I attended two anti-racism protests on Father’s Day because, of course. Predominately white activists participated in the “Wake up, Speak up, Act up: A Call to White Fathers and White People of St. Louis” action in Forest Park in the morning. Those driving through the park who would roll their windows down were offered a leaflet asking white people to step up in support of Black Lives. After a silent vigil in front of the Visitor’s Center, we walked down the middle of the road in Forest Park blocking traffic for a while. About 70 of us marched to the imposing 32-foot-high granite confederate memorial, originally constructed in 1914. The memorial was rededicated five months after passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. We climbed on the offending monument and redecorated it with Black Lives Matter signs we had been holding. We listened to a moving speech and cheered when random folks in the park joined us. One or two park rangers kept a watchful eye on us but they did not engage us or interfere with us in any way. Why would they? We were mostly white.
In the early evening, I attended the “Stand with Charleston” action that began in the Shaw neighborhood and involved a silent march to the Missouri Botanical Gardens. About 80 multi-racial activists marched down Shaw with candles and signs with the names of those murdered at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by a white supremacist. As we approached the gate to the Gardens, a security guard ran over to the group and demanded that we leave. His aggressive tactics immediately flared tensions. When a particularly outspoken protester challenged him, he assaulted her and yelled at her to move. We stood in solidarity with the victims in Charleston in front of the Gardens, while also complying with the request to leave a clear path for cars to enter. As soon as the police arrived, the security guard pointed out the protester of color to them as someone to arrest. He yelled,”That one! Get that one!” as if he wasn’t talking about an actual person. Thankfully, the police declined. No doubt because the protester was exercising her First Amendment rights and not committing an arrestable offense. The cops hung back, but the security guard persisted to direct traffic and harass people of color, all women, as the vigil went on. The guard directed dozens of cars with white drivers and passengers through the gate without comment or aggression. When a car driven by a black man with black passengers drove up, the guard yelled at the driver to “Keep moving!”
The guard was clearly treating people of color differently. He lost his temper when black activists didn’t comply with his orders instantaneously or challenged him verbally. Someone with a clearer head must have recalled the guard back to the Gardens. As soon as he left, the remaining guards stood by silently as the activists continued to mourn for Charleston. The remainder of the action continued peacefully. The entire mood of the event changed as soon as the racist guard left.
The only discernible difference between the two protests was that the morning protest was very white and the twilight protest was attended by far more people of color. White privilege exists. White privilege allowed white people to climb and mock a racist monument in view of police without consequence. Some may argue the Botanical Gardens security guard was just one bad racist apple. One bad apple doesn’t emerge in a vacuum. It thrives within a like-minded community. It grows rotten from being comfortable to say racist things and behave in a racist manner at its place of employment. It feels entitled to “protect good people” and determine who is bad based on how they look.
One bad apple doesn’t kill nine beautiful people because of the color of their skin. That sort of hatred is nurtured in the safety of a barrel filled with a lot of equally bad apples.