It appears that half way through 2020 the spirit of protest during a global pandemic is proof that the human spirit can not be broken. As every year begins, we always have a new year’s resolution that somehow “this will finally be the year.” Unfortunately 2020, so far, has been by nothing but tragic. I personally started the year of great with my birthday shortly after the new year, and record breaking revenue for the super Bowl in Miami, only to have a collision on my motorcycle in early February that nearly destroyed my favorite hand (good old lefty will never be the same). Then Kobe died. Followed by a Global Pandemic and shut down of society that had all of us “non-essential” workers suddenly become unemployed.
As an entrepreneur I felt I was protected to certain degree, until my primary project supporting an Airbnb Apartment Hotel operation in Miami beach suddenly had all of our reservations from Friday March 13th, through June 15th cancelled in an abundance of caution by Airbnb’s extenuating circumstance policy. With over $200k in lost revenue, I had to gracefully bow out to give the boss lady a sigh of relief, although she faces much greater problems than an inability to pay her favorite consultant.
The one bit of good news was that I was approved for the SBA PPP & Disaster loans. Of course all of this on the heels of multiple letters from my landlord establishing the legal process to evict me in case i was not able to make up on the month and a half of rent I was late on.
Quarantine made us all realize how critical socializing with friends, family, and even strangers is to our mental and emotional health. We found new ways to communicate and come together. We got creative with what we had at our disposal. We planted gardens, reinvigorated our passions for art, we played Call of Duty, we healed & rested from exhaustion on what seemed like a forced vacation. We plotted our course, now that these unprecedented and totally unforeseen circumstances changed everything, except our vision.
Nonetheless, after memorial day I thought we were finally approaching the “new normal” we’ve all been talking about zoom conversations with friends, family, and colleagues. Then disaster struck again. A sadness that I’ve become accustom too hit as I watch yet another unarmed black man’s life fade from his eyes as he was smoother by police to death while being recorded. It was like a swift kick in the nuts, and a reminder that even after everything I’ve been through this year and my whole life, I am still a person of color and at any moment can have my life taken from me with impunity during an illegal arrest. My sadness quickly turned to anger & rage, a pain I am familiar with with having been arrested illegal enough times to know the toll of injustice, and had my lawyer/father not taught me the invaluable lessons of police brutality from a young age, would likely have been murdered myself.
DO NOT RESIST, as they smash your face into the pavement. DO NOT RESIST, as they beat you senseless and take you to jail to humiliate you and put you in a cage like an animal. “I CAN’T BREATHE,” he exclaimed as his life was agonizingly taken from him.
“I’VE DONE NOTHING WRONG!” I remember yelling while being hauled away by the goon squad, but my pleas, as so many others, fell upon deaf ears. As an Afro-Rican in Denver Colorado during demonstrations that we spent the previous year organizing for the DNC in 2008, when Barack Obama was nominated to be the Democratic candidate, what should I have expected.
My anger, rage, and passion as an activist and organizer flared up in me as I watch Minneapolis burn on my social media feeds. I knew how quickly peaceful demonstrations could turn violent, and in the divided political climate we find ourselves in today I knew it was going to look more like a war zone than a freedom of speech rally.
As i watched the looters clean out a Target, i thought to myself, this makes sense, but knew the chaos would spill over to other smaller businesses that had barely survived the death blow dealt by the pandemic. I knew that I had to join my local protest in Miami to be in solidarity with my brother’s and sisters across the country, and to please my ancestors and our collective trauma of having been stolen, enslaved, and criminalized since we came to the new world.
Miami protests have been effective in the past, there is no central leadership, which is a good thing, and of course influencers and community organizers were out in full effect. We usually aim to shut down Downtown Miami and head on to i95 by way of overtown, shutting down the highway going both directions, north and south. This always enrages the LatiBlancos who swear their Caribbean heritage somehow makes them white, but we all know the truth (looking sideways at cuban & south Americans).
Then we looped back around to the exit that leads to the Miami Police Department, strategically located, from both an activist and law enforcement perspective. It was in front of the police department that we felt the protest would disperse. We had drawn a good sized crowd with the typical “FUCK THE POLICE” signs, which unreality should read “FUCK POLICE BRUTALITY”, to not fully antagonize the oppressor, but I digress.
We felt energy was waining and hadn’t eaten yet, and something about my 6 sense to GTFO before a riot starts, we headed to Bayside in downtown to get some food after a long day in the sun observing the protests.
It was at this point that apparently the protest took a violent turn with police firing tear gas into the crowd to disperse the protestors, but only enraged them further. They destroyed & burned a cop car and then a mob headed down to Bayside where we were eating. All the while, somebody decided to have a massive fireworks display on Biscayne Bay, which we had a great view of from our bayside restaurant, and an epic finally. We watched the fireworks in awe, as it seemed surreal with low flying helicopters spot lighting the mall. After our meal we chatted about what a great day it had been, little did we realize on the other side of the mall there was a full blown riot, with looters smashing windows and plundering whatever they could from the shops they were able to get into.
As we paid our bill and departed from the restaurant, we decided to go get ice cream, I mean what better way to finish the night before heading home. On our way to the opposite side of the mall, we saw a squad of riot police flanking Bayside in what appeared to be a strategic formation. As we arrived to Haagen-Dazs, it was like a tornado had just swept through the mall. Everything was knocked over, with the remaining loot that had fallen to the ground as looters frantically dispersed from the mall before the riot police arrived. It was the eerie calm after a storm, of course the ice cream shop was now closed, and our only other option was to take some photos of the scene and flee as the riot police gave chase to grab us because we were the only ones left at the scene.
To be honest, I didn’t feel this energy, even as we shut down I95. There was a sense of unity and defiance, but not the rage of a riot. We wondered what had happened in the hour or so since we ourselves departed from the protest. We fled the scene and road our bikes home like the wind. The flood of police presence in downtown was significant, and as people of color we didn’t want to be part of the mass arrest that would surely be taking place. We already had seen from the protests in MN, that not even a CNN live broadcast news crew was immune to being illegally arrested by the ravenous police state.
This past week really has been a time to reflect on the ills plaguing society. Not only have we been dealing with a global pandemic that has killed 100k+ Americans, flinging us into a great depression that has come with the realization that we and our businesses are not essential, but also, we are still being killed, brutalized, and arrested. The spirit of protest during the pandemic is proof of the strength of our people and our ability to endure & overcome whatever challenges we must face. This is the latest battle for the soul of our country, and with it will emerge a stronger nation and global leader for justice & equality for all. We must never forget, but always seek to be better than we have ever been. This is the demand placed upon us by our Ancestors, those who will never know our best selves, and the Universe forcing us to evolve and transcend our petty differences to become a united global society the world has never seen.