What Happens When You Protest Police Brutality?
On March 9, a pair of plainclothes police officers shot Kimani Gray seven times – four in the front and three in the back – killing the 16-year-old. The police allege that Gray pointed a gun at the officers before they opened fire. However, some witness testimony contradicts this claim. Having seen the events unfold from her window, Tishana King said, “I couldn’t believe [the officer] let off his gun. There was no reason. No false move.”
At this point, there are too many conflicting details to conclusively point the blame at either party. However, the fact that this type of incident has become a pattern is troubling. “Police kill minority teenager in questionable circumstances, declare it justified” shouldn’t be a story that we hear as often as we do.
Undoubtedly, that’s why Brooklyn residents have assembled to hold vigils for Gray and protest police brutality for four consecutive nights. RT has compelling photos and videos of the unfolding clashes between police and protesters that have resulted in dozens of arrests. As if the police didn’t have enough of a PR nightmare on their hands, they even arrested Gray’s grieving sister, Mahnefah, as she crossed the street.
We already know that the police, the NYPD especially, is quick to disregard First Amendment rights. Just imagine how unreasonably the police may act toward those who protest against them.
Actually, you don’t have to imagine, as there is another clear pattern for that as well. Over the past couple of years, the police have cracked down harshly on police brutality protests:
- After police killed an unarmed Anaheim man, the community gathered peacefully in a park to protest the rise of police violence. In attempt to end the protest, police attacked the crowd, full of women and young children, with rubber bullets and police dogs. The next day, officers killed another local man, so Anaheim residents took to the streets where police arrested a couple dozen of them.
- When about 50 demonstrators gathered to protest police brutality in Portland, police followed the group in riot gear. Though a couple rogue participants were set on vandalizing, the group at large chastised these people. Still, 10 protesters were arrested and charged with either disorderly conduct or interfering with a police officer.
- After many documented cases of police brutality during Occupy actions, Occupy Wall Street rallied and shouted, “Shame on NYPD!” The NYPD responded by arresting 14 of them.
- When an Austin resident criticized an officer for arresting a woman too roughly, the police proceeded to arrest him, too. Part of the motivation may have been to silence the man who had also filmed the overly aggressive arrest with his cell phone camera.
- In Los Angeles, a rash of unjust arrests of people using sidewalk chalk prompted some people to hold a chalk protest in downtown during downtown’s monthly art event. The police aggressively arrested those who used chalk then fired non-lethal ammo indiscriminately at the crowd composed mostly of bystanders.
- NYC college students who held a sit-in to protest rising tuition costs were treated violently by officers called to end the demonstration. Subsequently, another protest was held to object to the brutality, and three individuals were arrested.
- Taking a stand against police brutality, Philadelphia protesters blocked a street to draw attention to the cause before officers arrested 15 of them. At least one participant complimented the police for not utilizing violent tactics in this particular incident.
- Following two suspicious Milwaukee deaths at the hands of police, local demonstrators took over an intersection to protest police brutality. Although ultimately no one was arrested, one officer seemed to validate the protester’s cries by shoving peaceful participants and refusing to give his badge number.
- This problem is not unique to the U.S. In Canada, 226 individuals were arrested in a massive anti-police brutality protest
The systematic silencing of dissent exemplifies the unyielding power of the police. Rather than attempting to earn back a community’s trust, the police instead employ tactics of intimidation to keep citizens in line without conceding any power. While I’m sure that some of the protesters’ behavior warranted arrest, it’s hard to believe that that many people calling for an end to violence are causing the destruction that the police allege.
Besides, if these communities cannot assemble and cause minor disturbances to draw attention to their cause, what other alternatives do they have? Just as it is unfair for the police force to “investigate” itself and ultimately determine that all of these killings of men of color were appropriate with no other accountability, it is similarly unfair for the police to have the sole discretion to shut down these protests, particularly when the accusations are leveled against them.
Until these conflicts of interests are adequately addressed, we’re almost certain to see more tragic deaths like Gray’s and more citizens taking their frustrations to the streets.