The fight for racial equality and removing the systemic inequality of the criminal justice system is succeeding in its efforts around the country. The current reemergence of the Black Lives Matter movement has been heavily dependent on the grassroots organizing occurring throughout the United States and beyond. This amazing outpour of support has accomplished more change and progress than years of voting, but it is also making acts of police brutality against peaceful protestors increasingly evident. The completely peaceful protest in Washington D.C. to demand justice for George Floyd being struck down by tear gas and bullets is first instance to come to mind. In my own hometown in Arkansas hundreds came to peacefully protest, but left panicked and even, in some cases, tear gassed. I had the chance to interview some of these protestors about their experiences with police violence. For their anonymity these individuals will go by G and K.
What did you feel when you heard about George Floyd’s death?
G: When I had first heard about it I thought maybe it was an exaggeration solely because of the person I heard it from. I was horrified to find they weren’t lying at all. When I watched the video I almost broke down crying in anger.
K: It was shocking and a very hard video to watch.
How are you affiliated with the Black Lives Matter Movement?
G: I am nothing but a passionate white LGBTQ+ ally.
K: In the past I didn’t associate myself with the movement and I had many criticisms of it, but the video of Gorge Floyd’s death has changed my mind. I am new to the movement and have little connection due to that.
Why did you decide to go to the protest?
G: My friend told me that he was going with a group of friends and I asked to tag along. There were seven of us in total that night, and he was the only one I knew beforehand. When I met the others it was one of those moments where you just immediately connect with others because of the reason you're there.
Did you know about the risks? Did you have an inkling something like [the tear gassing] would happen?
G: Yes, my friend and I talked about the risks before I even agreed to go. When we all met, we confirmed our meet-up spot and the code word for it for when we thought things were getting dangerous. We also had counting checks multiple times throughout the night to make sure we had all seven of us. The police were on the roofs of the square buildings and had drones overhead. As the night went on, it seemed as if the police wanted something to happen to give them a reason [to attack protestors].
K: I knew it was a possibility, everyone was talking about it but I didn't think it would actually happen.
What was the protest like while it was completely peaceful?
G: We walked and chanted around the square for a while, and then we kneeled for a moment of silence. At that point, the cops, from what I saw, were completely peaceful. We had some high-fiving us and asking us if we were okay.
K: I went a few hours early to watch the build up to the protest, and at first it started with lots and lots of passion. It was kind of awe inspiring to watch it grow and grow. As the protest went on, the crowd grew angrier and angrier, though I wouldn't say the anger was unjust. There was also a lot of positivity going around, people offering those without masks a mask, and giving out water bottles and such.
Was it a diverse crowd?
G: Yes, we had a large group of POCs, not just from the black community. We were with Indians and Mexicans throughout the night. There was a large presence of people from LGBTQ+ community as well.
Why did the police use tear gas?
G: My group tried to leave a few minutes before the tear gas was first thrown. If we had waited any longer, we would have been in the middle of it all. Even after reading the headlines and the stories, it just didn’t add up that, in less than five minutes, a completely peaceful protest could turn into what it did. When we left, five of the seven of us were in one car and two in the other. My friend and I were in the group of five. He then got a call that one of the others in the car of two passed out from heat exhaustion and the other girl needed help getting them to the car. He and the two other guys ran out to help. That's when me and the driver heard the first tear gas had been thrown. We had completely lost everyone and were panicking trying to find our group so we could all get home. That's what most people were doing too, but the police kept firing when people were trying to find their group. The police ended up causing more chaos because they didn’t give people the chance to regroup and get out.
Do you think it was worth it to go to the protest?
G: Hell yes, I will go again when I have the chance. Next time I’m bringing more medical supplies and water, but I’ll be ready.