My sister Amy recently attended a protest in downtown Ft. Worth, TX. She wrote about her experience and I asked permission to post it here. The following is from Amy.
“I was one participant of hundreds last Sunday night at a March/Protest for George Floyd in downtown Fort Worth. I’d like to share my experience. More pressingly, I hope to give you an idea of what happened before the incident at the West 7th bridge that captured the headlines on Monday’s news cycle.
I have been to protests in downtown Fort Worth before. They start on the courthouse lawn. People gather, signs are photographed and fawned over like costumes at a Con, speakers address the crowd thru Audio systems ranging from middle to mediocre, and people wave at traffic – enthusiastically air pumping if the car honks in solidarity as it rushes by. All ages, all races, all types gather. Once the speeches has concluded, the crowd sets off down the streets of fort worth, escorted by a myriad of police officers on bicycles. The police ride ahead and behind the crowd, ensuring intersections are managed so marchers can pass through safely. They are seen, not heard, and incredibly good at making sure everyone gets through the march safely. Downtown is an efficient, pedestrian friendly grid that allows marchers to go in a loop around end up back where they started. From there the crowd disperses and go back to their lives. Or perhaps a nice brunch after a late morning march.
I was there for this particular march due to a deep sense of anguish and overwhelm after the latest senseless murder of a man by police. I have conflicting thoughts; they jumble and tears threaten, and I’m going to struggle to write concisely here. The thought that George’s family, and so many other black families are mourning the death of a child, a brother, a dad, a husband, an uncle, a loved human person who died for no discernable reason, with little to no justice served, is- I don’t know. That situation is enraging and I can’t process it. And please don’t forget the women who have been killed – the daughters, sisters, aunts. This thought battles with the knowledge that I have a relative who is a police officer, whose mother worries mightily about him, because “my son deals with people on their worst day.” There are reasons police carry arms. These thoughts fight for my compassion and understanding. These thoughts demand my action, or inaction. Brush it aside or commit to doing something?
Over the weekend I struggled with the news and the fact that what I am doing is not the same as getting closer and grappling with this personally. Publicly. Where other people might actually hear my white self say “black lives matter” out loud. Where someone else might ask me why I said that when I’ve not done much up till now to show it. I felt I need to face my many prejudices and inherent racism, privilege and all that stuff so few in my life talk about. That I don’t talk about. I must also acknowledge that these protests are NOT ABOUT ME, nor are they events for me to assuage my particular guilt. Enter the last-minute notification from a friend that there was a march at 6pm downtown. OK, I’m going!
I got there at 6pm, and scribbled out a sign on poster board hurriedly purchased on the way over. BLACK LIVES MATTER and “here is something I can’t understand, how you can just kill a man” to cover each side. Thank you Rage Against the Machine for dropping bite sized political lyrics and allowing me to co-opt them. “Your Anger is a gift” someone’s sign said. Rage and I probably agree that’s a damn good sentiment.
There was a healthy crowd composed of all different races, ages, and genders. Lots of people attending with friends, kids/family, or significant others. I was looking for the white people out of curiosity and was pleased to see the same spectrum: families, couples, friendly groups, all ages gathered on the lawn. One young man held a sign stating “If the Amish can protest, so can the Introverts!”. Another man stood on the court steps and held a sign saying “suck my d*** racist cops”. I was surprised and my first thought was to blow him off for being rude. Second thought was given how I know nothing of his life, who was I to declare he was being out of line? The introverts and defiant ones are needed for this march. And here they are.
The speakers had a small bullhorn to address the crowd. In quick succession 3 or 4 people spoke passionate words I couldn’t hear through the crowd. And then we were off marching. Chanting quickly commenced. Not what I was used to: “This is what democracy looks like!” (though it is). Harder things to speak (for me): “I cant breathe”. “No justice, no peace”. “Say his name: George Floyd”. And then, the hardest for me “F*** the racist police”. This statement was thrown up by the crowd even as the policeman bicycled to the next intersection to stop the traffic for our safe passage. Does that statement offend me? Is it possible this statement rings true? I struggled with this as I marched. I choked up several times as I spoke “I can’t breathe” with the crowd. How panic ridden and terrifying were that last few minutes of George’s life?
We knelt as a group, hundreds of people kneeling in the intersections as the police kept traffic at bay. Cars honked their horns and drivers raised fists in solidarity. I’m older now and kneeling isn’t comfortable. I also don’t typically kneel for anything in my daily routine. Kneeling feels vulnerable.I wondered at the bravery of Colin Kaepernick. That simple, noncompliant act to highlight injustices. I choked up some more.
We walked through more of downtown Fort Worth than I ever have for a march. It was both chilling and exciting to see waitstaff, patrons, pedestrians, and drivers react to us. Our march was filmed by press and populace. Some were enthusiastically supportive, other just stared, or tried to look away. Chanting was amplified by the awnings of the hotels we walked under. We traversed southeast past the water gardens, to the point that I wondered if we were going to end up under the bridge of the of Lancaster and I-35/30? At that point I noticed armored vehicles stop on the road, and heavily armed police gather, blocking our progress. They stood still, and did not react to any of the chanting, including “F*** the racist police” that seemed to gain momentum after the armored police appearance. They did act like a wall rerouting our flow back to the downtown area. As we changed direction, the bicycling cops started continued with us.
We kept moving, retreading some streets, and finding new ones along the way. There was more kneeling, chanting, defiance, hope, fury, fervor, enthusiasm and unity compelling the throng of people forward. Maybe I am projecting, but the emotions at this march felt intense. Raw. Pressing. I overheard a participant declaring the revolution is starting as they live streamed their march.
Just short of the courthouse we took a hard left and walked off to the north west corner of downtown. The energy of the crowd seemed to dissipate as we stalled at an intersection. The leaders were talking amongst themselves. People stood with their signs and friends waiting to see if the walk would resume or not. A mother called for her son in a tone parents take– “get back here now” was the unspoken part of her cry. At that point I left the march. I learned later the crowd had decided on a new location to walk to and proceeded to the west 7th street bridge. There they ended up in a stand off with police for several hours and later, between 10 and 11pm the incident occurred that grabbed the headlines the next day.
I’m writing this account to tell people the protest vibe was powerful and uplifting. It appeared to me that the witnesses and participants were united in solidarity and that the call for change, for justice, reform, and for a better future for the systemically oppressed was loud and clear. I’m writing to encourage the timid, uncertain and sedentary here. Are you grappling with feelings of outrage for the tragedy and the weak, reticent response of a just outcome for situation? Come gather with other people in protest. Stand with them and observe. Be present to their determination and frustrations. Walk with them a few blocks and experience the energy and purpose. You don’t have to say anything. You don’t have to stay past your bedtime. Go. Try on the perspective of someone else’s experience and see how they might feel what they do. If you, like me, empathize better when you can relate to the situation, then please go to this situation, and participate in the often messy and uncomfortable process of change. We who have the luxury of breathing easy need to put in the work to ensure that others can do the same. That work may start with showing up to a protest, and continue with each marching step you take.”