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Supporting Black Lives Matter activists

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Image: Johnny Silvercloud/Flickr

Protests demanding justice for the death of George Floyd have spread globally. The movement kicked off in Minneapolis, the city where Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died on May 25 after a white police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes. Now, protests have spread to over 60 cities throughout the U.S. In Canada, there were protests in HalifaxMontrealCalgaryToronto and Vancouver. Each city has its own list of people who have been killed and harmed by discriminatory policing violence. As this movement grows, we are on the streets and engaging online and trying to be allies both globally and locally. We should discuss the most effective ways to be an ally.

How do we talk about violence?

First of all, let's disentangle the ways in which the police, which are supposed to protect, and the civilians who are protesting, are being violent. Police have a sworn duty to protect, to be trained on how to de-escalate a situation safely and to be impartial. This is why we are out on the streets. We must hold them accountable for their reactions and over-reactions. Too many protests which are left-leaning are met with tear gas, batons and rubber bullets, while in Canada and the U.S., armed white right-wing rallies and protests are not met with such a response.

Share all that you can about police reactions and acts of discrimination. Find lists like this from Education Minnesota of local organizations that are working for change. Contribute to bail funds, if you can. Share all that you can about the U.S. government's attacks on its citizens. Police and government institutions are sworn to protect everyone equally, and they are not doing that. Hold them accountable. After the protests end, and after the elections in the United States, join the movement that makes addressing the issues raised by these protests inevitable.

As for the civilians, a good place to start is by encouraging people to stop telling Black people how to protest, grieve, mourn and organize. This blog by Rafi D'Angelo, which came out on May 28 at the onset of the actions, has been one of the pieces of writing I have shared most often in the past week. It answers comments like "rioting never solves anything," "it detracts from the cause," "you hurt an innocent person," and "I don't believe in violence so what should I do."   

What resonated with me and my type of activism from D'Angelo's blog is the section titled "there are better ways ... " We need to keep fighting for criminal justice reform, to defund police, to get justice for all the people on the Black Lives Matter lists in each of our cities. There is a long fight ahead. We need to get involved with local organizing in our communities and demand change instead of disappearing after the protests.

Finally, there is a concerted effort to place the blame for all the violence on "outsiders" and Antifa. David McAtee is dead and his body was left in the streets by the Louisville Police Department for 12 hours. There are individuals from right-wing groups arriving with bows and arrows and bombs to hurt protesters, with some reportedly trying to ignite a race war. The police in the United States have attacked journalists more than 120 times in the past week. So let's aim our anger correctly.

Don't add your own agenda without any consultation. It is not about you!

Black Lives Matter has established a central campaign to defund the police. Each protest is led by an organizing committee which has local demands. The Black Lives Matter movement and local organizing committees have national and local demands. Each city, including the cities in Canada, have a list of local people who have been harmed by discriminatory policing. The first rule of being an ally is to educate yourself about what local organizers are asking for. On May 31, the local organizers of the rally in Austin, Texas, cancelled the official protest, in part because they could not ensure that people who came out would be safe because of the actions of the government, police and certain protesters. This video by Chas Moore, Austin Justice Coalition's executive director, explains the frustration brilliantly. 

As an ally, you don't get to railroad Black organizers into positions they do not support because you are more "righteous." If you want to change the demands, you work together and get consensus to add the demand. If you want to use your privilege in support of BIPOC, do what the organizers need you to do to diversify tactics.

Stand up for the right to protest. It is under attack around the world

The president of the United States barely acknowledged the protesters' legitimate rights. Definitely no mention of "fine people" on either side or encouragement to liberate the Twin Cities came from the Oval Office this time. Instead, he is escalating the situation, issuing calls to start shooting, demanding that states crack down or he will call in the army. It is frightening.

Right now, the president and the GOP are trying to label all instigation and violence as perpetrated by Antifa. They are also reportedly pushing state governors to clamp down on all dissent and protesters.

You can contribute to bail funds and the lawyers who will be fighting this attack on freedom of speech. 

Antifa was formed to fight against neo-Nazis, neo-fascism, white supremacists, racism and the alt-right. In the past few years, Antifa activists have organized against Islamophobia, the alt-right and the racism being fueled by mainstream conservatives across North America and the rest of the world. One my favourite recent pieces of research by an anti-racist activist was the map of hate, which maps the IP addresses of Canadian subscribers to an extreme right-wing website. Could the anonymous anti-fascist who created the map be arrested as a domestic terrorist if he has ties to Antifa?

Antifa is an amorphous group, and so anyone who protests could be called "Anitfa." Stand up for Antifa, because they are allies, and the attack on them could be used against you.

Fight our own 'Amy Cooper' and stand against prejudice in our communities

Ontario NDP Black caucus member and MPP, Rima Berns-McGown asked a great question of her constituents: "How many Amy Coopers do you know?" How many do we let pass? How many times have we seen racism in our own communities and let it pass? There are a lot of lists circulating online and on social media right now to help us educate ourselves and our loved ones.

If you order books and publications, support local Black-owned businesses instead of ordering from Amazon or other retailers. 

And finally, please double check the information and memes you are sharing. Accuracy is more useful than salaciousness.

Image: Johnny Silvercloud/Flickr

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