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Protests in America: What makes anti-lockdown different?

Across social media platforms, American minorities are asking why are lockdown protestors not being arrested? What is different about the lockdown protests from Black Lives Matter or Standing Rock that is causing the difference in police action and arrest rates?

In “Perspectives on Politics, Volume 16, Issue 2,” Vanessa Williamson, Kris-Stella Trump, and Katherine Levine Einstein break down the Black Lives Matter movement. Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests have been a string of protests against police brutality against African Americans since 2013. The first BLM protest was in July of 2013 due to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch member that killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teen. BLM expanded from just the death of Martin to encompass police brutality, over-policing, and Black deaths at the hands of law enforcement.

Williamson and his co-authors offer that Black Lives Matter has brought to focus that the U.S. Justice System may not be as “colorblind” as it makes itself out to be, exposing facts such as Black people “experience disproportionate interactions with the criminal justice system and the carceral state.”

Some BLM leaders have described the criminal justice system as a “system of racial control.” This claim can be rolled back as far as slavery, moving to segregation being tolerated in parts of the U.S. as late as the 1960s, and the ongoing economic disadvantage of Blacks in poverty numbers and sociological studies showing Blacks to be statistically less likely to get a job over a white applicant that has roughly the same qualifications.

In 2019, NPR ran an article about Sacramento Police arresting 84 African Americans in a protest after peaceful demonstrators marched through Sacramento streets holding signs, because a police officer shot and killed Stephon Clarkson, a 22-year-old unarmed Black man. The Sacramento BLM chapter had done other protests in Sacramento without much police interference, but Tanya Faison, the founder of the Sacramento BLM chapter, mentioned that the arrests took place most likely because the last one was in an affluent, predominantly white neighborhood.

Moving to the Standing Rock peaceful protests of 2016, when thousands of Native Americans gathered on tribal lands to fight an oil pipeline that had unanimous approval to run from North Dakota, through South Dakota, and into Iowa and Illinois. The pipeline would have to run through sacred, ancestral Native burial grounds, destroying many of them and potentially poison the water supply for thousands, should there ever be some kind of accident or leak.

The peaceful protestors of Standing Rock were met with armored vehicles, rubber bullets, water cannons, and concussion grenades to disperse them. According to ACLU.org, over 140 protestors were arrested, many of them living below the poverty line and were faced with felony charges and bonds of at least $1,500. Law enforcement officials of North Dakota in association with breaking the protests are in potential violation of the 1st Amendment in regards to rights of free speech and peaceful protest, potentially violating the 6th Amendment right to counsel for Natives incarcerated, and violating the 8th Amendment for demanding excessive bail.

Despite the protests and constitutional violations, on Jan. 24, 2017, President Donald J. Trump encouraged the Army Corps of Engineers to “override environmental review and speed up construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.” The Sioux being a sovereign nation was clearly ignored in this act which would have been taken as an act of war and encroachment by a foreign nation.

Looking at the lockdown protests ongoing in the U.S., in a story by Shane Burley for the Independent, he says that “Far-right movements have cozy relationships with local sheriffs across the country — and they plan to use them.”

Across the U.S., protestors are fighting against lockdowns and safety precautions against COVID-19 measures, but also the hardships that come with them.

Suzanne Monk, the founder of Reopen America, who helps organize these protests, said, “We don’t want people destitute, not able to get medical care for anything else, not able to go to church.”

Quarantines and shelter-in-place orders are health officials’ highest recommendations to slow COVID-19 and the death that can come with it.

Some of these protestors are armed, armored, screaming, and in some cases such as Michigan, yelling directly in the face of police officers and carrying Confederate flags and even nooses, according to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Some protestors have been recorded screaming “diaper face” at medical personnel.

Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock protestors were not noted for open carrying. While “anti-lockdown” protestors are within constitutional rights to protest and open carry, they are armed, and potentially pose much higher threats than Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock protests. Yet there is little to no police action and arrests like those of Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock.

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