Over the past few days, videos of the murders of unarmed black people by cops and white “vigilantes,” which sparked nationwide protests, have been replaced by new videos, of cops brutalizing those protesters in cities across the country.
Many police officers have met the legitimate expression of pent-up rage with violence, beating demonstrators and journalists on camera, firing tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets, holding protesters all night without food or water, and, in a sickening echo of Heather Heyer’s murder, plowing their cars into crowds.
As I’m sure someone will write to me to point out, a few agitators have taken advantage of the chaos to loot and destroy businesses, including the office of an alt-weekly in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, where the editor reports their office was set on fire. Obviously, this is reprehensible (not to mention counterproductive). But it’s also no excuse for law enforcement to escalate violence.
Here in Charlottesville, hundreds turned out for a protest on Saturday, and the Black Student Union at Albemarle High School led another demonstration on Sunday. CPD, perhaps finally learning from its heavy-handed approach to past protests, was on hand largely to redirect traffic. Cops did not confront protesters, and the events were nonviolent.
That’s commendable—though it’s also disturbing that police not attacking nonviolent protesters should be such an anomaly. But the city still has work to do. The Police Civilian Review Board, created in the wake of summer 2017 to promote transparency and build trust, has yet to meet (the final member was appointed by City Council on Monday). And no board exists in Albemarle County, where residents have complained of racial bias by the police, and African Americans are disproportionately arrested, as shown in a report the county declined to fund.
Charlottesville spends $300,000 a year to put police officers in city schools, part of an alarming national trend that has contributed to the school-to-prison pipeline for youth of color. Ending that contract is among the demands put forward by the organizers of Saturday’s march, a list that could serve as a handy map to the steps required for real change.
Demonstrations matter. But supporting the work that follows is even more important.