Monday, June 17, 2024
Movements & OrganizingPublic HealthPublic Safety

A Tale Of Two Protests

We sure have seen it all in 2020. An impeachment trial. A global pandemic. Climate change. Genocide. Murder hornets. A growing thread is the widespread civil unrest in the United States. This has ranged from bearded white men with semiautomatic rifles storming state capitols to demand their rights to get haircuts or buy grass seed to the growing and increasingly mainstreamed Black Lives Matter movement, reignited by the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery in February, Breonna Taylor in March, and George Floyd in May. Now that it’s become palatable to the mainstream for every company to rainbow-wash itself in honor of Pride, major corporations are increasingly issuing statements in support of black Americans, something that would have seemed unthinkable in the mainstream several years ago. But not all protests are created equal, something I’ve written about before. This was highlighted yesterday particularly through two events in Detroit, including a Black Lives Matter protest, and one in St. Louis.

PRIDE RALLY

I went to a bike rally for Pride. Organizers explained that they had broken off from Motor City Pride, the more mainstreamed event that has previously taken place at Hart Plaza downtown. Motor City Pride last year was marred by the arrival of some well-armed neo-Nazis, who were escorted by similarly well-armed police. Organizers of yesterday’s bike rally explained that they didn’t think that Motor City Pride had adequately responded to this violent threat, so they decided to start their own event. This rally was pro-LGBTx, but it also felt distinctly anti-corporate and distinctly DIY. One organizer explained that no permits had been acquired and no police presence would be anticipated (i.e. escorts, as for a parade and to safely block streets, as is done with Slow Roll).

The ride went from the riverfront up West Grand Blvd. (past the author’s house) and down Vernor to George S. Patton Park in Springwells, where a proper leftist hootenanny commenced. While Pride-oriented, organizers– including Wayne County Commissioner candidate Gabriela Santiago-Romero were heavily focused on an intersectional protest movement. Signs– in at least English and Spanish (one flyer was in Arabic)- variously called to protect black lives, trans lives, to abolish ICE, and to abolish police. No police were spotted the whole time. No looting or rioting took place, either. Shocking, huh?

A bike rally for Pride assembles at the Detroit Riverfront just west of the Ambassador Bridge.

THE PRESUMPTION OF VIOLENCE

Contrast this with the presumption of violence at other protests that took place. I define this as immediately assuming a violent or hostile, defensive stance against any sort of protest, regardless of how benign. The first was in St. Louis, where protesters marched to demand the resignation of Mayor Lyda Krewson. Krewson recently drew widespread ire for doxxing advocates of police reform, including their home addresses and full names, in a livestreamed address. Neighbors, personal injury attorneys Mark and Patricia McCloskey, were photographed pointing guns at protesters who were walking by on the public sidewalk. Let’s point out that this is, on its face, a felony under even Missouri’s lax gun laws: exhibiting a firearm in a threatening manner. It’s also not only felonious but extremely dangerous to not only point a gun at someone but to have your finger on the trigger. This is more or less the first lesson you ever learn in a gun class. But can we expect more from St. Louis?

A couple demonstrating particularly poor gun etiquette– not to mention by way of feloniously exhibiting a firearm in a threatening manner, according to RSMo § 571.030(4)- as they “defend” their property from protesters who were walking by on the sidewalk. Protesters were demonstrating in front of the home of St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, who publicly doxxed several activists who were calling for police reform. Krewson has since apologized, but critics continue to call for her resignation, which, they say, needlessly endangered the lives of advocates. (Uncredited, but I’m happy to credit you if you know who took this).

“Karen and Chad” have already blown up as a global internet phenomenon, yet another example of turning St. Louis into a subject of much ridicule. There was no rioting or looting at the St. Louis protest. There were, however, these two counterprotesters pointing guns at unarmed, nonviolent citizens passing by their house.

…WHILE, BACK IN DETROIT…

Later yesterday evening, though, the presumption of violence manifested itself in a brutal police response to a crowd marching through Southwest Detroit. This was separate from the rally I attended, although I understand some members of the Pride rally did attend this protest later in the evening. A few videos show a police vehicle intentionally driving into a crowd and the driver then flooring it when protesters surrounded the vehicle. The extent of injuries suffered was unclear, but reports indicate that a number of protesters were later taken to hospitals for non-life threatening injuries.

I thought we were done with this, Chief Craig? Why are the Detroit police still meeting demands for demilitarization and deëscalation with such broad and unrepentant use of violence? Maybe defunding the police means transferring officers from motor vehicles to bikes. After all, if officers can’t be trusted with guns, why trust them with the other lethal weapon of a motor vehicle? The video clearly indicates two protesters being thrown off the hood of the vehicle as it speeds away. Was the presumption of these officers really that they would be murdered by this crowd? How many cops have been murdered since the beginning of the George Floyd protests? How many citizens have been murdered?

I keep telling myself that this time around is very different from the original Black Lives Matter pushes in 2014 and 2015. We’ve had years to learn since Ferguson. We also now face down far more existential threats that were quieter in 2014 and 2015. The government is led by a dude who has made it his sworn mission to glorify white supremacists while dismantling the federal government. COVID19 adds another layer of threat to public health while also cataclysmically destabilizing the global economy. It is anyone’s guess how fast change will come. But to protect lives, it had better come soon. 

In this still from Evan Petzold’s video recorded late evening yesterday in Southwest Detroit, I’ve outlined in pink the protester who jumped on the hood of the pictured police cruiser, shortly before being thrown off as the vehicle sped up. Videos appear to show the police intentionally driving into the thick of the crowd before hitting the accelerator, plowing into protesters.

The Detroit Police Department did not respond to a request for comment, but Chief James Craig is expected to address the issue in a 13:00 EDT press conference today. Steve Neavling reported on Twitter that Craig was “getting very defensive” when asked by city council about the issue.

Nat Zorach

Nat M. Zorach, AICP is a city planner, community development professional, and MBA candidate at American University's Kogod School of Business, based in Detroit.

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