Protests And The Value Of Disruption

Maurice Broaddus is an Afrofuturist.

Tony Valainis

“Certain conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.” —Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Look, my thoughts are a jumbled mess after the events of the last few weeks. Mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually drained, I’m doing the best I can. I suspect we all are, but let me start with this:

I’m tired.

Tired because I keep having to prove my humanity every day. I’m worn out because I keep seeing the same thing over and over again. The injustice. The brutalization of black bodies. The illusory gesticulations of concern from civic leaders. The inaction. The return to silence. The false tranquility. The injustice—again. The history of Indianapolis, its police, and the black community continues to be a repeating, tragic story.

And I’m tired.

Back in 1987, I was 17 when 16-year-old Michael Taylor Jr. was shot while in the custody of Indianapolis police officers. Suspected of car theft, his hands cuffed behind him, on his way to the juvenile detention center, yet somehow, he shot himself in the head at close range. This was ruled a suicide. A story no one believed, and members of the community took to the streets to protest.

And rage.

Seventeen-year-old me didn’t know how to process what all he felt, still grappling with the implications of race and identity. Not knowing what to do with the anger. And powerlessness in the face of a system that could literally take his life and spin any story to be accepted as truth.

My heart screams to let it all burn to the ground. So I won’t judge those who are in the same place.

In the wake of the Dreasjon Reed shooting—killed by an unnamed IMPD officer in May—50-year-old me still has to grapple with a sense of deep, abiding existential powerlessness. A now-familiar feeling that’s rooted in a sense of justice violated, of wrong needing to be righted. Wondering how I, a lone voice, can stand up to an implacable system in order to convince it to change. So, my rage takes over, transmuting that powerlessness into perseverance, strength, resilience, and a reclamation of agency.

“We have two things trying to kill us: the pandemic and racism. We have to protect ourselves from both.” —the organizers of the May 30 protest

 I’m angry.

At this point, I don’t know how to not be angry. Images of black bodies brutalized at the hands of the white supremacist system, our neighborhoods razed by the forces of gentrification.

My heart screams to let it all burn to the ground. So I won’t judge those who are in the same place.

For years, America has failed to live up to its promise it made for itself and its people. For years, black people have been routinely dehumanized, treated unequally, and had our lives deemed less valuable. For years, when we’ve been allowed into white spaces, we’ve been told how to dress, how to talk, how to do our hair in order to be … professional. For years, we’ve been told to be patient, polite, and respectable in order for justice to be deferred. For years, we’ve suffered injustice and inequality, and still find ourselves locked in systems that have us disproportionately incarcerated, disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, disproportionately on the front lines for the sake of a necro-capitalist economy (a system whose engine has long required the destruction of black bodies). For years, stories of the structural barriers we face, casual indignities we endure, and treatment at the hands of the police have been ignored.

Sometimes you have to shock people out of their complacency.

The unheard became heard.

It took images of the systems of white supremacy turning water hoses on children during the Civil Rights movement to shock the conscience of America since it had no ability to visualize how the system routinely, even disdainfully, brutalizes its black citizens. Just like now, people wake up to a new reality—one they’d heard about anecdotally, but not entirely believed because it didn’t affect them—to the shocking actions of the police as they attack and arrest reporters; shoot rubber bullets and pepper balls at peaceful protesters; and even tear-gas pastors and church groups trying to pray. Those images seared through to begin some hard conversations. People begin to understand the level of pain, frustration, and rage that has always bubbled under the surface of all of our polite interactions.

“We have two things trying to kill us: the pandemic and racism. We have to protect ourselves from both.” —the organizers of the May 30 protest

There is a value to disruption. To the smashing of things or shattering of windows, to the blocking of traffic and interfering with business as usual. Fighting oppressive systems and injustice can sometimes be inconvenient. However, chaos breeds opportunity to do something different, the chances to tell counter-narratives and bring people to the table to talk. But in order to create the world we want to see, we have to create spaces to have rage and yet be strategic. Because, right now, the government’s response is only more violence.

“You know you don’t have to fight these battles alone.” —My wife

I’m still hopeful.

My wife joined me to attend the protests. Once there, we were greeted by a sea of young people. And some of my work colleagues. Students. Pastors. Friends. Family. Black. White. Gay. Queer. Asian. Hispanic. Natives. Multi-generational. Across education and economic lines. All united to drag hope and light into the space in order to counter the real of what is. To collectively say “Black Lives Matter.” The protests centered around young people, ready to speak truth to power about their unjust ways and delayed actions to do better. To build institutions in order to make the changes we want to see happen. Seeking structural change, shifting these cultural, social, economic, political structures from transactional relationship to something more human-centered. Knowing and looking out for and even celebrating our neighbors. Something truly just.

The history of black people is replete with stories of resilience and finding our way out of no way. We will continue to heal from a history of enslavement, pillaging, rape, and other brutalization—slowly—since the system and its enforcers still seem determined to kneel on our necks.

I’m tired.

But I’m still a dreamer. A science-fiction writer. An Afrofuturist. Spending my days imagining better futures, though some days are harder than others. But even in these dark times, I’m not going to let anyone rob me of my ability to dream and hope for better days. Because I have no choice: perseverance, making our way out of no way, is what we’ve always done. And will continue to do.

Maurice Broaddus works at Oaks Academy Middle School, serves as Afrofuturist in Residence at the Kheprw Institute, and is the author of several works of science fiction, including Pimp My Airship and The Usual Suspects.