After night fell on a day of speeches and demonstrations, a number of the protesters attacked the building where the police were waiting. The protesters were breaking the law, and they knew it, and the police responded with force.
It was 1851. It was the Jerry Rescue. There’s a monument to it in Clinton Square.
That event—one that we valorize and memorialize—parallels the protests going on in the City today, and acknowledging that means grappling with these complicated facts:
the fight against racism and white supremacy is not always legal
the fight against racism and white supremacy is not always peaceful
the fight against racism and white supremacy cannot be judged purely on its legality or its nonviolence
That’s hard for a lot of people. It’s so much easier to ask ‘well are these protesters peaceful, do they obey the law?’ Asking that question puts the burden on the protesters. It allows people to think of themselves as outside observers and to pass judgment on the protests based on how the protesters act. It puts the protests themselves on trial, and once they have been judged—peaceful, legal, good or violent, illegal, bad—then the neutral observer moves on, having made their decision, without ever actually addressing the content of the protests.
Taking these protests seriously, respecting the history of the Jerry Rescue, means instead asking ‘what are they saying, is it true, how am I implicated?’ It means hearing the names of the men, women, and children brutalized and killed by the Syracuse Police Department. It means examining the relationships between those beatings, those killings, and your own life. It means putting yourself on trial, recognizing the ties that bind you to the people whose lives the police have cut short, and deciding what you’re going to do about it.
And once you’ve done that, who cares whether or not the protests broke this curfew or smashed that window? What does any of that have to do with you, with your own action, with your response to the racism and injustice that permeates the United States, New York State, Syracuse?