Blue Lives Maim: Police brutality at rallies protesting police brutality 

5 mins read

Across the country, reports of law enforcement officers attacking peaceful demonstrators have become the norm in protests sparked by the recent police killing of George Floyd.

On Tuesday, an intense, yet undisturbed demonstration in Washington DC turned into mayhem. Shortly after protesters assembled, local police began to use war tactics to disperse crowds. Throughout the violent evacuation, grenades shot off tear gas, along with projected canisters of smoke accompanied by rubber bullets, drones and low-flying helicopters.

The violent clash comes a day after President Donald Trump issued a warning at a press conference

“I am mobilizing all available federal resources — civilian and military — to stop the rioting and looting, to end the destruction and arson, and to protect the rights of law-abiding Americans, including your Second Amendment rights,said Trump.

The day prior, police were used to remove crowds rallying near the White House for Trump to take a photo at St. John’s Church, a worship center across the street. In the dispersal, police cordoned off protesters they attempted to arrest. Even journalists had to hide with growing reports of law enforcement targeting members of the press.

Tweeted WTOP FM News Anchor Reporter, Ken Duffy.

We are trapped between 14th & 15th Streets on Swann St NW.  Cops at both ends of the street even in the alleys. 

Ironically, Trump had been bunkered in the White House with the lights off, beforehand. Now he’s earned the title for some as a #bunkerbitch.

Police hostilities

Demonstrations in Los Angeles had been going on for several days when local journalist Brandon Bowlin went to a multi-racial assembly in the Fairfax District. As he stood on Fairfax and 3rd Avenue several people shouted in the crowd to “run.” Others there quieted the gathering telling them to “don’t run.” 

As Bowlin narrates through the gathering that is chanting “Hands up don’t shoot,” the police began to release stun grenades into the crowd. According to Bowlin, “after a few encounters with police from that corner,” the crowd response evolved into an assertive mass in which some began looting local commercial shops.

Brandon Bowlin at Los Angeles protest in the Fairfax district, a predominantly white neighborhood. Courtesy of Brandon Bowlin’s Facebook page.

Throughout California, rallies reported initial relatively untroubled crowds. For the most part, the ire was directed into chants. In some cases, drums were used. At some point, things became erratic. While it has been confirmed that largely white males, and some females in civilian clothes initiated aggressive actions such as destruction of property and physical confrontation of law enforcement, there was also the relentless ferocity in police response towards pacifist protesters.

In Atlanta, the scenario was the same. While there are agitators in the crowd, police also responded to protesters with violence. Crowds began to fight back when an APD cop picked up his bike then slammed it into the chest of a woman protesting.

Riot police using a bicycle as a weapon was also reported in Brooklyn. Senator Zellnor Myrie (D-NY) attended an NYC protest to “in solidarity [with protesters] and to keep the peace,” he told in an interview with Spectrum NY1. While Senator Myrie spoke to other demonstrators, he “began to get hit in the back with a bicycle [by officers] . . . and . . . pushed and shoved to move back while complying with that order then [he] was pepper-sprayed and put into cuffs.” In the bedlam, police also sprayed, Assemblymember Donna C. Richardson (D-NY).

Assemblymember Donna C. Richardson (l) and Senator Zellnor Myrie (c) march in protest rental law.

In Louisville, demonstrators have been advocating for the arrests of officers involved in the police killing of emergency medical technician, Breonna Taylor, in a late-night, “no-knock” raid. According to reports of the account, officers barged into Ms. Tayor’s home. After a a brief confrontation, officers shot her eight times. Further investigation showed that police had the wrong house and the person they were looking for was already in custody. 

However, officers arrested Ms. Taylor’s fiancé, Kenneth Walker, for attempted murder. They alleged he shot and wounded an officer in the leg. Later, chargers were dismissed.

Ms. Taylor was killed weeks after demonstrations for slain jogger, Ahmaud Arbery, revealed a botched investigation and no arrest made by local police. Plus, one of the suspects, George McMichaels, was a former Glynn County, Georgia officer.

A protest on May 30, showed police officers destroying the water supply of rally goers as they marched.

Included the seven people shot during protests, David McAtee, a local restaurateur owning YaYa’s BBQ was shot and killed by police on Monday at 12:15 a.m. While police failed to turn on their body cameras, video footage from McAtee’s eatery and next door business, captured the killing. McAtee’s mother said that he told her he often fed Louisville cops. 

Drastic difference in policing during protests

For days, New York demonstrators at Black Lives Matters protests have described their encounters with police in ways that are similar to being hunted. The NYPD were “brutal” and they showed up wearing “riot gear, throwing black and brown people on the ground, chasing us, cutting us off on scooters, following us in their vans, swatting,” said Carley Moore, an queer writer who pens essays, novels and poems.

Video footage shows cop cruisers gunning into passive crowds, and even a mounted policeman directing his horse to trample over a woman at a protest. Moore emphasized, “White America needs to wake the fuck up.”

What Moore points to is the dichotomy of treatment in a racialized country. In particular, the response by law enforcement is so drastically polarized from weeks before. In several states, protestors defied quarantine orders in rallies to reopen their states before the mandated time. Much concern was drawn to Michigan when heavily-armed white protesters carrying everything from high-powered rifles to rocket launchers descended upon Michigan state capital and into its legislative building. 

Not a hair on anyone’s head was disturbed, even though lawmakers reported their fear. Some decided to wear bullet-proof vests.

During protests, attendees barged in by the hundreds. In response, Rep. Sarah Anthony (D-MI), an African American congressional official, pointed out the failure of capital police to provide security. From that criticism, she received death threats. As a result, a small contingency of Black, armed citizens, escorted her to the capital for her protection.

White nationalists in blue

Some of the disparity in police reactions to demonstrators are attributed to the rising numbers of white nationalists in law enforcement and the military. At one of last week’s Black Lives Matter protests in NYC, footage shows an officer flashing the “white power” hand symbol. 

White supremacists in blue uniforms are a recurring demographic since law enforcement was established. More recently, in a 2006 unclassified FBI document, the agency detailed how white nationalists have infiltrated police departments throughout the US. One term they revealed is “ghost skins.” In the description they said that it referred to white supremacists who “avoid over displays of their beliefs to blend into society and covertly advance their white supremacist causes.”

On one hand, ghost skins have been linked to white civilians at protests who seem to be on the side of demonstrators until they begin to disrupt rallies with a range of instigative methods. But, white officers as ghost skins connect to the ruthlessness of police response in Black Lives Matter protests. At the same time, non-white law enforcement are just as complicit. Tou Thao, one of the officers on the scene who participated in the killing of George Floyd is Hmong, an ethnic group from Southeast Asia.

As well, Black and Latino officers have a history of forwarding an agenda that regularly practices violence against people of color. “We cannot forget that Black and brown officers have become quite comfortable in inflicting pain on Black and brown people under the blue veil [of police oath],” explained Sean Palmer, the director of the Upperman African American Cultural Center at UNC Wilmington.

As protests continue in spite of police forcefulness, citizens have taken a stance against racist police and racist policing policies.

Kaia Shivers covers diaspora, news and features.

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