I think that ~positivity content~ is usually useless. It’s an easy way to make people feel comfortable and overlook actual problems. It’s a lot nicer to see a picture of a white cop hugging a black person than it is to actually reflect on black people’s lived reality that a terrorist police state can kill them for no reason and the justice system won’t punish their murderers.
The fact is that right now the news is bad and getting worse. The government is in the hands of white supremacists clinging to their power and getting more brazenly violent. The “opposition party” remains woefully incapable of a response. They haven’t fought gerrymandering and other forms of voter suppression. They allowed Mitch McConnell to hijack the Supreme Court nomination process. They’ve settled on the weakest of optics, like ripping a piece of paper or clapping pointedly, instead of actions that take advantage of the power of their offices. I don’t care about “going high” when there are no depths to which the other side won’t sink. At a certain point, it’s just humiliating.
But something is happening. People are on the streets protesting — during a global pandemic — in all 50 states and in more than 50 cities outside of the United States. Brands feel the need to weigh in, which is mostly laughably useless, but it’s a reflection of just how much pressure the public is putting on them. Remarkably, the marketable thing for major corporations to do right now is speak out against police brutality. The issue is impossible to ignore. Here in New York, there’s graffiti with messages like “ACAB,” “FTP,” “JUSTICE FOR GEORGE FLOYD,” and “ABOLISH THE POLICE” all over the city.
I went to a protest yesterday. There were more than 10,000 people marching for hours on end. I was there for seven hours, and every ten minutes I saw someone who was just there to help, giving out bottles of water, snacks, squirts of hand sanitizer, or medical help to anyone who needed it. Drivers parked their cars to honk in support, fists in the air. I saw an MTA worker and multiple city bus drivers thank protesters. I saw a middle-aged black man holding a sign that said “Am I next?” thanking people for coming out through tears. People stood on roofs or leaned out their windows, banging pots and pans. Children waved to us from the windows. When we passed the hospital, the staff was on the street applauding and people inside banged on the windows.
It was inspiring. Shortly after I left, the NYPD surrounded protesters on a bridge and trapped them there for hours.
Someone I love very much also went to a protest. A military-grade vehicle rolled up out of nowhere and cops fired off three canisters of tear gas in the crowd. Cops on bikes joined and began pushing the crowd with no clear objective, first shoving them out of the street and ramming them backward into trees and then shoving them back into the street. He told me that one cop picked up a bicycle and hit him with it. Three cops began beating his friend, a young black woman, one grabbing her head and smashing it into a bike frame. When he tried to intervene, a cop punched him. Another cop grabbed him from behind, hurling him over another cop wrestling a man on the ground, and cracked a club against his skull and on the back of his neck. His friends were also beaten with clubs. One was thrown against the hood of a car. They saw one man lie on the ground to stop the bike cops, and later saw him carried off to the hospital, blood gushing from his cracked skull. Some of them were arrested, but a bail fund got them out.
We talked about it on the phone maybe an hour after it happened. He said to me, “The craziest fucking thing is it’s not like there’s a goal. We’re not walking to somewhere or trying to get something. We’re just showing up. The only reason you’re there is for them to beat the shit out of you, and all you do is take it.”
Armed white supremacists have showed up at some of the protests in places where my loved ones live, like Philly and Raleigh. (Civilians, I mean. Not the cops, who are also armed white supremacists.) They’re scared because they’re losing ground.
It’s hard to say that there’s a silver lining here. It’s inexcusable that this is happening. It’s been happening for decades. But there is a point to taking action, and the point is there’s more of us than there is of them. There are cops with weapons and unchecked rage, but there are more people marching, giving each other water, donating to bail funds, taking care of each other because those in power refuse to.
I’m lucky that I wasn’t beaten yesterday, but I’m going to keep showing up and I might be beaten next time. They can’t hit all of us. People around the world see their violence, their racism, their insecure bullying to compensate for incompetence at their jobs. We know there’s a problem. We know they need to go. They’re very powerful, but we’re right. They can’t take away the fact that we’re right.
Not everyone can protest, especially during a pandemic. See Monday’s newsletter for a roundup of ways you can help. If you’re strapped for cash, here’s a way to help financially support several organizations for free.