Jaylin Paschal is a student at Howard University.
On July 10, I attended Dayton, OH’s Rally for Justice. It was an event affiliated and inspired by Black Lives Matter, and focused on the issue of police brutality and the all too frequent death of black citizens at the hands of police. I chose to attend the Rally for Justice because I was deeply troubled by the disproportionate rate at which black lives were taken at the hands of police officers and beyond that, the low rate at which these officers were punished. I was inspired by the rally’s focus on not only ending police brutality, but reprimanding the officers who misused or abused their power. I should mention that it’s not the first and probably, unfortunately, will not be the last Black Lives Matter protest I’ve attended. I’ve been involved with the movement since I was a sophomore in high school, when I was a participant in the Black Lives Matter protests which took place on the Wright State University campus in 2014. That being said, it was definitely the best.
What I saw at the Rally for Justice was different from what I’ve seen at other protests. Not because this was large scale, or because over a thousand people came out, but because of the composition of this crowd. It was easily one of the most diverse settings I’ve ever been a part of. People from the Greater Dayton area, extending as far north as Cleveland and as far south as Cincinnati, gathered to create an intricate, interesting mix of age, nationality, gender, sexuality, and, believe it or not, race. Nearly every demographic was represented, and a collision of cultural backgrounds and life experiences created a powerful energy which moved us all throughout the streets of downtown Dayton as one body.
Rally for Justice in Dayton, Ohio. Photo courtesy of Jaylin Paschal.
As we traveled block to block, we had countless interactions with local police officers. All that I witnessed were positive. The officers escorted us during our march, in an effort to keep everyone safe and monitor the event. Communicating mostly with body language, officers sat in their cars, watching the crowd closely, waving back to children, offering respect and acknowledgement to elders with slow head nods, and giving thumbs up to protesters with “End Police Brutality” and “Calling All ‘Good Cops’” posters. And, perhaps most importantly, they didn’t show up in riot gear with military-grade weaponry. I saw officers trusting that we would be peaceful, and in turn it was easier to trust that they’d be the same. There was tension between the two groups, of course. However, it was the kind of “elephant in the room” tension that was openly and honestly addressed.
Overall, between black people and white people, between protesters and officers, there was one general consensus: Enough is enough. The disproportionate murder of black civilians by law officers is unacceptable, and change is in order. More than just a race issue, ending police brutality and systemic prejudices is a human rights issue that brings us all together. This was not a divisive point or a divided crowd.
However, as uplifting and necessary as this experience was, it directly contradicts media narratives. Turn on nearly any major news network, and this movement is sensationalized as a great faction within the heart and soul of the country. The stories ignore all gray area, using language like “or,” rather than language like “and.” They leave hardly any room for nuance, bringing on liberal and conservative pundits to debate topics which transcend political allegiances or party affiliation. The imagery produced for these stories are dramatic scenes of violence, with officers throwing tear gas and protesters scattering. You turn on the news and you see tanks and Molotov cocktails and chaos, and are lead to believe that this is the Black Lives Matter movement in its normal state; that this is the movement at its core. Journalists use loaded language like “thugs” to further politicize their narratives. And furthermore, the media has created this “Race War” talking point that almost drags us back to Antebellum. According to many news commentators, the United States is splitting at the seams, with people of color turning their backs on white people and hate tearing through the nation’s heart.
But we know that this narrative is simply untrue. We know that at its core the Black Lives Matter movement is, in fact, far more centered than the “good vs. bad,” “cops vs. protesters,” or “black vs. white” story looped on 24-hour news networks. We know that it is not a divisive movement, founded on hate or “inherently racist,” as Rudy Giuliani suggests. This movement is not about separatism. It is about justice. And as it is about justice, it is about nuance. This movement is not made up of the few violent instances which spur up from anger. We know that it is, instead, composed of the initiatives like Dayton’s which connect us all around a central message, and call us all to guard the principles of humanity as best we can. We know that saying Black Lives Matter is to look at the current condition of the black experience in relation to government-based, systemic oppression, to recognize these injustices as outrageous to all Americans, and to say, “enough is enough.”