Disarm all protestors in public spaces

by Wade Rathke

Friday, September 4

Pearl River   I’m enrolled in the lifetime learning program for organizers. The sessions are usually not online, but they happen there, too. Most of the classes are in real-time on the streets and with lots of people involved.

I know how to count. I’ve counted crowds. I’ve worked out a formula for counting marches based on the average number of people in a line, lines per block, and blocks per mile. Rough counts of course, but I don’t have helicopters and spotters for this work. Certainly, I count arrests.

I’m drawing a line now. I don’t want to count deaths at a protest.

Yes, that is common in other countries. I make a mental note, but that’s as far as I have been willing to go. Working in the United States as an organizer for decades, I didn’t think I needed to count protest deaths here. In recent weeks, I’m finding myself wrong. A protestor was shot and killed by a 17-year old boy in Kenosah, Wisconsin, who was part of a right-wing militia group. A 48-year old armed right-wing militia member was shot and killed in Portland. Local and federal police have now shot and killed another 42-year old, who self-identified as a part of the loose antifa grouping, and who police allege was the killer in the earlier protest.

Why is this happening? There’s an easy answer. Somehow, guns are now being allowed at protests.

Every study from every side of the question has established that proximity to guns is a killer. Guns in the home kill spouses and children, on purpose and by accident. Guns abet suicides. Guns kill period.

Some state legislatures are making protests around personal residences illegal. Maybe that will stand up in court and maybe not, but why are cities and states not outlawing guns around protests by all sides? A recent article in The New Yorker about the range and variety of Michigan and nationally based armed militia groups from Boogaloo to how-who was spine chilling. As organizers in America, do we need to now not only warn our members that there is always a chance of arrests, but to kiss their families before they leave home, because they could be killed by some trigger-happy fool with a gun?

With or without ordinances and legislation, why are the police not moving to disarm protestors on all sides? If not for our safety, how about for their own? The police are not passive observers as all of us who have ever been part of a demonstration know. They are participant-observers, as the sociologists would hate for them to be called. Sometimes they are watching, and sometimes they are in the stuff all the way. Who wants to guess how long it will be before some hothead in this current climate takes a potshot at them?

Police and politicians seem to recoil at the notion of defunding the police, but are they willing to demand that they do their jobs? How about that for a change, while insisting that they curtail their own brutality and racism, and not put their fingers on the scale in favor of the militias either? They need to be stopped.

For our part, we need to operate with some common sense and political savvy, especially right now, and insist that anyone armed or looking for a fight, go somewhere else to find it. We can’t allow friends or enemies to claim that they are protecting us.

If they are armed, they are by definition dangerous.


Wade Rathke is founder and chief organizer of ACORN and ACORN International. You can find Wade’s recent past posts here Chief Organizer Reports. And you can link to his website here Chief Organizer ACORN/ACORN International.

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