STL arch peaceful protest

peaceful protests = oxymoron

Editors note: Updated from original publication on May 26, 2015. Peaceful protests are as relevant now as they ever were. The more things change the more they stay the same.

what kind of protest is acceptable?

I’d like to ask you a few questions about what “peaceful protests” means to you. To begin, STOP calling them PEACEFUL protests. Using that phrase is akin to calling married men “non-abusive spouses” or referring to “rational women”. But I digress. Do you approve of any type of protest against police brutality and other oppression so long as it’s non-violent? Perhaps it just depends.

Should protesters be required to get a permit in order to gain your approval? Maybe a peaceful protest on a sidewalk is okay. Are those peaceful protests you can wrap your head around? In other words, if protests adhere to certain social norms, you believe, “If they’re going to have peaceful protests at least they are doing it the right way.” Was Colin Kaepernick’s taking a knee during the national anthem protest peaceful enough for you or did it raise your blood pressure? Along those lines, should sports figures and celebrities stay in their fucking lanes and do their jobs without dragging politics into everything?

peaceful protest in the street
Justice for Breonna Taylor protest STL. Photo by Richard Reilly via FB

Let’s dig a little deeper regarding acceptable peaceful protests. How does a spontaneous protest in front of a police station or outside a public official’s house strike you? If protesters burn the American flag, does that convert peaceful protests into violent ones? Cutting to the chase, do you understand what civil disobedience is? Do you believe yelling “Fuck the police” or similar aggressive speech is grounds for arrest and does that alter your perception of whether the protest is “peaceful”?

how do you react to protests?

What comes to mind when you think of a “violent” protest? Is it when people in the crowd break windows and set shit on fire? Perhaps most importantly, tell me your definition of “violent”. Can you differentiate between the terms “protest”, “vandalism”, “looting” and “riot”, or are they all pretty much the same?

Let me set you straight. Those terms are not interchangeable. Grabbing ho-ho’s and six packs from a convenience store after a brick opens the door is theft. Looting is despicable, but it doesn’t elevate a protest to a riot, nor does spray painting a wall. A riot is protester-instigated physical aggression towards police, like shooting or lobbing objects at them. Protesters running from tear gas does not a riot make. Be careful with your language because it can perpetuate stereotypes, lies and further aggression towards marginalized people. The media and government officials use the word “riot” for protests to get you to accept their worldview that all protest is chaos.

are you the same as you were before you knew stuff?

There are certain things I don’t believe I would ever do. I phrased that carefully because a person doesn’t know what they will do in a given situation until they’re tested. Case in point, in my twenties I said I’d never go to herculean feats to have a baby. Six in vitro procedures later, I have three children. No one puts baby in the corner. (pun intended) I’m talking about actions against my moral code. For instance, I’m never going to bludgeon a puppy. I can say that with relative certainty. Even if its cuteness tries to kill me. I will never call anyone the “R word”. And, no, I’m not talking about Republicans.

peaceful protest for breonna taylor
STL protesters entering HW I-40 Photo by Richard Reilly via FB

protests and their many forms

Since the unjustified killing of Michael Brown, I’ve done things I never thought I would. I used to wonder what compelled me to continue protesting in the streets. Is it white savior complex? I don’t think so, but how can I be sure? I’ve attended over a hundred protests since August 2014, peaceful and otherwise. They included: pre-planned marches, protests in neighborhoods, protests outside major sporting events, pop-up protests. Some peaceful protests occurred outside various police departments. I protested inside the America’s Center, Wal-Mart, malls, restaurants and at various points of interest around St. Louis. I’ve attended silent street protests, protests in front of churches and street die-ins. The list goes on.

I say this to illustrate how varied protest can be, not to congratulate myself. Acting human doesn’t deserve special recognition. To be clear, I wasn’t out there when an L.A. jury acquitted officers who beat Rodney King. I didn’t take to the streets after Florida legal fuckery denied Trayvon Martin’s mother justice for the murder of her son. There’s not enough internet to list all the lives that didn’t inspire me to activism before Michael Brown.

peaceful protest HW40 STL
STL protesters light candles for Breonna Taylor Photo by Richard Reilly via FB

Peaceful protests in front of elected officials’ house used to make me wince. Highway protests seemed too extreme. I cringed when a beloved, now deceased, friend screamed obscenities at the police. Getting to the scene of a police-involved killing in an unfamiliar neighborhood before protest friends initially scared me. Fast forward six years, and I’m stridently yelling “Fuck the police” as loud as my voice will carry. I see the folks in those neighborhoods as people, usually hurting. The trauma in these neighborhoods is palpable. As soon as I start talking to someone the apprehension melts. This is a human being in front of me.

Additionally, I’ve carried signs and chanted in front of the houses of the Governor, a couple Mayors and City Managers, and city prosecutors. I’ve been to protests where police and protesters were shot as well as completely chill Mother’s marches. And highways? Shut many of those down following black leaders over the years.

Many white people fixate on HOW something is presented to the detriment of THE MESSAGE.

has your view of protests changed over time?

My viewpoint of what is an acceptable protest has evolved. Politicians saying their view on a controversial subject “evolved” sounds like yesterday’s bullshit. It is a way to lubricate the public’s psyche to the politician flip-flopping on an important issue. In my case, I didn’t understand. As a matter of fact, I continue to struggle to understand. I will never fully get it. Understanding takes constant vigilance, and pivoting my world view.

Protest, by definition, is supposed to be disruptive. Otherwise, it would be pointless. It’s designed to make you uncomfortable so you remember it. Peaceful protest wants to stop you and make you think. It knows interrupting your meal isn’t going to win hearts but it will give you pause, and that’s as much as it can do unless you investigate the underlying principles of the protest.

STL arch peaceful protest
Justice for Breonna Taylor STL protest. Photo by Richard Reilly via FB

Returning to how I started this piece, think about how you answered the question of what “violent” means. Recall how you defined “peaceful”. After all the preventable death and lack of justice, I can’t get riled up about the “violence” of 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. How would you react if police shot your child while sleeping or playing with a toy gun on a playground, and were not held to account?

Imagine if that scenario played out in different and cruel ways for your kin. Think about if the news continually blasted out photos of victims that died like your child. It would be traumatic and re-traumatizing. Would you be beside yourself enough to curse at the people in authority and their representatives who could have done something? Would trying to raise consciousness about the injustice motivate you to stop traffic for twenty minutes?

Shouting at the house of a prosecutor who maintains the status quo and refuses to prosecute police brutality is 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.

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One Comment

  1. RDP

    Q: Do you approve of any type of protest against police brutality so long as it’s non-violent or does it just depend?
    A: I disapprove of any type of protest against police brutality when it’s WITHOUT JUST CAUSE, as in the Michael Brown case. I approve of only non-violent protest as did MLK. He’d be turning over in his grave now if he saw how his people were conducting business.

    Q: Do you think citizens should be required to get a permit or stay on the sidewalk?
    A: I don’t think protesters should be required to first obtain a permit. I don’t think protesters should be allowed to impede the free movement of other people or traffic whether it’s for 6 minutes or 6 days.

    Q: 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?
    A: I’m okay with a spontaneous protest in front of a police station. I’m okay with protests taking place outside a public official’s house as long as they don’t trespass on private property, or disturb the peace of surrounding neighbors by using foul language where it can be heard by children.

    Q: Do you believe burning the American flag should be unconstitutional?
    A: I despise the act but know it’s considered freedom of speech.

    Q: Do you understand what civil disobedience is?
    A: Of course. It’s the refusal to obey governmental demands or commands especially as a nonviolent and usually collective means of forcing concessions from the government. But you must understand if any particular type of civil disobedience breaks the law, then you must accept that you’ll be subject to citation or arrest and/or prosecution.

    Q: How do you define “violent”? How do you feel when protests turn violent? Does your definition of violence include property destruction?
    A: Violent aka violence is the unlawful exercise of physical force or INTIMIDATION by the exhibition of such force. Property destruction absolutely is an act of violence. Protests that turn violent should be swiftly put down by what ever means necessary within the continuum of force parameters.

    Q: What about aggressive speech towards the police? Is yelling “Fuck the police” ever okay by you?
    A: It’s not okay with me, but it is classified as free speech. And by the same token if someone were to say “fuck black people” that would also be classified as freedom of speech. Try as you might, you cannot differentiate the two.

    Q: 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?
    A: I’d probably exercise my right of free speech. I would not under any circumstance respond with aggression, unless I was first confronted with aggression. (It’s commonly referred to as self defense) Six minutes you say? You are joking right? No one has the right to dictate to me how I should spend six minutes out of my day. My family going back to at least the mid 18th century has not engaged in the inhumane treatment people of color. So leave me out of it. I owe them nothing.

    Q: I often wonder what compels me to continue. Is it white savior complex?
    A: No. It’s a white guilt complex.

    EACH PROTEST IS UNIQUE. I’ve been to all the police support rallies. All have been civil (with the exception of the protesters) and included balloons to boot. I thought it was common knowledge that guns and batons are tools every uniformed police officer is required to carry when on duty. They also bring guns and batons to police support rallies.

    I’m pleased to say we do have one thing in common. You bring cell phones, video recorders, and righteous indignation to your events. We also do. I’ve got some great video showing the behavior of protesters at police support rallies. It’s extremely unflattering. The only reason I haven’t posted it to the internet is because I haven’t figured out how to make that transfer. Perhaps you could advise me as to how it’s done?

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