Why Tone Policing Protests Isn't Helping America

When America is more outraged by the protesters who stop traffic than by the deaths of unarmed black men and women, we've got a bigger problem on our hands.
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My father sat me down one day to tell me a story about my late grandfather. He told me how my grandfather -- or ethappa, as I called him -- led a hunger strike in response to the failed indictment of young men in his village who had allegedly gang-raped a young woman. My etthapa, outraged at how they used their political power to evade consequences for their horrific actions, employed his own voice to bring awareness to the injustice.

I have always deeply believed in the power of protest. I have always felt civil disobedience is necessary for growth and progress in society. My grandfather's experience gives me an even greater sense of attachment to these movements.

More recently, I noticed the "BlackXmas" hashtag flooding my Twitter feed. I learned about how Black Lives Matter activists had taken to the Mall of America, airports and other locations to highlight the police shooting of Jamar Clark in Minneapolis.

In response to the Mall of America protests, some Twitter users were quick to declare these acts of civil disobedience as disrespectful and disruptive during the holiday period. One user wrote, "I"m not really clear how scaring the crap out of people Christmas shopping effectively communicates your political grievances."

Another: "#BlackXmas2 A**holes are only getting coal!"

When a system itself has dismissed human rights, such a structure is deserving of disruption. A society, which routinely condones the murders of innocent men and women, cannot be accepted and excused for its wrongdoings. Although we may feel the general public is innocent, our neutrality in these situations is complicity in disguise. When we idle on the sidelines rather than speak up in the face of injustice, our hands aren't as clean as we may think.

When my peers joined Black Lives Matter protesters in the streets of Los Angeles to demand justice for the stolen life of Mike Brown, they were chastised for contributing to a seemingly fruitless movement. These critics who perceive protests as worthless tactics do not recognize the power vested in such actions.

I've noticed my peers who prefer to remain neutral in these situations, or opt for the "I'd rather stay out of it" stance, dislike protests rather vehemently. It makes sense. Those who prefer neutrality view protests as a contributing factor to societal instability. To these individuals, there are other avenues to accomplish the intended goals. What they fail to recognize is how integral activism is to societal progress.

Elie Wiesel wrote, "There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest."

As an International Relations major, my courses at the University of Southern California have taught me to prioritize leadership and diplomacy. And while the majority of my studies have preached peace and conflict resolution, I recognize the necessity of these other forces. When pitted against institutions dominated by money and power, protests and civil disobedience are one of the few potent tools the public still possesses. With that in mind, it makes sense why the respectability politics can be left for the politicians.

Protests aren't simply symbolic acts -- they spur change. From influencing the political agendas of politicians to stopping investments in private prisons, black activists, in particular have proven their capabilities.

As Twitter user @SPH1NX_noted: "We're taught to applaud Rosa Parks for her disruptive, unlawful act but somehow modern protests are too inconvenient for people. #BlackXmas2"

When America is more outraged by the protesters who stop traffic than by the deaths of unarmed black men and women, we've got a bigger problem on our hands.

In a viral Facebook post on November 10th, social justice writer Shaun King penned:

Listen, I need you to understand what I'm about to say. This is what I taught the students at Morehouse last week.

2015 is not what we thought it was. The deadliest hate crime against Black folk in the past 75 years happened THIS YEAR in Charleston.

More unarmed Black folk have been killed by police THIS YEAR than were lynched in any year since 1923.

Never, in the history of modern America, have we seen Black students in elementary, middle, and high school handcuffed and assaulted by police IN SCHOOL like we have seen this year.

Black students, who pay tuition are leaving the University of Missouri campus right now because of active death threats against their lives.

If you EVER wondered who you would be or what you would do if you lived during the Civil Rights Movement, stop. You are living in that time, RIGHT NOW.

My friend Abeer Syedah is a vocal college activist at the University of Minnesota.

In a recent Facebook status she asked, "Wouldn't you shut down a highway if your best friend died while wrongfully in police custody and no one was indicted? Wouldn't you sit in at the mall if your dad was illegally choked to death and the only arrest was the person who filmed it? Wouldn't you protest at the airport if your child was murdered by a cop who got paid leave and received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from people who hate people like you?"

Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland and 100+ other unarmed black bodies went without Christmas this year. So, when I read the final words of Abeer's Facebook post, in which she quoted Cornel West, I felt chills.

"Justice is what love looks like in public."

In my own life, I will think of my ethappa and I will think of the hundreds of activists who came before us. We stand on the shoulders of giants. The hurt and frustrated souls speaking out against the injustices of the world should not go unheard. Instead of policing their protests, we must embrace their activism and show the world what love looks like in public. It's our duty.

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