I unintentionally semi-attended one of the protests for the death of Floyd, murdered at the hands of police brutality. Unless you are Patrick the Star, you know who I am referring to (Floyd and countless other victims), what I am referring to (systematic racism and police brutality in the US), the evolving situation (peaceful protests over the span of half a decade whistling into frustration; people taking advantage of the situation, bringing UHaul trucks to a protest); and how many people may or may not feel on social media.
We had gone into the city to observe the apparent damage from last night. This was after we mosied on through the rich and poor neighborhoods, a mere ten minutes apart. Here, in the heart of the city, cop cars lined every street. They parked in groups of ten. They huddled together, breaths close, adjusting their tear gas masks, apparently forgetting that while it was a period of protests, it was also a pandemic. We glanced at street troopers deeply inhaling each other’s air particles.
All of the windows, for streets on end, were boarded up. Not because they were broken, it turns out, but for preemptive measures. We circled around the blocks several times, peering at the graffiti that spat from every wall. Every corner. Chants I have heard many, many times. No justice, no peace. A different energy permeated the street. As we passed by people with signs and masks, we sensed that there was a new person in the chat: tension. Fear. You could feel it. Whisps of it. Floating above the cauldron of anticipation.
We passed by a screaming ambulance. And it pointed us towards the hundreds of protestors, who suddenly showed up overnight. They were not here ten minutes ago. But now they were, an itching crawling mass of ants, a rhythm of outrage, sadness, defiance. We ended up parking right in front of the protestors as they all crossed. We honked our horn, because we were inside, and le beau held a fist, and they saw, and they did too. And in the video footage, I see now, the collective fists rising, rising, rising in unity.
I have always loved attending protests, capturing the raw energy, swollen and real. Collective effervescence was the term my professor had once used. And even though I was not in the protest myself, I felt it, if only briefly. Again. And then I remembered the incredible sadness and tragedy and numbness that accompanies every other headline. The same old story. For so long, people have turned a blind eye. This protest–this was different. The posts I see on my feed–they’re different. How so? Not the content, but the people who are posting them. By God. The message seems to have gotten through to more of the masses than before. That is the smallest sliver of hope.
This is all straight out of a USA textbook. Times from the 1960’s. The L.A Race Riots. Dates of sit-ins and names of groups. Malcom X, MLK, Black Panther, Emmett Till. We memorized these names. These faces. Rotely. Sang their names in songs. Unaware that as we bristled about, naive and young, the world outside was very much the same as the one in the textbook.
It feels as if there is nothing I can say to add to the discourse. There is nothing I can say that will change the past or reality. There is nothing I can say to change the world as it presently is, or once was. My desire to see no evil and hear no evil, a privilege I cradled like a baby’s blanket, was ripped from me today–silly girl. It’s somewhat relieving and exhausting and overwhelming to see that this dominates every single news feed. People know. People who would have normally waved it off five years ago, when it was Trayvon Martin, are noticing a pattern. And they feel some type of way about it.
That being said, I can hear both sides of the argument for and against violence in the context of protests. Outside the context, I do not condone violence. I strongly dislike violence. It makes me nauseous. It’s sickening. We got here because of violence. Because of countless murders. Because of regular brutality. I can hear that peaceful attempts have been ignored for far too long–I can hear that violence only perpetrates violence. Here’s my cop-out, no pun intended: I take no stand. The sad thing about violence is that what makes it violence is a victim. Usually dead or maimed. And we may support violence in the abstract, until that victim is our mother, father, sister, best friend, cousin, uncle, co-worker, husband.
There is no happy ending to this post, no conclusive remark. Just as there is no happy ending for Floyd’s story, a familiar U.S tale. Racism is America’s cystic acne, I said today. It continually flares up. And when you think you’ve cleared out most of it, it just crops up again. Who knows what’ll be the miraculous Clean-n-Clear to America’s racism? I sure don’t.
But so long as there is no justice, there will be no peace.