Community Organizers Warn of Attempts to Quell Protesters’ ‘Revolutionary Spirit’
The George Floyd protests taking place in Columbus, Ohio have seen a new community group surge in the conversation on police violence and racial injustice. However, that group has taken on much criticism from local advocates and organizers with accusations of a conspiracy significantly influenced – or even led – by the Columbus Police Department.
Black Freedom 2020 created its official Facebook page in early June, as the current protests were less than a week old. That Facebook page now has nearly 800 members, many of whom continue to have questions about their motivations and criticism of the group’s actions.
Criticisms of Black Freedom 2020’s group members have included taking photo ops with officers, talking down to people who question the organization or his leadership, dismissing the organizing already being done in the community, and silencing the voices of Black women and others at their demonstrations.
Another source of concern has been about group members that Black Freedom has since cut ties with. Two white members were formerly denounced by the group, after accusations of racism and white supremacy emerged.
All of these conversations have taken place within the Facebook group among community members. Unfortunately, after some back-and-forth, Columbus Underground has not been able to connect with representatives from Black Freedom 2020 for an interview.
However, a representative has responded to the last few weeks of criticism online.
“There were several members who’s [sic] ideals did not match ours in the beginning and it’s why they are no longer here. Many of those members were discovered to have self pleasing agendas,” said Terence Robertson, on behalf of Black Freedom, via Facebook on Monday. “We do apologise for having ever associated with them and it’s why many of you are confused about who we are.”
“Those we have wrongfully offended, from bad communication, we apologize and hope to move forward in a positive direction,” he said. “However, we will not kiss up, we will not be quiet and we will be successful.”
Dkéama Alexis of Black Queer Intersectional Collective voices suspicion of Black Freedom as part of a trend of new organizations that have “grabbed a large amount of attention and have used that attention to try and quell the revolutionary spirit that a lot of folks are showing in the streets.”
Alexis says, given the history of policing as an inherently anti-black system, it’s “unforgivable to try and continue selling this myth that police officers protect and serve us.”
“From my perspective and from my work within BQIC, we’re always going to center the lives and safety of Black LGBTQ people especially. And we are especially vulnerable when event organizer high five and hug cops and silence us when we tell them that we feel unsafe,” they said. “Therefore, attempts to encourage sympathy by taking selfies and photo ops with police or to continue to call for reformist ends are dangerous.
“We believe that those [actions] are inherently anti-liberation and meant to distract away from the real radical, on-the-ground work that Black abolitionists — Black, queer and trans abolitionists especially — have been doing for decades,” said Alexis. “So groups like Black Freedom are a distraction from the movement.”
Many of the goals Black Freedom has laid out stand in direct opposition to groups like the Columbus Freedom Coalition and BQIC. Both are self-described abolitionist organizations that are calling for a world without police or even prisons.
Questions of their motivations aside, these community organizers have signaled that the platform that groups like Black Freedom stand on is more of the same solutions that have already been presented in the last several years in the fight for racial justice and police accountability.
Demands such as increasing diversity in the force and giving incentives for police to live in the communities they serve are not new solutions, they say, and have been tried in other cities. These same demands are also already in discussion in Columbus, via recommendations from the mayor’s Community Safety Advisory Commission.
This week even, Columbus City Council announced, in partnership with CME Federal Credit Union, the Safety Forces Residential Incentives Program, which grants downpayment assistance to police and fire department personnel living within the City of Columbus.
“We know that officers of color are complicit and participate in police murders, like Tou Thao who stood and watched as George Floyd was murdered. In Baltimore, over half of the police force is POC––but this force is still racially biased, disproportionately attacking Black people and POC,” a statement from the Columbus Freedom Coalition read. “Hiring more officers also takes away support for already underfunded portions of the city budget like education, healthcare, housing, etc.”
This week, Black Freedom met with the police chief to discuss the future of the Columbus Division of Police and milestones they want to hit. This comes after representatives from the group were invited — the same week they formally emerged — to speak with officials with the Columbus Police Department.
These actions include requiring a mandate to report use of force situations and requiring a duty to intervene, some remedies that have also been identified as solutions in the national 8 Can’t Wait campaign. That campaign has been criticized by abolitionists as being based on faulty data science.
On Wednesday, Columbus officials announced the city’s participation in the 8 Can’t Wait initiative.
“There is no amount of negotiating with the police that will undo or preempt violence,” Alexis said. “Black Freedom is ultimately just part of a neoliberal agenda that gives the state legitimacy. And since our country, since our society, is born on genocide and enslavement, we should try to imagine a world that is built on something entirely different.”
Given that Black Freedom is a new group, their platform and strategy toward police brutality and racial injustice could change. When asked if they would be open to working with new organizers acting in good faith, Alexis, speaking for BQIC generally, said the collective welcomes new people who might not have had the years or depth of experience “to lead a successful campaign or to properly mobilize and organize the masses into effecting substantial change.”
However, they’re clear in saying they don’t feel this group is acting “in good faith.”
“Policing only protects and serves a very narrow group of people, it is not good faith to then put marginalized folks in proximity to those who terrorize us,” they said. “It’s not good faith to try and derail a longstanding movement for and towards abolition into meek roundtable meetings and non-confrontational gatherings.”
For more information on Black Freedom, visit BlackFreedomRing2020.com.
For more information on BQIC, visit bqic.net.