Protests have largely kept their momentum over the past few months, even with a pandemic working against them. These protesters are admirable not only for standing up for their values and rights, but also for risking being exposed to COVID-19 to do so. They show up anyway, masks, signs and all, despite everything stacked against them.
Since Drexel is located in the sixth-largest city in the U.S., we have been no strangers to grand-scale protests and movements. Back in June, there were numerous demonstrations across Philadelphia following the murder of George Floyd. These protests sparked conversations about police brutality and calls for reform of our current police system. In University City, peaceful protesters had tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets used against them despite the non-violent nature of the protests. These actions have prompted a new bill from the Philadelphia City Council, proposing that the use of these weapons be permanently banned from police use in response to demonstrations, protests or similar activities. This legislation was announced at the end of the Philadelphia City Council committee hearing on Oct. 7, which aimed to review the experiences of residents on 52nd Street in West Philadelphia on May 31 and on the Vine Street Expressway on June 1, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
While the formation of this bill is a step in the right direction to protect protesters, there are still many pieces of the system that need change. For instance, instituting better de-escalation policies should be further investigated. If police respond to the scene by immediately using tear gas on protesters or march into the area already wearing their riot gear, the anger and fear of the crowd will most likely escalate. Research supporting de-escalation tactics dates back to the formation of three federal commissions between 1967 and 1970, and yet we still face these issues today.
Concerns over violence or the ongoing global pandemic should be considered, but that doesn’t negate the right to protest, and people can still choose to use their voices to promote change. As long as those in attendance follow CDC guidelines and are prepared with masks and proper sanitary tools, there is less to fear in that regard. This is especially true after public health experts found little evidence that protests in big cities spread COVID-19 during May and June, according to an Associated Press article. During the time of those protests, the coronavirus rate of growth in cases was lower in those cities than in states that were re-opening, a study funded by the National Bureau of Economic Research found.
But even when following all pandemic protocols, it is disheartening to know that many protesting Americans still feel threatened by the very people tasked with protecting them. Despite all of the hardships that this issue has caused, we must strive to protect the right to assemble for future generations and to eliminate the fear and danger that currently affect those actively involved. As the Philadelphia City Council furthers their debate regarding these issues throughout the year’s end, we remain hopeful that, when analyzing their budget next spring, they see the benefit in furthering protections for those willing to speak out and show up.