Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Thoughts on the Highway Shutdown

Saturday night, protestors who had been camped out in front of the Minnesota governor's mansion marched up the street to Interstate 94 and shut the highway down in both directions for about six hours. Police demanded that they leave 20 times over the hours, according to news reports. After a number of hours, after smoke bombs and Mace gas had been used in attempts to disperse the protestors, some people moved up off the road to the areas above, including a pedestrian bridge over the highway, very close to where the police were lined up. Other people came from the side streets to those elevated positions and were never down on the highway at all.

Some people up on those vantage points threw things at the police: water bottles, firecrackers, and heavy/hard objects like pieces of concrete. One officer has a fractured vertebra and 20 others were treated and (I think, though details are little hard to come by) released.

Black Lives Matter organizers spoke against this kind of violence at the protest and did what they could to stop it. Forty-five people were arrested from the highway surface; those people were not the ones throwing things at the police, though they were obstructing the highway.

St. Paul has decided to charge them all with misdemeanor riot, in addition to unlawful assembly and public nuisance. The latter two charges make sense to me, given the civil disobedience the protesters were committing. Riot, on the other hand, is not an accurate charge against these people. The police were not able to catch the people who were violent (except one, allegedly), so they are charging the nonviolent people with riot.

This is wrong, and I think the 45 protesters will be found not guilty of at least that charge, if not the others.

Two different Facebook posts by people I don't know (but that were shared by friends) made good points about Saturday night's events in St. Paul.

First from Tom Goldstein, who is a city activist and former candidate for city council:

Mayor [Chris Coleman]'s characterization of this as a riot is a huge exaggeration, which fortunately Kerri Miller called him out on [during their conversation on MPR]. My observation is that St. Paul Police Department was in riot gear from at least 10:00 p.m. on, well before any projectiles were thrown, so I have to respectfully disagree with Chief Axtell's assessment of the timeline.

I believe SPPD's failure to secure the area above the highway and stop people from congregating on the pedestrian overpass created risk for the officers below, and failing to have a police presence along Concordia [one of the frontage roads] to address possible rock throwing or other violent behavior was a significant tactical error that I don't understand.

Doesn't excuse any of the violence directed toward the police, but trying to brand those peacefully protesting on the highway below as "rioters" is ridiculous. Those who actually committed acts of violence presumably slipped away into the night because there was no one on Concordia there to make arrests or deal with the violence.

I'm sure SPPD will argue it was a manpower issue, but I will maintain it was a tactical failure in how officers were deployed that contributed to the injured officers--and for those responsible not being apprehended. Trying to pin the actions of those few in the surrounding crowds who threw projectiles on those who were peacefully protesting below is the same approach that the City Attorney's office took in 2008 during the RNC. Lots of bogus charges that will distract us from having the necessary community-wide conversation about the police shootings that inspired these protests.
I imagine the police chief would argue they had no reason to think people would throw things from above, given their past experience with peaceful BLM protests.

The other post was a response to the many, many people who say "I support the idea of Black Lives Matter, but they shouldn't shut down highways." It's by someone named Madeleine Elizabeth from Monrovia, California.
Hi friends, I’ve begun to see some folks grapple with Black Lives Matter’s action to shut down major roadways as a form of protest. Basically, the criticism goes, “Argh! Inconvenient…trying to get to work...what if ambulance?”

I’d like to talk a little bit about this. White friends, mobility/access to transit is a privilege, made all the more accessible to us by our whiteness. For example, privilege along a roadway for a white lady like me looks like:

It’s the morning and it’s time for me to go to work. So I hop in my car. Let’s say I own that car. I got a fair car loan that I can afford. If financial misfortune befalls me one month and I can’t afford to make a payment, I have a close friend or relative who can afford to help me out. In my income bracket, almost a quarter more white people than black people know someone who can lend them $3,000 in an emergency. Even if by some extreme misfortune, I fall behind on my payments, because I’m white, I’m far less likely to have my car repossessed. That is privilege. You can learn more from a extraordinarily thorough study here.

But oh no! My car won’t start. I’ll need to call an Uber. No problem. The driver sees my picture and which neighborhood I’m in and decides to accept my ride request. I don’t think I need to belabor this point, but you can read more about the racism and the sharing economy here.

So either by my car or by Uber, I’m on my way to work. Let’s say I take the freeway. Did you know many of our major roadways were literally and purposefully constructed to isolate minority neighborhoods? In the words of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, “The values of the 1950s are still embedded in our built environment...” If you’ve spent time in St. Paul, Minnesota, you probably know that I-94 bifurcated and thereby decimated a vibrant African-American neighborhood called the Rondo. If you’re from LA, you know that the quality of the neighborhood is defined by whether it’s north of the 10 freeway or south of it. But for me? Hey, that road didn’t ruin my community. In fact, I’d say it’s pretty conveniently located. That is privilege. NPR actually has an optimistic story about this topic here.

Let’s say my commute goes smoothly—it almost always does. I don’t have to worry about being pulled over to quibble with an officer about a ridiculously minor violation. Those violations don’t add up to saddle me with debt. I don’t have to worry about being late to work because the officer decides there’s probable cause to search my vehicle. And I sure as shit don’t have to worry that a traffic stop will end my life. Studies all over the country have shown that black drivers are far more likely to be stopped and searched even though white drivers more regularly are found with contraband. I’m not stopped. That is privilege. The New York Times has more here.

Given all of these longstanding racial inequities that plague our roadways, I’m finding it curious that many folks are now deeply concerned about the impact of a protest shutting down a section of the freeway for a couple of hours. White friends, we’ve chosen a really interesting time to care about mobility and access to transit. Respectfully, I’m calling bullshit.
These points are like many of the ones on the recent #alllivesdidntmatter Twitter hash tag. If "all lives matter," how come they didn't matter when Syrian refugees needed help, when Japanese-Americans were interred during World War II, when Native Americans were killed or had their land stolen? If free-flowing access to transportation is such an inviolable right that it can't be stopped for a few hours, why don't the same people care about the many people who lost their homes to make that highway in the first place, or who are overcharged for insurance or even the price of the car in the first place?

Oh, and that point about the ambulance getting through the protest in an emergency... obviously, they would let an ambulance go through. Sheesh.

1 comment:

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

I hate that so many media reports make it sound like all the protesters turned into rock-throwing rioters. No reporting on the long-time social justice activists who stepped up to be arrested. I'm guessing the riot charge helped raise the bail amount, which came as a big surprise to lots of people--some of whom were still in custody this morning, I believe.