Black Lives Matter
Updated: Jun 8, 2020
This Saturday saw the biggest Black Lives Matter protests so far in Washington DC. Figuring this is an important event, and being mindful of the many road closures, I took my bicycle to go and check it out.
My first impression of the protests was on my way from North Virginia to DC, when I encountered a small group of white people (potentially of Hispanic descent) holding up pickets signs and shouting “black lives matter” very loudly into the face of another white man standing less than a foot away who appeared to be saying something.
I was too bewildered to stop and find out what was going on. I just hoped the rest of the protest activities would be easier to understand and perhaps a little less intense.
The next thing I noticed was the black man begging for money in the street—the same guy who I’ve seen standing there for months. If I’d been driving I may have asked him if he wanted a lift to the protest downtown but alas, I was on my bike, which has a child seat in the back.
What stuck out to me next was the boarded-up storefronts in Georgetown’s posh little shopping area along M Street. Was that in response to the protests? I couldn’t help but finding the idea offensive: protecting merch in favor of demanding racial equality. Until I asked a random person about it who told me that 35 shops had been broken into the week before by vandals using the protests as cover.
My image of the protest I was headed to was now tinged with a tiny bit of danger. So far I’d failed to consider the fact that protesting the police, while being observed and controlled by the police, might be a recipe for disaster.
It didn’t help that a few minutes later I encountered a Humvee parked in the middle of a busy intersection with a boatload of military personnel surrounding it.
I actually had little idea where I was going or where the protest took place because online I’d seen that there were multiple organizations and meeting points involved. I was afraid I was too early until I saw more people with picket signs. I followed them straight to the White House.
The closer I got to the epicenter of the protest, the more it dawned on me that this was the mellowest mass protest I’d ever attended. I didn’t see any counter protests. The few police officers I saw greeted the protesters. I even saw one sitting in lotus position under a tree, presumably on break.
17th Street appeared to be one of the main drags, so I got off my bike and looked at the picket signs more closely. “I am a man,” “Am I next?,” “This will be in the history books: where do you stand?” read some of them. There were also people wearing t-shirts with the chilling words “I can’t breathe” and many people carried signs with “(White) Silence is Violence.”
Then I turned into 16th street and realized that’s where all the action was. The speeches, the music, the free water melon, and the TV cameras. Impressed, I stayed a while until it got too hot and I realized I wasn’t magically going to run into anyone I knew—fat chance anyway, with everyone wearing masks and sunglasses.
I’m happy I went to the protest instead of joining my family who were in Maryland to visit friends. I had to go this time, even more so because I’m still bitter about missing the Women’s March back in 2017. But is going to a protest the same as speaking out?