It’s Just My Opinion: JoAnne Smith is Wrong

On Friday, JoAnne Smith, a columnist for a local newspaper, published a lackluster article about the recent protests blazing across the country following the unanswered deaths of Eric Garner, Mike Brown, and John Crawford. In her column aptly titled "It's Just My Opinion," Smith delivers painstakingly ignorant viewpoints redolent of 1960s Jim Crow with 21st century window dressing.

She has an unfortunate track record of publishing articles that embrace bigotry and ignorance. Just glance at yet another article where she tells us that

"Hanukkah, the eight crazy nights celebrating the miracle of a one-day supply of oil miraculously lasting eight days, wasn’t’ a “branded” Jewish holiday until the 1970s."

Her latest is yet another inkling in the absurd.

She begins her piece by begging readers to understand that she, too, is a protestor. How she protested for the ferry out here in Rockaway, and on the steps of City Hall for Demand the Sand.

But her activism goes mute when racially charged police brutality comes into play. She speaks proudly of how, to this day, she's personally boycotting Bruce Springsteen because he dared to lift up Amadou Diallo in "41 Shots." In a case that stunned, shook and angered a nation, Diallo was mercilessly killed after four police officers of the NYPD fired a total of 41 shots. Gunned down, Diallo was unarmed, Black, and 23 years old at the time of his death in 1999. His killers were acquitted of second-degree murder.

Smith's principle critique of protests in New York City are that they aren't pointed. She believes there is no clear objective in mind, again highlighting an ignorance upon which her entire column is built. She compares the thousands of people who have come out to a "horde of walkers from Walking Dead;" a self-interested group of agitators hoping to simply bring attention to themselves, and not an overarching cause which ultimately escapes her.

As a co-organizer of the NYC Millions March, and a regular who shows up in support of demonstrations and mass mobilizations, I find it both odd and pitiful that she is unable or unwilling to understand the underlying root of our societal discontent.

We've made our demands very clear. From Ferguson to New York City, we demand that police officers be held accountable for the recklessness that ends in the deaths of Blacks and Latinos. We demand that Mike Brown and Eric Garner and so many other Black people who have been unrighteously killed by police, receive justice. We demand that the uncomfortable ties between law enforcement and racism be severed. We demand that the world recognize our right to live.

Protesting isn't meant to be convenient, but Smith thinks so. She writes that "blocking bridges and tunnels" isn't a form of protest. And yet, she credits Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a visionary who she would have been "honored to walk in solidarity [with] on any march he organized," despite the fact that one of his most notable protests happened in Selma, where he led thousands across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on three different occasions.

On March 21, 1965, Dr. King marched from Selma to Montgomery along U.S. Route 80, known locally as Jefferson Davis Highway—a token to the President of the Confederate State of America. Averaging some 10 miles a day, Dr. King and thousands more arrived at the Alabama State Capitol building demanding voting rights for African Americans who were institutionally, systematically and violently excluded from the polls. Dr. King's esteemed actions led to the federally authorized Voting Rights Act of 1965—the same iconic legislation which, in recent years, has been gutted by the Supreme Court.

It's safe to say that the miles-long journey blocked some traffic along the way.

This is the same vein in which protestors take to the streets today. The urgency of our frustrations propel us to respond peacefully and publicly. The reports of looting and violent disturbances are not characteristic of this growing movement. In fact, some instances of violent unrest and looting are directly attributed to law enforcement who try to incite peaceful protestors as a way to distract and discredit them.

JoAnne Smith is confused because she is not taking the time to understand. She is confused because she relies on outdated and disputed tropes that mongrelize Black communities. She is confused because she clings to a whitewashed standard of the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King. She is confused because she's not proactively or efficiently doing her research.

And in all her confusion she tells us that we need "take a step back and breathe for a moment." Such a hauntingly ironic sentiment considering Eric Garner's last words were literally "I can't breathe." Garner gasped these chilling words 11 times as Officer Daniel Pantaleo ruthlessly held him in a chokehold, thereby killing him.

A movement is genuinely brewing. And it's happening quickly. In this avant-garde era of social media and digital communications, viral posts and tweets transcend to mass mobilizations in the tens of thousands. The Millions March in NYC is a prime example of this.

And it's coming from young people who are unafraid to take up the front lines. Smith writes "change comes from the top." Well, it doesn't. Change comes from us at the bottom who crawl our way to the top, correcting injustices along the way.

JoAnne Smith is on the wrong side of the history we're creating. She is ignorant to the grassroots situation, where we will no longer sit on the sidelines while we're gunned down by law enforcement.

So, JoAnne Smith, I say this directly to you: Just because you do not understand the movement, does not mean the movement is invalid. We will not slow down because you can't keep up.