T. Thorn Coyle is a magic worker and Pagan committed to love, liberation, and justice. This started out as an interview, but Thorn was so fascinating to talk to, and such a good listener it turned into a discussion. We talked at Heartland Pagan Festival.
How have you, your community in Oakland and local Pagans responded to the Black Lives Matter movement?
The San Francisco Bay area where I live is pretty racially diverse, though San Francisco itself is growing less and less diverse each year. The more white money that comes in the more people are pushed out and that’s now effecting the East Bay where I live. I do a lot of work in Oakland and Berkeley. Oakland has more traditionally African American and Berkeley is a university town. In the Pagan community, a lot of us have been out on the streets working with various grassroots community groups trying to get local change. I’ve been an activist most of my life, and have been engaged with police violence and brutality issues since 2012.
I first became aware of this issue on a deeper level when Oscar Grant was killed. He was clearly unarmed, and it was caught on videotape. Oscar was handcuffed on the ground and a cop shot him in the back of the head. That really put the issue in my mind. That was in 2010. In 2012 another young man, Alan Buford, was killed by police. Something about that case struck me. I recall distinctly when I heard his family speak. It was my day to volunteer at the soup kitchen and I was heading back home to a spiritual direction client. I had another meeting later on, too, but there was a city council meeting at 6pm and knew Alan’s parents were going to speak. I knew I had to be there. Hearing Alan’s mother Jeralynn speak changed my life. It was one of those moments, and I became committed to the struggle.
I started doing a lot more work locally around issues of police brutality, including organizing around “Urban Shield” which is a conference that ostensibly trains first responders for disaster relief. What it really does is trains first responders in crowd control, and gives them military training. Their big vending show is all military weaponry. Urban Shield is basically about the militarization of our police. That was a lot of work I was doing. The highlight reel that Urban Shield itself puts out is pretty horrifying for me as a citizen. It looks like war games to me.
I’d been doing some of that community work and then Ferguson hit. I thought, “Oh my gosh those young people in Ferguson, they’re not going home.” They started a movement for which I am grateful.