Astounding images of militarized responses to peaceful protestare emerging from the July actions against police violence. Stunned by the graphic videos of the police killing Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge Louisiana many people have taken to the streets to express their outrage. They have been met with police seemingly ready for confrontations.
While thinking about heavy-handed police responses it is essential to consider the killings of police officers in Dallas. Police were covering a peaceful #blacklivesmatter rally when they were shot. Five officers were killed and seven people were shot by a sniper unaffiliated with the movement. I can imagine that the police are looking for enemies around every corner.
I hold both things true at the same time. I mourn the dead and hurt police officers in Dallas. I mourn the black people killed by police officers.
DeRay McKesson was arrested in Baton Rouge last night. You may have seen the photo of his arrest.
Mckesson is a prominent Black Lives Matter activist who had traveled to Louisiana to document the protests. One of hundreds arrested, Mckesson was filming when he was tackled by two police officers while walking on the side of the road. The New York Times reports:
Mr. McKesson, 31, repeatedly tells viewers in the broadcast that there is no sidewalk where they are marching. In the background, an officer can be heard shouting, “You with them loud shoes, I see you in the road. If I get close to you, you’re going to jail.”
“I think he’s talking to me, y’all,” says Mr. McKesson, who often wears a blue vest and red sneakers to demonstrations.
Soon after, Mr. McKesson repeats that there is no sidewalk. “Watch the police, they are just literally provoking people,” he says.
Then, about five minutes into the broadcast, the video gets shaky and a police officer can be heard saying: “City police. You’re under arrest. Don’t fight me. Don’t fight me.” Then Mr. McKesson shouts, “I’m under arrest, y’all.”
This seems like a targeted grab to arrest a spokesperson. An arrest to intimidate and bully a journalist. It also seems to be a particularly military response to activists calling attention to disparate racial policing. Police have to know that these gun-waving, activist tackling moments make them look irrational and violent.
So many of these arbitrary and scary arrests appear to intentionally silence people. A protester was doing an interview with Rochester journalist Tara Grimes when she was charged and grabbed and arrested by a circle of armored police officers.
These images are not inspiring. I hope for civil dialogue and rapid cultural change. But along the way we are going to have to document the logic and reasoning of these moments of militarized policing and hold them accountable. I think public visibility is the only hope we have. I bet it will be hard, but it is necessary that communities continue to insist on respectful engaged police.