Stories from the Streets: On the Front Lines of #BlackLivesMatter Protests
is week on democracy-ish, Danielle and Toure welcome DCP Entertainment producer Andrew Marshello and activist Allison Lane to hear their stories from the front lines of protests in New York City and Washington, D.C.
As demonstrations erupt around the U.S., threats to the safety of communities of color (as well as protesters) remain profound.
This week’s guests tell their wild, terrifying and inspiring tales from their run-ins with law enforcement.
What about next steps? Campaign Zero has come up with eight evidence-based reforms that can reduce police violence by 72%.
As we enter the second half of the longest year ever, our collective pain hit a tipping point.
The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and dozens more innocent Black folks sparked protests around the nation and the world. Even while we continue to live through a pandemic that disproportionately affects communities of color, demonstrations of activism and solidarity are everywhere. So are plenty of threats to our rights and safety.
“It's been a hell of a week since I last saw you, Danielle,” says Toure.
“The world is on fire,” she replies. “Yeah, things have changed a little bit.”
Well, not everything’s on fire. The protests are ongoing. They’re passionate. And they’re global.
They’re largely peaceful even though “the anger is palpable,” Toure adds. “It's tangible. I'm proud to march in the streets with people of all sorts: Black, white, Asian, Brown … I encourage people to go out and protest. It’s mostly safe. It will make you feel better. It definitely makes me feel better. But … there are dangerous moments.”
Why should we stop “taking a knee” (and asking cops to do the same?) What’s it like to be hit with a baton and arrested in Union Square? How did Trump’s Bible-brandishing publicity stunt lead to scores of protesters sheltering from cops in a D.C. home? And what do we want from police as we move forward?
This episode has everything.
Episode Highlights –– Police: Still Killing Us
A peaceful march interrupted by cops in ‘riot mode’
“I have been in the streets marching around Brooklyn for five straight days,” says Toure. “I've gotten this amazing, cathartic, exhilarating, feeling from being with thousands of like-minded angry people dreaming of a better future.”
“I had one moment Sunday night that was frightening,” he says. “Beyond that, it's been very peaceful and I'd been like, should I be bringing my kids to this? But Sunday … I saw the police go into riot mode. They attacked, unnecessarily and unprovoked, but for a few plastic water bottles thrown at them.”
He left just as it started to happen. “I kind of saw it coming,” he says. “But they flipped a switch, just 15 minutes after kneeling and holding hands with protest leaders. Which is why I'm like, fuck kneeling with cops.”
Especially in a moment when we’re protesting because a police officer killed a man with his knee, Toure adds, “Leaders who tell you to kneel with cops should not be trusted. And stop chanting at the cops to take a knee … It's a completely empty, meaningless gesture.”
Poison apples everywhere
Kneeling and hand-holding seems to be motivated by optics, says Danielle.
“Just a desire for a photo op … to do the ’not all cops’ narrative. We continue to hear things like, oh, there's just a few bad apples. And I keep wondering to myself: how many bad apples do you need before you realize that the entire orchard is poisoned?”
If we think the bad apples are isolated, it obscures the larger issues, which are systemic.
“It is a bigger problem than just former officers Chauvin and the three that turned their backs,” Danielle adds. “It’s about the police departments across this country, and the fact that we don't have any real vetting … Do you understand the awesome responsibility that you have to protect and serve all people, even those that do not look like you, do not speak like you, do not pray like you?”
Standoff in Union Square
Sunday night, DCP Entertainment producer Andrew Marshello was part of a large demonstration that began near the Barclays Center. The group marched over the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan when the peaceful protest turned violent, thanks to New York’s finest.
The police formed a blockade, and the protesters erected barricades of their own. Andrew was with a friend and they positioned themselves at the front. “We're both white,” he says. “We were kneeling behind the barricades.”
Meanwhile, Andrew noticed that a particular cop had his eye on him.
The NYPD began blaring a recorded announcement that said the demonstration had turned violent. “We started screaming that we were being peaceful,” he says. “And we continued our stance.”
Then Andrew saw a Black man, wearing a suit and carrying a bullhorn –– perhaps a community leader –– approach the barricade. It seemed like he was about to negotiate with the NYPD. But a group of officers in riot gear approached behind the cops who were facing them down.
“Then somebody from the crowd threw something,” says Andrew. “I think it was a water bottle. Then … all hell broke loose.”
Knocked down and zip-tied
Without warning, the cops advanced on the protesters. He and his friend immediately turned and tried to run. But then he felt a blow to his back.
Andrew craned his neck to see who struck him. It was the same cop who’d been staring at him before –– with a baton. “In my interactions with the police, it seems like the last thing they want is recognition. Because as soon as I see him, he hits me again with such force that I fall to the ground.”
At first, Andrew’s friend was dragged down with him. She tried to help him, but he urged her to get away, and she did.
Shortly thereafter, he was arrested. “They roughed up my left arm –– pulled it behind me really roughly as they zip-tied me,” says Andrew. He was herded into a NYPD van with a group of other protesters and taken to One Police Plaza.
‘I was treated relatively nicely’
The cop who arrested him had tied the plastic restraints so tightly that they began to cut off his circulation. Andrew’s fellow passengers in the van urged officers to let him out first.
“But they let three or four people out before me, and then I stood in line –– I didn't really have a sense of time, but I'll say about half an hour to an hour, saying repeatedly that [the zip ties] were too tight before finally they got around to having the will to unclip them,” he explains. Then they put him in handcuffs.
He was charged with refusal to disperse and then failure to follow a lawful order. After he was released, he was grateful for the volunteer medics who determined that he was physically OK, despite a banged-up face and knee and an incredibly sore shoulder.
Later, Andrew reviewed some video footage he took at the protest and realized the baton-wielding officer had covered his badge number.
“I just want to put the reminder out there,” Andrew says. “I am white, and that is the treatment I got. And I feel like I got treated relatively nicely. I just want that to sink in.”
Make way for #BunkerBoy
The very next night in Washington, D.C., Allison Lane was marching in a peaceful protest that began at the White House. She didn’t know it at the time, but the president was itching for a photo op.
In order to ensure the orange one’s safe passage to nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church –– where he would stand in front of its sign and awkwardly pose with a Bible –– police broke up the crowd and pushed it in several different directions. Allison was part of a group that was thrust northward. (Later, cops deployed riot control agents on remaining protesters at Lafayette Park.)
Allison found herself corralled with a crowd on narrow, one-way Swann Street, and that's where her story really begins.
“So we're there and we're peacefully raising our fists, chanting ‘Black lives matter,’ ‘hands up, don't shoot,’ … for about 30 minutes. Then all of a sudden we hear, ‘MOVE.’ And then they start pushing and pepper spraying. No warning.”
An open door amidst a cloud of pepper spray
The next thing Allison heard was “go, go go!”
And she ran.
“You know, you try not to turn your back on the cops, but you're getting pepper-sprayed. So what’re you gonna do?”
In the chaos, Allison saw people running into a rowhouse with an open door. “People were pouring in,” Allison says. “I don't know how that happened. But it happened.”
The home’s resident, Rahul Dubey, had been watching the demonstration from his stoop –– which, of course, was never supposed to end up on his quiet, residential street. When he saw the protesters being attacked, he screamed for them to come inside, even as the cops continued to pepper-spray them as they ran in.
“It was serendipitous because he's also a health care professional,” Allison explains. “So he was really prepared to take care of people.”
Rahul ended up sheltering what she estimates as at least 100 protesters initially (some hopped over the fence in the backyard before the cops surrounded the whole block) and hosted over 70 of them overnight in his home as police laid in wait outside.
The Hero of Swann Street
Allison describes the scene once everyone was inside: “kids on the floor coughing, crying … people everywhere.” Some had brought homemade eyewash solutions and were helping each other clean up.
Rahul gave his guests full access to the three-level house and everything he had to eat –– including ice-cream sandwiches for some of the youngest protesters.
“He was really, really kind,” Allison says of Rahul, a first-generation Indian American businessman who gave everyone his business card so police couldn’t claim they broke in.
Tweets from the inside
Meanwhile, the group was starting to organize itself and tweet about their situation, including Allison, whose epic Twitter thread went viral. Someone called a lawyer, who the police wouldn’t allow inside.
Eventually, they ran out of food and cups for water.
“Nobody expected this many houseguests on a Monday night,” Allison says with a laugh.
“Raul was like, you think I can just order pizza? And I was like, there's no way … but he said, ‘let's just try it.’”
But the police wouldn't let the delivery driver down Swann Street or the back alley.
“The lawyer ended up being the taxi for the pizza,” says Allison. “So the lawyer and the pizza delivery driver were in the back alley. The lawyer picked up the pizzas, brought them to the back of the house, and passed them over the fence to the protesters.”
‘Yo, this is a revolution’
As the night wore on and word spread throughout the neighborhood, and on Twitter, more people started sending pizzas and other food. Kishan Putta, a candidate for D.C. Council and a neighbor of Rahul’s, sent vegan snacks, masks and first aid supplies.
“It never really felt like we were alone or that we weren't supported,” Allison says.
At one point, “someone was like, yo, this is a revolution,” she adds. “So we started singing Kirk Franklin's ‘Revolution.’ It was the Blackest moment. It was beautiful.”
The Freedom Fighters of DC helped organize the protesters’ eventual exit from the house. They mobilized a network of volunteers with cars to scout the neighborhood, making sure police weren’t lying in wait mere blocks away. (WPD left around 5 a.m.)
When the curfew ended at 6 a.m., more volunteers helped escort protesters away from the house. “We're super grateful for them,” Allison says. “We started letting people out, two or three at a time, going home in different directions.”
The real Washington, D.C.
It’s ironic, says Allison: “I've been self-isolating since March … spent three months at home, and now [I could] get COVID stuck in a house with a bunch of strangers. Ain't that a joke.”
But she can't sit out the protests, she explains. “You can't not be visible. I'm able-bodied. I'm very fortunate to still have health insurance. I don't know what the situation is for a lot of those kids that were there though. Medical racism exists. What's going to happen if they get sick?”
She reiterates how extraordinary it was for Rahul to open his doors to so many. “It was a good test of faith … and it was very serendipitous that we ended up in that house with that group of people who were able to handle the chaos very well.”
“What you experienced was so powerful,” Danielle (a former D.C. resident) tells Allison. “The resilience of the people, the community I remember. Not the bullshit Trump has brought in. I think that it's time for the people of D.C. to take their fucking city back from this administration.”
#8can’twait: clear reform over ‘vague justice’
About 1,100 people a year die at the hands of American police officers, but significant change hasn’t been part of the national conversation –– until now. But it’s crucial to focus on proven tactics instead of platitudes and well-intentioned but ineffective policies.
“I don't want the conversation to be about vague justice,” says Toure.
Ban chokeholds and strangleholds
Require warning before shooting
Exhaust all alternatives before shooting
Duty to intervene
Ban shooting at moving vehicles
Require use of force continuum
Require comprehensive reporting
“None of these sound difficult to do,” says Danielle.
“They're not,” Toure replies. “This is not even left-right.”
Community policing isn’t enough
Campaign Zero has found that hiring Black police officers does not significantly change the behavior of the people in a police department, until you get to at least 35% of the department being Black. But that's not a scalable tactic across the whole nation.
It’s also important to note that DeRay’s organization rejects “community policing” as a dependable fix. It’s inherently racist to suggest that cops need to “take my daughter out for ice cream or play basketball with my son in order to see his humanity,” Toure says, “so you don't kill him when you see him running at night. If you cannot see the people you're policing as human, then we have a much larger problem.”
Danielle agrees: “And how about, if you don't exhaust all of those things, you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law? We're no longer going to take police at their fucking word, because their word is trash.”
Mask up and carry on
In the meantime, “continue marching. Continue having your voices heard. Keep sharing videos that report the bad behavior of police officers, because we need to see more of that,” says Danielle.
“But above all else, stay safe. Wear a mask when you're protesting, even if it's not required in the city or state you were in,” she adds. Because while we're dealing with a racist pandemic, we are still dealing with the COVID pandemic.”
So … we’ll be back next week, even though it seems our country’s hanging by a thread.
“Look at our logo,” Danielle says. “When we created that, we thought it was a joke. Lo and behold, it's actually what [D.C.] looks like right now.”
“Literal fire,” Toure adds.
Pray about it.
Get your weekly rundown of the presidential election from a Black progressive point of view on democracy-ish. Consider Danielle Moodie and Toure as your tour guides, flight attendants and/or therapists as we move through this dumpster fire of an election cycle — together!