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Racismo

Peaceful and Powerful: My experience at Black Lives Matter Protests

Black. Lives. Matter. That’s it. That’s the intro. It should be a given, but if the past few weeks have shown us anything, it’s that some people still don’t understand the history or significance behind it.

There have been a lot of misconceptions about the protests that accompany the movement, mainly due to national news stations spreading false narratives. Some of these narratives indicate that protestors are the ones to incite violence against the police and that all they do is riot. The best way to debunk these narratives? Go to a protest and see for yourself.

Over the course of a few days, I was able to attend three protests ranging from a local scale to a large city protest. Let me first emphasize that all of the protests I attended were incredibly peaceful, contrary to what the media has been portraying. That being said, let me also emphasize that I only attended these protests during the day. While I did attend a protest in New York City, I did not break curfew or have any firsthand experience of what protests look like after 8pm.

The first protest I attended was in my hometown of Ramsey, New Jersey. It’s worth mentioning that Ramsey has a population that is roughly 85% white and 15% people of color, with Black people making up only 0.5% of that population, according to Census Reporter. With that in mind, the entire protest consisted of mostly white Ramsey residents with a few POC in attendance. While it was exciting to see so many young people showing solidarity in a small town (which is what every small town should be doing anyway), I did have some issues with the way this protest was executed.

In the initial flyer that circulated social media, the organizers asked that protestors refrained from bringing any anti-police posters or propaganda. Considering that the BLM movement ignited as a result of police brutality against black people, this seemed like an insensitive and unfair request.

Another issue I had was with the lack of black speakers, which would have been very eye-opening for a town that thrives off of white privilege. In a town that has very little exposure to diversity, it is important for young adults to venture out to protests in diverse areas even if it is just a few towns over. Stepping outside of their privileged bubble and witnessing protests filled with people from all backgrounds is a crucial experience, especially for young people who are still learning how to be effective allies.

This brings me to discuss my next protest experience in Hackensack, NJ. When I say that the energy at this protest was immaculate, I mean every single person was chanting at the top of their lungs and marching with every ounce of love they had for the movement. There must have been a few thousand protestors in attendance all from different ethnic backgrounds. The crowd consisted of mostly young people which gave me hope that our generation is not lost to the old-fashioned prejudices of those who have preceded us.

The protest first started at the Bergen County Justice Center where people gathered to chant, kneel and speak out about their experiences being black in America. Many of these speakers shouted to the crowd that “we are done being killed by the hands of the police” and how change must happen now. We then continued our chants and started marching along to “no justice no peace” as cars stopped in the middle of the road to let us pass. Some people even got out of their cars to chant with us or honk in support.

We made a stop at the Hackensack Police Department where we got as close to the line of officers as we could, looked them dead in the eye, then started shouting “no justice no peace, no racist police.” My fellow protestors were angry (and rightfully so) as they waved their signs that read “stop killing us” or “defund the police” right in the officers’ faces. We continued our march to the Bergen County Jail where we chanted “Black Lives Matter” as inmates rushed to their windows and appeared to start cheering. Police officers stood off in the distance looking ready to act if anything got violent, which it never did.

Last but not least, my experience protesting at Washington Square Park was probably the most peaceful of them all. From black artists to black activists, each speaker that preached to the crowd had something valuable and insightful to share. The crowd clapped and chanted along with each speaker and frequently merged with other groups that had just finished marching.

I never once felt unsafe at this protest. Yes, there were groups of cops stationed all over the city monitoring the protests, but they were dressed in regular uniforms and looked at ease the whole time. Again, I don’t know how the circumstances would differ in an evening setting past curfew, but my experience leads me to believe that most NYC protests are quite peaceful. Although, it did bother me that not one officer was wearing a face mask, whereas every single protestor was wearing one to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Nonetheless, the narrative that all BLM protestors are thieves and rioters needs to be put to an end now. It makes people nervous to protest and gives those against the movement an incentive to tear it down. For instance, how come the Newark protest, where people literally broke out dancing as a form of protest, failed to go viral? That had to be one of the most peaceful protests in the tri-state area and it barely got any coverage.

At the end of the day, the best way to know what actually happens at a Black Lives Matter protest is to literally go and see for yourself. Don’t let the media scare you away from having an eye-opening experience with some like-minded people who demand social change.

This movement is long overdue, and police brutality was just the trigger to an even larger issue brewing since the founding of America. Turn that anger into action and fight for a better future, where racial injustice will become something that actually stays in the history books this time.

By nataliasenanayake

Currently a Rutgers University junior studying Journalism and Media Studies with a minor in Creative Writing. Lover of all things lifestyle, culture, and of course, fashion!

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