When I heard the news about George Floyd’s death, I thought: “Oh great, another one.” Maybe you’d expect that kind of cynicism from a high schooler. Maybe not.
The point is, I thought this was all going to be over in a few days. There’d be a few protests, a lawsuit, and things would return to normal. It would be just another dead man, killed by the systemic oppression of our police system.
Fortunately, I was wrong.
Protests over Floyd’s death did not fizzle out. Instead, they have erupted. Thousands of people across our country are protesting. In Minneapolis, fires raged in the Precinct 3 police station and protesters risked police brutality and infection to stand with the black community. Here in Maine, I’ve witnessed protests in solidarity with our siblings of color.
I was surprised to see a recent protest in Portland turn violent, although I understand why it did. The anger that sparks violence is righteous and pent up. So, these actions seem long past due.
I’m sure many of you have heard the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote quite a lot lately: “A riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear?”
As we slog through these days, it’s becoming harder to distinguish the truth from fabricated evidence. How do we differentiate one autopsy from another, or plainclothes police hiding in a protest inciting violence from angry and scared activists? One thing I know is that these aren’t riots. They’re rebellions.
The main thing about these rebellions is this: if we didn’t want them to happen, we should have changed policing policy sooner. They’ve been called to change going back to the 1990s and Rodney King. But we still have brutal murders of people of color at the hands of militaristic police. No real change has come so far, only apologies and settlements, if even that. These rebellions are necessary, even if they leave buildings burned. Even though there is non-protest related violence, rebellions are necessary because they keep the movement going. They inspire others to take up action. They make a sound that cannot be ignored.
We’ve been saying for a long time that the corruption in the police system needs to end. With the rebellions in full swing, we can see why. Rubber bullets are not small, they aren’t little hard rubber darts. The Guardian reported that rubber bullets are meant to be shot at people’s legs, not at heads. Protesters have lost their eyes and ended up hospitalized. We’ve seen the police kick peaceful protesters in viral videos. An elderly man in Buffalo was tossed to the ground and left bleeding by police in riot gear.
The violence isn’t being suppressed by the police. Instead, violence is sometimes instigated by police officers trained to see loud angry people as criminals or combatants. Some police officers are using their power to intimidate peaceful activists. The night of June 1, a group of protesters in Washington, D.C., took shelter in Rahul Dubey’s home to escape the police, who had cornered them and began firing tear gas and flashbangs into the crowd. Dubey encouraged protesters to come inside. He tried to talk to the police but was threatened with arrest. Daybreak came, and the protesters were able to leave without arrest.
Recently, our president took a photo in front of St John’s Church. To ensure that the photo op was possible, peaceful protesters were tear-gassed without provocation.
These rebellions are not “un-American.” They’re American liberty boiled down to its essence. Rebellion, even that which is destructive, has been a respected part of American political speech. It is the unheard being heard, calling out police brutality. It is necessary.
What I see happening right now, I don’t find surprising. I find it disappointing. I stand with the rebels because I can’t imagine a better America without their actions. I will always support those putting their safety on the line to bring rights to those who have none.
Nicholas Drown is a student at Old Orchard Beach High School.