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A tale of two protests?

At a press conference Saturday night, IMPD Chief Randall Taylor said there were two protests that day. One protest happened during daylight, before 7:00 pm, the time by which Mayor Hogsett requested protesters leave. It consisted of “peaceful” people, with good intentions, who stayed within the system and the confines dictated by the city government and enforced by the police, who were “hands off” with the protesters. 

The other protest happened at night. It consisted of “violent” people and criminals who came out to cause trouble, to loot and destroy. They forced the police to deploy tear gas and pepper spray bullets to protect the city.

There were indeed two protests on Saturday. While they did differ in terms of intention and peacefulness, they were not at all of the character described by Taylor and being echoed by politicians and the media.

One protest was righteous and progressive. It drew thousands of people downtown, who united peacefully to express their outrage and grief, their hopes and aspirations. It was multinational and diverse, composed of people from all walks of life. They demanded justice for Dreasjon Reed, McHale Rose, Ashlynn Lisby, George Floyd, Aaron Bailey, and all victims of police violence. They brought signs, megaphones, water, and medical supplies. They came with their loved ones, their children and family members, their co-workers and friends.

The other protest was reactionary. It drew two main groups of people: police and right-wing vigilantes. They were primarily white. They demanded justice for private property and defended white supremacy. They brought guns, chemical weapons, and handcuffs. Dressed in riot gear and covered with American flags, they came out for a fight. And they started one.

The police move to repress the protest

People began to gather around 1:00 pm at various locations downtown. Some gathered on Monument Circle, while another began at the Convention Center. Another protest was scheduled for 4:30pm at the Indiana World War Memorial. Around 4pm, volunteers began to drop supplies–water bottles, liquid solution for flushing tear gas out of people’s eyes, and protective wear like gloves and goggles–at Monument Circle. Anticipating a harsh police response, a medic team immediately began doling out responsibilities.

By 4:30 pm, a crowd of hundreds had gathered on the Circle. Organizers reminded folks that IMPD killed Dreasjon Reed 3 weeks ago, and that his death, and all the other deaths at the hands of the police, should be remembered alongside that of George Floyd. After that, the crowd marched through Mile Square, shutting down streets as they went. Drivers rolled their windows down to stick their fists in the air as people passed, joining in the chants and laying on their horns in support. Chants of “Justice for George Floyd,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “I can’t breathe” filled the air.

The demonstration continued in this vein for about four hours. The people marched through the city at will, taking short breaks at the Indiana World War Memorial and Monument Circle to listen to statements from organizers and others. As they marched, the disparate groups joined together, numbering close to 2000 at one point.

At roughly 8:30 pm, the crowd made its way to the City-County Building. The atmosphere was jubilant and empowered as people sang, chanted, and stomped their feet. At this time, a few members of the crowd began banging on the windows of the city-county building, but others quickly stepped in to stop them. The crowd then began to march east on Market St. The first half of the crowd turned north to continue up Alabama, but as police moved in, the crowd stopped in the intersection. IMPD officers wearing helmets and body armor gathered on two sides of the demonstrators. A group of white protesters linked up to form a barricade between IMPD and Black protesters. The crowd continued to chant “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” and “Who killed Dreasjon Reed” while facing down officers.

At 9:00 pm, IMPD announced that the protest was now considered “unlawful.” But they announced it softly enough that only the people at the very front of the crowd were able to hear. Five minutes later, IMPD fired several canisters of tear gas into the crowd.

As protesters fled north and west, IMPD advanced up Alabama with a mobile barricade. Officers crept up the street, periodically deploying more chemical weapons against the already-fleeing crowd. Medics scrambled to dispense aid, but found themselves targeted by officers. By 9:30pm, IMPD had deployed so much tear gas that it flooded Mile Square, choking people five blocks away from the site of the protest.

Organizers on the ground reported IMPD firing both rubber bullets and live rounds at the remaining protesters. IMPD officers hid inside ambulances in order to jump protesters as the night wore on. Medics found themselves hit by tear gas canisters fired directly at them while they tried to reach the injured. At one point, a bystander was trapped and choking on tear gas, with a baby in her arms, as police blocked off every exit point. Desperate to escape the chemical weapon suffusing the air, she shattered the glass door to City Market and crawled inside, still clutching her child to her chest.

Why are the politicians and police distorting the narrative?

The IMPD would prefer to condemn all of the people who came out Saturday to fight for justice, but they are smart enough to know that doing so would only alienate people. This is one reason why they’re differentiating between the “peaceful” and the “violent” protests. Another reason is that they want to detract from the fact that they are the ones who caused the real violence, not just last night but as long as they’ve been around.

Most immediately, they want to weaken the movement by dividing it against itself and discouraging people from participating. “We want justice too,” they say, “and we will give it to you if you work within the system.”

But when has the system ever given the people justice? The killers of Aaron Bailey, Dreasjon Reed, McHale Jones, Ashlynn Lisby, Eleanor Northington, and so many others are still walking around freely. Many of them are still working as police officers.

Working within the system isn’t peaceful and can’t result in peace. The system itself is violent. It’s the system that loots, destroys, and kills. How else was the state of Indianapolis formed besides the theft of land, people, and resources, and the genocide of Indigenous peoples?

Last weekend, the people broke windows, but everyday the cops break people and communities. Last night the people took some goods without paying for them, but everyday the landlords, corporations, and banks take everything and anything they want. They don’t only not pay for them, but they charge us for them!

Referring to the escalation of the protest, Chief Taylor said “Indianapolis is better than this.” We say that Indianapolis is better than the system we are protesting against. But we don’t have the same level of organization as the metro police, the county sheriffs, or the national guard. We aren’t as prepared as them, as centralized, or as united.

Any excesses over the past few nights rest on the shoulders of the police. Any mistakes people at the protests made were normal learning experiences, which are part of any successful movement’s developmental process. The movement is learning how to struggle, how to move as one, and who our real enemies are. We are not starting from scratch, and have decades of collective experience and wisdom embodied in leaders and organizations, not to mention the masses of people seeking justice.

The IMPD, Mayor Hogsett, and Governor Holcomb can talk peace and justice all they want. But no matter how many times they say they support the “good protesters,” until they meet the demands of those protesters their words are worth nothing.

The police arrested dozens of people on Saturday night. After massive public pressure, they were released without any charges. Why were they arrested in the first place then? The answer is clear: to break up the protest and punish those who dared to defy the Mayor’s request that they leave their own city.

We aren’t leaving!