Saturday, December 6, 2014

Protesters and Police

I volunteer at an abortion clinic in Granite City, IL, and have done so for about 15 years now.  My responsibility is to escort the patients and their drivers through the protesters and into the clinic building.  While I cannot speak for the patients and their drivers, I will say that many of the abortion protesters and their actions do not bother me.  I recognize their First Amendment rights of speech and assembly and I appreciate their unobtrusive protesting actions.  The Catholic group arrives at 9 a.m., prays the rosary, and heads out at 10:30 a.m.  Some individuals come with red duct tape over their mouths and they stand silently as protest.  In general, these protesters do not make the patients and drivers cry, they do not escalate emotion, and they abide by the letter of the law.

Then we get to the protesters whose passion cannot be contained and who have taken more vocal and aggressive tactics.  About 10 abortion protesters congregate for the morning, hold signs, shout, block pathways, block car doors, and generally take whatever action they deem reasonable to get their message across.  They also call out other Christian groups for not being vocal enough against abortion.  While I understand the protesters’ belief structure, I have always been frustrated by their tactics – mostly because I believe yelling hurtful comments at someone you don’t know is just cruel practice, but also because there are clear laws about what actions are legally acceptable at the clinic and the protesters push the boundaries of what is legally allowed.  (If you’re interested in reading more about this, check out a previous blog here.)

Why cover old ground, Krystal?  Well, I have become one of those overly passionate, vocal, and aggressive protesters myself, except I’m protesting racial injustice and police brutality.  Exercising my First Amendment rights of speech and assembly, I have held signs, shouted, blocked pathways, blocked cars, and generally taken whatever action I deem reasonable to get the message across.  I have called out my friends and community for not being vocal enough on this issue.  My civil disobedience has been limited to occupying streets, but I fully recognize that there are laws about what is legally acceptable and I’m pushing the boundaries of what is legally allowed.  I have become one of the zealous protesters that folks tell stories about, wishing that we’d abide by the rules and not be so damn loud and disruptive.

These similarities with the abortion protesters and their tactics are not lost on me.  We’re using similar tactics and arguing a similar message that all lives matter.  The differing police response is not lost on me either.  In Granite City, a police car drives by about once a Saturday morning to view the protesters’ and Clinic’s interactions.  The police officer does not leave the car and, in many cases, the police officer does not slow down or stop.  It is an incredibly rare instance in which the police interact with the protesters in any way, despite the protesters’ repeatedly aggressive tactics.  In contrast, I am greeted by police in riot gear when I protest.  The police have arrested many Ferguson protesters, hit them with rubber bullets, sprayed them with mace and tear gas, and attacked them with batons.  The police have forcefully reacted to these acts of civil disobedience, to these Ferguson protesters pushing the boundaries of what is legally acceptable. 

I mentally prepare for an aggressive police response each time I go out to protest and I am, admittedly, terrified that the police will physically harm me in their response.  I sincerely doubt that the abortion protesters have this fear.  Why not?  Why is the police response so dramatically different for such similar actions?  Is it because the abortion protesters are generally white and the Ferguson protesters are generally black?  Is it because the Ferguson protests are so new and the abortion protests are status quo?  Is it because the police officers struggle to contain their own emotional response to accusations made against them?  Is it because the Granite City police actually support the abortion protesters’ message?  Are the rules somehow different in Illinois?  Why are abortion protesters who violate federal law on a regular basis under no fear of repercussion or consequence from law enforcement?  Why are their First Amendment rights more protected?  This double standard infuriates me.

I do not have the answers, clearly.  What I do have are the Jail Support phone number Sharpied on my skin, a protest buddy who watches my back, and a fear that the police response will scare me so much that I don't come back.