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Let's Talk Human Rights

“No Justice, No Peace”: When Human Rights Violations Hit Home

By Bailey Johnson '21

Following the murder of 46-year-old black man George Floyd, protests were sparked all across the U.S and the rest of the world demanding that the systemic issue of disproportionate police brutality and violence against black Americans be addressed. Floyd is just one of hundreds of black Americans who has been killed by police between 2013 and 2020

Some protests that started peacefully ended violently. At least 13,500 protestors have been arrested, including news reporters and journalists. What’s more, protestors all across the country have reported experiencing police brutality while peacefully protesting, including physical violence such as being punched, pushed, and kicked, gassed, pepper sprayed, shot with rubber bullets, and getting run over by police vehicles. Evidence of police brutality has emerged through social media, including a video of a man being shot by officers with a tear gas canister at point blank range and a video of police viciously pulling a young couple out of their car for being out past the curfew before tasering and arresting them.

Like many others, I felt compelled to do something and decided to participate in  a few of the Dayton protests, one of which was early on Saturday, May 30th at the Federal Building on W Second St. On that day, my friends and I walked from our parking spot across from Second Street Market to the Federal Building up the road. Like other protestors, we dressed in all black and wore masks. We joined the protestors in front of the federal building to listen to a few speakers and recite chants such as, “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace.” After protesting for about an hour and a half, we left feeling hopeful that the events for the rest of the day would continue to go peacefully. 

At the time, I recalled the white supremacist rally which happened at Dayton Court House Square this time last year, and was reminded that an event which could have ended violently actually ended peacefully, and with the help of Dayton police. I felt confident that Saturday’s protest would also end the same way. I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

My friend whom I had attended the protests with earlier that day, Eric Eby, a 30-year resident of Dayton, reported witnessing acts of police brutality upon attending the protests later that evening. Police were indiscriminately pepper-spraying protestors in the face. 

Eby explains, “I was approached by cops on bikes immediately after I witnessed the SWAT team bust in the windows at MJs, (something we now know was related to someone discharging a weapon). The cop stated the people spectating had to leave due to a curfew. I told him I was unaware of any curfew and he told me it was set for 6 PM, which at that time it was set for 9 PM. I stated I had a couple more questions and he got off his bike and said that if I didn’t leave then, I would have been arrested.”

Another Dayton protestor recorded her experiences of being injured by the Dayton police on May 30th in a personal blog. Tiffany describes how she and her husband attended a march in downtown Dayton around four o’clock on May 30th only to leave after they were shot by police with bean bags while their arms were in the air. Tiffany recalls that while marching, officers began throwing tear gas canisters at protestors to make them disperse without any kind of warning. “They did not shoot to protect themselves, they were not in danger,” Tiffany states. “They shot to prevent us from protecting ourselves.” Tiffany had to go to the hospital following the march to have the bean bag removed. 

After learning of the violent outcome of the Dayton protests as well as numerous others around the globe, I began to feel angry. I felt outraged that the human rights of black Americans have been violated for far too long. I was also angry that the outcry in response to human rights violations was also met with such violence. I wondered, “What kind of democracy do we live in if peaceful protestors are attacked by the state while exercising their first amendment civil right?” And when the protests became violent in my own city, the issue was made all the more personal for me. 

In acknowledging my anger, I feel that it is also important to acknowledge my own privilege in being able to participate in the protests in the way that I have. I am privileged to be an ally in this fight, and I am also privileged to be able to experience anger about human rights violations which I have not experienced first-hand. The anger white allies such as myself are experiencing needs to be transformed into critical action. We cannot allow anger to paralyze us from doing what we can to hold our government accountable, especially as allies. The combination of protests all across the U.S. (and now the world) have created momentum towards much-needed government and criminal justice reforms in the U.S., suggesting that our efforts are not futile. 

Specifically, all four of the police officers involved in George Floyd’s case have been arrested and charged as well as officers involved in instances of police brutality since the protests started. Additionally, calls have been made to change policing tactics and to create new laws that seek to hold officers committing acts of police brutality accountable. All across the country, state and local governments are grappling with proposals to defund or reduce funding for police departments in light of a more favorable attitude toward “abolishing the police”. Additionally, monuments of Southern confederate soldiers who supported slavery and monuments of politicians or other public servants who supported discriminatory practices have been taken down. Even civil rights leaders of the mid-century Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. are feeling hopeful that change will come. Activist Jesse Jackson states that, “To see white and black America rise up and fight back, to see people marching in London and France, that’s progress.” 

It is possible to witness shifts towards  progress amidst the anger we feel that leaves us reason to be hopeful. I feel that I was witnessing progress that day on May 30th, when I took a look around at my fellow protestors standing in solidarity with one another. As I continue to march forward in solidarity with black communities, it is imperative that students do what we can as individuals to turn just anger into action.

Not everyone is a protestor, but there is something everyone can do to help enact change:

  1. If you are protesting, take precautions like the ones suggested here
  2. Watch a documentary or movie about racial inequality or social justice. Netflix has a few good options, including a 1992 biographical movie about Malcolm X produced by Spike Lee and The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson
  3. Read a book about racial inequality or social injustice. Here is a list of 18 books by Business Insider. 
  4. Donate to a bail fund or organization such as The Bail Project or to an organization fighting for racial justice such as Black Lives Matter or your local chapter of the NAACP
  5. Practice civic engagement. Call your local representatives, send letters to government officials, and most importantly- VOTE!!!
  6. Be an upstander, not a bystander. Call out racism when you see it. Have conversations with friends and family about racism- even difficult ones.
  7. Support black and other minority-owned businesses. Here is a list of Dayton-area black-owned businesses.
  8. Practice self-care! Self-care in and of itself can be a form of activism.

 


Bailey Johnson ’21, Human Rights Studies graduate and currently enrolled in the MPA program, is a graduate assistant for the Human Rights Center working with Abolition Ohio, the anti-human trafficking coalition for the Miami Valley.

Photo Credit: Ryan Fuzessery. June 2020 Protests in Dayton, Ohio.

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