To start, I want to clearly repeat my call to take action:
Speak up to oppose racism and hate in all its forms!
Here are some of my thoughts about what's been going on based on what I've seen and what I've read.
1. Let's try to focus on the matters that most URGENTLY need attention right now, like situations where people were killed!
This started over a black man being pinned under cop's knee until he died. From what I've read, George Floyd did have criminal record and did do some awful things in the past, but it's clear what happened was horribly wrong.
I think Breonna Taylor's case is another good focus, because it's a situation where she did nothing wrong. She was asleep in her home. Cops broke into her her place in the middle the night. Her partner did fire a gun, once. But the cops were in plain clothes and entered unannounced, her partner thought they were being robbed and in danger! Breonna did nothing and she was shot at least 8 times. Why were the cops there? From what I've read, they were doing a "no-knock" drug raid to arrest someone ELSE at a DIFFERENT address, who they had already arrested earlier the same day. There's no cell phone footage, but the facts seem pretty clear.
These are both US cases of horrible treatment of black people by police.
In Canada, I read just this week Chantel Moore was shot by police in New Brunswick when they visited her for a safety check! The police say she attacked them with a knife. There's no video footage. :( But even without footage, a basic Aikido move would be able to disarm someone with a knife. And how bad of a shot are you? Even if you HAD to shoot someone, how about the leg or somewhere where you won't kill them? The cops were supposed to go check to make sure she was safe!
I think these are all good cases to focus on. These are all cases where it's clear something went horribly awry and police killed people.
And I think in places like Canada, the issues we have with racism are broader than just black people. We have a different population make-up and a different history than the US. In Canada, I think our biggest issue is actually with the treatment of Indigenous people. We've had issues with the treatment of black people too (most recently in Toronto when D'Andre Campbell was killed by police in his home while he was experiencing a mental health crisis). Canada has a history of slavery and servitude, but it's a bit different than the US. Some slaves in Canada were of African descent, but many were Indigenous. In addition, many people originally from India migrated to Canada both as indentured servants and as free migrants. (Many indentured servants sent to British colonies later ended up migrating to other places, including Canada.) And there have been incidents of racism directed towards Indo-Canadians. And early settlement, particularly in BC, was helped tremendously by Chinese immigrants, but there have been issues with racism toward Chinese Canadians and Asians in general , both in the past and recent incidents related to the coronavirus.
So in Canada, I think it's bigger than racism towards black people. I think the same is likely true in many other countries too. I think in any case where we're talking about people's lives, it's important to call attention to those specific situations and call for justice. And please do try to keep it specific! If we can get a LOT of focus on a FEW cases that's great!
I think if our efforts get too diluted into too many paths, it will be hard to get the numbers we need to support specific issues, and I've seen this starting to happen.
I've seen a number of posts talking about police brutality towards white people, which does happen and happened just this past week in a bunch of places. I think police brutality is an important issue to address, so yes, let's tackle that too, but it is a slightly different, related issue.
I've also seen some posts pointing out how many white people are killed by black people and pointing out that black on black violence kills lots of people too. There is lots of violence in the world, but I think these conversations are derailing and shifting attention away from the focus on racism and police killing people. "All lives matter" is not a good response to people pointing out racism.
No, I mean, maybe later. But no one is dying over that! And if you want to go after everything associated with master and slave and everything associated with slavery and servants, good luck. And goodbye to all those cute collars and pretty metal body chains you like to see on girls. And are you going start boycotting Billie Eilish, because she sings about enjoying Master/slave roleplay? (If you don't know what I'm talking about, watch the video below and read those lyrics!)
And lots of societies still have servants. In some places that's accepted and even enjoyed by the people who have servants and the servants themselves (when they're treated well). In some places, that's a job. Like in the US or Canada, you'd just call them cook or a maid or a personal assistant. And how many rich people and celebrities have that?
So again, I urge you, please FOCUS on the BIGGEST issues, the most URGENT issues. I think clear, recent incidents of racism and police brutality that involved injury and death are good areas to focus on and encourage change!
2. There's more than just protesters wanting social justice involved in these events.
As many people have pointed out there are 3 types of people who often show up to these events:
Protesters, people who are there because they believe in the cause and want social justice.
Rioters, people who want to cause destruction, anarchists, people who want to break windows and start fires.
Looters, people who want to steal stuff (and as some people have pointed out, these are often people who are really poor and feel like they could never afford the items they're stealing).
What I haven't seen discussed as much are the other people who clearly appear to be involved in these events, including Agent Provocateurs, inciters, enablers. People who want to encourage and incite other people to violence, rioting and looting. People who enable rioting and looting.
One clear example of this is the "ANTIFA_US" twitter account that posted messages like this one:
Another example is this video showing a white guy wearing a full plastic hood respirator using a hammer to break windows in Minneapolis. He doesn't seem to be with the protesters and from what I understand this was the first instance of property destruction at the event, he started it!
I've also seen lots of photos and posts about mysterious piles of bricks showing up near protests, which seems suspicious. The mainstream news media has published articles saying there's no clear evidence of anything out of the ordinary, that these piles of bricks are "normal". Still I think it's plausible that someone working in construction might have easy access to a pallet of bricks and the ability to move it into place. Maybe an anarchist? Or a white supremacist with the same motives as Identity Evropa? I haven't seen any clear evidence showing who put the bricks in place, but it is clear there are some people who have NOTHING to do with #BlackLivesMatter involved in these protests.
I know for a fact that the protests in Vancouver this weekend and last weekend were NOT organized by the local Black Lives Matter group. Similarly, the protest in Toronto this weekend was NOT organized by the local BLM group either. The local BLM group in Vancouver issued an official statement about last weekend's protest saying they did not organize it and would not attend the event over Covid-19 concerns. The group was vague about support for this weekend's protest saying they didn't organize it, but then gave a number of safety recommendations for attending. Similarly, the Toronto BLM group put out a statement saying they had "NO involvement in the organizing of any of this weekend's upcoming actions and marches." But then said, "We believe in Black people mourning, grieving, and protesting however works for them..." Meanwhile Crime Stoppers reported the Toronto protest was organized by the Black Bloc, which is an anarchist group.
And there have been photos and videos showing the presence of several far-right groups associated with white supremacists showing up to protests armed with weapons, including the Proud Boys and the Boogaloo Bois.
And then, there's the police. I think it's clear from the photos and videos that have been shared over the past week that there have been a lot of incidents of police behaving badly, particularly in many major US cities. I've seen the footage of an officer shoving a 75 yr. old man down and then a whole group of police walking by his body on the ground with his head bleeding in Buffalo, NY. I've seen footage of a person who was reportedly homeless and disabled and not involved in the protests bleeding from a head wound caused by a rubber bullet in LA. And rubber bullets, those things are not just rubber! It's the outer casing that's rubber. From what I understand the bullet itself is usually metal and/or plastic. And they're huge! And it's pretty clear from the photos I've seen showing up online during the last week that some cops are using them wrong and causing people serious facial injuries! I've also read first-hand reports of terrible treatment of protesters arrested at some of the demonstrations. And I've seen photo and video documentation of police destroying first aid stations, even though the medics were given permission by the city to setup stations to provide first aid!
So I caution protesters, allies of social justice, be careful. If you're going to a protest, please make sure:
- You know who's organizing the protest you're attending.
- You have people there to take photos and video of what happens.
- You're prepared to handle the kinds of things you may have to deal with, like tear gas and rubber bullets.
3. I think large gatherings during a pandemic are a bad idea.
I've seen the footage, thousands of people gathering in major cities around the world. I think lots of people feel strongly about racism and would like to see it end, completely. I know I would!
At the same time, according to the current global data, Covid-19 is about as contagious and deadly as the flu, specifically, the Spanish Flu. It's much less deadly than bird flu. And more contagious and deadly than the seasonal flu and swine flu.
Many people did wear masks, but I saw mostly fabric masks that don't really provide much protection. And in a lot of the photos and videos I saw people were much closer than 6 feet away from one another. And I know that, at least in the US, police used tear gas on the crowds, which causes lots of coughing.
I will echo the advice of BC's provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, who apparently is now considered "one of the most effective public health officials in the world".
If you're thinking of going to a protest, consider YOUR health and YOUR family. If you are high risk or someone in your household is, maybe stay home and sign a petition or do some virtual protesting instead.
If you go to a protest:
- Wear a Mask
- Keep Distance (6 feet away)
- Be prepared to self-isolate for 14 days after the protest (yes, really!)
- Carry signs to say what you want, rather than chanting, shouting, singing
- Keep the group numbers SMALL, here in BC the limit is 50 people per group
So if you have 500 people, that's 10 groups of 50 people, and you could arrange the groups at different locations around the city with signs. If you have thousands, you could have 50 people every couple blocks and you easily stretch a protest across a whole city that way.
I also feel we need to think about other ways to protest. We need to get creative and find ways to make sure our voices are heard, safely. I found this set of suggestions for virtual protesting posted by @sa.liine on Instagram. If anyone knows of other resources like this, please share!
Either this virus is dangerous and you should avoid large gatherings or it isn't. So which is it world leaders? For now, I'm choosing to believe Dr. Henry, because she's been very open and honest in her briefings. When she spoke this past week, she seemed concerned about the large gatherings and the possibility of transmission in large crowds. As she warned, it has happened before in other parts of the world. There have been cases where Covid-19 was transmitted at outdoor gatherings.
I understand it's kind of too late now. Now, we just get watch over the next couple of weeks and see what happens and hope for the best!
Thankfully, here is BC, the case numbers and rates of community transmission are low enough, I think we'll be ok. Though I worry about areas that still have lots of cases and lots of community transmission.
If you were at the protests, please self-isolate for 14 days and watch for ANY symptoms!