Saturday, June 6, 2020
Here are some numbers for you. On Tuesday 17 young people, aged 18-21, hosted the largest protest event in the history of Columbia/Howard County, attended by well over a thousand people.
Also: 2 Baltimore television news stations made the story about the Howard County Police Chief. CBS News Baltimore (WJZ) went with Police Chief Lisa Myers’s opinions and reactions, and ABC News Baltimore (WMAR) ran a piece entitled “There’s your police chief!” Both got picked up nationally, I believe.
Imagine the frustration of the young people who actually made this event happen, an event focused on police brutality, that all of their hard work and the focus of their message could be reduced to sound bites about the Howard County Chief of Police. This is no criticism of Chief Myers, whose participation in the event was meant to show support. But she was not the story here.
The Rev’d Janelle Bruce of the Church Without Walls was one of only three adults entrusted by the organizers to provide feedback and assistance. Her response to the immediate news coverage was swift and to the point:
This is the power of the people! This is what YOUTH organizers did! I heard them conduct a few meetings and I promise you they were conducted better than many adults conduct meetings. They listened to one another, they valued one another’s opinions & waited for consensus, there were no egos and while they absolutely respect one another, they’re not down for respectability politics. They are doing the deep political analysis. If we’d just humble ourselves, we’d realize that We can all learn from THEM! You saw them turn out thousands, but you probably couldn’t see the small details, like the mic covers they were changing out between speakers and masks being handed out to those who didn’t have one. Despite folks who tried to stop them, THEY worked to ensure their message was clear and the people were safe! THEY did the damn thing and No One can take ANY credit for their work!
Last night the news coverage I had been looking for came from from Ana Faguy of the Baltimore Sun.
Youth-led group behind Columbia’s Black Lives Matter protest discusses what it takes to organize in 2020
Finally. This is the piece you want to read. And this is the one I wish would get national coverage, because it’s both more accurate and more nuanced than anything that has come out before it. It’s a truly local story about young people who grew up going to Howard County Schools and who were determined to create a completely youth-led event, free from institutional interference.
Read the story. Here’s the link again.
There’s one more thing I want to address on this topic, and it’s about us. Since Tuesday I’ve been seeing a number of posts expressing the sentiment that we in Columbia/HoCo are special people in a special community and that’s why our protest was a model protest. Peaceful and organized. I have some serious misgivings about this reframing of events.
First off, I don’t deny that the people in Columbia/HoCo are special people in a special community. I am thankful and proud to live here, for any number of reasons. But that’s not what made Tuesday’s protest as successful as it was.
It was peaceful and organized thanks to the work of the young people who planned and executed it. And, let’s be honest, it was peaceful because protestors weren’t attacked by police. In community after community across the country, we continue to see that the violence that erupts in these protests is provoked by police aggression.
If we lived in a place where police turned out armed to the teeth with military style equipment, the end result of Tuesday’s event would have been quite different. And that wouldn’t have meant we were any less special, or peaceful. It would mean that we lived in a community under attack by a militarized police department.
Let’s face it: we’re probably protected from having that kind of police department by the high concentration of affluent white people who live here.
I won’t tell you how to feel about the events of this week. That isn’t my place. Just don’t be smug. This is not about how Columbia/HoCo “knows how to do it right.” It’s about the youth who made it happen and the message they worked so hard to illuminate.
What we do next, as individuals and as a community, will show whether we have reason to be proud of ourselves.