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The Peaceful, Student-Led, Massive Protests in the Mission Were Beautiful

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Student organized protests stretched the length of the Mission District on June 3rd 2020. Photo of Church st & 18th st.  Photo by Alex Mak

Across the country and the world, people of all races, gender, and backgrounds are taking to the street for the justice of George Floyd, a Black man that was murdered by the Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin who has now been charged with 2nd-degree murder. The other three complicit officers have also been charged.

George Floyd banner at student organized protests on the steps of Mission High School. Photo by Alex Mak

Over the last two weeks, the world has watched as these peaceful protests have violently evolved from further police misconduct throughout major cities, which is why I was tentative about going out Wednesday, June 3rd in San Francisco’s Mission District.  On top of that, there were issues of proper social distancing in the fear of coronavirus whose numbers to date are 2,587 cases confirmed with 43 deaths.

In the face of those obstacles, I needed to remind myself that it was a privilege to be scared and choose to stay home. I reminded myself that Black people and people of color for generations didn’t have the luxury of sitting out in a world that was statistically and by design going after them. The least I could do was show up as a member of my community to show support for Black lives and police reform.

Student organized protests on the steps of Mission High School. Photo by Alex Mak

The day was hot and windy. My girlfriend and I, with our masks on and posters in hand, made our way down to Dolores Park where the protest was to be held. The moment I stepped outside, I could feel the palpable energy of movement. I don’t know how to describe it other than a kind of momentum, a feeling of power that is born when people come together for a common good.

Down Church Street towards 17th, we saw more and more people moving with that same purpose. You could hear the distant chants of SAY HIS NAME, GEORGE FLOYD, and SAY HER NAME, BREONNA TAYLOR echo down the street. There were people of all ages, all ethnicities, all genders. It reminded me of a time before COVID when the community could intermingle without fear or hesitation. There was little police presence as we made our way down into a sea of signs: NO JUSTICE NO PEACE, DEFUND THE POLICE, and JUSTICE FOR GEORGE FLOYD. Above, news helicopters circled around in the sky, their cameras aimed at us. We were there, we were listening, we would not stay silent.

As I repeated chants, I felt the unrestrained breath in my lungs. I couldn’t help but think of George Floyd and the other Black Americans that were murdered due to centuries of systemic racism and police brutality.  With my fist high in the air, my individualism melted away and I felt myself become a part of a movement, of a need. I felt a surge of anger and rage when my mind recalled the images of the police tear-gassing peaceful protesters in Minneapolis, in DC in Lafayette Park, in Seattle where my mother and sister live.

The betrayal of that oath the police made to protect and to serve the public, as well as The First Amendment, which guarantees freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition, was destroyed the moment tear gas, police tanks, and groups of white militia were allowed to “protect” the community against protesters. What was the police force’s reasoning? I thought as the march began. Because it definitely wasn’t protecting and serving us, but their own agenda of power.

Student organized protests on the steps of Mission High School. Photo by Alex Mak

My throat tightened as my eyes watered when I saw SF residents cheer the march on, banging pots and pans, holding up BLACK LIVES MATTER signs up with their children cheering. There was no violence, there was no intimidation, there was only the unwavering commitment to show the community that the people of San Francisco and the Bay Area would not stay quiet.

There were bull and car horns, cheers, and tambourines as we walked toward Castro street, a subtle nod to Pride. After four years of Trump and COVID keeping us locked inside, I was reminded that the human spirit is hopeful and vigilant. The sun was warm on our backs as we crossed Market on Castro toward Divisadero. There was music playing up ahead. I turned around, feeling carried by the crowd, and saw ten-thousand strong.

Market Street in the Castro District. Photo by Mitchell Duran

My girlfriend and I peeled off after we crossed Guerrero street. Both of us were worried about spending a long amount of time in crowds and didn’t want to risk further exposure. I felt a pang of shame for leaving, that in some way I wasn’t seeing something through but, I had to let that go.

The work of recognizing the systems of oppression that were built to crush and control people of color from the very beginning cannot be done all in one day. What matters is doing the work every day. That was my responsibility.

Protests led by High School student Simone Jacques (17 years old). Photo by Alex Mak.

Walking home with the sounds of the crowds and helicopters fading, we passed a black on black suburban in front of a fire station. We were already a few blocks away from the march at that point. The car was stacked with a front bumper lift and 4 SWAT looking policemen. They were chuckling about something. Immediately, I felt that familiar fear and intimidation whenever I saw a cop. How backward that was. After all that unity and peaceful solidarity, the police were still waiting in the wings making their presence known.

Student led protests, speeches began with Simone Jacques (17 years old) her speech.  Video shot by Jay Jasper Pugao

As the night went on, I could hear police sirens and the roar of helicopters outside my window. I continued to check Twitter to see half of the group had made their way to the Mission police station, where the other half went to Bryant Street to the Justice Building. There I saw a school bus with people hanging off of its side. One person was holding a burning American Flag. There was police presence but no signs of physical intimidation to enforce a curfew that Breed hours ago said would be lifted the next day. In the morning I saw that some protesters, including the journalist Julian Mark, were arrested along with a fourteen-year-old boy. Julian was surrounded by police at some point before his arrest. All in all, twenty or so protesters were detained but thankfully, nobody was seriously injured from what I read.

Throughout the coming days and weeks, I hope that protesters in California, in America, around the world look out for one another, can stand strong and unwavering in the face of police intimidation, and never forget change is not given but fought for. 

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Mitchell Duran

Mitchell Duran

Mitchell Duran is a freelance writer of fiction and non-fiction. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Winner of the ClarkGrossman and Wilner Award in Short Fiction, his work has been featured in Drunk Monkeys, The Millions, Music in SF and more. He survives in San Francisco.