The struggle against IMPD terror in perspective (pt. 2): Leah Derray and Kyra Jay

Photo: Tony Davis

by Leah Derray and Kyra Jay of Indy10 Black Lives Matter

The following is a transcript from a speech originally delivered at DePauw University as part of their 2020 Compton Lecture Series. The speech focuses on the struggle against police terror in Indianapolis and the origins of Indy10 BLM. We would like to thank the DePauw University Peace and Conflict Studies program for organizing the event, the Africana Studies and Education Studies departments for co-sponsoring it, and the Johnson and Wright Fund for their supporting it financially.

Leah Derray is an award-winning organizer and is a co-founder of Indy10 Black Lives Matter. She’s dedicated the last six years to housing and environmental justice, youth-focused social justice initiatives, and community building. Born and raised in Indianapolis, Leah attributes her passion for others to her mother: a teacher who regularly opened her heart and Leah’s eyes to meeting and exceeding people’s basic needs with dignity. Leah’s passion for people is actualized through her professional and academic work as an organizer with Homes For All Indy and as a recipient of a scholarship that will support her schooling in Africana studies and civic leadership. Leah is the manifestation of love and believes loving people fully and laboring with love will sustain all of us in liberation

Kyra Jayis also an award-winning community organizer and also a co-founder of Indy10 Black Lives Matter. In the last six years she’s led community efforts in ending cash bail, for police transparency and abolition, and community building with local schools and universities. Born in Lincoln, Illinois, and raised in Indianapolis, Kyra understands unique needs of the communities Indy10 serves and believes that access to resources and support can revolutionize how residents can engage with each other both locally and globally. Kyra’s passion and labor for liberation can be summed up by an Angela Davis quote: “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”

LEAH: Thanks for having us. We would like to start first with a land recognition. We would like to acknowledge that the land that we are on belonged to the Miami tribe before white colonizers came and removed them from this land, so we would like to first lift up our Indigenous brothers and sisters.

We’re not really long-winded people, we like to keep concise, and so we plan to touch on a few topics: the origin of Indy10, we want to talk about what it means to be young Black organizers in the city of Indianapolis, and what it looks like to rear and mentor other people who are also eager and willing to be organizers for justice and liberation. We’re going to touch a bit on who has mentored us and who we look up to. We’re also talking about some of the ways that people, not get organizing “wrong,” but still organize within the framework and the mindset of white supremacy and capitalism, and then we’re going to get into and close out with the current campaigns or issues that we’re working on right now, and end with our demands.

First, we’d like to thank those who have put down, laid down the groundwork who have come before us, from James Baldwin to Angela Davis and Assata Shakur and Fannie Lou Hamer and all the other names that we never know. Ancestor Tubman, Harriet Tubman. We’re very thankful, we understand that this work isn’t done overnight and it’s been centuries upon centuries upon building upon building of work and labor, and a lot of it will go unrecognized. We’re very grateful and thankful to the ancestors and to the family members on whose shoulders we stand.

We just want to get into how Indy10 started. We’ve dedicated a large chunk of our lives, our adulthood, to organizing for Black liberation, and we started six years ago, in our early 20s, and started a week after Michael Brown was murdered by Ferguson police, Daryl Wilson who worked for the Ferguson Police Department. Ten strangers who were both Black and white, all sexualities, all genders, all religions, who had met at a vigil for Michael Brown in Indianapolis—we decided to hop in two cars and, on a random Saturday, decided to take water, first aid kits, and food to the citizens in Ferguson who were participating in the uprising. None of us had any organizing experience. Not many of us had attended a protest before, but we all felt called to do something and particularly the young Black folks who were involved.

We’ve been raised and been taught in this white supremacist school system that has taught us that after the Civil Rights movement that racism kind of just died. Over our years in school we never heard about people who were still fighting for liberation in the ’90s, in the early 2000s. After the ’60s, we didn’t talk about any other activists or organizers. So random, brave people decided across the world that we were going to continue to fight for justice and liberation because we all understood that the things that we have been taught over the years was not true and that police brutality is just one brick in the many-layered structure that is white supremacy. After going down to Ferguson, the ten strangers, we came back here and we decided to start an organization that we called Indy10 Black Lives Matter. When we were young, we were eager, and we didn’t know exactly where to start, but we knew that we had to come back here and highlight the injustices that were being done in our city.

Kyra became part of the crew, so it became eleven of us a month or two later and Ethan and so now it was twelve of us, twelve young people who were hurting, and so we reached out to some of our elders in the community. Actually, our elders reached out to us and taught us about the ways that we could effectively organize and that started with learning our history.

It’s always important to look back when we try to go forward: who has already laid the groundwork, who has already done some of the research and the study and some of the hard work, who has already done some of the trials and tribulations so that we don’t have to go through it. So we learned and dug deeper into laws, bills, protests, essays, all type of writings and speeches that came before us and that focused on Black liberation and we were surprised to learn that a lot of the work was done by Black women or Black folks who did not have a formal education, and a lot of the work was done by just building relationships. A lot of the work was done over meals and over dinner and over food. Food helps build community.

A lot of the work was done and everyone didn’t get along during the work, and so that was a hard lesson that we had to learn at the beginning, that not everyone in the community was going to be accepting of you when you first pop out on the scene. Those are things that the education system doesn’t do a good job of teaching American children about activists and about uprisings, and when they do, it’s a watered down version and they don’t teach you about the difficulties and the hurdles you have to overcome as an activist. Those are some things that we had to learn early on.

KYRA: We’ve learned that everybody isn’t for us. If you’re not affiliated with churches or any type of universities, people kind of overlook you and they act like you don’t know what you’re talking about. It took us years to get to a point where we’re actually even talking at DePauw. It took people to get to know us and listen to us and hear us out to get to these universities and be on these panels and talking to other people for people to listen to us. We have built and lost some allies, quote-unquote “allies,” and have built a good group of people that we call our allies that have stuck by us for the last six years. People have been loyal to us and we have a really good team.

Early on we had to learn a lot, we made a lot of mistakes and we’re still making mistakes til this day—probably made more mistakes this month than we have in the last couple years—so we’re still making mistakes, we’re still learning, and also teaching these new, emerging leaders that we have that want to get involved that are our age and trying to teach them what we know and help them grow in this movement and stay in this movement.

Even if they don’t want to stay in this movement, we want to teach them something that they can remember for the rest of their lives. That’s been a growing experience for us, because we have to deal with people who are younger than us and we have to remember—yeah, basically we have to remember—and we have to be patient, because we had the elders, but we never had anybody close to age to us to tell us, “Hey, this is what I did, this is the protest I went to,” and all that.

LEAH: It felt like people would be harsh, for us, people would be really critical, and they didn’t understand we were twenty-two, twenty-three year olds who didn’t learn about protest movements in school. We thought that if you were going to be activists you had to be an academic, you got to be a person who had a Ph.D., who was well-written and well-spoken even though a lot of the times the people who are affected the most look like us, spoke like us, were on the block just like us.

KYRA: And that’s what these emerging leaders are. They are not the kids that you see that are just like the poster child, they are not poster children, they are from the raw, they have different type of backgrounds. Some people are adopted, some people are from the hood, some people didn’t have nothing when they came to us, so we got so many different personalities and different situations that people don’t look at and people will overlook these kids because A) they’re Dreasjon Reed’s friends and B) no one pays attention to the “troubled children,” that’s what they would call them. It’s been a learning experience for the emerging leaders and we’re still learning until this day.

LEAH: It made me think about, what would it have been like if we had learned in school about the people who were like family members or people who we never saw on TV but weren’t respectable? What would it have been like for them to empower and encourage our community without saying, “You have to go out and look like this and wear a suit and tie, dress in your Sunday’s best.” Or, you can actually come as you are and still fight for your freedom.

So that was the beginning until now. We’re still learning what it looks like to come authentically as our full selves into community and still fight this fight. Right now we do have a bit of, I don’t want to say power, but now our name is out there so we’re respected more, me and Kyra, because we’ve been doing this for a few years. But early on, people did notice, they just thought we were angry, young Black kids, which we were; from the ghetto, which we were; who weren’t prepared for this fight and would have been more equipped for the fight had people who were community members embraced us a little bit more than they did.

Through that we learned that you can’t do this work and just be about ego. You can’t do this work in silos. You can’t do this work without being intentional, and with having a scarcity mindset. This isn’t about us. This isn’t about “Leah” and “Kyra.” When we do this work, we do it on behalf of community members: people who we’ll never know; children that we may not ever have, but someone else’s child. This is about all Black people. This is about all people who are marginalized and oppressed in a way. Once the least of us get something, the disabled Black poor trans woman, then the rest of us will have something as well.

That’s our mindset, that’s how we’ve been trying to educate other people, and it’s not easy work. Being an activist—quote-unquote “activist”—or organizer is not easy, but it’s fulfilling when you know that you are doing something that you were called to do. I honestly believe that we were called to do this, just because of the way we’ve always responded to race issues, even when we were in high school, and so I do believe it’s a calling and when you’re called to do something you have to be prepared and to come at it as a human.

KYRA: Since then we’ve worked with the families of Mack Long and Aaron Bailey and Christopher Goodlow, Dreasjon Reed, McHale Rose, Eleanor Northington, Andre Green. These are just people here in Indianapolis. Getting in contact with some families, like George—what’s it, Jordan? What’s his name? Floyd? The one that the State Police…

LEAH: Oh, uh, Brandon Foy.

KYRA: Brandon Foy. Just trying to connect these families, trying to be a support system for them even if we’re not out there protesting. Christopher Goodlow’s mom calls Leah all the time, invites us out to dinner or just wants to talk. Mack Long’s widow talks to us all the time, and always, it’s just like a family. We have became family to these people and it doesn’t stop after there’s no indictment. We keep going after, even if you don’t see us out here protesting every day, there’s still so much behind the scene work that people don’t understand when it comes to these families and their needs. That’s our bosses, the families. Whatever they tell us we need to do, we do it. We don’t move, we don’t do anything—nothing without the family.

I will tell anybody that: don’t do anything without the family, especially the head; if it’s the mother, the father, the wife, whoever—do not do nothing without the family. We’ve always abided by the family anytime we’re doing something, “Hey, can we put your name? Are you okay with a Black lives matter mural?” Even with the mural, we asked the families, “Are you okay with this?” because this hashtag started with people in their family that had been killed. That’s what we do, just be a support system if they need funds, if they need emotional support, therapy—that’s what we do. We take care of them and they take care of us.

LEAH: It’s about, like Kyra said, the families and community. We always try to center the victim of police brutality or state violence and center their families. We don’t make this about us, although we do do this work and this work is not easy. If we do focus on us, we talk about where we’ve messed up and how far we’ve grown so that other people know that we aren’t special. You can do this too. Beyond that, you just have to be Black, and your family or you can experience state violence or you have experienced state violence, and so what do you? A lot of people aren’t prepared for that, so that’s our role. That’s where we come in. A mother shouldn’t have to be out there protesting every day for her child. She just might not be able to get out of bed, so that’s what we’re here to do.

And we don’t only protest. Like Kyra said, there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that we do that’s exhausting, that goes unpaid, and that oftentimes goes unrecognized. Right now one of the campaigns that is major is defund the police. Right now, as we speak, there’s a City-County Council meeting happening here in Indianapolis where the police chief is proposing a budget for the city of Indianapolis, for IMPD. As you know, they get the most funding out of any public service in the city. They get more than the fire department, more than social work. What would it look like if our city decided to realize that, “Listen, we’ve been paying the police department more, well over than what they deserve.” What would it look like to take some of that funding and put it in the hands of community?

What would it look like to put it in the hands of mental health services, so that someone won’t have to die at the hands of police like Eleanor Northington or Christopher Goodlow, who were both schizophrenic people who should have been met with care? Instead, they were met with violence. They were met with urgency and they weren’t met with patience and tenderness, the way that someone who was not in control of their mental state should be met. What would it look like if Andre Green had had services that were directed towards youth, that were directed towards making sure that youth had money in their pocket? Because that’s important. We had jobs as teenagers and it provided for our families. What would it look like if Andre Green had something to do other than being in a situation that he was in when he was killed by police when he was fifteen? What would it look like to place the money in the hands of community and community members instead of funding an institution that was built to harm and hunt down Black people?

Right now we’re focusing on defunding IMPD and funding the people. We’re also looking at: what does it look like to build a mental health task force? This came out of a conversation that we had with former IMPD police chief Bryan Roach. After Eleanor Northington was killed, he invited us in for a meeting to try to explain away what happened as if it was going to change how we felt, and during that meeting he admitted that IMPD and the officers don’t want to respond to calls to people who cannot comply: people who are not mentally able to comply, people who have mental illness, or have gone off a drug, or some type of delay. They were prepared not to be called to those calls, but they are called. They aren’t properly trained and they don’t have the place to properly put these people once they are apprehended. He said they don’t want to do it, so something else needs to be done. Through that meeting we came up with the idea for a mental health task force. This is not something that’s new, this is something that is happening in other states where community members and mental health professionals are called after someone calls 9-1-1 about someone who is mentally ill. They go and they respond and they get that person to a place that’s going to treat them and that’s going to bring them to safety. Police are not capable of doing that. They have the mindset of, “You are the enemy. You are someone who presents harm, so we must take you down.” They are here to protect capital and money and finances. They are not here to protect human beings.

KYRA: And buildings.

LEAH: Right, and buildings. Right now we are working on the mental health task force but we can always use volunteers, people who are willing to do research, people who are medical and mental health professionals who are willing to join in.

We also are still pushing demands for Dreasjon Reed and McHale Rose, two young Black men in their early twenties—well, McHale was 19—who were killed within eight hours of each other. Who should have been met with tactics that were meant to de-escalate and should not have been gunned down. Unfortunately, they both were. Right now for Dreasjon’s case, we still need a federal investigation and we still need for the officers to be brought to justice—well, the justice that the family is asking for. Then for McHale Rose, the family still doesn’t have any transparency. They don’t have any answers. Like Kyra always says, imagine having your child gunned down by someone who you pay—because we pay the police—and you don’t have any answers. There’s no answers in the case of McHale Rose, not enough. Those are two things that we’re still pushing, we’re still fighting for, we’re still organizing for.

KYRA: It’s exhausting. It is very exhausting. I just want to note that “defund the police” does not mean get rid of the police, even though we know that the police do not stop crime and eventually we do want to get rid of the police. Unfortunately, we won’t see that happen anytime soon, until we can reallocate those funds into our community so people’s needs can be met, and above their needs can be met. People can have services and access to just basic needs like food and water and jobs and mental health and health and health insurance. Just things that seems to be so simple but the people cannot get access to it because, of course, like Leah said, it’s all about money, profit, capitalism is a bitch. People think that we’re trying to—we are trying to get rid of the police, we are. Eventually we will. But we’re just trying to reallocate funds to our community so people can have a better life, so this “crime” that they see happening could stop. When it comes to all these people getting evicted, that’s going to start more crime and people are going to commit more crime and people are going to be out here trying to survive, when this could be so easy and so simple. Our government has the power to stop all this. That’s all I want to say.

LEAH: Yeah that’s that. Defund the police, Black lives matter. All Black lives matter. We’re anti-capitalism, pro-Black, pro-queer [KYRA: Abolish.], pro-young people, pro-growth, pro-learning. Thank you and we’re going to pass it off to Timi with Answer Indiana.