Since last week, protests have erupted in over 300 cities nationwide against the endless police violence waged against Black people. The protests emerged in the wake of a string of high-profile police killings, including those of Breonna Taylor and David McAtee in Kentucky, Sean Reed in Indianapolis, Tony McDade in Florida, George Floyd in Minnesota, and Ahmaud Arbery, who was fatally shot by a retired police officer and his son in Glynn County, Georgia.
While in the midst of a global pandemic that has already taken over 100,000 lives in the U.S. alone, thousands of protestors have had to make the difficult choice between protecting their own health by staying at home or taking direct action to end state-sanctioned murders—knowing that Black lives hang in the balance either way. For many, however, protesting is either not feasible or represents a risk they aren’t willing to take. Even so, here are four other meaningful ways to get involved and learn more about what this moment is about, what set it in motion, and what it means for our nation’s future.
1. Support those on the ground
As Prism has previously reported, jails are among the most dangerous places to be during a public health crisis. Poor sanitization, lack of access to even basic hygiene products, and the absence of social distancing makes them incubators for infectious diseases like COVID-19.
Since the demonstrations began, police around the country have arrested over 9,000 protestors, meaning that thousands may be exposed to the disease while held in police custody. Donations to local bail funds can go a long way toward getting people released as soon as possible and protecting the health and well-being of protesters who risked their safety in the name of Black liberation.
Before making donations, do some research and prioritize bail funds that might be smaller and have less resources. Some more well-known groups that have received an overwhelming influx of donations, like the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, have already started to redirect their funds to other organizations.
Finally, be sure to verify where you’re sending your money: Has the donation link been shared by Black organizers and other groups that you trust? Are you following information from an official website? Check out this list of verified bail funds compiled by The Movement 4 Black Lives (M4BL) for some local groups that you can start with.
If you’re in the financial position to do so, consider making this an ongoing practice for the duration of the uprising as well as after. The problems inherent in wealth-based detention extend beyond just this moment. You can set recurring donations to one or two groups, get your friends and family involved by sharing links to and assigning funds to each person, or carve out some time in your schedule every day to do research and make small daily donations to different organizations.
There are also other ways to support protestors that you might know in your personal life. If you have friends or neighbors who are choosing to take to the streets, you can offer to create supply kits for them with masks, gloves, water, food, sanitizer, hair ties, and other necessities that they’ll need to help remain safe. Also, consider serving as their emergency point person: They’ll check in with you when they arrive at the protest, when they leave, and when they safely return home. In case they are hurt or are arrested, make sure you have the names and phone numbers of some contacts that they’d like you to reach out to on their behalf. Be sure to keep on hand a few numbers of pro bono attorneys as well.
2. Know the demands
Regardless of your prior activism, it’s crucial to learn about what people are fighting for right now so that you can help explain those ideas to people in your network who might be holding some misconceptions.
One of the most prevalent narratives surrounding these protests is that they are fueled by rage with no set of coordinated, concrete demands—but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Organizations like M4BL and Minneapolis-based groups like Black Visions Collective and Reclaim The Block have specific demands and action steps around defunding the police and reallocating that money toward community-based resources and services.
Explore the four demands for defunding the Minneapolis Police Department as well as a week-long set of actions created by M4BL that you can take part in. You can also delve into the work of other national organizations like Color Of Change* that advocate for police accountability and are circulating petitions calling for the officers involved in the deaths of Taylor and Floyd to be fired and charged with murder. A petition related to Arbery demands the resignation of the prosecutors who handled his case. Read those petitions and learn more about the role of prosecutors in cases such as these via the organization’s online resources.
3. Understand their context
Once we know the demands, we can move toward sharpening our understanding of the actual systems that created the injustices organizers are now seeking to dismantle. Not being out on the street does not have to preclude anyone from deepening their knowledge about the police as well as the tactics that protesters are using to advocate against them.
To do this requires a fundamental shift and reorienting of how we have come to think about policing and the role it plays in our society. It also challenges us to contemplate the idea of “peaceful protest” and reconsider how and where violence has shown up in past social movements. Check out these pieces as starting points on the road to building your understanding of this moment, the historical timeline it lies within, and alternatives for the future:
Slave Patrols and the Origins of Policing, by Jackie Iyamah, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
The Double Standard of the American Riot, by Kellie Carter Jackson, The Atlantic
No More Money For the Police, by Philip V. McHarris and Thenjiwe McHarris, The New York Times
4. Honor Black lives by remembering Black lives
According to a database maintained by The Washington Post, 1,262 Black people have been killed by the police since January 2015. Those were 1,262 individual lives that were taken—almost always without repercussion. While some of their names have since morphed into hashtags, cries for change, and catalysts for larger movements, that should not keep us from learning the specifics about who they were, what their personal worlds look like, and the unique dreams, memories, pains, and joys that they held before their lives were cut short.
George Floyd was a father of two and he enjoyed making customers laugh at Conga Latin Bistro, the dance club where he served as a bouncer.
Breonna Taylor was described by her aunt as “the baby of the family.” She worked as an EMT at two hospitals during the onset of the pandemic and had aspirations of becoming a nurse, buying a house, and raising a family.
Ahmaud Arbery had plans to become an electrician and, according to his father, was also an aspiring boxer who was dedicated to running daily and staying fit.
Sean Reed’s family says he was “always smiling” and the life of the party. He spent nine months in the Air Force during which his flight leader described him as a bit of a class clown who nevertheless was “always the first one to help” and “always was ready to go.”
Tony McDade went by the nickname “Tony the Tiger” with friends. Those close to him remember him as someone with a “big heart” whose energy would “lift their spirits.”
David McAtee dreamed of owning a restaurant one day, but in the meantime he ran a popular outdoor BBQ eatery, often feeding people—including police officers—for free.
The details of their lives matter as much as the stories of their deaths. Spend some time either alone or in your community to learn about and reflect upon the lives that were lost at the hands of those who had sworn to protect them.
*The author previously worked at Color Of Change between 2018 and 2020.