On December 19th, a small group of protesters rallied outside City Hall in support of the New York Police Department amid criticism of excessive force in the cases of Eric Garner and Akai Gurley.
Both sides showed the worst of themselves that day.
First of all, the NYPD’s handling of these two protests was extremely weird. They set up two barricades, one side for the anti-police demonstrators, and one for the pro-police.* In the middle was a kind of de-militarized zone where only the press and police were allowed to mingle. Yet, inexplicably, the police allowed protesters from the counter demonstration to slip into the middle and antagonize the pro-NYPD demonstrators.
I saw a woman who–to be fair–was doing nothing more than dancing and blowing a whistle, to be allowed to dance right in front of the pro-NYPD supporter for fifteen to twenty minutes without challenge. When the police finally did decide to ask her to leave, she left peacefully, dancing off into the distance. The only question is, why did they wait so long when the NYPD supporters were getting more and more agitated as time went on?
Eventually, things did boil over for a minute when a police brutality demonstrator managed somehow to get to the front of the freedom cage for the NYPD supporters, raising a sign that said “Watch the Watchers” She proceeded to chant anti-police slogans in their protest zone. One of them got so agitated that he violently grabbed the woman’s sign away from her. Whether she was justified or not in her view, she was obviously looking for a confrontation and she got what she wanted. The NYPD supporter, who took the sign from her, also grabbed a journalists camera for some reason. He then claimed that the journalist was “supporting criminals.” Both of these activists were feeding off each others dogmatic black and white view of the world.
The event was not all terrible though. Union leader Stan Williams and a man who may or may not have been a former police officer in East New York, had an intelligent conversation about police violence and income inequality. This was the one discussion between the two sides that did not end in tears.
Later on that night, I walked with the anti-police demonstrators somewhere near Wall Street. As the protesters chanted ‘No justice, no peace,’ he remarked out loud that the protesters probably didn’t know how to spell the word, “Justice.” I turned my camera on and asked, “How do you spell justice?”
His response was violence and anger.
If I were to have anything taken away from the things I’ve witnessed last night, it is that there needs to be more conversations and less yelling and screaming at each other. If we only speak our minds while refusing to listen, these problems can never be solved.
The anti-police demonstrators have justifiable grievances and they must be listened to. But I don’t agree with the antagonistic methods that were used. Violence should never be a resort towards questions that are uncomfortable or points of view that you don’t like. If our nation is no longer one of reason but dogma, we are in serious trouble.