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When protesting, it’s not enough to “stay woke”
After Judge Timothy Wilson acquitted white police officer Jason Stockley of first-degree murder of civilian Anthony Lamar Smith, there have been 30 days of protests during which our community have been brutalized at the hands of the Saint Louis police department.
Protesters, activists and community members have been out night after night, marching, performing civil disobedience and disruptions to convey to the public that these murders can not be ignored. This case is just another sign among the countless other acquittals of abusive police officers that our communities and our city government is not going to pay attention to until we make them pay attention.
As protesters we have either witnessed or have experienced being repeatedly pepper sprayed, tasered, tear gassed, slammed to the concrete, dragged through the streets, beaten with batons, shot at and falsely arrested. Many of us have been specifically targeted, followed and harassed at our jobs and in other areas of our personal lives. We have had police come into our jobs to let us know they will “get us next time.”
Sadly, it is unsurprising that these are the reactions that we would receive since many of the people criticizing our protests have never fallen victim to police brutality.
We understand that with our local media sources such as Fox 2 with Elliot Davis, the Saint Louis Post Dispatch and even the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s Twitter account falsifying facts about the protests, we will continue to have people who attack our purpose and misconstrue our goals. These media sources have often used language that implies these protests have been violent or that there have been riots. But the only people who have rioted over the last month have been the police, for they have, on multiple occasions, kettled and brutalized protesters as they try to disperse.
Since I became involved in the protests, I have had many people tell me “I support the cause but I don’t have the time”, or “I want to but I don’t know if I could do what you guys are doing”. I used to say the same things, but I think for everyone there comes a time when the act of doing nothing in the face of oppression becomes more terrifying than fighting against the oppressors themselves.
As white people, we have been indoctrinated into certain norms of not speaking out against oppression. For many, they may not feel safe speaking out against their employer, a customer, coworker, friends or family members, but the consequences of white people speaking out are much less than those that black and brown people face in doing so. As white people, it is our obligation to speak out against oppression and racism because sadly, when non-white persons speak up they are often seen as “aggressive” or “angry”.
Black and brown protesters are also more likely to be met with increased police presence and abuse. This was seen at the recent white allies protest where mostly white protesters were met with little police presence in comparison to mostly black lead protests where protesters are then met with riot police, tasers, and tear gas.
This is why it is no longer acceptable for white people to just “stay woke” without working to abolish the systems of oppression that perform such abuses. Standing up may not be the easiest act but trust me, standing for social justice never is.
I think one consequence that not many people think about is the great toll that these protests can have on one’s mental health. It is very damaging to repeatedly see one’s friends be brutalized and falsely arrested without receiving medical care or food while in police custody. But it is also quite depressing knowing that after dealing with these horrible experiences as white protesters, we are still better off than being a black person simply existing within a racist, militarized police state.
I am slowly learning to take days off and that it is okay to take mental health days in order to keep myself healthy to fight. I find solace in knowing that my depression and anxiety is a consequence of me standing up for what I believe in. Furthermore, I am willing to sacrifice my time and my resources for this cause because I know that I will never truly be free in this country until all of my brothers and sisters are free.
These protests are not about just one ruling. It’s about bringing our community together and standing in solidarity against our corrupt police force and the racist institutions that they choose to protect. These protests are for Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Kiwi Herring, Isaiah Perkins, Isaiah Hammett, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Anthony Lamar Smith and thousands of others murdered by those who swore an oath to protect our communities. I hope that more and more people will continue to become active in this movement. We as students do not have to wait to earn our degrees to turn our passions into action. We can start right now and we can fight for our brothers and sisters, because if one person can fall victim to murder by the hands of police, than so can we all. If we don’t stand up now, then when will we?