One of the many major changes that has marked 2020 is the newly revived conversation about the treatment of black people in America. Many were shocked and saddened by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and Ahmaud Arbury. However, these are only the recent victims. Black people and allies have been fighting for years to bring justice to the mistreatment or murder of people like Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, and so many more. While it’s sad that this has taken so long, having people finally on board with the movement is exciting and encouraging. The response by protesters on the streets of DC has been huge. Even under quarantine restrictions, there were hundreds, even thousands of people out there every day, at least for the first few weeks. But for every person who showed up to protest for the rights of black Americans, there were squads of DC police, National Guard, Military, Secret Service, and various uniforms that I didn’t recognize. I’ve been to many protests in my time living in DC, but none have ever been met with the military and police presence that our president seemed to feel was necessary in this situation. My first day in Lafayette Park, we were met by temporary barriers and a line of police in riot gear. They were armed with tear gas, batons, and rubber bullet guns, while the protesters could do nothing but throw half-finished water bottles.
At one point our group was split in half while marching down H Street, and one half was dispersed with tear gas and flash grenades. We were told that the groups had been separated “for our safety” because the other side was apparently more rowdy and violent than the people who had been marching beside them just minutes ago. Anyone watching could see that the only violence was coming from the police, who seemed to have been upset by a broken windshield on a police cruiser. These priorities show just how backwards our justice system really is. People can be legally brutalized over the destruction of replaceable, tax-funded property, but when a woman is shot and killed in her sleep, there are no arrests and no convictions.
In most cases, the protesters were the ones deescalating. one white man seemed to be very angry, and was yelling at cops and trying to get us to be more violent. We suspected him to be an undercover police officer or white supremacist (or both), since he didn’t seem to understand that his actions would only hurt those who he claimed to be fighting for.
Protest activity, at least in DC, has died down since the original conflicts, but the ones I’ve been to since then have been just as meaningful to me. On July 3rd, I attended an overnight sit in as a part of the Occupy H Street initiative so that we could be there bright and early to wish President Trump a not-so-happy 4th. I met a lot of like minded people, and learned more about the cause from folks that are more active than I am. Another protest that sticks out in my mind was the recent march in solidarity with Portland. An organizer read the names and stories of queer black people who had been killed by the police in recent years, many I had never heard of. I was an eye opening experience for me and made it clear that I will never be done educating myself.
As protests in Portland and across the United States continue to escalate, It is imperative that we continue to pressure to our lawmakers to make things right. Not everyone can get out and protest, but everyone can do something. All lives can’t matter until Black Lives Matter.
Please sign the official white house petition for Breonna Taylor. Each person counts!