I've attended 3 Black Lives Matter Protests. Here's Why You Should, Too.

On May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, four Minneapolis Police officers- Derek Chauvin, J. Alex Keung, Tou Thoa, and Thomas Lane murdered an innocent African American man named George Floyd. Currently, all four officers have faced charges and are being held in custody -- many of them with a bail of at least $1 million, according to CNN journalists Harmeet Kaur and Nicole Chavez.  

 

Soon after Chauvin murdered Floyd in what many Americans and people across the globe deem to be a racist hate crime, an uprising of Black Lives Matter and related anti-racist protests began in the United States and around the world. These protests have become so popular that all fifty states have held protests in memory of George Floyd. Additionally, Associated Press journalists Rick Roycroft and Frank Jordans reported in Time magazine that these protests were so widespread, they spanned across three other continents outside of North America -- more specifically, Australia, Europe, and Asia. 

 

Within the past two weeks, I have attended three Black Lives Matter protests, within the United States, of course. The three protests I went to took place in Bangor and Portland, two of the biggest cities in Maine. 

 

The first protest was in Bangor, and it was peaceful. We started in Pierce Park by the Bangor Library and listened to speakers, including Bangor City Counselor Angela Okafor; Desiree Vargas, an anti-racist activist; and others. Afterward, we marched to the Bangor Police Department headquarters, where many protestors called out the police officers for the mistreatment of an African American man named Peter Manuel. 

 

A lot of people who attended this protest, myself included, noticed a lot of energy, intensity, and support. Jho Ramos, one of the Bangor protest attendees and a recent graduate of Hampden Academy, found that the protest was a very emotional and uplifting experience for them.

 

“The (protest) in Bangor was...pretty inspiring, just seeing everyone of different backgrounds and different ethnicities, gathering together for this one cause. It was fun and inspiring and full of...emotions,” Ramos commented.

 

Jho also noted that the Bangor protest tugged on so many of their heartstrings, that they were nearly brought to tears multiple times. 

 

“It was also... really emotional,” Ramos said. “I remember almost crying a few times, just because… like I said before, this is something that’s really important, not just to me, but to other people of color out there and...seeing these people come together to fight for me and people like me, was just...a really emotional experience.”

 

The Bangor protest was not the only one to make people emotional and reflective. When I attended another recent Black Lives Matter protest in Portland, Maine, I saw and felt a lot more intensity and emotions than I had at the aforementioned gathering in Bangor. This protest included an eight-minute die-in to represent the eight minutes and forty-four seconds that Derek Chauvin’s knee was on George Floyd’s neck, accompanied by seemingly endless miles of marching-activities that made many people tear up. 

 

However, all these tearful and sad emotions at the Portland protest were balanced out by the ever-so present, fiery and passionate spirit carried by the protestors. Carl Junior, a professional mixed martial arts fighter and protest organizer from Portland, noticed just how prevalent these passionate emotions were at the protests he and others, including Wazo Daveed, a Portland-based artist and activist, organized. Junior also discussed that, even with his shy nature, the momentum of these protests inspires and motivates him. 

 

“When I’m there...I kind of feel shy, first,  because there are so many people! But, as you get into it, as you see it, there’s just a spirit. It’s real,” Junior explained. “To see so many people who care, it’s just a whole ‘nother feeling. It makes me forget about the hate that’s out there, and makes me wanna chase my goals even harder.”

 

This momentum can also be found outside of Portland’s protests. D’anna Marley, a second-year international affairs student at the University of Maine, has attended a Black Lives Matter protest in Rhode Island. She is about to attend two more, noting that she believes the current series of Black Lives Matter protests within the United States are strong and energetic enough to make serious and necessary changes in our current political system. 

 

“As we have seen, protests have made city councils, local politicians, local police departments, and (the) state and federal government(s) take notice. The court of public opinion is one of the strongest tools, we as a society have because people want to stay in office to keep making their money and further their career, so if you threaten them with taking away that seat, and calling them out thanks to protests, you’ll see results. You can’t do that, if (you're) only trending on Twitter, you have to be about the action and be out in the streets like during the civil rights movement, peaceful or non-peaceful depending on the case. Protests are the lifeblood of any movement, hence it's why it's one of our rights as a people,” Marley said. 

 

Marley’s thinking is correct -- these protests have encouraged public officials to make long-lasting and meaningful changes to protect African Americans from police brutality. Since the protests, Minneapolis’s City Council voted to disband their city’s police department, and the Minneapolis Police Department Chief, Medaria Arradando, vowed to take a step back from working with police unions. These are huge steps towards creating a more equitable society that relies less heavily on police presence in situations that may be better suited for intervention by other professionals - ones that many protestors support.

 

This is why it is so important for everyone, especially white allies like myself, to attend as many Black Lives Matter protests as possible. These protests are the driving force for the social changes our society so desperately needs right now. Black Lives Matter rallies, like the ones I attended in Bangor and Portland, don’t simply exist to mourn the deaths of police brutality victims like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. They exist to advocate for and create a more equal society - one that uplifts African Americans. 

 

If there are any Black Lives Matter rallies in your area, I encourage you to attend. Furthermore, I encourage you to listen to the advice of MJ Smith, a current senior majoring in political science and legal studies at the University of Maine, who has also attended three Black Lives Matter protests. 

 

“My advice to protests, specifically protestors of color: reach out to your community for strength to keep going, do not feel obligated to educate your white peers, or even be apart of their transition from nonracist to anti-racist. Put yourself first, take care of yourself, and be proud of yourself because it is a radical act to even exist in a white supremacist state like America. For white allies attending protests: shut up. I know it is harsh to say that, but your voice has been heard for 400 years over black people, indigenous people, and Latinx people. Stop putting up your fist as if you feel empowered. You have no idea of the meaning behind that act, how it is rooted in Black Power and you have no right to co-opt it because you feel guilty for not listening before another video of a black man getting murdered went viral. To white-passing people of color and mixed people: I have found it incredibly hard to even feel like I have a right to voice my opinions in this matter because my skin color does not make me a target. Even though I have experienced racism I still need to educate myself and dismantle my white supremacy. Take up space, but be aware of who you are taking space from when you have that platform,” MJ Smith said in an interview.

 

Now more than ever is the time to take a stand against racial injustices across the globe. Please, go to these protests, be safe, and amplify the voices of African Americans. It is up to us to dismantle systemic racism, even within ourselves.