Stories of Struggle: YDSA Members Report from Protests Against Racist Policing

When the police killing of George Floyd set off a nationwide uprising against racism and police brutality, YDSA members across the country took to the streets, joining the tens of thousands who have taken a stand to strongly declare that Black Lives Matter and that the system of policing as we know it can no longer continue. Here are some of their stories:

[Anon, YDSA chapter in PNW]

Multiple members from [our chapter] attended the protests in Seattle, Washington starting May 31 in Westlake Center. Since then we have organized over 40 people to carpool down to Seattle to the multiple protests organized by Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County that are happening all over the city. We have spent our time in the Capitol Hill neighborhood where most of the energy has been focused over the last week. 

Seattle Police Department is a notoriously violent group, and has been federally investigated for police brutality over the past few years. On June 5, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced the ban of tear gas on protestors, however, less than 48 hours later, SPD and National Guard gassed protestors with no warning. This was apparently in response to water bottles and a candle being thrown at officers. Protests continued late into the night, even with the use of tear gas, chants like “Defund SPD” and “Whose Streets? Our streets” were heard all across 11th and Pine right outside the East Precinct building. 

There was a particularly powerful speaker on June 6 who called for a “war on the Seattle Police Department.” She spoke about the racial injustices in Seattle and all over the country while often directing her speech right to the officers on the front line. It was nice to hear from her after the protests in the days before had been often co-opted by police informants with megaphones. 

The crowd on Capitol Hill was extremely peaceful and nonviolent, however, we were still tear gassed, maced, and the use of flash bangs was heavy. Even after all of this, the crowd stayed thousands strong. The sense of community was truly powerful, and people from all over the city came to support. It was truly amazing to see all of these people coming together to demand an end to police brutality and violent policing, as many people inside and outside view Seattle as a “liberal bubble.” However, most of us know that this is not true, Seattle is just as racist as the rest of the country. 

Ninon, YDSA at University of Virginia

The protest started in front of the Charlottesville Police Department downtown at 3PM.  We walked and there was also a caravan of cars. The event was organized by several local activists in response to the national call to protest from Black and anti-police groups. We tried to respect social distancing as much as possible: masks were given to anyone who didn’t have one, and the vast majority of people wore it during the protest even though it was a hot day. 

We were hundreds and we started by chanting in front of the Police Department while the caravan of cars honked and displayed signs, driving back and forth. The crowd was full of people of different races and ages; while young people made up most of it, there were also quite a few families with children. “Black lives matter” and “no justice, no peace” filled the street before we regrouped to kneel in silence. We then took off downtown, walking the mall. People were shopping and eating outside in restaurants as we kept on chanting to stop in front of Charlottesville City Hall next to the Freedom of Speech Wall. 

We walked on the same streets from the Unite the Right rally in 2017 which lead to the death of Heather Heyer, killed by white supremacist James A. Fields. We stood there listening to different speakers denouncing the racism of the police. Our next stop was Market Street Park where we stood far from the statue of Confederate Robert E. Lee, which still stands there.

We then started marching once again on the roads, following the instructions of the organizers who asked us to stand behind the leading car in front of us and to not engage with the police, whose presence was sparse and mostly distant. We blocked the intersection of Harris Street and Preston Avenue while making sure we were all safe and standing in blocks and lines. There were no incidents and the organizers asked for us to keep the protest peaceful as they intended. They also reminded the crowd that this was just the beginning and that we would not stop protesting for the safety of black people until real changes were made in police forces, some calling for defunding and others for abolition. 

We joined in chants once again, repeating several times the organizers’ words: “We need to break our chains.” The protest ended with another silent kneeling, and Black Lives Matter flag was waved as the crowd dispersed.

Abena S. A-O, YDSA at University of Virginia

Every time I see an innocent black man get lynched I think about how it could’ve been my little brother, a dark-skinned black boy who’ll forever be seen as dangerous and ill-intentioned simply for living. I think about how if it were me, my death would barely get covered even by black media and my name would quickly be forgotten just like the other black women who’ve been killed because of white supremacy. 

As a Gen Z teen, I have witnessed the brutal killings of my people through digital media ever since I  was in Elementary school with the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin. These are the names I know by heart. Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Philando Castille, Stephon Clark,  Charleena Lyles, Atatiana Jefferson, Sandra Bland, Alton Sterling, Freddie Gray, Brionna Taylor. 

With each of their deaths and the acquittal of their killers, I got reminded that this country doesn’t care about black people. I slowly got used to the trend of police brutality going unpunished and the fact that the justice system wasn’t designed to bring justice to black people or people of color in general. When I saw the video of  George Floyd’s murder,  I was distraught, but if I’m being honest I expected the same recycled rhetoric that always happened when an unarmed black man gets killed. Luckily, this time was different, and the people of Minneapolis served as a catalyst for a much needed multi-racial revolution in the nation. 

I have donated, signed petitions, and emailed police departments in the name of the movement. I have only gone to one protest so far, and it was peaceful with the minimal police presence in Charlottesville. This has not been the case for most of my friends who live in bigger cities in Virginia and across the country. Most of them have become victims of unnecessary violence from power-hungry and oppressive police departments. I am grateful to the black community for taking a stand and for the allies that have joined us. I look forward to days where we won’t have to go out into the streets to demand fair treatment from those who are meant to protect us.