SOCI 360: Social Movements
Professor Kurt Reymers, Ph.D.
A Story of Social Activism: "Jamie Aileen" and Chicago BLM
Answers to your questions are here!
True Story: My cousin-in-law, who goes by "Jamie Aileen" on Facebook, is serving as a protest medic in Chicago, Illinois. She has seen first-hand the major protests happening in one of the largest cities in the country, and the direct outcome of police and crowd violence. You can see some of her posts and pictures below the answers that she has given to your questions about her activism. Thank you, Jamie!
UPDATE (12/5/2020): Antoher medic has responded to your questions. Jamie didn't give her name, just said that she's 22 and biracial.
SOCI360: What moved you to start protesting?
Jamie Aileen: Shortly after the video footage of George Floyd’s murder was widely circulated, Chicago, like several other major U.S. cities, saw public outrage boil over into civil unrest. We heard about fires, riots, and violence happening in our downtown, within walking distance to our home. Our city has become a political punching bag for gun control and violence, but locals understand that we’ re a city that believes in taking care of our own. We made the decision to ignore the citywide curfew and trek downtown with medical supplies, but found the need to be far greater than we could meet.
The streets and sidewalks were littered with broken glass as more windows shattered around us and the air was acrid with OC spray and tear gas. Several people succumbed to stab and gunshot wounds while waiting for medical care that couldn’t reach them, suggesting a need for medics on the ground. We managed to slip out in the early morning (all public transit was shut down and the bridges in and out were lifted) and decided right then that no matter how, when, or where people were protesting, we would be those medics for them.
Medic #2: I was deeply moved by the handling of George Floyd's death. The video, hearing him cry for his mom, his begging and pleading. It resonated with me and my childhood. When youre begging for help but your ignored, laughed at, or looked at like a side attraction. They took his humanity away and I knew I wouldn't be true to myself if I didn't show up. It felt like I was standing up for child-hood annie.
SOCI360: What are your biggest concerns with the issue of police brutality?
Jamie Aileen: As it applies to the nation at large, it is of course that police officers have maimed and killed people without justification; serving as judge, jury, and executioner, absent an imminent life threat. There’s no question that policing is dangerous work, but when the average police academy is 13-19 weeks long and officers are afforded the protections of qualified immunity, it seems we, as a nation, are doing very little to prevent these incidents and protect our people from unnecessary violence.
In a protest environment, police brutality is a different animal. We understand, as protestors, that there is an implicit risk of getting arrested and getting hurt. That said, with a few notable exceptions, the protests I’ve attended have only escalated to physical violence by police decision. Overwhelmingly, it seems that whether or not a protest remains “peaceful” depends on how patient the officers feel about the anti-police sentiments at protests-- I’ve seen an otherwise peaceful march turn aggressive because one officer was displeased by how close someone was walking to his bicycle, so he picked up the bike and used it to hit the protestor. WIthout warning, other protestors in the vicinity found themselves being sprayed, shoved, and struck by other officers. In the following days, the officers were congratulated by the mayor for protecting the “peaceful protest” from “outside agitators.”
SOCI360: Its effect on black and brown communities. Everyone deserves to feel nothing but safety, love, and pride within their own communities. What happens to black children when their thrust into adult hood by 9 or 10? I was followed home twice by my 17th birthday and men would pull over to the side of the road to talk to me. Can you imagine if the people following you home, staring daggers at you, aren't random perverts but the men that are supposed to keep you safe from them? Then they're in your schools too? You're stuck. It constantly feels like your drowning. Im so scared for our kids. Giannas dad was murdered and that execution was broadcast to the world and caused an entire revolution. What did CNN do? "Most Inspiring Moments of 2020" . Black and brown peoples aren't seen as people, theyre seen as commodity and entertainment. They deserve so much more.
SOCI360: When you’re protesting what are the things you are trying to accomplish?
Jamie Aileen: First and foremost, putting an end to qualified immunity and seeing police held accountable for unnecessary violence through a committee with civilian oversight and control of the yearly budget. Accordingly, a redistribution of city funds to benefit our communities, or more succinctly, “defund the police.” The police department receives almost 40% of the annual city budget, which amounts to roughly four million dollars a day. We would like to see more of that funding go towards education, hunger, healthcare (including mental health), and providing support for communities that have otherwise been neglected. The question “what does defunding the police look like?” was perhaps best answered by Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, who replied “a suburb.” Individual protestors and organizations on the national and local levels are of the collective mindset that all people should be given the chance to not only survive, but to thrive.
Medic #2: Abolishing ever[y] cop out there, deconstructing every single private prison, pissing off the right. Each protest has a different goal. I just want a fixed system and I'll support anyone who knows that they deserve better than this.
SOCI360: What was your experience in doing this?
Jamie Aileen: It is physically and emotionally taxing. It is frustrating and exhausting to be ignored or misunderstood. It is absolutely worth it.
Medic #2: Uh...I liked big crowds and I had a lot of anger built up from my past experiences. Being on unemployment helped me attend multiple times weekly. I easily went to over 50 protests this past summer.
SOCI360: How does it feel when you’re out protesting making changes?
Jamie Aileen: It feels like a big risk sometimes, but it feels good to be out trying to make change, or at least to support those who are making the changes. The protest spaces fosters a great sense of community, and we made some amazing friends that we’re now close to outside of protesting.
Medic #2: Honestly sometimes I get really angry. You can overhear a lot of conversations and you learn who's there to take advantage of the momentum for their own goals. Then you have cops following you, treating you like cattle. Then there's the people in their houses and out at bars cheering you on and taking pictures while you're screaming, covered in mace, your friends eyes are burning and blind, cops are laughing and calling you names "hope you visit Chicago again soon". I get very angry at protests.
SOCI360: How did you feel when the police were all in your face?
Jamie Aileen: I think everyone would feel a lot better about it if more than a few officers were wearing masks. Beyond that, you can tell a lot about someone when you’re toeing the opposite sides of the same line. The aggression is palpable but expected. What’s bizarre is seeing the fear in the eyes of the occasional officer-- armed adults reacting like animals backed into a corner, afraid of people who might stand next to them, unnoticed, at the grocery store on the way home. It’s in those moments that the “us versus them” mentality is most evident and you can see where the willingness to physically harm protestors (and perhaps other citizens) comes from.
SOCI360: How do you deal with aggressive police officers yelling in your face?
Jamie Aileen: There’s not really a lot of yelling coming from the officers, but the yelling is nothing compared to the physical violence. I’d rather be yelled at all day if it means that I won’t see any more of my friends get their teeth knocked out.
Medic #2: I want to spit on them. Crazy how they're allowed to crack your ribs and skulls but if you dump water on them or a water bottle gets thrown it's "assault." Fuck [Chicago Mayor] Lori Lightfoot.
SOCI360: At any given moment did you want to turn to violence?
Jamie Aileen: Personally, no, not really. It’s painful and infuriating to watch your friends, armed with nothing but cardboard signs and good intentions, get tear gassed, beaten, and arrested with no recourse. The instinct when you get hit or get something ripped from your hands is to fight back, but you know going into it that you can’t. If you get hit, they’re doing their job, but if you strike back, that’s an aggravated felony. Considering the officers are armed and protected by shields and riot gear (and sometimes seem like they’re just looking for a reason to escalate), it will only make things worse for you and those around you. That said, many protestors are willing to put their bodies on the line to “box out” police officers to keep people from getting hit repeatedly or stepped on, particularly when medics are trying to care for them.
Medic #2: There's a reason why I smoke so much weed.
SOCI360: Is what is being portrayed on the media accurate to what is actually going on out there in the world? Just curious as to how the media is playing a role, either positively or negatively.
Jamie Aileen: There’s really no doubt that the civil rights protesting and civil unrest has made for some sensational news stories, and I certainly understand that the media, national and local, is ultimately in the business of selling newspapers. However, it’s aggravating that the running narrative is often out of line with the truth. For every one protest you see come to blows on the news, there are likely five others that day, in the same city, that have no violence. There’s no such thing as ANTIFA and protestors Venmo one another for cases of bottled water, no one’s getting paid to protest.
What I find most irksome though, is the suggestion that there are peaceful protests being hijacked by outside agitators. The only outside agitators coming into protests (and the only ones preventing protests from being “peaceful”) are the police. More often than not, protests are escalated to violence by the side that is armed, carrying shields and riot gear, and don’t run the risk of catching a felony for throwing a punch. That sometimes runs counter to the next day’s headlines. We attended one protest that was exceptionally physical, resulting in well over a hundred people requiring washouts and wound care for their gashes, broken bones, and head injuries. Protestors were arrested en masse and others had their bags and bikes stolen and thrown into a pile guarded by the police (belongings could only be retrieved by the owner with ID, leading to more protestors receiving citations and being arrested). The newspaper the next day printed an article suggesting that 18 officers were injured in an all but heroic effort to protect a statue, with only four protestors getting injured. If they are asked for comment, protestors are often afraid to speak up for fear of being targeted by the alt-right and local police, skewing the story that’s told.
Additionally, the Venn diagram of the people who protest and the people who loot has very little overlap between the two. The feelings of protestors regarding looting is a mixed bag. I know at least a hundred protestors and if any of them were involved in the looting, I’m not aware. I offer no judgment on how someone else chooses to express themselves in the face of years of human and civil rights violations, but I think it’s important to note that the idea that every “liberal activist” is some sort of violent anarcho-communist is patently untrue.
Medic #2: No not really. There's little things that they'll get wrong, events get blown out of proportion, big events will be completely ignored. Its really extremely agitating, hence, the weed.
SOCI360: Have you ever been afraid of something happening to you during the craziness of the crowd?
Jamie Aileen: Protestors operate under the mantra that “we keep us safe,” and we hold true to that at every action. Instigators and counter-protestors in the midst are either ignored or are peacefully kept away from the larger group, and violence amongst protestors is not tolerated. We make sure everyone gets home safely, including those who are arrested (they’re met with a jail support team waiting for them when they’re released). The National Lawyers Guild also provides volunteer legal observers to witness the protests and look after the activists. The only time I’ve ever felt concerned was learning, after the fact, that a small protest we attended in Kenosha was going to be attended by counter-protestors with an arsenal of weaponry and terroristic plans, which luckily was tipped off and thwarted before they arrived. Otherwise, we anticipate a certain level of chaos and violence at every protest. Fortunately, few end that way, but we’re always prepared for it.
SOCI360: Has anything ever happened to you while helping people who are injured? I admire your bravery in helping those during all the chaos.
Jamie Aileen: Thank you. We’ve been pepper sprayed and tear gassed fairly often and we’ve been arrested once, but have been fortunate enough to avoid any stitches or broken bones thus far. As medics, we’re usually pretty clearly marked, which sometimes provides a level of protection and other times seems to present us as targets-- it just depends on the officer. How an officer handles someone once they’ve been pepper sprayed is the most telling. Some are left alone, but those people occasionally become targets for beatings and arrest, so we as medics often go in to retrieve them and bring them to safety. The only time I’ve been personally targeted in that situation is an instance where a young woman had sustained a significant eye injury from a police baton. The people near her called for a medic and I pulled my goggles off to put on her before I retrieved my spares (not good practice, but pepper spray in that injury seemed hideous). At that moment, an officer took the opportunity to pepper spray us directly and shoved me to the ground. As someone who has worked in public safety for a decade, I was in disbelief that this was his idea of what it means to “serve and protect.”
SOCI360: When protesting are you scared of how the crowd may shift or change?
Jamie Aileen: Not particularly, it’s actually the part of protesting that’s most interesting and dynamic. Routes are secretive, plans are passed as whispers through the crowd, and it’s our goal to be water at all times. Sometimes things get dicey, but if talking quietly about the issues did anything, we wouldn’t be here right now-- so we’ll keep taking the risks.
SOCI360: How are you doing as a person since you have to deal with these uncertain circumstances?
Jamie Aileen: It’s all very surreal. It’s bizarre to have your own only experiences in public (beyond grocery shopping) consist of protesting in the streets and clashing with police. It’s strange to wash the pepper spray off your skin, then go home to make dinner and feed the dogs. But like we’ve all learned this year, when you know it’s important to adjust to a new normal, you will— one way or another. It can be physically and emotionally tiring, but it’s a personal tax we don’t at all mind paying.
SOCI360: How are you maintaining your health and safety at these protests?
Jamie Aileen: Good PPE. We wear goggles that seal (for impact munitions and gas/OC spray, p100 respirator masks (for gas and Covid), gloves, bike helmets, and we’re clearly marked as medics. We prioritize hydration and try to stay mindful of the physical and mental toll protesting can take. We’re tested regularly, quarantine between actions, and avoid any public interactions other than the occasional grocery shop.
SOCI360: How long do you think you and many other follower will be protesting until you feel like things changed and will stay like that?
Jamie Aileen: I think the movement will ebb and flow— there will be protestors who move on, hopefully to be replaced by the coming generation. It would be great to be in a place where the numbers drop because the need isn’t there anymore, but until that time, the goal is to keep net growth positive and to see more people involved in enacting change in their communities.
SOCI360: Where do you see the future of this issue in 5 years?
Jamie Aileen: Progress will be made, but history suggests that it will take decades to see noticeable change. I hope that’s not the case, but I expect to be in this, in some capacity, for the long haul. I hope we can make some strides forward in the coming years, but also that we can dig our heels in to stave off any backsliding when the balance of power inevitably shifts again. The hope is that our country will be a little safer for everyone than it is today in some tangible way.
Thank you Jamie and Medic #2! - Dr. K the and students of SOCI 360
THREE: wise protesters avoid parks, plazas, etc. These are spaces MADE for kettling. Demonstrate on large open streets. Stay in motion. If there are side streets, flow around them. You can only kettle protesters if they’re already clumped together.
In San Francisco, Civic Center is a PRIME example of a good kettling location. You can pack thousands of protesters into Civic Center easily without disrupting traffic. Use broad streets like Market or Mission instead. EDIT: a commenter pointed out that streets with long blocks and no alleys (such as Howard and Folsom in SF) are often used to corral protesters - look for streets with escape routes!
FOUR: smart protesters communicate by twitter Instagram etc to keep the protest mobile. If the police are beginning to form a kettle at UN Plaza, protesters can disperse and recombine at Market Street. When they start trying to block Market, flow out and take Mission. Protesters prepare to stay in motion; to break into pieces and reform continuously. They have a backup plan with their friend group for where they will reconvene in case they don't have phone signal.
FIVE: Social distancing is your FRIEND here. If it’s hard to maintain six feet between you and fellow protesters, then your crew is close enough to be kettled! Skedaddle down side streets until you have some space! Remember to set up a meeting point for where you will reconvene with your personal affinity group.
SIX: wise protesters remember to pack some brightly colored street clothes. When they escape a nigh-kettle, they slip into something that doesn’t look “protester-y” and WALK briskly, don’t run, to another location. You’re just an essential worker trying to get home from work, nothing to do with all this, no way. I've seen protesters pack brightly colored polo shirts that look like the worker uniform of certain big box retailers so they can slip it on as a visual excuse.
SEVEN: Except in rare cases - police horses are INCREDIBLY well trained. They move through very crowded spaces full of loud people without spooking. A police horse is VERY unlikely to hurt you. Police horses are broken out in the event of kettling or dispersal maneuvers because they are big and scary. But they are NOT war horses, and a mounted officer is a hell of a lot less useful in the street than an officer on foot. THEIR PRIMARY SKILL IS INTIMIDATION. Be stalwart and brave. Wise protestesrs may run from a phalanx of riot cops. They don’t run away from the horses.
EDIT: but also, don't try to grab a horse, don't try to touch a horse, don't try to get in a confrontation with a horse. The horse won't start a fight with you, but if you start a fight with it, the horse will win. And it might take some of your ribs or the structural integrity of your skull with it.
EIGHT: many protesters carry medical shears, scissors, or wire cutters. That's because the preamble to kettling is often erecting metal barricades across easy flow points. These barricades are usually just held together with zip ties, though! If someone cuts those zip ties, a protester could knock the barricade right over. At Occupy Atlanta, I saw one protester quietly, discretely following behind as the barricades went up ... and snipping the zip ties one by one. He did it while acting like he was still just chatting with friends. This meant the police assumed the barricades were still tied together ... though they were not.
ALSO, sometimes for some reason, some of your comrades might end up with their hands ziptied behind their backs, which can be very inconvenient. Medical shears let you easily free them without risking hurting them. Send a text message to your kinky friend who loves rope bondage - they should definitely own a few pairs of medical shears you can borrow.
NINE: practice PEACE. I don't mean to suddenly hit you with some high-minded pacifism. I mean you must find peace with your fellow protester. Kettling works by pushing people close enough together for long enough that internal fights and arguments break out. A shoving match between protesters can be a great excuse for cops to bust in and "pacify." Practice peace with your protest neighbors. Singing is a great tool for this. Embrace old movement standbys, however corny they are: "This Land is Your Land," "Kumbaya," even. "We Shall Overcome" is the most powerful one and can help you survive almost anything emotionally, but frankly, you should probably let POC start the singing on this one. This song doesn't belong to white folks.
I hope these anecdotes were helpful! If you're going to a protest, make sure to set up a safety call with someone who isn't there that you can check in with to say that you're safe! Mob mentality is a real thing, so decide beforehand what your limits are and what you're unwilling to do. If you put yourself at risk, do it strategically, not for ego!
Love and light to all of you. Stay safe. Be powerful.
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