The Politics of Protest: Pushing Back

The Politics of Protest: Pushing Back

by Dr. Mark Mussman
Second Inauguartion of George W. Bush, Photo:

I see you. When you are silent, when you hide, I am aware of your presence. Injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere… right? Last month, when a gunman killed 49 people in Orlando, mostly white, gay people called for a larger police presence at Pride Celebrations. I was not one of them.

I have been clashing with the police since I can remember – as a teen, I was speaking out against the racist enforcement of teen-curfews and their placement in our public schools. As I entered college, I found myself struggling against them again in our small college town, as they racially profiled my black classmates, harassing them, and making them feel unwelcome. I stood up to them when they insisted on doing “rounds” through the residence halls. I told them that guns are not welcome in our home. After some phone calls, they complied. Our halls became safe again.

I worry about this upcoming election because our American Memory is so short. People don’t remember the tens of thousands that took to the street when George Bush took (stole) office in 2001. We don’t remember because it was not reported on in the media. Few remember the horrible conditions we faced protesting the RNC in New York City in 2004. Hundreds locked in storage containers on the docks, kept over the 48 hours required by law to see a judge, charged with nothing.

Photo: City of Cincinnati
Photo: City of Cincinnati

When Bush came to Union Terminal in 2003 to announce his plan to attack Iraq, I was impressed by the thousands that showed up along Ezzard Charles to protest war. I was surprised that people of all walks of life stood up to say “war is not the answer.” We were tired, September 11, 2001 happened when we were still picking up the pieces of Officer Roach’s murder of Timothy Thomas. Roach, who was so scared for his life that he chased and killed Thomas, rather than stopping and finding safety. Cincinnati police were called to task by the Department of Justice – 96 violations of practices and procedures on the books, and people still thought it was more important to look at Thomas’ non-violent record, than the Roach family’s history of racism or a system that thrives on suffering.

When Bush came to the Union Terminal fundraiser, ready to announce war, we took the streets, and blocked the entrance. I began to think about Rev. Maurice McCrackin’s refusal to use his legs when he was arrested at the White House. I vowed to never let the police take me – and if they did, they would need to carry me away. When the police horses came to push us back, I sat down in the street, within moments, hundreds of others sat down – and we refused to move. We sat there the entire length of the event, and as wealthy benefactors tried to leave, we blocked them. The police used the horses as weapons, almost pushing people into I-75. Sadly, today some people, including Council Members, are calling for a return of the mounted patrols.

I spent most of the Bush years in protest – Cincinnati, Chicago, Columbus, New York, Washington D.C. – these became my second homes. I fear that we’ll be in the same situation if Trump is elected. At the 2005 Inauguration, Bush became so scared that he put up a 10-foot fence along the parade route. Legend goes that there were more police than square feet in DC that day. I knew what to expect since I had seen police throw old women to the ground in 2001, people being sprayed with chemical irritant, and unmarked school buses used as funnels to reduce the crowds. I didn’t expect the 10-foot fence and the police spraying us with canons filled with chemical irritant. I had already been schooled by my socialist friends to treat the police as workers, and not see them for the system they uphold and represent. So, as they sprayed a group of people peacefully praying (through the fence), I yelled at them “Be Professional!” and repeated the chant over and over. It seemed as though the officers were enjoying it as they sprayed everyone who walked by, even people randomly leaving their hotels. As we regrouped to flush out our eyes with milk and show solidarity for those who were arrested, I felt hopeless since I knew we had four more years of Bush policy, obstructionism, and systematic violence.

On the surface, we may seem like we’ve come a long way since 2005. But, we lost so many rights during the War on Terror that we’ve come to accept them. If police were really created to maintain wealth, and specifically to catch people who were considered property, it is no surprise to me that police departments are paying people to improve their image. The “Running Man Challenge,” while completely ironic and inappropriate for a police department to do, is just a way to distract you from the massive amount of inequalities that the police uphold.

A couple of years ago, I was involved in a DWB (driving while black) incident that was something out of a bad made-for-TV movie. Pulled over on Liberty Street, surrounded on all sides by police, hunkering down behind their cruiser doors, packing their shot guns in front of us, and pointing them ever-so-intently on our vehicle. In the end, the BMV had some inaccurate data, but the psychological damage was done. Being thrown in the back of a police cruiser, having your identity questioned, and then once confirmed “let go” with no apology. The result of the citizen complaint was three fold: 1. “if you point your camera phone at an officer, we will assume it’s a weapon;” 2. “if we (the police) didn’t follow what the system told us to do, we’d be reprimanded,” and most importantly, 3. “being a black male is the only description necessary.” Age, height, weight, hair – none of that matters to police.

Yes, the system is broken – from the BMV, police procedures, war machine, racism, classism, generational poverty, homophobia, etc. But a large part of the problem is the code of silence that police officers follow. There is no other industry where people don’t call out each other for messing up… and very few industries take people’s lives without impunity. The first step to solving a problem is to admit that it exists. Until our police admit there is a problem, there will be no solution. More than a third of our city’s budget goes to the police. Over 60% of our budget goes to public safety. How can we expect the powerless to change the powerful? Nearly 600 people will have been killed by U.S. police this year by the time you read this. I would be surprised if more than five are taken to trial this year. Most officers will have a GoFundMe site up within 24 hours, a guaranteed retirement, or a promotion to a quiet suburb. Take time to educate yourself and get involved with the Homeless Coalition and the Black Lives Matter movement. I’ll leave you with a short piece from the late buddy gray, who was killed 20 years ago:

Role of Revolutionary

is NOT to contend oneself to bearing lonely witness to [sic] Injustice but to plant seeds

sew insurrection

stir uprising

mobilize indignation

and meld a force of people

to change the injustice