Yesterday’s “March Against Police Violence in Solidarity with Ferguson and Mexico” was altogether different from last Tuesday’s Ferguson protest in Providence.
The organizers, the response of the police, the extent of the press coverage and the racial makeup of the attendees was not the same as last week. Even some of the subtleties concerning the goals of the protest were different, though to be clear, the main goal was to challenge racism, racial profiling, militarized policing and police murder of people of color.
The crowd started to build around 7pm at Burnside Park, with marchers working on their signs in the park with the materials provided by the organizers. There were less marchers this time and the crowd tended to be whiter, though there was substantial representation of people of color.
There was more of a police presence this time around. The police were never far away, and though they never interfered with the protesters, they made sure to let their presence be known.
Organizer Rebecca Nieves McGoldrick addressed the crowd in Burnside Park and said that given the events of last week, tonight was going to be a “pretty calm and peaceful protest,” by which I took her to mean that there were not going to be any arrests or provocative actions like flag burning or highway blocking. She was true to her word.
The plan was to rally at Burnside Park, march past the Providence Place Mall and to the steps of the State House, where there would be a four minute moment of silence for Mike Brown (one minute for every hour his body laid in the street) and then a “speak out” in which anyone could step forward and let loose whatever was on their mind.
The march through downtown and to the state house was guided by the police, whose red and blue lights provided an almost stereoscopic illumination. There were chants of “Hands up, don’t shoot” and “This is what democracy looks like” among others. There were many signs of support from passing motorists and mall patrons, but also one or two negative reactions.
Upon approaching the mall, I was amused to note that the police were blocking the highway on ramp, which I assume was meant to prevent protesters from storming up the ramp and blocking the highway a second time.
The big surprise of the evening was finding, upon our arrival at the State House, a phalanx of police officers standing at the top of the state house steps, protecting the building. It was an intimidating reminder of police power to have between 15 and 20 armed officers silently observe the protest from on high.
There was a solemn and somber four minutes of silence, interrupted only by the occasional chime of an unmuted cellphone, then the speak out began. I’ll have a rundown of what the speakers spoke about in a later post, after I’ve sorted out all the video, but for now let me present some highlights.
This march was organized to draw parallels and solidarity between what’s happening in the United States, where abuses of police power against black and brown people is a growing problem, and the terrible situation in Mexico, where the militarized drug war and an a destabilized government is resulting in the murder and disappearance of young protesters. Police forces in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico murdered six people and “disappeared” 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College of Ayotzinapa.
The growing militarization of police forces and the crackdown on human rights is world wide, from Hong Kong to Mexico to Ferguson.
The organizers of this protest put it succinctly:
“We are calling for the demilitarization of police. We are calling for police and government transparency and accountability. We are calling for an end to the drug war. We are calling for an end to neo-liberal policies that increase economic inequality and disenfranchise indigenous people and people of color. We are calling for an end to systems of institutionalized racial oppression. We are calling for justice.”
As the night wore on, and a light drizzle of rain and dropping temperatures thinned the crowd of protesters, over twenty people participated in the speak out. For the most part the listeners were polite and patient, and everyone who wanted to speak had their chance.
The last 20 or 30 protesters then turned to the silent police officers and handful of reporters who toughed it out to the end and waved farewell.
Like last week’s protest, this was a positive, cathartic experience, continuing the conversation around race and police violence. Legislators and elected officials take notice: things are changing.
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