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Don’t let GR City Officials dictate the terms of our resistance: Peaceful protest is code for non-disruptive actions

April 18, 2022

Over the past two weeks, we have heard over and over again from Grand Rapids City Officials, that they are happy with the fact that protests in response to the GRPD murder of Patrick Lyoya have been peaceful. But what is exactly does this phrase, peaceful protests, actually mean, especially when it is coming from systems of power and oppression in Grand Rapids?

Those in power always council the public to be peaceful in times of crisis, but how have Grand Rapids City Officials responded so far to the protests that have happened? First, Grand Rapids City Officials have put up barricades and fencing around the headquarters of the Grand Rapids Police Department. In addition, the City has strategically placed numerous salt trucks near the police department and certain intersections, thus limiting the mobility and accessibility of the public that is protesting to certain areas of the downtown. 

In addition, there have been numerous Michigan State Police officers who have joined members of the GRPD. There could be other law enforcement agencies having a presence in case there is anything like the 2020 uprising, but it is always difficult to know since cops do not believe in transparency.

For those of us who have participated in the protests over the past week, we have also seen undercover officers in the crowd, cops in buildings overlooking the usual protest areas and cops on rooftops. Such tactics are designed to intimidate people, but their primary interest is to engage in surveillance, with the intent of identify certain people and to have documented footage to use against organizers and protesters in general.

Then there are bike cops, who are also wear anti-riot gear and often using the bicycles they are riding as weapons themselves. Then there is the fact that all of the police people have witnessed are also carrying firearms, tasers, pepper spray and carrying zip ties, in the event they need to detain and arrest people. All of this is to say that the police are not acting peaceful, yet City Officials implore protestors to be peaceful.

What those in power mean by peaceful

When Grand Rapids City Officials use the term peaceful protest, they are not referring to the historical non-violent demonstrations and movements used by various social movements throughout history, especially the Black Freedom Struggle. For those in power, being peaceful usually means:

  • Obtaining a permit
  • Keeping noise to a minimum 
  • Not obstructing people or cars from moving about
  • No disruption of business as usually, like a blockade, a sit-in or other actions that disrupt the wheels of commerce or the function of government
  • Absolutely no property destruction, graffiti or tagging
  • Never engaging in Civil Disobedience
  • Obey those in power

What is instructive about all of the tactics listed above, is that they have all been used by numerous social movements that have self-identified as non-violent movements. This is exactly why we need to call out and call bullshit when Grand Rapids City Officials want to explore us to be “peaceful.” Grand Rapids City Officials deliberately use terms like peaceful protests, specifically because they want to control the narrative around how the public responds to state repression and White Supremacy. 

Our collective actions must be disruptive to systems of power and the functioning of Capitalism in Grand Rapids. If our collective resistance is not disruptive, then those in power could care less. In fact, they will keep encouraging us to hold “peaceful protests” and offer to assist us in our efforts. This is a theme that is explored in an excellent book by Peter Gelderloos, entitled, How Non-Violence Protects the State. 

People have a right to defend themselves against repression

As long as social movements have existed, there has been a lively debate about tactics and strategies used, especially when movements want to escalate actions that disrupt business as usual and seeks to protect those most affected by state repression, like the Black Freedom Struggle, the American Indian Movement, the Young Lords, the Brown Berets, the Deacons for Defense, various anti-war groups and radical environmental groups. 

All of these groups recognized the importance of never foreclosing on any tactic in the struggle for freedom, despite the fact that most of the time their primary tactics were indeed non-violent.

Those in power also want us to believe that change happens when people are peaceful. This is a very sanitized version of history, often used as a weapon against social movements that do not allow those in power to dictate the terms of how they engage in resistance. 

This is also very White interpretation of US history. Government officials have overwhelmingly only ever done the will of the people when they are forced to. In addition, to suggest that change only came about through peaceful means in just a god damn lie. People who were enslaved often freed themselves by killing those who enslaved them and burned the fucking plantation. In fact, the Black Freedom Struggle has always had an armed wing throughout history, that often worked in concert with the more non-violent branch of that centuries long movement. See the books Force and Freedom: Black Abolitionists and the Politics of Violence, by Kellie Carter Jackson, and, This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible, by Charles Cobb Jr. 

Let’s make our movement as disruptive as possible. Let’s use Direct Action! Let’s not wait for Grand Rapids City Officials to make changes we want to see, because they won’t, unless we force them to. 

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