Tuesday, May 10, 2022

The Out of Towners


On November 21, 2021, local residents were startled to observe an airplane, with an unusual message, flying overhead. From Twitter:

What in the backwards,tweedledumb-fhuk nonsense is going on here!? WHO approved this plane with a banner displaying a fetus and the phrase "overturn abortion" to fly around downtown #ColumbiaMD ??? I need answers!


Why is a plane flying over  downtown #ColumbiaMD with a banner depicting a dead fetus? Kids saw this disgusting image. Who approved this travesty? Columbians demand answers.

Rather belatedly, the answer became clear yesterday morning when a group of people from the anti-choice organization “Created Equal” turned up at Wilde Lake High School to stage a similarly graphic protest during school drop-off time in the morning. Along with large posters of dead fetuses they displayed signs with messages like “Black unborn lives matter.” It wasn’t merely an anti-choice demonstration, but also a racially targeted one, as well. 

Although both school admin and parents were dismayed by the interference of Created Equal protestors on school arrival time, by law the group could not be removed. They weren’t on school property - - just close enough to insert themselves into the beginning of everyone’s day.

Following their stint at the high school, the group headed over to Howard Community College, turning up at Wilde Lake Middle School just in time for dismissal. It looks like they made a day of it. One wonders if they had a picnic lunch.

Created Equal is centered in Columbus, Ohio, founded by a man named Mark Harrington. Harrington has a B.A. from Ohio State in Marketing and Economics. What he is marketing, along with huge photos of dead fetuses, is the notion that an aborted Black fetus is the moral equivalent of a Black life taken by police brutality. 

While Created Equal invests a lot of effort in such race-specific arguments, the fact is that the group does absolutely nothing to protest police brutality, unequal treatment under the law, or medical and educational disparities. Nothing. They are not the first to try to paint abortion as Black genocide. From the first hand comments I saw yesterday, they seem to be doing it in a way that is transparently racist.   

A shout-out out to the group of community members who responded to this onslaught of out-of-towners by coming out to Wilde Lake Middle School to provide a peaceful barrier between the anti-choice demonstrators and the young people being dismissed from school. The story rated no more than a brief mention in Howard County Times, but the photo there is heartwarming. This is what caring about students looks like.

Photo credit Kevin Richardson, Baltimore Sun

There’s nothing “both sides” about this story. People came from out of town to target students. That’s it. And some brave and resourceful adults responded to make it clear that our students should have the right to come and go without harassment. Period. Aside from the stated issue of abortion, these confrontations are really about power. Someone who is older and wields power through lurid signs and derogatory language has the upper hand over someone who is younger and can’t get away. 

That sounds an awful lot like abuse.

We have strong laws that protect the expression of free speech in this country, and I think that’s a good thing. What happened yesterday, though, was a targeting of students in a situation where they could not adequately respond, defend themselves, or get away. The intent of Created Equal is to shock and upset people. That’s their stated goal. Combined with a message that suggests that Black teens are more sexually promiscuous and therefore need more admonishment and shaming, what we have here is a mission to harass students and specifically target Black teens in a place they have to be, and where they ought to feel safe.

Should that be protected?

I agree with County Executive Calvin Ball’s statement yesterday:

I’m disgusted by tactics of abortion opponents who are deliberately and needlessly subjecting our students to graphic images with the intent of shock. While I respect the rights of those who want to express opinions on critical topics, the scenes we saw today at Wilde Lake High School and Middle School and Howard Community College are not designed to inform.*

A word about protests. I saw some weird false equivalencies floating around on social media yesterday. Student-led protests, about issues that students care about, are in no way the same thing as what happened in Wilde Lake yesterday. The expression of student voice is a part of their growing up and maturing as thinking and caring members of our society. It is a learning experience that our school system acknowledges and values. For goodness sake, don’t use this egregious example of targeted harassment as an excuse to take away the free speech rights of our students. Even if the topics they address (Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+ were named) make you uncomfortable.

After yesterday, the emphasis on valuing student voice is more important than ever.

*To read the statement in its entirety, visit the County Executive’s Facebook page. It’s also on Twitter.

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