Colombia’s national strike this past May has been met with a myriad of disturbing police abuses, bringing to light how disproportionate use of force by Colombian police—especially against Black Colombians—is a structural problem. With international attention fixated on the brutal police crackdown, U.S. actor, Black Lives Matter activist, and co-founder of advocacy organization BLD PWR Kendrick Sampson recently published a powerful op-ed for Colombian newspaper El Espectador, where he describes his own traumatizing experience with police brutality in Colombia and calls on the international community to act in solidarity with the hundreds of Afro-Colombian and Indigenous social leaders doing the grassroots work of building peace and securing justice in Colombia.
On December 15, 2020, national police officers in Cartagena, Bolívar department assaulted Sampson. A video of the incident circulated through social media, which showed a uniformed officer harassing Sampson, punching him in the face, and pulling a gun on him. Months later, Sampson deemed it necessary to share his story in the context of Colombia’s multisectorial protests, which, although called in opposition to a controversial tax reform proposal, broadly converged long-standing grievances about state-sanctioned violence, poverty, inequality, and structural racism. In his El Espectador op-ed, Sampson describes his own distressing episode with the Colombian police and underscores how it “viscerally deepened [his] understanding of the danger of being an activist for Black lives in one of the world’s deadliest countries for human rights defenders.”
After his traumatizing experience, Sampson reveals he met with the family and friends of Harold Morales—a young soccer player who was murdered by Colombian police in 2020—and it reinforced for him how “political leaders are funneling the bulk of our taxes into violent, militarized policing and the oppression of Black and Indigenous communities worldwide, instead of bringing adequate housing, healing and care to neighborhoods like Harold’s.”
Sampson also heard from brave social leaders who have dedicated their lives to fighting for liberation in Colombia, including Marino Cordoba, Danelly Estupinán, and Clemencia Carabalí. He calls attention to how “attacks on Afro-Colombian leaders often end with them having to abandon their homes and relocate elsewhere in the country, or go into exile overseas. (Many of these Afro-Colombian leaders face assassination attempts; all too often, they are killed and those responsible are never held accountable.”
“We have to understand the struggle for Black liberation is an international struggle in solidarity with all oppressed peoples,” Sampson states. He calls on the international community to support the work and protect the lives of social leaders in Colombia, who, across the country’s diverse geography, are fighting for transformative change.