…because that’s what I try to do – walk the walk. Through the years, I’ve protested for reproductive rights, in solidarity against school and gun violence, and in mourning with the GLBTQ community following the massacre in Orlando. The most heated march in which I participated was a long ago Operation Rescue event in Albany which frightened me with the vehemence displayed by the anti-choice opposition. Beyond that, I’ve never felt uncomfortable at a public protest.
Saturday in Albany was no different.
The weather was perfect, the crowd was peaceful and the organizers kept a check on necessary social distancing. Nearly everyone I encountered was wearing a mask. There were passionate speeches made but the audio wasn’t great, so instead I found myself walking laps around Townsend Park, reading signs and nodding in greeting to those I recognized, masked as they were.
The approximately 2 mile march itself was well received by the community and spectators were supportive. There was a feeling of mutual purpose and a deep sadness that resonated with me and caused my eyes to well repeatedly. The chants of “No justice, no peace” and “Hands up, don’t shoot” echoed as we made our way through Washington Park and around the streets of Albany.
March participants regathered in Townsend Park following the walk. I started to notice more unmasked people around me and I began to feel less comfortable in the large crowd. I noticed a group of people continuing down Central Avenue towards Washington Avenue and beyond and was curious about where they might be headed, but I chose to go home rather than follow.
I wonder now if they were part of the evening’s violence.
What I saw on social media later Saturday evening came as a complete shock to me. Does that make me a Karen? A Pollyanna? Someone privileged? The rock and brick and bottle throwing that escalated to fires, windows smashed and businesses looted, was something I never imagined happening in Albany.
As it got later in the night, I became more uneasy. The sounds of sirens and helicopters filled the night sky as I watched a Facebook live stream of the scene down on South Pearl Street. It was frightening. Windows were shattered and trash bins were set aflame. A tractor trailer, torched with a gas soaked wooden pallet, burned and police responded to the increasingly out of control scene with tear gas and rubber bullets. All of this within approximately a mile of my home.
Sometime after 1:00 a.m. the situation finally seemed in hand and I went to sleep. Sunday morning the two newspapers on my front porch brought the events of the previous night into my very home. I spent much of the day reading accounts of the protests which were held all over the country, and the world, before taking a bike ride with my Nikon around town prior to curfew.
The sights I saw reminded me of the tour of murals documenting “the troubles” I took a number of years ago while in Belfast. I saw cars driving slowly with passengers pointing out damages to one another. It was quiet and I wondered how these events would be told in history. Would there be markers memorializing the violence our city suffered during this dark time? Would the death of George Floyd be considered a critical milestone on this seemingly infinite path to end racial bias?
I understand you can’t always get what you want, but People of Color in this country are just asking to be treated with the same respect and understanding as Whites. It’s beyond time for that happen.