SURJ ROC Response to BLM Protest and Aftermath

At SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) Rochester, we supported and participated in yesterday’s rally. As a white ally group, we celebrate the thousand people who showed up, wore masks, listened, applauded, shouted, carried signs of solidarity against police brutality, and marched. We share the rage over police violence and murder of POC in our community and around the country.

The diverse crowd present downtown yesterday was a powerful and inspiring show of courage, conviction and solidarity. We are inspired by the movement for racial justice sweeping this country and the way that white people are learning to not stay silent in the face of injustice. SURJ believes in being rooted in Black and POC-led racial justice organizing and being accountable to the leadership of this organizing.

As white people we also want to call attention to the behavior of the white provocateurs who came from outside of the community of peaceful protesters– and who were largely responsible for turning a peaceful protest into vandalism to provoke a police response. This is happening all over the country as these vicious rioters try to create chaos for their own benefits.  We call on the media to recognize the difference between peaceful and righteous protest, even righteous anger, and what these white provocateurs whether they be white supremacists or members of Antifa (anti-fascist protester).  We may not know the intentions of all of them, but their behavior is racist because in the end it negatively impacts POC.  Coming out of privilege and entitlement instead of solidarity and accountability, it co-opts people of color’s agenda, inflicting a different and still racist pain.

Yes, there is a lot in the news today that may make us uncomfortable as white people.  We have been conditioned to uphold the rules and laws of power structures that have been set up to benefit us to the detriment of POC. We have all been raised in this dominant culture that values property, and as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, the “negative peace which is the absence of tension.”

The young people of color who took advantage of the situation to loot local stores didn’t invent that action – white people have been looting this country from the time we took the land from Native Americans and the labor of enslaved Africans. No white person should sit in judgment of the justifiable rage and frustration of people of color. Justice is long overdue, and too many white people have stayed silent while Black athletes knelt in peaceful protest and Black men, women and teenagers were murdered, with little or no justice in response. But let us be clear: property damage as protest is as American as the Boston Tea Party.

We urge you to center the lives of Black people and their fight for justice as you unpack stories of yesterday’s events. We hope the following ideas will help you look at the bigger picture.

1. Black lives matter more than property. Pay close attention to media sources with biased narratives that prioritize property over life. Looting expresses the injustice of an economy that allows workers to be paid starvation wages, and a government that gives aid to corporations before people during a pandemic. The struggle for justice is long and messy and has involved a lot of broken windows. Today, we urge you to look at the bigger picture.

2. Seek out firsthand accounts of yesterday’s events around the nation. Many videos, photos, and eyewitness testimonies are available on social media platforms. Many of these show the actions of protestors, police, and infiltrators (like the white provocateurs we saw locally).

3. Make it clear which side of the movement for racial justice you are on and learn ways to bring other white allies into the struggle. 

We applaud our local leaders – Ashley Gantt, Iman Abid, Stanley Martin and Stevie Vargas  – for the great job they did on short notice. And we thank members of SURJ ROC and other white allies who supported this Black and POC-led rally by:

  • Showing up to march
  • Donating to the bail fund and other expenses
  • Donating masks, hand sanitizer, and other helpful materials
  • Participating in today’s cleanup

Our country and community are in a moment where powerful, material transformation is necessary. SURJ ROC will continue to invite more white people into the multiracial movement for justice. To join us for education, opportunities for action, and support, please see our Facebook page or sign up for our newsletter here.

For the SURJ Steering Committee: Anne Thomas, Kathy Castania, Ann Shaughnessy, Sam Waters, Paula Hanson, Liz Brown