By Vincent L. Hall
Protesting is the social movement from emotion to resolve, from sensationalism to realism and rallies to pickets. The Warrior Model was logical, strategic, and built for endurance. Tackling racism can’t be a one-day event when you’re 401 years behind. Before beginning a formal protest, pick a target, pack a lunch, and peek at a copy of “How to Protest for Dummies.” Lucky for you, the American Civil Liberties Union has one online called Know Your Rights. This suggestion may sound trite, but protesting is as safe or dangerous as you make it. The ACLU provides guidelines for organizing, attending, and taking pictures or videos.
The most crucial segment offers suggestions for how to respond if the police stop you during a protest. After years of protesting with John Wiley Price and the Warriors, I can give you a few of my own. Some of these tips may sound silly, but nothing feels as foolish as being loaded in a police van when you least expect a free trip to Lew Sterrett or another jail. First, handcuff everyone at least once. It sounds strange, but all protesters need to know how it feels. For criminals, it may be routine. However, it can cause the average citizen to become belligerent. Handcuffs on a person who has never experienced it is tantamount to bull riding. Bucking, kicking, and twisting are natural reactions to sudden physical restraints.
Secondly, you should force each one to lie face down, with and without the restraints. If you are out of shape, your breathing can quickly become labored and painful. The more you talk, move, or experience anxiety, the more you become exasperated. Next, there should always be a reasonable number of protesters whose prime function is to guard the perimeter. Troublemakers will show up. Good people with the best intentions lose control and can cause trouble. The leaders of the protest ought to have a dossier on all of their participants. The police department and the FBI already have data. Trust me! True story. Once, during a picket at the Dallas Police Department in Pleasant Grove, we had an incident sparked by raw emotions. There was a woman whose scream was so shrill and blood-curdling that it moved the picket from calmness to chaos. The Bible speaks of Rachel weeping for her children in the prophetic book of Jeremiah. This must have been Rachel.
The police and our protesters overreacted. A visitor we didn’t know was arrested after he waylaid an officer. He was bailed out, and we heard he returned home to Florida. Going forward, we were very cautious about who was there and why. Our goal was to fight the system, not the cops. Police departments are the product of public policy, good or bad! Early on, we instituted a ritual of prayer before and after each protest. It had spiritual value, and it offered us a chance to huddle. Our circle of clasped hands was useful for pre-planning and post-assessments. We implored our Muslim brothers and sisters to lead prayers too. Black folks got too many problems to argue over religion. In the end, we all utter the same prayer: “God help us all.”
One day after picketing one of the mayors’ homes on the Northeast side, I peeped a curious, well-off looking white woman. She was standing in her yard, staring as we prayed. It made me nervous because the Commissioner always got death threats. Safety was still job #1. We never prayed with our eyes closed for that reason and because of the wisdom imparted to us by Jomo Kenyatta. “When the Missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land, and the Missionaries had the Bible. They taught us how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land, and we had the Bible.” As it turned out, this woman had a question. Her neighbor came closer, and we overheard her whispers. “What God are they praying to?” Today I would tell her the only God who can get the knees of injustice off our necks.