A series of demonstrations occurred nationwide over the weekend as people have become frustrated with the business closings that have been gravely impacting people’s jobs and the economy. This has causes certain groups to protest the strict mandates by local politicians, however, it’s very clear what type of crowds are participating.
Most of the demonstrations around the country have been overwhelmingly white and many attendees are clear MAGA pushers, considering people were waving around Donald Trump flags and signs. Trump has been one of the main politicians pushing people to “liberate” themselves from the strict coronavirus-related mandates of their states.
Some demonstrations even saw people parading around their guns in public, which isn’t surprising considering guns rights activists have been reportedly organizing the demonstrations, according to Daily Beast. What’s even more noteworthy is people have been pushing “revolution” rhetoric. In Washington state, organizers compared their demonstration to the “shot heard around the world” before the Revolutionary War. One GOP legislator described an ongoing “rebellion” against Washington state’s Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee and hinted that if such restrictions continued, “we’ll see what a revolution looks like.” In Denver, protesters waved signs saying things like “Dangerous freedom over gov’t tyranny.”
With such confrontational messaging, the police have been tame to say the least when dealing with demonstrators. Black leaders are unapologetically calling this out, considering it could be a different story if demonstrators were Black.
According to Times of San Diego, Rev. Shane Harris — a leader of the San Diego-based People’s Alliance for Justice — called on Police Chief David Nisleit to cite organizer at a downtown “freedom rally” that involved mostly white people calling on the governor to reopen California. Harris explained that he wasn’t necessarily against what the protestors were fighting for, but he did feel like white privilege was at play.
“If Black folks were [demonstrating] in downtown San Diego, don’t you think the police presence would be different?” he asked. “What we saw was racial entitlement at its finest.”
Because of California Gov. Gavin Newsom‘s executive order, nonessential workers who gather publicly can be fined $1,000 or get six months in jail.
Harris explained the that protest at Broadway and State Street — where very little folks wore face coverings or adhered to social distancing — was a demonstration of ignorance while “people of color” were showing their intelligence by abiding by state and county orders.
He slammed rally organizers for allowing protesters to pack together like “sardines at a party” and called on county Supervisors Nathan Fletcher and Greg Cox of the COVID-19 response committee to issue new directives allowing public protests as long as face masks are worn and participants stayed six feet apart.
Harris said that he talked to Nisleit on Sunday about the Saturday rally, where five officers watched from across Broadway and at least one police SUV cruised past the protest with not attempt to enforce orders. Harris said the police chief explained that he didn’t expect the turnout to be that large.
President of the NAACP’s San Diego branch, Francine Maxwell, also had some searing criticism for the police.
In a 600-word Monday post, she wrote that “we are left to wonder: did the SDPD forbear out of good sense, or out of sympathy with the protestors? Was it the protestor’s allegiance to the science-phobic, authoritarian, low-IQ individual occupying the White House that made the SDPD keep their distance? Or perhaps was it the officers’ gut feeling that white folks don’t need to be arrested?”
Maxwell recalled an incident last week in which she took a stroll with her father, a retired Navy master chief with dementia.
“Imagine our surprise when a dark, unmarked [police] van jumped the curb and proceeded to drive straight at my father, who was walking 10 feet ahead of me, stopping just five feet away from him,” she wrote. “The driver, accompanied by another officer, ordered my father to come to him. … Thankfully, I was there to explain the situation, and we avoided arrest or worse.”
She asked was the officers’ “need to enforce their will on a Black man really that strong?”
“There was no need to charge their vans into the ‘Freedom Rally’ two days later, so we have to wonder” about racial bias. “Train your people better than this!”
The police and Sheriff’s Department released a joint statement Monday afternoon that said, in part, that they acknowledge protesters’ fundamental First Amendment rights “while balancing it with the need to enforce the public health orders.”
“Both on Saturday and Sunday, the protests remained peaceful and once people’s voices were heard, the protests ended,” the statement read, also referring to a North County coastal protest. It further stated, “While no citations were issued at the protests, that does not mean prosecution will not be sought, especially to the organizers of these events.”
Supervisor Cox and Fletcher didn’t make clear if they were going to offer new guidelines for public protests as suggested by Rev. Harris, but Fletcher did note the uneven county enforcement.
“It is not right that one group of protestors (who remained in their cars) were cited while another group of protestors were allowed to gather by the hundreds in clear violation of our public health orders,” he tweeted.
San Diego City Council President Georgette Gómez echoed the sentiments.
“There must be consistency in how the stay-at-home and physical-distancing orders are enforced,” she said. “I have been concerned about that, and I was in direct communication this past weekend with Chief Nisleit when these protests occurred. It’s crucially important to keep in mind that by following these orders, we can avoid overwhelming our hospitals and save more lives.”
Councilwoman Barbara Bry explained in a statement, “My office has been following this situation and has been in communication with both Rev. Shane Harris and Police Chief Nisleit. I am informed of arrangements to protect public safety to the extent of the law, with all involved working in the best interest of our community during this pandemic.”
People’s anxieties over losing jobs and businesses is completely understandable, which is why states like Georgia are already reopening certain businesses.
However, many areas across the country have still not shown proof that they’ll enforce social distancing measures or use of face protection. Black people also continue to be disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus, and federal and local governments aren’t taking strong enough actions to remedy this issue. Medical professionals are already warning of an inevitable second wave of coronavirus outbreaks if stay-at-home orders are lifted too soon and this can impact Black people more gravely.
“It’s up to us how big those other waves will be,” epidemiologist Dr. Larry Brilliant explained. He cautioned against repeating mistakes from the 1918 flu pandemic that left 675,000 Americans dead. In that time, epidemiologists say, people gave up social distancing too early, causing a second wave of infections that was deadlier than the first.