Op Alt: Why I protest by Kwame Rose

Baltimore City Paper
10 reasons why I protest by Kwame Rose

More than 230 people have died in my city this year, and you have the nerve to ask why I'm upset? The police have done the opposite of reform since the death of Freddie Gray, and you ask me why we still protest. "You're not going about things the right way" is what they say, but it's all said from a distance. It's all said by those who have made the choice not to fight. It's all said by individuals who do not value the efforts of protesters.

1. I protest because here in Baltimore, it's hard to dispute the fact that activists provided the necessary pressure to bring the Freddie Gray case this far along in the judicial process. The protesters have City Hall and the Baltimore Police Department on their toes trying to prepare for what might be next. It's a silent acknowledgment that there is not a concern for justice coming from those elected and hired to ensure it. Efforts to maintain order and to control those calling for justice are better funded than efforts to achieve justice in the first place. The people protesting aren't the problem, and we're not as unorganized as you'd think, either. The problem is so simple that if I were to say what the problem is, I'd be accused of just repeating myself.

2. I protest because before the uprisings began, police brutality and protests against police brutality were already happening, and had been happening for decades. It's happening because of people like Tawanda Jones, who has organized more than 100 consecutive weekly peaceful protests after her brother, Tyrone West, died in police custody. There are groups like Bmore Bloc that organize and support the families of police violence here in Baltimore. James MacArthur has been going to crime scenes for the past 15 years, at least. Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle have been pushing police-reform legislation since before I met them—as my high school debate coaches. So it's not as if all grounds aren't being covered as far as getting the message out there about what the police reform goals are, it's just that nobody listens until a CVS is burned.

3. I protest because the mainstream media continues to be a tool used to harm the efforts of peaceful protesters, while only reporting in favor of the establishment and bashing protesters. The people being bashed in the media by the mayor and police commissioner are the same people who constantly request meetings to discuss reform, and are ignored or are referred to some powerless council. We go to the mayor's community public safety meetings and we're not allowed to ask questions. Meanwhile, police officers follow certain known protesters around the entire time. Worse, our efforts to work with City Hall and BPD go unacknowledged. At this point we are screaming at the top of our lungs for somebody to listen to us in a space that doesn't require protesting. Our longtime efforts go largely undiscussed, and people looking from the outside in only see the protests from the police perspective, the struggles of maintaining order. Police reform wouldn't be such a battle to win if so much time wasn't spent convincing people that police violence is real. Or that protesting is still very necessary.

4. I protest because the police response to protesters has become worse under Interim Police Commissioner Kevin Davis. Protesting is not, as he described, a "privilege." Rather, it is a right guaranteed by law that should be respected by those sworn to uphold the law. Protesters have explored all other peaceful measures to tackle the issue of police violence but those with the power to reform the system have ignored them. So far, under Davis, hundreds of thousands of taxpayers' dollars have been wasted on police coverage during days of protest. There hasn't been a single threat made against the police by any of the individuals they are tracking and targeting. More important though, the police are being deployed to carry out planned attacks on protesters.

5. I protest because Kevin Davis proved himself by showing up to a protest, immediately seeking me out, and asking me to shake his hand in front of the media—the same cameras he used to spew lies about me just a week before and continues to use to promote an idea of community policing with little progress on implementation. His department is the one that arrested a black preacher, Westley West, inside of his church to deter protesters on the Wednesday night before another demonstration. All criminal charges against West were dropped as soon as the protest was over. Those orders are being fueled by racism and white supremacy. A Wednesday night Bible study was being held in Charleston, South Carolina, when nine black people were executed to send a message to the black community. You won't know that by listening to the media, the mayor, or the commissioner. You will only hear that truth from the people out there protesting.

6. I protest because if we weren't such a threat to white supremacy, they wouldn't have convinced so many people that protesting is wrong. Continually protesting is a way to demonstrate to the people that constantly criticize our efforts just how effective protesting is.

7. I protest because I know that there is a 16-year-old named Desmon who's wondering what it takes to make a difference in the world. He's not asking that question just because he's seen me on TV; he's asking because he sees himself when he looks at me, the same way I see myself in him, and the same way I still ask that question when I see people I admire and look up to.

8. I protest because while the police didn't murder those 230 people, the city has not done enough to address the factors that caused the murders, and because all other attempts to bring about justice, reform, and change in different settings aren't being taken as seriously.

9. I protest for Freddie Gray because, had it not been for Freddie, the efforts to fight for police reform would not be as strong as they are today.

10. I protest to show others like me that you don't have to have a fancy title before your name to play a part in change. We all can make a difference if we stop talking about what others aren't doing and we go out and do it.

A few weeks ago at the 45th Annual Legislative Conference held by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, I heardU.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch say, "this country was built on peaceful protest." Ifthe efforts of white "pilgrims" who brought African slaves to these shores and slaughtered millions of Native Americans can be classified as peaceful, then why are the effortsof those protesting against that same institution of white supremacy being labeled as everythingbut peaceful? Is it only OK for people to protest in the name of white supremacy, and not in thename of justice for all? That's why I protest: because every effort to bring about justice forblack people in this country has been attacked. The institution was not designed toprotect those on the other end of white supremacy, and too many people of all ethnicities here inAmerica are just too comfortable with that.

Kwame Rose is a Baltimore-based activist and musician.

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