I, among hundreds of thousands of others across the globe, have participated in the peaceful protests against the attacks on civil rights at the hands of the police and under the command of our elected officials. This call to action is from the killing of George Floyd, 46, whose neck was knelt on by a white police officer for eight minutes and 46 seconds while Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down on the road.
Breonna Taylor, 26, a medical technician who was killed in her home while she was sleeping by white police officers executing a no-knock warrant.
Tamir Rice, 12, was playing with his toy gun as he was shot and killed by a white police officer.
We must continue to say their names and fight for the safety of all Black people.
In Orlando, Florida, as of today, protesters have been fighting on the front lines for a month. On May 31, 2020, I arrived at the Orlando protest with a mask on, baking soda and water solution for tear gas prepared and goggles packed. By this day, a countywide curfew was set to 10 p.m. in attempts to take away our first amendment right to protest.
This was then followed days later with a new 8 p.m. curfew strictly for Downtown Orlando, the scene for all the major Black Lives Matter protests at that time. Orlando officials are doing everything in their power to silence us.
One hour before the 10 p.m. curfew, my fellow protesters and I occupied I-4, the biggest highway that flows through all of Orlando. As we all united together and chanted, "we are peaceful" and "hands up, don't shoot," the police threw tear gas at us as well as the surrounding civilians in cars, without any warning.
All protesters were forced to jump a 10-to-12-foot ledge off the highway, for the cops had boxed us in with nowhere to run. I landed awkwardly, which caused me to hurt my ankle, but thankfully, my boyfriend and friend were there to quickly help me move forward as we ran for our lives.
The police continued to throw gas at us as we were running into the neighboring community and caring for anyone that got hurt.
Orlando Police Department Chief Rolon and multiple other outlets, including the Orlando Sentinel, are trying to portray the protests as violent. But protesters I saw shut down any person who threw water bottles or started to cause damage by yelling "not in our community" or "I don't hang out with violent people."
All I remember is strangers banding together to fight injustice using peaceful, non-violent disruptions. I can personally say that police gas was not "used as a last resort" as Chief Rolon lied about on one of the virtual Orlando Town Halls. He tried to explain that the curfews were added to stop the "looting," but there have been no reported incidents of that happening anywhere near Downtown Orlando.
On June 1, 2020, I arrived in Downtown to protest again, despite my ankle still hurting from the night before. At one point during the day, we marched through the low-income Black neighborhoods. No cops in sight, but once we tried to march through the white neighborhoods later that night, the cops were ready for us with wooden batons and heavy body gear.
It's time we all understand that the entire system is racist.
On June 2, 2020, we staged a peaceful sit-in at Orlando City Hall. This was after hours of marching and yelling. We were all exhausted. I vividly remember taking a moment to look around, and I saw everyone singing, chanting, laughing, all happy with what we accomplished that day.
Fellow protesters were handing out water and supplies; some were even helping gather trash. The cops started to surround us, all anxious to start to mace, gas, and beat protesters at the strike of the 10 p.m. curfew. They chased people and hit them with their bikes.
I was lucky to have had my friends there as we all ran away, even almost getting hit with a police car. My boyfriend ran through the gas to help a lady who got hit by a gas canister, but he had to disperse because of his severe asthma. He ended up getting maced and gassed in the face, which caused him to lose sight in his left eye for a few days.
This is only a glimpse of what protesting has been like in Orlando, Florida, but we're still out there every single day. We won't be silenced. We will fight until we are heard.
The fight for a better future doesn't end once it stops trending. No justice, no peace.
If you cannot attend a protest, there are other ways to help the Black Lives Matter movement. Visit this link for more information.