December 9, 2020

Give Me War Music

by Resistance

Background show artwork for Resistance

NYC activist John Acosta came out this summer to fight alongside his chosen family. But when they disagreed on how to make change, things started to fall apart. 

Where to Listen


Announcer: Hey, just a warning before we get started, this episode of Resistance has some heavy themes and strong language in it. We’ll get started right after this short break.


Saidu Tejan Thomas, Jr.: Back in June, a bunch of people met each other at the front lines of protests in New York City. You may have heard us talk about them before, they’re called Warriors in the Garden. And within a couple days of them meeting, they’d formed their group, and they started organizing these huge marches where thousands of people would show up.

Derrick Ingram: People have called us, like, the Summer Jam or Coachella of protest.

Saidu: [laughs]

Derrick Ingram: I'm just saying, like, they have! They have! It's because it's a vibe!

Saidu: This is Derrick Ingram, one of the founding members of the group. And when Derrick says their protests feel like music festivals, he’s right. At every Warriors protest I go to, I always see this random guy walking around with his shirt off burning a single stick of incense. And whenever I see that guy I’m always like yeah, this really is a vibe.

Saidu: But there’s something else that’s made the Warriors popular this summer, too. It’s pretty clear when you see them together at the front of the march. It’s the way they lean on each other when they get tired, the constant checking in each other. "You good?" "What you need?" "I got you," every few minutes. It's the Warriors' bond, and Derrick tells me that bond was there from the start.

Derrick: It's so bizarre how quickly we became friends. Not like friends, like, throwing the word around. I mean, like, in that first month, we were literally hanging out at my apartment, other apartments, having meetings. Like, people crashing on my couch knowing people’s physical illness, mental illness. We've had people our group family members die, like, break-ups, all in two and a half months. So it’s like the way we just communicate and take care of each other, it’s like we’ve known each other long, long, long, long time.

John Acosta: We’ve been through so much together in such little bit of time, like, we’re, like, basically family now, and I’ve only known you for, like, a couple of months.

Saidu: This is John Acosta, one of the Warriors. And after he met the other members this summer, he saw them as his chosen family.

John Acosta: When I go out, I'm always letting people know that I love them, yo. Because it's real. I let them know that I love them, because I appreciate them for coming out and fighting that fight with me, you know? They could have been like everybody else who has stayed home. Especially now that everything is open, they could have been like, "All right, I’m done. Everything is open, I’m going back to doing what the fuck I was doing." But that’s not the case. Right now who you seeing out and about are the real—are actual Warriors.

Saidu: On his bedroom wall, John has this black and white photo of the Warriors together. 13 of them. Some wearing bandannas around their necks, others holding megaphones. And of course there’s the boots, so many cool-ass combat boots. And John is right in the middle, the only one throwing up a mean Black power fist. He’s wearing dark shades, but has this really determined look on his face. They all do, like they’re ready to ride out with each other at any moment. And the caption reads, "Together United We’ll Never Be Defeated."

John Acosta: If I could go back to that moment son, I would. [snaps] In a jiffy. 'Cause that’s when I felt like we were all in the same shit and we were not taking shit.

Saidu: But John can’t go back to that moment. That moment was in June, when the streets were full and the Warriors were leading some of the biggest protests in New York City. Since then, this group that was once hella close has started to splinter. And John has suddenly found himself on the outside.

John Acosta: It just hurts. It hurts that they would do me like that after all the shit we went through.

Saidu: I’m Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr. and this is Resistance, a show about refusing to accept things as they are, even when it means having to find your own path.

Saidu: When the Warriors first met, it seemed like they agreed on a lot of things without ever really having to talk about it.

Paul Spring: We all met at the protest because we were the ones trying to keep people from spray painting, knocking over trash cans, engaging with the police in ways that could escalate quickly. So it was a bunch of peacekeepers, basically.

Saidu: This is Paul Spring, another founding member. And Paul remembers one of the first times he met John, when they’d just started talking about forming an official group—a group that would be dedicated to nonviolent protest.

Paul Spring: And we went around and introduced ourselves in the beginning. Like, say your name and then say what skills you want to bring to the group. And so you had, like, Derek saying he could run the social media, and you had Chi saying he could do the design for fliers. And then John, I remember he said, like, the thing—the thing that I can bring is these hands. And he said, like, that he could protect the group. because he was skilled in, like, martial arts and boxing. And he was cool. I remember liking him right away, because he just said his first name. He's like, that's—that's all you need to know.

Saidu: What was the energy you got from him? Like, the vibe?

Paul Spring: Oh, I thought he was cool as fuck.

Saidu: Yeah.

Paul Spring: Yeah, I still do.

Saidu: Yeah. And what made you feel that way?

Paul Spring: Just like the way he spoke. Like, the sound of his voice, and the rhythm of his voice, and how confident he was.

Saidu: The group really liked John’s personality. And maybe because "these hands" was the first skill at the top of his resume, he became a part of the grounds team, the people in the group who were responsible for going around making sure everyone is safe at the protest. John would get in between frontliners and the cops when things started getting too out of hand or too hectic. And he fit the role perfectly. He had experience. John is 32 years old and he grew up in the Bronx, where cops are notorious for getting into it with civilians.

John Acosta: I’ve dealt with NYPD in the Bronx all my life, bro. Bronx police don’t give a fuck about nobody out here. They will arrest you for whatever. They will pull you over for whatever. They're not afraid to get dirty over here. They’re looking for a fight out here.

Saidu: Since as early as John can remember, the NYPD has been showing up unannounced in his life. He remembers when he was six years old, being woken up in the middle of the night to cops at his door. When his mom opened the door they pointed flashlights and guns at both of them.

John Acosta: And my mother said "No. That’s my son."

Saidu: They were looking for somebody who didn’t live there. Through middle school, high school and all the years since, John’s felt like cops are always walking into the most intimate parts of his life and walking out as they pleased, reminding him that they could end his life at any moment.

Saidu: So when other Warriors started having trouble with the cops, John was there for them. Like the day Derrick found himself trapped in his apartment with dozens of police officers on the other side of the door. John was one of the first people on the scene, and when the cops finally left, he was up the stairs and through Derrick’s door in a heartbeat.

John Acosta: I ran—I ran right up, I ran up to see Derrick, I was making sure he was good. Making sure he was good, you know what I'm saying? I will always take on—I will always feel he is my brother. You know what I’m saying? So I went up there and I just made sure that he was good.

Saidu: What do you see? What do you do?

John Acosta: He was happy to see it was one of us. I could tell he was happy. I think about it now, it's like that was a good moment, man. Like, seeing him, he seen me, and he seen that it was somebody that loves him that was there, you know? It wasn't some fucking cop ready to take him out and shit.

Saidu: Did you just, like, hug him?

John Acosta: Hell, yeah. Man, hugged the shit out that man. I'm proud of that man, yo.

Saidu: That same day, during the standoff at Derrick’s, John had gotten a message on IG from an anonymous account. It said, "You are next." He didn’t really didn’t take it seriously, he laughed at it actually. Told him something like, "F you. You will have to catch me first." And he forgot about it. But then, a couple of weeks later this happened:

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Instagram Live: Hey, what’s up everyone. I just got hit by a car. I’m 100 percent sure they just—they tried to kill me. They hit me and they booked it out of there.]

Saidu: John is on Instagram Live talking to his followers. He holds up his bleeding wrist to the camera, shows a couple nasty scrapes on both his legs. He looks like he’s in shock as he’s telling people what happened.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Instagram Live: I’m moving out of his way, I'm moving into—moving more to my lane, and he just jumps the—jumps the line and hits me, looks back, and then bounces. Your man seen me, son. Like, he seen me. Clear, son. I'm wearing fucking red. What the fuck? It’s mad lit out here."]

Saidu: John says he looked up at the car as it drove away. He used to look at cars for hours to pass the time when he was a kid, so it didn’t take him very long to recognize the make and model of the car he was looking at.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Instagram Live: I just wanna let y'all know that it was an Impala, unmarked. He looked at me right in my face before he did it.]

Saidu: Chevy Impalas are the kind of cars that cops are known to drive when they’re undercover.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Instagram Live: Shit, man. I don’t even really know what to—what to really think right now. I just wanted to let y'all know because this is some crazy shit right now.]

Saidu: As I'm watching John on Instagram, I can see him start to put pieces together and develop a theory that the person who hit him had to be a cop.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Instagram Live: I can’t even call the fucking police 'cause they’re not gonna do shit. Fuck 12. So I can't—I don’t know if there's a way I can prove that it was them. I'm looking for some cameras. But anybody that's out here in these streets, man, just be careful.]

Saidu: Three days after the hit and run, I talked to John over the phone about what happened. And at that point, the idea that it was a cop who hit him was now solid in his mind. He was sure of it, and he was pissed.

John Acosta: This shit changes everything. Cops did this shit to me. That’s what I believe, because it was a fucking Impala. These motherfuckers tried to take me away from my family, man. All I want now is I want revenge.

Saidu: Up until now, John’s disagreed with the Warriors here and there, but mostly he's been on the same page. Deescalation, nonviolence, agitate but keep it under control. But as I’m talking to John, it’s like I'm hearing him move further and further away from that.

John Acosta: You think I give a fuck about some peaceful protest now? Naw, man. That's an attempt on my life, man. I can't let that roll. I’m gonna get my revenge, and that's a fact.

Saidu: Bro, I hear you bro but, like, you can't get yourself in a situation where you just end up in a worse situation than you're already in. You know what I'm saying?

John Acosta: Yeah, I understand. So you gotta be smart.

Saidu: Yeah, but it's not—that's always how it starts. Like, people are like, "Yo, I'm gonna do it, but I'm gonna be smart." But then it never ends well. Like, it never ends well, bro. Like, I get it. I get the anger, man. I get it, but you gotta think about your mom, you gotta think about your kids.

John Acosta: I am.

Saidu: You gotta figure out a different way to go about it. Other than ...

John Acosta: What's the different way? Me building up some bullshit case around him and then he still—he still gets to be outside and chill. And then if he wants to at that moment, he's like, "I'm free. Let me take this time to finish this motherfucker off." You think I want to give him that opportunity? I didn’t do shit, bro. Every single time one of these motherfuckers is in my face doing some bullshit, I don’t knock 'em out. I don't kick them in the dick. I don't kick them in the knee. I don't kick them in the face. I don't do—I just go, "Aight, that's cool," and I take the high road. This was an attempt on my life, man. I'm not going around sleeping anymore. Like, that shit woke me the fuck up. It woke me the fuck up.

Paul Spring: I remember him calling me right after that.

Saidu: This is Paul again.

Paul Spring: And he's like, "I'm done. I'm done with the nonviolence."

Saidu: How did you feel?

Paul Spring: I mean, I understood it. I got it. I've always gotten it with him. I've—I've always gotten it, but I've always warned him against it because of what he's up against. He's got these hands, but they got guns.

Saidu: Yeah.

Paul Spring: And I—I just—I know that they're not afraid to use them.

Saidu: A few weeks after the hit and run, I went to visit John at his home in the Bronx. He had told me he couldn’t commit to being nonviolent anymore, and that he wanted revenge. I wanted to see how he was doing.

Saidu: I haven’t seen you in a couple weeks since we last spoke. So how’ve you been?

John Acosta: Dealing with it. There you go, that’s how I have been.

Saidu: John tells me he’s been seeing a therapist to help him cope with depression. Lately, he’s been feeling more and more isolated, and he’s been spending less and less time with the Warriors.

Saidu: It’s September. Crowds at protests have started to thin. People aren’t coming out as much, and there's fewer Warriors' protests too. And a lot of activists in New York are trying to figure out what’s next. Since his hit and run, John’s been thinking a lot about that. He’s still very angry about what happened to him, and he wants to find a way to translate that anger into action. He’s become fixated on this idea of taking the protests back to week one, when it seemed like everyone was as angry as he is now.

John Acosta: If you—if you was to go back to any video of any city that was protesting on week one, you see how hectic it was. Fires everywhere, rioting and looting. In all honesty, that’s the only thing that they hear that they don’t laugh at.

Saidu: He says the kind of protests the Warriors have been doing since then, the kind with lots of dancing and singing and people burning incense, they're not working for him anymore.

John Acosta: Yo, I love it when they're happy. I do, man. It makes me happy too, man. But we just don't have no time for that. And when I seen them, I just feel like they're losing sight of what's going on. I've been thinking about that solid. Like, solid. All this bullshit, and we out here giving out Black joy. Yo, I was—I was fine with it for a little bit. Then I started to realize yo, what the fuck is going on? I looked at myself and I'm like, where the—where the fuck is the rage, bro? Like, I'm not feeling this no more.

Derrick Ingram: I think Black joy is a form of protest.

Saidu: This is Derrick Ingram again. He says the joy is the whole point.

Derrick Ingram: Because the amount of deaths that occur at the hands of police, and all the inequities that Black people have persevered, one would expect us to be jaded, to be upset, to be angry. And that's also a stereotype is that Black men especially are dangerous. That Black women are angry. And when we kind of do the juxtaposition of that and show them that we're happy, we're carefree, we're light, we haven't been completely bogged down by the horrible things that society has thrown at us, I think it's a form of protest.

John Acosta: Let me ask a fucking question. When Breonna Taylor was slain in her bedroom, was she giving out Black joy? Was she listening to music? Was she bopping her fucking head? No. No music. It was just rings. Gunshots. Why the fuck are we giving them our Black joy? They don't deserve our Black joy. They deserve the Black rage we have. Every ounce of it. This is war. I march now, and I'm just like, yo, this is—this is—this is nothing. This ain't—this ain't worth it. I'm just hearing the parade.

Saidu: It's feeling more like a parade than a march now.

John Acosta: Yes, yes. I've been to parades. I know a parade when I see one. I don't need floats. What I need is this—this happy, happy music. Give me war music, give me a drum. Just this the whole time. Boom, boom, boom! And all you see is a bunch of people marching, dressed in black.

Saidu: The very next day, John invited me to a protest in The Bronx. He wanted me to see how he thinks it should be done. No dancing. No cops bopping their heads along with protesters. No Black joy. John wanted me to see what protesting with rage looks like.

Saidu: That’s coming up after the break.


Saidu: What’s good y’all. Welcome back.

Saidu: By September, I’d been spending a lot of time with John, calling him over the phone, visiting him in the Bronx. And I felt like I was watching him shift from John the Warrior in the Garden to somebody completely different. And every time we spoke, John would tell me about vengeance and rioting. And he'd paint this blood-dazzling picture of what protests were like in week one, when everything was on fire and the authorities were taking notice. He wanted take things back to that time. So John invited me to come see what that protest could look like.

Saidu: I pull up to a park in the Bronx, and there’s a small crowd of people gathered at the center, no more than a hundred. The organizers are members from a few activist communities in New York, a couple of folks from Black Lives Matter New York, some more from Abolition Park, and a few Warriors have shown up too, even though as a group they decided not to promote the event. I look around the crowd for John, but I don’t see him yet.

Saidu: Yo, what's good, baby?

Saidu: But I run into another Warrior, Marv.

Marv: A little nervous but I’m alright.

Saidu: What you nervous about?

Marv: Just the amount of cops that's out here, and the objective for today. Still, I mean—like, still don't notice a lot of trusted faces. And we don't have a thousand people here. So ...

Saidu: The objective for the day is for this small group of protesters to march onto the George Washington Bridge and shut it down. It's something activists have been discussing all summer but haven't done, mainly because it's a big risk. If you get trapped on the bridge, there’s not many places you can run. But if they can do it successfully, it’ll be a big reward. That bridge makes more than $1-million a day in tolls. If they can shut it down for even an hour, they'd be costing the city a lot of money, and that'd come with a lot of news coverage and a lot of attention for the movement, too.

Saidu: It seems like the cops definitely know this plan, because just a few feet away from where we're standing, patrol cars and vans are starting to pull up to follow the march, a long row of red and blue lights flashing down the street. I start looking around for John again, but I spot Chi instead. Chi Osse, the Warrior from episode one who, since we last saw him, is now a full-blown politician campaigning for votes. He’s even dressed like one.

Chi Osse: You like my collared shirt today? Do I look like a politician today?

Saidu: You do look like a politician today.

Chi Osse: Nice.

Saidu: In his sweater-collared shirt combo, Chi tells me he’s been asked to give a speech. He walks up onto a makeshift podium.

Chi Osse: How are we going to change the course of this war, the course of this battle against criminal injustice in New York City? Criminal injustice in the United States of America? How do we change the tides of this battle?

Saidu: This is a speech Chi has been giving all summer, about what’s next for protesters. Like John, Chi also believes that they’re in a war, but he thinks it’s a war best fought through legislation, inside the walls of city council, not on the George Washington Bridge.

Chi Osse: Our ancestors have fought so hard for the right to vote.

Saidu: Once he finishes his speech, he gets ready to leave.

Saidu: So you're about to—you're about to leave?

Chi Osse: Mm-hmm.

Saidu: Why don't you want to stay?

Chi Osse: Because I have other things to do today. I have other campaign matters to attend to today.

Saidu: All right, man. Be safe.

Chi Osse: And tomorrow, yeah. Yeah. You too. The cops are already out here today. You can tell that the energy's a little different here in the Bronx in terms of just the police that have already arrived. My power is outside of those bars. I will not be arrested. I won't. I won't. There's some—okay, there's some people here—I'm not snitching—in bulletproof vests. It's not my energy. I can't be doing that.

Saidu: Just as Chi is telling me that, I finally spot John. In a bulletproof vest. He’s dressed in all black: black pants, black long-sleeve shirt, black Kaepernick jersey, black ski mask, and a green beret. He calls Chi over. They chat, then hug for a second. Afterwards, I walk over to John.

Saidu: What's good man? How you doing?

John Acosta: Disappointed.

Saidu: Why?

John Acosta: I'm proud that everybody is out here that wanted to come out here because it just shows me who has heart. But then it just shows how many people are cappin', how many people are just running their mouth. I'm not an asshole. I love my squad. But where's Chi now?

Saidu: Not long after, the protest starts to move.

[Speaker: It's important that we keep it tight and that we keep it structured, all right? Who's with me? If you're with me, put your fist in the air. If you're with me, put your fist in the air!]

Saidu: As we march from the park into the streets of the Bronx, John moves through the small crowd checking in on people, doing what he always does: being a protector. The caravan of cops trailing not too far behind us. And after about an hour and a few small confrontations with police, we finally reach the George Washington Bridge. And when John sees it, his eyes light up through the holes in his ski mask.

John Acosta: This is the bridge!

Saidu: Oh, shit!

John Acosta: Watch this magic. Watch! Watch this beautiful shit!

Saidu: I’d never seen the George Washington Bridge on foot, all 4,760 feet of it, just towering right in front of us. It’s the kind of thing you look up at and you just feel so small and so insignificant. But I look over at John, and that’s not what he’s feeling at all.

John Acosta: Oh, yes! Oh, yes! My heart is racing and I feel so good. Yo, I feel like a—I feel like an orgasm. I'm about to hoop all over the NYPD, baby!

Saidu: We haven’t even gotten onto the bridge yet, and John is already excited. One of the organizers gets on the mic and riles up the rest of the crowd before they march onto the bridge.

[Speaker: For too long, we taking half steps. This is a full measure. Are you ready? Yeah! Are you ready? Yeah! Are you ready? Yeah! Then let's go.]

Saidu: John rushes to the on-ramp with the other protesters. They grab giant construction cones and place them in front of traffic. And pretty soon, the whole upper deck of the bridge, eight lanes wide, from New York to New Jersey, there’s no cars. Just this small group of protesters suspended above the Hudson River, standing shoulder shoulder, arms linked, hyped about what they’re accomplishing. I find John darting around the crowd.

Saidu: How does it feel, bro?

John Acosta: We the few! We the few! We the few are many! That’s how I feel. Look at the power we have! And none of our brothers and sisters came out to support us. None!

Saidu: For 40 minutes, John and the other activists keep the upper level of the bridge shut down.

[Speaker: This is where we stand. We got it jammed up. This is where we stand!]

Saidu: But at some point, the cops drive onto the bridge to get them to disperse. By the end of the night, as the protest moved off the bridge and the crowd went to a nearby police precinct, the cops who’d been following us all night had had enough. I saw them start snatching protesters out of the crowd. People were trampling over each other to get away, some terrified and crying, others pushing back against the cops. Six people got arrested. John was proud that they took the bridge, but he felt betrayed that not many Warriors wanted to be a part of it.

Derrick Ingram: I said John, I don’t think the Warriors should participate, and I cannot participate. I think you like the idea of taking a bridge because it sounds cool.

Saidu: This is Derrick again.

Derrick Ingram: I didn't hear any demands. I didn't hear an end game. I didn't know what a resolution was. And when something is a performance, you don't necessarily have to have those things, but when something is putting people's lives at risk and you're calling it a political statement as well, that's a different—there's a different threshold, don't you think? So, yeah, I'm glad we weren't a part of that.

Saidu: Activist groups disagree over tactics and ideology all the time. Like the Black Panthers. One of the group’s most infamous members, Eldridge Cleaver, thought the group was spending too much time on social programs and not enough time on armed revolution. He said the Panthers had become nothing more than a quote, "breakfast club for children." He and Huey Newton fought and fought, and finally Cleaver was out.

Saidu: Later on, Assata Shakur left the Panthers too, partly because of ideological differences, but also because she thought Huey Newton was kind of full of himself. She said he kept giving himself these ridiculous titles like Supreme Commander.

Saidu: You can agree on the big picture. You can share this huge vision for how you want the world to be. But on your way there, you can get stuck too. If it’s not the big stuff like tactics, it’ll be the little things: a stupid title, or an idea that doesn’t go over well. For John and the Warriors, it was one of those little things that pushed them towards a breaking point. It started with an idea John had. He put it in the group chat.

John Acosta: I'm like, "You know what? Let’s do a Black man's march. That's a good idea."

Saidu: John thought since so many Black men had been killed over the summer, why not have a march to honor them? He also thought it would be a good chance to take on a different role with the Warriors. He didn’t want to just do crowd control at protests anymore. And he thought the Black men’s march would be a great idea.

Derrick Ingram: Nobody said anything. He said it again. So I said something. I’m like, "John, this is inappropriate, it makes no sense." He was like, "What about this is horrible? I don’t understand." And I was like, "If I have to explain this, that’s a problem."

Kiara Williams: And then he goes, "We have marches for Black women. Like, kind of along those lines.

Saidu: This is Kiara Williams, another founding member of the Warriors.

Kiara Williams: He wasn't talking in the chat for days and, like, that's like one of the first things he said. I was gone. Like, I was gone for, like, a twirl or a loop. I was so confused.

Saidu: To Kiara and Derrick, the whole movement for Black lives has been predominantly focused on men, while other voices—women, queer folks—often get pushed to the side. Putting on a Black men’s march would just add to a problem the movement already had. So Kiara wrote back: "You comparing a Black men’s march with a Black women’s march isn’t okay."

Saidu: Do you feel like he got it? He understood what you were saying?

Kiara Williams: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. To this day, John still feels like I was against him at that time and I didn't understand him. And it's not that I didn't understand him. I understood him exactly, perfectly fine. But it's just like, how did you not—how did you not see what was wrong with suggesting that in a movement like this?

John Acosta: I don’t feel like I brung any sort of gender thing into it. I didn’t even think of it like that. I am not misogynistic, and I do not have—what's that shit called? Toxic masculinity. I do not have that. This year was the year that I learned about all of that. All of that shit. Like, I was like, yo, what the fuck? This is a thing? I didn’t know that was a thing.

Saidu: After things got heated, John left the group chat. He felt like the Warriors didn’t want to hear him out. It confirmed to John what he’d felt for so long now: the group didn’t really value his ideas and they didn’t respect him.

Derrick Ingram: That triggered the downward spiral, I felt like.

Saidu: You thought that was, like, one of the ...

Derrick Ingram: That was—yeah, that was one of the last arguments or disagreements, I would say.

Saidu: By this point, the Warriors in the Garden had gone from unofficial activist collective to a legit 501(c)(3). Derrick was speaking on panels, Kiara was connecting with activists in other parts of the country, and Chi was running for public office. In a lot of ways, they were professionalizing their work. Meanwhile, they saw John posting things on social media like "Burn it all down." And he was spending more and more time with other protesters who felt that way too.

Kiara Williams: Everyone was just worried. Like, okay. Like, is he okay? Like, what's going on? And, like, this is also gonna reflect on us as a whole. And I think that's one thing that John possibly forgot is, like, no matter how much he says, "I'm doing this by John," it'll just always be, "John did this, but John's from Warriors in the Garden."

Saidu: They were not headed down the same path at all. And it was obvious they needed to talk about it. Here’s Paul again.

Paul Spring: We had a Zoom meeting, and John—John was like, "Okay, I'm gonna let all of you guys talk first and then I'll say my piece."

Derrick Ingram: He literally said, "I want every single person to say their issue with me back to back. I won't interrupt you, because I want to hear all of this and I want to know how to respond."

John Acosta: And immediately, it just turned into an attack on me. It didn't feel like—it didn't feel like they wanted to keep me. They felt like they was just trying to find a way to out me.

Saidu: What was the first thing they said?

John Acosta: Kiara started it with she doesn't trust me, because of I'm a liability or something like that. Or I'm a risk, or some shit.

Kiara Williams: I told John. I said, "I personally would not like you in the group anymore because of your actions." Personally, we all love John. Personally. But when you see kind of the shift in character and the shift in beliefs, we had to come to an agreement. Like, okay, what's best for the group?

Saidu: The Warriors agreed that things would need to change if John was going to stay in the group. They came up with three things: first, that John would look after himself, make his mental health a priority. Second, he'd need to be loyal to the group. And third, maybe the biggest issue, that he’d need to commit to being nonviolent.

Derrick Ingram: But he didn't want to really address our three demands. He couldn't—he couldn't commit to them.

John Acosta: And I just couldn’t focus. I was mad and I was angry, and it wasn't supposed to go that way. It was supposed to be something really, really calm, really, everybody talked respectfully. But nobody was doing that.

Saidu: Finally, the Warriors decided to call a vote on whether John should be allowed to stay in the group or not.

Derrick Ingram: Kiara voted to have him excommunicated from the group. She already had her mind made up. Oscar voted for him to be excommunicated from the group. Oh, Liv voted to have him excommunicated as well. Paul asked him again, "Can you commit to these things?" He was like, "I don't know." And Paul said, "That's my answer," you know, and voted for him to be excommunicated from the group. And me and Joseph Cochrane didn't even get to vote. It didn't matter at that point.

John Acosta: It just ended with—with me hearing "Unanimous decision." And I said, "Okay, so you all voted that shit?" I said, "You all voted?" I said, "All right. Because you meant unanimous." I just ended the call. You all voted beforehand, you bunch of backstabbers. You're a bunch of snakes.

Paul Spring: People hung up really quickly. I just wanted—yeah, to have more of, like, a closure on it, but it just ended on, like, all right, it's done. You're out.

Derrick Ingram: I know he feels hurt, disrespected, and—and pained by how it went about. But at the core of it, beyond the words and the mean stuff and the feelings, it's just three things that we need him to do.

Saidu: These days, when I talk to Derrick or Kiara or Paul about John, they say they still care about him and that they understand his anger towards cops. They feel it too. After all, it’s that anger and rage that brought them all to the frontlines of the protests in the first place. Before they had the huge following, the connections, the non-profit status, before they even had the name Warriors in the Garden, they were just a bunch of people who came together because they were the loudest in the crowd.

Saidu: Back then, when they were chanting together, it sounded like they were all speaking with one voice. But then the protests died down and the chanting stopped. And suddenly, they realized they weren’t saying the same thing.

Saidu: A few weeks after the Zoom call, I was back at John’s place in the Bronx. We sat on his bed, just talking about how everything went down.

John Acosta: Yo, those Warriors man, they betrayed me, man. They betrayed me, son. They left me out in the cold to rot, bro. They did me dirty.

Saidu: But on the wall in front of him, he still had that photo of the Warriors—all of them together, like a family portrait.

John Acosta: I didn’t look at the Warriors to be an org, they was a family. I looked at it was like my family. I still love them, okay? It’s true. I love them. I love them. I love them.

Saidu: Thanks for listening. If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, anxiety or hopelessness, there are ways to cope and find support. Go to for a list of mental health resources where you are.

Saidu: Resistance is produced by Wallace Mack, Bethel Habte and Aaron Randle. Our supervising producer is Sarah McVeigh. We’re edited by Lynn Levy, Lydia Polgreen and Brendan Klinkenberg.

Saidu: Mixing, scoring and magic by Catherine Anderson and Bobby Lord. Theme by Bobby Lord. Original compositions by Drea the Vibe Dealer. Liz Fulton is our music supervisor. Good looks, Liz. Thank you.

Saidu: Fact checking is by Michelle Harris. Our show art is by Darien Birks of The Stuyvesants. Credits music, what you're listening to right now for those of y'all who always ask, "What's the credits song?" Credits music is "Heaven On Earth" by Sa-Roc. Special thanks to Chenjerai Kumanyika, Chana Joffe-Walt, Khaleel Grant and Bridget Kyeremateng.

Saidu: You can find me on Twitter at @saiduttj, and you can follow us on IG @resistanceshow. Resistance is a Spotify original podcast and Gimlet production. See y’all in 2 weeks.