My Experience at a Black Lives Matter Protest
Updated: Jan 27, 2022
I marched through the city I love today as part of the Black Lives Matter protest. For anyone who cares to know, and honestly to process the experience in my own head, I wanted to tell the story…
I marched today because I didn’t know where else to put the energy. It’s incredibly difficult to adequately explain the deep sadness I’ve felt during the events of this last week, not just the murder of George Floyd but also watching our country prove completely incapable of dealing with it in a healthy way.
I marched today because I felt a responsibility to do something for the young black and brown boys I’ve been lucky enough to coach and love through the years. Sitting on my ass complaining online didn’t seem productive anymore, as if it ever was. Even if I was just 1 of 300, adding to the numbers of protesters that are doing it peacefully I felt was the best action I could take.
I didn’t know what to expect on a personal level. The experience was incredibly cathartic which was a surprise to me, I honestly didn’t see it coming.
The march started at the Pulse memorial, a mile or so south of the city, and cut through the center of the city ending at the Orange County Courthouse.
Forgive this section, but I need to express this moment. Crossing into the city from the south is when everything hit me. In front of me was my city, I fed ducks at Lake Eola here growing up, I wandered around this city in high school taking photos for photo class, I’ve carried my son through it on my shoulders, and I felt this moment where I was bringing my pain to it, to lay it at the city’s feet. It was an experience akin to church, I felt the weight come off me physically as I gave my pain to the city. I just cried for a while, just a weird ass fat dude walking along crying like a 2nd grader. I let my rage go. I didn’t know how badly I needed that moment.
The crowd was very diverse. I’d say 40% black, and 60% everything else under the sun. It was younger primarily, I was on the wrong end of the bell curve at 33, but there were much older people in the crowd. Id estimate a couple hundred people, somewhere around 300-400 at peak if I had to venture a guess.
As a whole, the Orlando Police Department did a fantastic job handling the part of the protest I was involved in today. If it angers you that’d I’d make that statement, I get it, but you’re not helping. I was very nervous at first, as they were out in mass at the meeting area about an hour before the protest started (I was sitting in the Wendy’s across the street because of course I’m not just gonna show up without knowing what kind of environment I’m walking into…jalapeno chicken sandwich is fire btw).
They were primarily bike cops, and they escorted us the entirety of our march through the city coordinating with the front of the line so that we only took up 1 side of the road moving into the city. Once we reached the city they did not impede us in any way as we took up up the entire street while they stayed off to the sides. They physically covered the front and tail ends of the group to protect it from a Charlottesville style attack from someone in a vehicle. It was all very well coordinated.
That being said, there were specific officers that did not handle this very well. There was one officer who happened to ride next to me for a time, who was telling jokes to another officer about the fucking protesters loud enough for me to hear, and inappropriate enough for me not to want to repeat. I don’t know if he was attempting to goad us into a confrontation, or if he was just a complete asshole, but it was absolutely disgusting. I later saw the same officer joking around across the street with a group of officers while we were at the Orange County Court House. That no other officers stopped him and reminded him of the somber reason for the march tells me that it’s acceptable within the police force to not take any of this seriously. That’s a problem, and if it angers you that I’d make that statement you’re also not helping.
The crowd itself, at least the daytime crowd I was a part of, was completely peaceful. Angry, expressing rage, but physically peaceful. There was no property damaged as we walked in mass through the city while I was there. There were cars on the road that got stuck in the crowd as we passed through, and none of them were touched. No windows were broken, nothing was thrown, no graffiti, there were very few instances of a protester even addressing an officer directly though they were alongside us the entire time.
There were agitators, but they were completely ignored until we got to the courthouse where they picked up a few additional protesters in their click. I did have the pleasure of killing one of their attempted chants during the march into the city. Dad/Coach voice came thru on that one.
I do feel it relevant to note here, as I watch the coverage of the riots I don’t excuse them, I wish they weren’t happening, but I get it. I was ready to confront anyone I saw who became violent today to prevent them from destroying my city (probably only to get knocked out but I was gonna do it), but at the same time I understand the emotion behind it. Luckily there was literally nothing violent that happened during the time I was participating in the protest today.
The rotation of chants were primarily; “No Justice, No Peace,” “The violence, STOPS!,” “Say his name, George Floyd,” “How many times, TOO MANY!,” “I can’t breathe,” and “Black Lives Matter.”
There were moments beyond my fat guy cry that impacted me. We all stopped and let people speak before the march entered the city, then again at the Orange County Courthouse. Those were probably my favorite times, partially due the speeches and partly because my back freakin hurt and it meant I got to stop walking. People generally told stories and expressed themselves.
Things that hit me hard enough to write down were; “We don’t stand as black and white, we stand as Americans,” “the system is not broken, it’s doing exactly what it was designed to do,” “we have nothing to lose but our chains,” and “your silence is consent (directed at law enforcement).”
There were a significant number of mothers who talked about losing their sons, and a significant number of younger people talking about losing their older brothers. There were also 2 people who said they were there on behalf of a black friend who was too afraid to protest.
There were moments of levity.
There was a group of dudes carrying signs that read, “Eat the Rich.” I found that funny, I don’t know if they were serious or not. Either way I wasn’t itching to have them watch me drive away in my BMW.
There was a moment where someone on the mic asked the crowd, “why do they come after me?” and someone shouted “because you’re black” and the guy responded “I’m not black I’m Puerto Rican” in a ‘wtf’ tone and everyone laughed.
Between everyone grabbing the mic they’d hit them with Purell which was just hilarious to me as a juxtaposition to what they were expressing. It was such a calm, measured thing that happened right before an explosion of emotion and it was funny to me. I mean it’s due to a deadly virus so I’m probably a monster for thinking it was funny, but it was funny.
Overall, I’m glad I went today. It was an experience I didn’t know that I needed. It gives me a better perspective on what I’m watching on the news. It gives me a better perspective on who is a part of this movement.
I’d encourage anyone who believes in this to peacefully march. The reason the few can commandeer the narrative is because the rest of us, those who believe in the cause but don’t want to destroy, don’t show up in the numbers we're capable of. We are the vast majority, but we are less likely to actually march.
I’d also encourage people to give the Black Lives Matter movement a little break. I had to do that myself today. I’ve been critical of the lack of leadership, but honestly I think there is some leadership out there, it just goes home early because it’s older, and it doesn’t get shown on TV. There were some powerful voices out there today that you are never going to hear sitting at home.
Stay Curious, Please Share.