Biking home from work I crossed paths with another protest walk from Barclays, here in Brooklyn heading towards the bridge. I’ve witnessed many due to our location. This time I took the opportunity to walk several blocks against the foot traffic in order to take a closer look, to zero in on individual faces. As I was able to completely vanish under my sunglasses, bike helmet and mask, this bonus anonymity prompted a conversation with myself if you will between my mind and my gut.
First up, and as I noticed before, this march was mainly young, white millennials. Some older folks peppered in, but not many. I’d say racially diverse if we were say in Bloomington, Indiana but not so much for New York city. Thoughts begin to flood in, most I don’t want to admit even to myself because they’re surprisingly negative. The protests and subsequent looting comes at a time when many of us have not been socialized for months, had been sick, and find it all happening too quickly. We’re reading and living the news at once in these big cities. I wrestle with my gut. I just read an article on unconscious bias and felt immediate shame even behind my mask because my first thought was why are these all white kids? And that could sound negative but at the time, it was. I didn’t like it.
First of all, I should say I wholeheartedly support the cause, protesting the unjust killing of George Floyd by unnecessary force and the ongoing brutality that goes unpunished properly in this country, and for too long. I’m sure racist cops absolutely exist in significant numbers in places, even here. I understand the level of outrage that has come forth. I also allow for some deep anger out of our communities. Bad behavior falls on the individuals but I fully expect to absorb some backlash, see some black youth going off the rails in ways that doesn’t help and I won’t judge them but will root for them, hope they find an outlet. But never did I ever, expect to see white, college kids getting all high strung, screaming obscenities and Looting! Yes, I did see many videos of whites in significant numbers, throwing molotov cocktails, breaking store windows and hauling booty out of retail doorways. Sort of shocking. And I witnessed bad behavior first hand. Not that the act didn’t deserve a harsh reaction, it’s just that the least affected group, in my mind anyways, are these kids, so it’s surprising.
However, I am so happy to see all these new young folks being so passionate, getting involved in the physical world, for one, and trying to spark change in such numbers. I should be out there. But I’m always leary of anything the masses are selling, especially in light of recent years and the birth of this new group-think. I’m not against cops in general. For me that is like saying I’m against black people. Sort of. Meaning, I realize these are civil servants as opposed to individual citizens and that there is a widespread issue and that’s it’s not just a few bad apples, that there are systemic problems that go deep into the culture. That law enforcement has gotten away with heinous crimes, brutality, corruption, bullying, and killing of innocent men, black men in particular ‘for being black’, not coincidentally. It’s my opinion but on those points I feel certain. New York cops are sort of our home team though, so I can’t scream obscenities at them, especially when the incident did not happen here and these individuals were not involved. That being said I’m not young, or black or male. But people, no matter what their work title are individuals that deserve respect, until they don’t.
Since I’ve only watched the protestors I do realize I’m in no position to judge them. Still, many happenings are striking me sideways. For example, I’ve lived in and around this area for well over 25 years and I have never seen this many white kids period and never in Downtown Brooklyn before. In fact one block over, the central shopping hub of Fulton Mall has been trying to recruit shoppers, gentrify the area for years but it never takes. It might help if a fraction of these kids came and hung out and dropped some of their paychecks here eventually.
This particular day many of these newcomers rode Citi bikes into the borough and invaded the local traffic. At first I was excited to see everyone, then I realized they were all ignoring lights and putting people in harm’s way, unfortunately, like my old ladies of above said Fulton mall. Brooklyn is a lot of different things and yes it’s changed quite a bit even in the last 10 years. Still, you don’t ride your bike into oncoming traffic no matter how righteous and pumped you’re feeling. In general, drivers hate cyclists, of any color, so death is a real possibility when you ride stupidly. I am annoyed at the false sense of safety in the eyes of these doughy newcomers. I look around and wonder how the locals will react, being as their reason for being here is obvious but feels strange to say, to march for the mistreatment of black men. It’s so 70’s! That’s the last time I remember many young white people getting so verbal about the mistreatment of black men in my lifetime.
I heard the crowds approaching a few blocks away and worried I was riding into violent chaos from the level of noise and honking. Instead I found hundreds of young adults arriving onto the scene so driven to join this march with a passion I’m not familiar with, especially from them. I likened it to seeing my nerdy high school guy pals walking with urgency through the stadium parking lot heading in to see a Rush concert. Contrary to what we suspected, that kids are just so bored and unable to socialize that they dived at any opportunity to gather, instead I found them genuinely engaged. This was day 9 though and didn’t happen in our city, so I wondered, Hey, how come they feel so personally affected? I consider they’ve most likely never been victims of police brutality themselves. However, I have read a huge percentage of this generation are major empaths. I find this age group fascinating, like human science experiments growing up artificially. They didn’t run freely in the woods, or play outside til dusk with no supervision. They’ve being filmed and recorded most of their lives, had limited freedoms, many of divorced or single parents. In my view, they don’t seem to participate much in the common areas of the physical world. They seem to congregate mostly amongst their own tribes and from my vantage point, fall in line with mainly progressive agendas dictated by approved celebrities on their phones. It’s odd to see them in such large numbers out in the open.
We live in one of Brooklyn’s oldest black neighborhoods and it’s been gentrified but still it remains, for me anyway, a place where you respect it’s history and never act disruptive…why would you? For Brooklyn, I feel Fort Greene is a bit church-like with its rich history, born out of something strong. The location is amazing and I’ve always felt privileged to live here. When I pass older folks of color along the stately rows of brownstones, I dust off my manners and ancient social skills to speak to them with respect. I enjoy it and it harkens me to better times. Taking a moment to acknowledge someone’s roses or make mention of the weather, ‘It’s gonna be a scorcher’ or ‘Have you seen ever seen such a gorgeous day?‘ I’d never say that to a stranger on the subway but here it makes sense. Maybe it was because these kids were coming through these particular areas that I felt some protective reservation, questioned their motives. Manhattan or Williamsburg is where they reside, not here, I say to myself.
Several hundred, perhaps the residual bikers, came down our street after curfew later this same night. Again, they received waves and claps from the neighbors, who at this point are all their peers. Then we realized this group was not escorted by cops like the authorized marches. They were stopping traffic, weaving in and out of regular good people, playing chicken with cars just coming home from work, delaying delivery trucks, and city buses. It didn’t make sense to me, these people are not who you’re fighting against, I thought. The protesters were most if not all white kids, many girls even. My gut tells me, this is misguided thrill seeking, a free pass to be naughty in society in the guise of supporting the cause. Society, a place that has not been very real to them. I’m reminded they are not working and haven’t been out of the house much in several weeks but I’m not sympathetic and again feel confused. Don’t get me wrong, there were tons of black protests in NYC, marched by black people of all ages. It happened all over and in Brooklyn. But this was mainly our actual view, and you have to base your opinions off of what you see, not as much what you read.
Earlier we stood at the window watching a peaceful march, again mainly white kids of a particular age. One girl looked up at my husband as he thumbed, Good job! She turned and points to her sign that read Silence is Violence and waves him to come down, not with a smile but a judging stance. I don’t love a movement that I have to agree with everything or suddenly I’m the bad guy. After all, they were chanting ‘NYPD Suck My Dick!‘ Not my bag kid, move on, I say to myself, again with slight disdain.
George Floyd deserves dignity and respect, a proper send off. I love that he didn’t die in vain and that the nation celebrated his life and mourns his untimely death. We know enough about the actions of the main cop Chauvin, that no matter what the circumstances, it was murder in broad daylight. To anyone that doesn’t see it that way, body cam footage could certainly help. I want to see those details. It wouldn’t change my opinions of Chauvin’s actions but it would possibly help in some way. Maybe it’s not important. Two of the cops were rookies, only 4 days as full fledged cops and Chauvin was their top training officer. If it’s true they tried to push back, in the end it might help break those loyalty barriers for future cops if these rookies speak out. Realistically speaking, I could see it being incredibly hard to enforce their days old instincts against that type of rank difference. They could have saved Floyd’s life, they had a duty to intervene. I wonder how Chauvin covered that topic in training. In their same position, I only hope I would have done more. I hope so. These details at least in some small way explain the other officers’ mysterious actions, Lane and Kueng. Kueng is an African American, hired out of the community so he’s gonna live some kind of personal hell regardless. One of them questioned Chauvin once, meaning they knew better but stopped short of going far enough to save Floyd. It’s tragic and hard but so important to look closely at the culture and frat-like behaviors of cops. How important it is to be trusted by your peers but remain virtuous enough to serve and protect the people first and foremost. I don’t doubt they need more support and resources especially now when we need them to be so strong. This is not the time to reason sympathy in their direction, so I continue studying my subjects.
My age group was lacking in any significant numbers but that could be COVID related. I wonder where the Latinos sit with this issue, surely we share a similar history of harassment. I’ve never marched before for any cause and sheepishly admit I’ve thought that’s something others do.
After side eyeing these assumed well intentioned young adults, I hear from some of my family members who unlike me, live in blatantly racist communities by any definition and they were so delighted to see blue-eyed, blond haired supporters. They go on to tell me how NASCAR taking a knee all for their black brothers brought them to tears. How they never thought they’d see this in their lifetime. Suddenly, I feel terrible for doubting these progressives, now considering maybe I am the one that should be questioned. That this new behavior is huge, especially in parts of the country where it’s badly needed and perhaps going to change the world after all. Then it hits me, why my gut was sneering. I finally realize these are the same kids that brought us cancel culture, the over zealous but well intentioned #metoo movement and the land of 1000 genders complete with its own ridiculous language. Those people who insist their version of progress must happen over individual rights, something that I do not support. People who are so damn certain in these very uncertain complicated times. The folks who feel they alone know what is good for the country and quickly went from shutting down the drinking of large Slurpees to shutting down people period that question their rules. And now, not from ‘living’ it, but out of some viral world of reason, they’re on to this cause which is in line with what I’ve come to believe but based on physical evidence, real life, not philosophy. So just because we agree on this one issue doesn’t mean I approve of how they operate. They may be the ones for the job to push police reform though and I will say, their hard to ignore pale presence may have stopped some of the retaliation race crime that tends to follow these types of incidents. They just might have confused the hell out of everyone.