Do you approve of any type of protest against police brutality so long as it’s non-violent or does it just depend? Do you think citizens should be required to get a permit or stay on the sidewalk? Are you okay with a spontaneous protest in front of a police station but draw the line at protests taking place outside a public official’s house? Do you believe burning the American flag should be unconstitutional? Do you understand what civil disobedience is? How do you feel when protests turn violent? And, importantly, how do you define “violent”? Does your definition of violence include property destruction? What about aggressive speech towards the police? Is yelling “Fuck the police” ever okay by you? How would you respond if you were inconvenienced by a protest taking place? Would you respond aggressively? Would you realize that six minutes out of your day isn’t comparable to the inhumane treatment people of color suffer at the hands of their government?
There are certain things I don’t believe I would ever do, that are against my moral code. I’m never going to bludgeon a puppy, for instance. I’m also never going to call anyone the “R word”. (No, I’m not talking about republicans.) Still, there are things I’ve done over the last several months I never thought I would ever do. Now that my eyes are open, there are things I must speak out about. I often wonder what compels me to continue. Is it white savior complex? I don’t think it is, but how can I be sure?
I’ve attended many types of protests since August 2014. I’ve participated in pre-planned marches, protests in neighborhoods, protests outside major sporting events, protests outside several different police departments, a “protest” inside the America’s Center, protests inside stores like Wal-Mart, protests in various points of interest around St. Louis, die-ins at shopping malls and roadway intersections. I’ve attended silent protests in front of churches. I was at a protest where we shut down a major highway. I’ve been to protests where protesters have been shot as well as completely chill Mother’s marches.
Each protest is unique. The people who participate bring their own energy to the space and no protest has the exact same participants. Some are somber and include balloons. Others you can tell are going to end up with arrests. The police response factors heavily into how the protest proceeds. Sometimes the police ignore us. Other times they thrust pepper spray into our faces without warning. Sometimes they warn us they’re about to deploy tear gas, but you know for sure when they put on their own gas masks. They always bring guns and billy clubs. We bring cell phone video recorders and righteous indignation. Also, sensible shoes.
What might inspire you to protest police brutality? Would anything?
Many white people are uncomfortable with the concept of protest because they decry “rude” behavior. They will fixate on how something is being said to the detriment of what is being said. That is a luxury only a person whose very survival isn’t threatened by the police on a daily basis can afford. They focus on the things they understand: how low a person’s pants are, the fact that they’ve never been detained by police without probable cause. They are incapable of thinking how they would feel if their children were in constant danger of being harassed by police. As much as I try to empathize, I know I will never truly know that fear and the self-hatred it inspires. The world in which I have traveled nearly my entire life has given me the benefit of the doubt. Others approach me like I’m a worthwhile human being with laudable values. As an attorney, I’m presumed to be smart, whether I really am or not. Being white is a distinct advantage before I even open my mouth.
My viewpoint of what is an acceptable protest has evolved. I’ve often thought in the past what bullshit that is when politicians use the word “evolve”. “My thinking on (insert controversial issue) has evolved.” I thought it was just a way to lubricate the public to the fact that you were flip-flopping on an important issue. In my case, I just didn’t understand. I still struggle to understand. It takes constant vigilance. Now, think about how you answered the question of what “violent” means. Being out on the streets as I have, I can’t get riled up about property damage. No one condones setting candy bars and chips on fire, but I accept setting a fire as a completely rational response to rampant systemic racism. I accept shouting at the house of a prosecutor who maintains the status quo and refuses to prosecute police brutality as a sensible thing for oppressed people to do. I accept the marginalized screaming “Fuck the police” as fair game in response to police continually killing unarmed black citizens. I am finally evolving.