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           towering
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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