The Columbus Black Lives Matter Protest is an experience I will never forget. Saturday, May 30, I woke up and expected myself to go to a peaceful protest. What I did not expect was to see such violence and chaos break out in the time span of an hour.
In our small group were my sister, Randi, her friends Taylor, Kristin, Alicia, my friends, and fellow Capital students, Covie, Lydia, and me. Once we were at the point where we could see the statehouse, my sister pointed out the three snipers on the roof. Although this caused some fear, we knew there were things we could do to prevent them from shooting. When we arrived at the protest, we were met with a man who gave us a brief synopsis of how this day should be used to voice our outcry in a peaceful manner. At the end of his quick speech, he asked us why we were there, as white citizens, fighting for the change of treatment that people of color endure.
To that question, I have many answers, some simple and others more complex. Throughout the entire protest, my answer kept running through my mind. I am here for my friend Lydia, who fears for the safety of not only herself but her brothers. I am here for my adopted cousin, who although is only a toddler, will have to grow up in a world that is systematically racist. I am here for Sean, my sister’s wonderful boyfriend who has stepped up and taken a parental role in my life by allowing me to move in with him and my sister once I graduated high school, which is the main reason I can afford to go to Capital. I am here for those who are not even in my life who experience racism every day. I am here for the future of America that I want, the one where a man is not ruthlessly murdered in the streets of his community.
You could feel the pain from the crowd. Not only were they mourning the death of George Floyd and the many other innocent lives taken by unjust police brutality, but they were mourning the destruction of their city. The ground was covered with shattered glass and everywhere you looked was vandalized with spray paint. Looking at these broken buildings, you could feel the frustration, anger, and outcry of the city. An outcry for justice and equality.
As we marched, with our signs held high, we chanted, cried, and supported each other. At least 80% of the crowd was white, something so beautiful it made Lydia cry. America was finally seeing and speaking out against the racist tendencies that many of us believed were demolished during the times of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
After marching for half an hour, we stood on the sidewalk of the state building, faced the road, and began chanting different things such as “Black Lives Matter,” “George Floyd,” “I can’t breathe,” and “No justice, no peace, no racist police.” The events that happened next are the ones that I truly believe caused what would end up being a destructive, violent day.
Suddenly, the crowd started to chant louder. Out of natural curiosity, I started to get closer to the road to see what was happening. Police officers from the Columbus Police Department rode past us on bikes. Then, one of the officer’s sprayed mace at a group of protesters that were standing on the sidewalk. The wind carried the mace a couple of feet away from those individuals, right into my face.
Just from that little bit, I dropped to the ground and started yelling for my sister. She rushed to me and tilted my head back and told me to keep calm. I heard people around me talking about what liquid they should pour in my eyes.
At the moment I thought that it was my sister’s friends, but afterward, I learned that two strangers had jumped in to help. One had milk, one had a baking soda-water mix, and Alicia had a baby shampoo-water mix. They grabbed my head and helped pry my eyes open, and they poured the baby shampoo-water mix into my eyes. Then, both strangers continuously asked if I was okay while I dug a towel out of my backpack and wiped my face and shirt off.
We decided to leave after that, anger radiated from the crowd and we did not want to get mixed in the crossfire.
After we got away, I turned around to take one final look at the crowd. The police were blocking off the road and protesters started getting into the street.
The live streams from the events that occurred after we left are ones that I will never be able to erase from my memory. The rubber and wooden bullets shot at innocent people, children sprayed with mace, people standing with their arms up being thrown to the ground and arrested, and the dumpster fire that almost damaged the Capital University Law School campus. These things were horrendous acts that should have never occurred. We were peaceful. We were on the sidewalk. We wanted justice. We still want justice.
I do not condone rioting and looting. The local businesses being destroyed and robbed is terrible. My heart breaks for the city that I have idealized so much in my youth. The city that I worked so hard to get to slowly becoming a war zone is one of the last things I want to see.
But I cannot condone continuous systematic racism, either. It has been shown that time and time again the system is failing. We need change. Not only as a city but as a country. This is not the great America we read about in the history books. This is the America that still targets the black community 51 years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. If change does not happen soon, then things will only continue to become worse.
So, question yourself this: Why do you fight for the treatment of people of color? Who do you fight for? How can we change? I believe that once everyone asks these questions and develops an answer, our humanity and empathy will begin to return. Humanity that cares about the treatment of other living people, and empathy of those who have lost their lives to police brutality.