Voice of protests around the world crying for peace
They are nurses and doctors, artists, students, construction workers, government employees; black, brown and white; young and old.
Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets in big cities and tiny towns in every U.S. state – and even around the world – to protest the killing of George Floyd, who died after a police officer pressed his knee into his neck as he pleaded for air.
They say they are protesting police brutality, but also the systematic racism non white Americans have experienced since the country’s birth. Many say they marched so that one day, when their children asked what they did at this historic moment, they will be able to say they stood up for justice despite all risks.
Most say they do not support the violence, fires and burglaries that consumed some of the demonstrations, but some understand it: these are desperate acts by desperate people who have been screaming for change for generations into a world unwilling to hear them.
Yet suddenly, for a moment at least, everyone seems to be paying attention.
About half of American adults now say police violence against the public is a “very” or “extremely” serious problem, up from about a third as recently as September last year, according to a new polls from a associated press center. Only about 3 in 10 said the same in July 2015, just a few months after Freddie Gray, a black man, died in police custody in Baltimore.
Some demonstrators describe losing friends and family to police bullets, and what it feels like to fear the very people sworn to protect you. Their white counterparts say they could no longer let their black neighbors carry this burden alone.
Some describe institutional racism as a pandemic as cruel and deadly as the coronavirus. One white nurse from Oregon who traveled to New York City to work in a corona virus unit saw up close how minorities are dying disproportionately from the disease because of underlying health conditions wrought by generational poverty and lack of health care. So after four days working in the ICU, she spent her day off with protesters in the streets of Brooklyn.
The stories of these protesters, several of them told here, are thundering across the country, forcing a reckoning with racism.
`THEY’RE SCARED OF US’
Lavel White was a junior in high school, living in public housing in a predominantly black, historically impoverished neighborhood in Louisville, when he turned on the news and saw that a police officer was acquitted for shooting a young black man in the back.
Next time, he thought, it might be me.
The 2004 killing of 19-year-old Michael New by propelled White to activism. He is now a documentary filmmaker and a community outreach coordinator for the Louisville mayor’s office.
Still, he knows that if he got pulled over and made a wrong move, he could die.
He’s had his own frightening run ins with police, treated like a criminal for a broken taillight and another time in a case of mistaken identity. There are the smaller slights, too, like white women clutching their purses when he passes them on the street.
“They fear people’s black skin. They’re scared of us. They see every black male as a thug, as a criminal,” he said. “The vigilantes, the cops. People keep killing us and it’s got to stop.
He’s been at the protests in his neighborhood almost every night, and worries his neighbors will live with the trauma the rest of their lives: the military truck on city streets, the tear gas, the boom of flash bangs, soldiers with assault rifles, police in riot gear.
He and his wife have a 2-year-old daughter and a son, born just three months ago.
“Just because of the color of his skin, he’s going to be set back by the oppression of 400 years of slavery and Jim Crow Laws and injustice, inequalities, racism, he’s going to have to walk and live that life,” he said.
They want him to grow up tough enough to stand up for his rights and his community.
So they named him Brave.
`FATHER FORGIVE THEM’
Once, when George Jefferson was a college student in California, he rolled up to a party with several friends just as people rushed to leave. Sirens blared.
“I hear, ’Get out of the car,′ and so I swing my door open. I look to my left and there is the barrel of a gun pointed in my face,” said Jefferson, who is 28 and now a fourth grade teacher in Kansas City, Missouri. “And I am like cold sweating, it’s not visible, but I feel it. My heart is racing. He said, ‘I said don’t get out of the car’ And at that point I realized I misheard this cop.
He was let off with a stern warning to follow police instructions. But his unease grew after another encounter with police soon afterward, in which a friend was pulled over and forced to sit on the curb. Police said the car’s tag was expired; his friend argued. The advice they got was to file a complaint.
“But that didn’t address the feelings and dehumanization that came with it,” Jefferson recalled. His experiences led him to protest, teach his students about race, demand change.
In his classroom, he has posted pictures of unrest in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown’s death at the hands of a white officer in 2014 sparked intense protests. He has asked students for their observations, and assigned books, like “One Crazy Summer,” which is set in Oakland, California, in 1968, after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
Fred Hampton was one of two Black Panther Party leaders killed in a 1969 police raid in Illinois; in February, Jefferson had his face tattooed on his arm. He plans to add to another tattoo — a line from scripture, Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.
It is a reminder to fight for equality.
“That,” he said, “is a life worth living.
— By Heather Hollingsworth
`THERE ARE OTHER WAYS TO PROTEST’
Even at 36, Jahmal Cole recites the pledge from his preschool graduation: “We the class of 1988, determined to be our best at whatever we say or do, will share a smile and lend a hand to our neighbor …”
“It really became the mission statement of my life,” says Cole, the founder of a Chicago organization called My Block, My Hood, My City.
He has started a relief fund for small business in low income neighborhoods damaged in protests. Youth in his organization’s mentoring program are helping with the cleanup, sweeping up glass and erasing graffiti.
He’ll march. He’ll shout and express his anger. But he draws the line at destruction.
“We got residents who gotta go 20 minutes away to get some milk right now,” he tells a crowd assembled for a peace rally and food give away in Chicago’s largely African American Chatham neighborhood. Its commercial district was hard hit by looting.
Members of the multiracial crowd nod and clap. Many of them know this man. They’ve heard his constant push for neighbors to work together to make change.
Cole wants his neighbors to organize.. “Ain’t no structure in the gangs, and that’s why there’s all this shooting. Ain’t no structure to the protests, and that’s why there’s all this looting,” he wrote in a column published recently in the Chicago Tribune.
And he wants to build on the momentum. “I want to make sure we’re protesting by calling our local officials … by going to the school board,” he tells the crowd. “There are other ways to protest.
— By Martha Irvine
`YOUTH ARE IMPATIENT NOW’
Growing up as a black Muslim in the racially and religiously homogeneous state of Utah, Daud Mumin always knew he was treated differently.
He vividly remembers his 15th birthday, when his mother, an immigrant from Somalia, was pulled over for speeding — a routine traffic stop that turned into an hour-long interrogation, spoiling his special dinner.
And he recalls the question that none of his white classmates were asked on the first day of news French in his junior year: “Are you in the right class?”
The Black Lives Matter movement gave Mumin a place where he felt at home, and the protests around the world since Floyd’s death give him hope that change is coming.
“It’s beautiful to see such large and consistent outcomes and turnouts in these protests,” said Mumin, a 19-year-old college sophomore double majoring in justice studies and communication. “When I was 14 years old, I never thought a world like this would exist.
But that doesn’t mean he’s not angry and impatient. He wants to see the movement lead to not funding of police departments. His Twitter handle, “Daud hates cops,” shows his resentment.
He said protesters shouldn’t go into demonstrations intentionally trying to cause violence, but also can’t sit back and wait for the government to make things better.
“What is it going to take for us to finally crumble these oppressive systems? If peace is not the answer, then violence has to be,” Mum said. “America has finally had enough of waiting for action to be taken. The youth are not tired. The youth are impatient now. I think we’re done waiting around and sitting around for justice to come about.
— By Brady McCombs