ARCHIVE: Poem in Response to the Salinas Shootings

This is a poem by a local poet in response to the Salinas police shooting on May 20th, 2014.

“Morning of May 21st”

2014, 20th of May

The streets of Salinas have exploded with rage

Have blasted open like a cannon ball to the wall

Or like a bullet that burrows into the brain

Too many times has blood muddied the sidewalks

Have badges played like Jackson Pollock on the pavement

Too many times has gunpowder shattered the silence

Has it screamed its course song into every ear

And I can hear you cry, Sad Salinas—Angry Salinas.

The fog must have been thick with mourning that night

As it always has been. As it always has been.

Before the streets became a river of women and men

Who clogged every intersection like a coagulated wound

I cannot say that I remembered a safer Salinas

As a boy living on E. Bolivar Street, when

Television was my resource, and my resource

Taught me to fear color like it was contagious.

I think we all learned to fear color, learned to

Strike out against the darker or the lighter skin,

Learned to become the painful judgers of our age.

We looked to authority clothed in the white cloth

Of flesh at that time, with XIII scratched on school walls

And blues and reds becoming the streets’ division;

Nobody laughed when children died in

Santa Rita Elementary playgrounds and now,

No one is laughing for the blue-crowned gangs of

Badged Authority, pepper-spray, and gun-metal

Whose conquest comes with the

Burning blast of a black barrel’s edge.

Salinas,

You were a thousand staring eyes last night

All lashing tongues and gnashing teeth,

Voices like razor slashes over a captor’s fighting

Hands, pulling triggers like swords from the sheath

Salinas,

We stand with you like giants over a ravine

Like gods carving the images from the flesh of the valley,

Salinas,

Your calloused hands have built this bay

Your farming lands has fed this nation

The reddened earth lent you its clay

And offered you its great foundation;

And now, you stand again in unison,

Against the friend of empire,

Against the red, white, and blue beast who

Flashes its agenda behind you like a banner of war,

Salinas,

We stand forever beside you with fists in the air

We stand as a human race combating the old throats of dictators,

Demanding that patrol not mean fear,

That a blue uniform not breed paranoia,

And they knew damn well that their presence was always disconcerting,

That their feet always smelled bitter,

Like the crushed grains of free speech,

That their fists were always red

With the 5,000 dead by their own hands—

Each sin belongs to the other

And none who stand before the uniform

Is free from the heavy chains of oppression.

Salinas,

So long as you, too, breathe on this earth

You will never be alone.

Poem by Brian Sheffield

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