of the crime. I declined.

Finally they asked, “What are you really trying to do?” I replied, “#GetInFormation.”

“About what” they asked?

I plainly asked about the number of people in Pulse who had been killed by the Orlando Police Department. Officer Chisari leveled with me: “We don’t know.”

He cleared his throat and continued: “That’s why you cant be back here, it’s an active investigation.”

I stumbled backward under the weight of his admission and fainted in the middle of the street. When I came to, I looked past Officer Chisari bending over me, towards two helicopters circling the 107-degree Orlando sun.

I questioned if I was really alive—and if so for how long.


Cherno Biko will appear on What Now? An MTV News/BET News Town Hall, featuring Charlamagne, MTV News’ Jamil Smith, BET’s Marc Lamont Hill and The Nightly Show’s Franchesca Ramsey, tonight at 10pm on Logo and MTV.

Biko is a Brooklyn-based award winning artist/activist and the co-founder of #BlackTransLivesMatter. They are always on the #MrsBikoWorldTour, raising visibility and building power for folks like us. For inquiries email bookingbiko@gmail.com.
@ChernoBiko