Black Lives Matter protesters make voices heard outside RNC

Protesters chant, “black lives matter,” as they march through Public Square in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention on Monday.
Protesters chant, “black lives matter,” as they march through Public Square in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention on Monday. Special to the Centre Daily Times

Out of the hundreds of protesters who took to the streets of Cleveland early this week, many held signs supporting the Black Lives Matter movement that has again taken center stage with the recent shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

Despite their sometimes shoulder-to-shoulder presence at rallies, the protesters were not all speaking with one voice, especially about methods of how to work with police departments to fix the issues between law enforcement and the public.

For example, while one group of protesters displayed a large yellow banner in Cleveland’s public square that read “Disarm The Police,” other protesters nearby said that the banner’s rhetoric was “not necessarily productive.”

“If you look at countries that disarmed cops, they do have less incidents of violence and conflicts with the police,” said 19-year-old Cleveland resident Maya Gaines-Smith. “But at the same time we’re not in a country where that is possible.”

“You can’t disarm (the police) and have the people armed,” Gaines-Smith said, holding a large sign that said “Black Lives Matter.”

Sterling was killed by a police officer in Baton Rouge, La., on July 5, and Castile was killed by a police officer in Falcon Heights, Minn., on July 6. Both drew intense media attention and public reaction. The incidents have also been cited as the impetus that led to shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

In Cleveland on Monday afternoon, 10 feet away from Gaines-Smith, another protester with a similar Black Lives Matter sign had an opposite take on the idea of armed police.

“They abuse their power and there is no accountability,” Miranda Weigel said. “They police themselves and they protect their own and they literally get away with murder.”

The 29-year-old Baltimore resident said although she considers herself an ally of the Black Lives Matter movement, her opinion on the matter does not hold the same weight as someone else’s — like a black person’s — would.

“I think discussion is a good thing, but I think as a white person,” Weigel said, “I don’t really think it’s my place to have an opinion on what the Black Lives Matters protesters should believe.”

Despite disagreement among some protesters in the Black Lives Matter movement, many said the discussion is still productive.

Joshua Scott Hotchkin, a blogger who came to Cleveland from Iowa City, Iowa, to protest, said that activism is a “free market” and differences only help to move the conversation.

“We’re not going to do any good if we all just back into the corner screaming,” Hotchkin said, adding that he supports abolishing the police but appreciates anyone who is coming together to spread the issue of police reform.

“We’ve got to shake each other’s hand and see where we can move with that,” he said.

Hotchkin writes for the blog CopBlock, which boasts 1.6 million followers on Facebook. He agreed with Gaines-Smith when she said the one thing is for certain is that the protesters who are at the Black Lives Matter rallies align closely with the anti-Trump protesters. Both see themselves as fighting against hate.

“Trump is anti-everybody at this point basically,” Gaines-Smith said. “A lot of Black Lives Matter protesters see where the anti-Trump movement applies to them and a lot of Trump supporters are anti-Black Lives Matter.”

Waiss David Aramesh is a Penn State University journalism student covering the Republican National Convention for the Centre Daily Times.