Martin Cossio

George Floyd Protest, San Bernardino, CA, May 31, 2020

Rioting is the language of the unheard. —Dr. King

Daylight. A black fist pounds a sledgehammer
into the WSS, and the second protest begins.

The diamond barrier infiltrated, an avalanche
of shoe boxes topple onto the parking lot.

A chopper, not knowing which way to hover,
could only repeat: This is the San Bernardino
County Sheriff’s Department. A box of And1’s
lands at my feet, and I see they’re my size.

Your conduct constitutes an unlawful assembly.
I put them on, ditch my Velcro Nike SB’s
in a dumpster even though I liked them better.

I command you in the name of the people
of the State of California to immediately disperse.

But we weren’t going anywhere. If you fail
to immediately disperse

                                             The city now was ours.
you shall be arrested.
   And I was ready to run
rampant.                                                                                                                                                        My boyhood urge to shatter glass
was all around me.
                                     A pyromaniac’s dream
was coming true: an acre of undeveloped land
began to burn and cloud the sky with smoke,
choking the helicopter, arrested in the air.

The Church’s Chicken dumpster with my kicks
became a rolling blaze.
                                             Mom-and-pop shops,
franchises, corporate businesses were breached;
word of mouth helped fuel the conflagration:

They broke into the 76!
                                           Crushing tempered glass
beneath my soles, I grabbed as many tall cans
and energy drinks as I could carry
                                                                gave them away
to riders stretching out of car windows
out of moonroofs
                                  drivers blasting 21 Savage
 to keep the spirit of our invisible fires burning.

That night we drank for free.
                                                      I drank a couple
on Baseline
                       and took my time like it was legal.

The “chronically homeless” sat back on sidewalks,
malt liquor in hand
                                     and watched the flames
projected on their eyes. For once, they looked sane.

That night the city was our canvas.
                                                                  Gen Z
held up their phones, millennials their fists,
fists different shades
                                        of brown.
                                                            The battle cry
was still the same
                                   NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE

One guy was taking his time tagging “fuck 12”

An arsonist in a hoodie, wearing a bandana,
was spraying flames on fires inside the DMV

that suspends our licenses
                                                 the ones we need
to get to work
                           to pay off arbitrary court fines.

For once, our tax dollars were ours to burn.

The payday advance that sent my homie
to collections
                           got paid back with interest. 

Kids climbed into the Walgreens
                                                              where inhalers
cost too much
                            like it was a jungle gym.

Inside, the alarm blaring
                                               Sheriff’s Department
still commanding us to immediately disperse,
I felt like a contestant on Supermarket Sweep. 

I packed my pockets
                                      then stuffed my beanie
with expensive lipsticks of every shade and hue
until my shorts sagged
                                           as if with change.

Every female in the hood gonna be smacking her lips
, I told myself
                                           and smirked. Outside,
a car was on fire.
                                A palm tree
                                                      a struck match.

I saw the flames aspiring for something greater,   

the collateral damage that was Joy’s Beauty
Supply & Wigs
                             that King Tut Liquor was still open
for business
                       (though I can’t recall if Mark Bender
was working security that night . . .)
                                                                  then a unit—
blood red and murder blue
                                                 on Waterman.

                                                                           That day
I saw everybody work together to pry open
the metal shutter of the Valero
                                                         as the thin blue line
vanished in the distance
                                             like the tuned-out chopper.

That day Covid didn’t matter.
                                                      That night residents
of S.B.
             people of the State of California
                                                                         spoke up,
I decided
                  if I wouldn’t live to see my city prosper,
I was going to help it burn.

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