Boston Protest March, May 31st

I marched in Boston on Sunday.

I left after standing at the State House for a little while, before the police went into the crowd. Before I left, the crowd was loud but peaceful—as they had been for the entire march.

I had been heartened by the people around me on the march. People were more considerate of each other than a typical Boston crowd, with lots of attention paid to those around them and none of those pockets of oblivious assholes that so often crop up. While social distancing was basically impossible, I think I saw fewer than ten people without masks.

For perspective, that was ten in this crowd:

If I felt so positive about it, why did I leave?

I spoke mid-march with someone who was helping to organize the crowd, keeping it on the route. They noted the profound lack of police managing the boundaries of the route. That was an accurate assessment, as far as I could tell—the march was almost entirely self-managed. I saw only one cluster of cops off to the side along the whole march (2.4 miles from 2343 Washington Street in Roxbury to the State House on the Commons, at a slow pace over one and a half hours). I’m not sure why the police felt they shouldn’t be present along the route. That was a change from what I’ve seen before. The person managing the crowd speculated that the police were all waiting at the State House, and they worried about what that might imply about the police’s plans.

That resonated with my existing fears. It was also prescient.

I know enough people who’ve been hurt by police while peacefully protesting.

I have at least one family member who’s been hurt by police before. They were protesting peacefully. I trust and believe them when they say this; they’ve done martial arts most of their life and are trained in deescalation and crisis management. We’ve worked security together at large festivals. They were backing away from the police and not offering resistance, but the police attacked them anyway.

I’ve watched police attack other people in front of me, outside of protests, when those people were doing nothing more than being loud. I’ve heard stories of other close friends being pepper sprayed or tear gassed without offering any resistance to police officers.

That had weighed heavily on me while I planned to go to Sunday’s march. Because of that, I’d never intended to stay long enough to be around large numbers of police. Even before hearing that crowd-shepherding person’s speculation, I was hyper-aware of what might happen to me if I stayed.

I’m frustrated that this might be seen as a feature by those who support more violent policing, and by those who don’t support protests (or don’t support protests except when a certain President supports them, as was the case with various armed white protestors this April).

But what it comes down to, really, is that I don’t trust the police.

I don’t trust police to deescalate a situation. I don’t trust police to engage peacefully with anyone they don’t like or empathize with. I don’t believe that they’ll avoid hurting people who don’t offer any resistance. I especially don’t trust police to engage peacefully with crowds. Honestly—and I say this as someone with all the benefits of being seen as a white man—I don’t trust police to empathize with anyone who isn’t visibly and vocally supporting them.

On top of that, I don’t trust most people to believe or support peaceful protestors who’ve been hurt by the police. I believe that those hurt will be blamed, instead of the police. As best as I can see, there’s little accountability to that motto “to serve and protect.”

I’m sad about all of that.

Consider, just for a moment, the standards we hold protestors to when we judge whether or not they’re behaving acceptably. Now, what behavior will we permit or excuse among police officers? Police aren’t punished when they use disproportionate force to subdue people, or when they react to provocations. But if protestors are attacked, we gasp and complain when they respond with anything other than nonviolent forbearance. And we accept that people who’ve done nothing wrong, whose very rights to speech and assembly are enshrined in our Constitution, suffer when the police use indiscriminate force to control people.

When one person in a large crowd throws something, the whole crowd is suspect and a legitimate target. When one officer kills someone, they’re “just one bad apple.” Never mind the fact that the idiom about bad apples says that one bad apple spoils the bunch.

I think I’m only not angry about this all the time because I’ve nearly given up on the police being better. That in itself is sad and stupid; I’ve been on security teams that were better, and I know Community Safety Officers more dedicated to (and who do a better job of) serving and protecting their communities. I know it’s possible to have people do similar work that supports and grows the public trust instead of corroding it.

I fear the impact these protests will have, both through violent policing and through Covid-19’s spread, especially in communities of color. Mattias talks eloquently about both of these things in his thread that starts here:

I can only conclude is that it’s vital for these protests to continue. I don’t see another way to make things change.

Thoughts on 1/20/2017

This is more of a stump than a full post, but it’s late and I’ve been distracted all day. I’ve been finishing my current draft of Barium Deep, hoping to have it done before the end of January.

I want to submit it.

Hell, I want to change the world. Sometimes, very, very occasionally, I’m confident enough to think that I might have a chance to do that with the stories I share.

But I was set to thinking, earlier, when I spoke with someone about the news that we’d each seen that day. She’d seen news footage cutting back and forth between the inauguration parade and protestors, news about people breaking windows and even (apparently) setting a car on fire in front of the Washington Post offices. I saw a video of police pepper spraying an elderly woman and a disabled man, along with the people who were trying to shield them and move them away from the police.

What are the narratives our news sources are giving us? Why?

And I keep coming back to this: what the fuck were those officers thinking, spraying people who obviously are mobility impaired, spraying the people who are trying to help them move, spraying fucking everyone in that group?

I’ve never worked as a police officer. But I have worked security, dealing with people who didn’t really want to do what I wanted them to do (leave a place, quietly, by following me through a crowded area). I got more cooperation, nearly 100% cooperation, with calm requests and occasional assistance than I ever could have gotten by enforcing, imposing my will on the people I was dealing with. There was never a scene. I was, to the best of my ability, helpful.

My experience is not their experience. The situation I was dealing with was not the situation that they were dealing with. And I can’t help but think that maybe, if they’d treated their situation a little differently, it would have *been* different. Fundamentally different. Those police officers might have had a chance to serve and protect people, instead of punish, harm, and endanger them.

I’m not sure what it takes to make someone think that pepper spraying the mobility impaired is a good way to make them move. I’m not sure what it takes to convince them to do that instead of anything more sane. Fear, maybe. A deep and abiding unawareness of other options. Maybe (I always hope not, and always fear it is so) pleasure in the exercise of power over others. Especially the state-legitimated non-consensual exercise of power over others.

We’ve had enough of that.

On a semi-related note, read Mattias’ piece MLK Is Not Your Black Friend. It’s good. It deserves your attention.

Take care.