Letter to the editor: Submitted by Black Lives Matter Rochester
On Saturday, July 7th, 2018, 16 people were arrested while peacefully declaring the mantra, “Black Lives Matter”. The protesters were making a statement against the harsh reality that black lives aren’t valued or held in the same regard as white lives. Black Lives Matter Roc organized a demonstration in Downtown Rochester that concluded with an act of civil disobedience on the intersection of Woodbury and S. Clinton Avenue.
Rochester Police Department deployed a contingent of riot police equipped with less-lethal weapons around 7:15pm disrupting the peaceful demonstration. Organizers decided to forego interviews with the media, bearing in mind that mainstream media has historically acted to distort the narratives of those in the struggle for black lives, equality, and equity, as they saw fit.
We are not without the guidance of our mighty ancestor, Frederick Douglass.
At the 23rd anniversary of Caribbean Independence in Canandaigua, New York in 1857, Douglass stated, “It is not within the power of unaided human nature to persevere in pitying a people who are insensible to their own wrongs and indifferent to the attainment of their own rights. The poet was as true to common sense as to poetry when he said, “Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow.”
We believe that the oppressed must take their liberation and narratives in their own hands. We mustn’t ask the powers at be to expose themselves for what they are, we must take it upon ourselves to speak and act upon our own truth. This is a rally cry, battle cry, call to action for all black people to start challenging, asking questions, reconstructing our stories, and engaging in actions that’ll push us further to our collective goal of freedom from this system. We are all we have, and in that, we have all we need.
The Rochester Police Department responded with a hyper-militarized display of force to what others would see as a peaceful display of love, expression of self, and solidarity. They stormed the intersection of Woodbury and S. Clinton brandishing guns, tasers and batons while helicopters circled overhead.
What we witnessed and experienced is reminiscent to an active war zone. The Rochester Police Department and police departments across the country pride themselves on being the forces that are here to protect and serve. But who exactly are they serving?
Why is it that highlighting and empowering narratives of a people whose experiences are constantly denied causes such a violent response? We’re conditioned to believe that these are normal responses to anything that challenges the status quo, which makes it an easier pill for the masses to swallow.
The police are not here to protect and serve the communities they’re in. They are the domestic equivalent to the military our country sends through black and brown countries across the globe, annihilating any and all who stand in the way of their plundering of resources or spreading of influence. What makes our black and brown communities any different?
Black Lives Matter Roc is exposing the system for what it is, with narratives based in our common experiences, much to the dismay of those who champion racist, cis-hetero-patriarchal, class rule, or seek to route grassroots movements down dead-end streets of electoral politics and non-profit commodification/cooptation.
The police, who can be trace its origins to controlling workers in the industrial north, and patrolling slaves in the south, have always been a force acting to prevent the liberation of the oppressed. Black people have relied on the same institutions and structures that have enslaved us and justified our continued mistreatment to free us.
The Rochester Police Department and The City of Rochester have shown themselves to be in opposition of the fight for Black lives and we do not see them fit to ensure that our voices will be heard. We’re used to feeling powerless, and being shown that the only way to gain power is through the same chains that bind us. We have to come to a collective realization that these efforts have failed us time and time again, and it’s time to imagine a world where our humanity isn’t an afterthought.