Why I Don't Protest Too Much
Updated: Jun 6
I hardly ever go to protests and this is why.
(a quasi-excerpt from the book--and its friends)
In 2013, I was returning from a business trip in Switzerland. I know what this sounds like but no, it’s not that glamorous although I do love business class and am grateful I got to go on several occasions. In fact, there were some hard trips that were made palatable by thoughts of fully reclining passenger seats and the spectacular breakfast buffet at Swissôtel. No, my European colleagues are at our lives from the minute we touch down to the minute we lift off. Bless their hearts.
Philando Castile's and Alton Sterling's murders fell right in the middle of my last trip, which, coupled with a run-in with Swiss cops, tore open an emotionally vulnerable hole in my chest that took months to repair and that still aches when ostensible rain is on the horizon.
I was returning from a business trip in Switzerland. I had just been there about three weeks prior--the ink had barely dried on my passport from the last trip. This was at least my fifth or sixth trip. I’d filled out the little customs form, got it looked over by the agent, got my passport stamped, and collected my luggage. As I was leaving the baggage area, I handed my form to the second agent as I’d done several times before and proceeded to head toward the exit. He glanced at my form and told me to report to one of the stations. I was shocked and asked why. He didn’t know.
I report to the station and ask that agent why I was being stopped. He didn’t know either but went to the computer to find out. When he returned, he looked at me with just a hint of sheepishness. His answer stunned me.
“Were you in trouble with the law back in 1991?” he inquired. I think I had an actual mouth-fell-open moment.
“Yes,” I replied through molasses.
“Well, that appears to be the reason….” He trailed off. He performed a half-hearted, cursory rummaging of my suitcase and sent me on my way.
I became angrier and angrier with each step. 199fucking1? Was it because I was Black and wearing sweats, a beanie, and some sneakers? Did I not “look” like I was coming from Switzerland on business? Why would I be dressed like that if I was doing something illegal? Wouldn’t you want to smuggle your shit using someone a little less obvious, like freakin’ grandma? I wanted to go back and have a few choice words with that first customs agent.
Something like this occurs and then I'm left with its specter, a dirty little stain that I scrub at absently when the issue of attending protests comes up. I would like to go. I have gone on scant few occasions after assessing the rowdiness of the cops and how much trouble they are destined to cause when they wild out. But each time necessitates me doing some sort of kindergarten cost-benefit analysis to decide whether I'm prepared to go to jail that day. Usually the answer is no, not for the "13th" time.
Over and above that, dismantling anti-Black racism is work for white people to do since they're the ones who invented modern-day white supremacy and racism in the US and when I say modern-day I'm talking about from 1619 to present.
Did you hear about the bus drivers in Minneapolis who refused to either transport police to protest sites or transport protesters to jail? And how the Minneapolis school system is working to cancel its contract with MPD? (side note: why is there a contract to have police in schools in the first place?) Did you hear about the white women who locked arms and stood between Black protesters and police during one of the protests?
These are good uses of white power and white privilege and so far, I haven't heard any reports of police bashing in the heads of middle-aged white women protest barriers. Imagine the outcry if a white lady was damaged by a heavily armed cop. Well, I like to think there would be 'swift action' if white women were being harmed but then two words come to mind:
You know what happens to projects and companies that run in the red for too long? They are shut down and their money is taken away and given to other more profitable projects and companies. BLM suggested defunding the police and putting the money to good use in our communities and I couldn't agree more. L.A.'s mayor says he's about to do just that. I see other cities and organizations joining that movement.
Oh yeah so I was bicycling one fine Saturday afternoon after having just left a newly discovered Indian restaurant that served heavenly food. I was helmeted and observing all rules because Switzerland.
I'm heading up oh I don't know Marketplatz or something when three cops form a tiny phalanx in my path, which caused me to grind to an unceremonious halt a few feet from their feet.
"You're not supposed to be here," one of them says. "Do you see the sign?"
You mean the sign that is parallel to me, that I was approaching, that wasn't actually visible for a few more yards? I look at him, I look at the sign with the little empty no-something symbol, I look back at him.
"Where am I supposed to be?"
"You're not supposed to be here. Why are you in the middle of the street? You look like you've done something wrong."
I looked at him blankly, while we cut to the scene where you go inside the character's head and spend five entire movie minutes seeing what's really happening. Like me calculating my chances of literal survival if I say something. Like me calculating the unknowable demeanor of a Swiss cop: do they behave like OPD cuz if so I'm keeping my mouth shut or do they behave like my Swiss colleague cuz if so I'm about to call out his racism. Like me looking around to see if anyone else is seeing this. Like me wondering if the Swiss film their cops. Like me wondering if anyone will help me should things go 'awry.' Like me deciding that if they put their hands on me I was going to tell Daddy aka my parent company, which probably owns half of Basel. Like me ultimately deciding to take this macro-aggression like a Black pocket-butch.
It was a long cinematic moment.
"Should I be over here or over there?"
"You shouldn't be here and blah blah blah blah blah."
"Should I be over here or over there?" I repeated.
Ride on the sidewalk, he said. Where all the people are. Nobody else was riding on the sidewalk, at least at that particular moment. Fine. And I'm sure the same thing would have occurred if I had been riding on the sidewalk. I got the fuck out of there.
I didn't leave the hotel for the rest of the trip except for going to and from work.