COLUMN: Understanding Through Protest Participation

I’ve participated in my fair share of protests, but none of them were as passionately thought-provoking as the one that took in downtown Long Beach on Sunday.

The reaction to another senseless killing of an unarmed black citizen by the police officers who swore to protect him has been a wide range of emotions. As a straight, white male in America, I’m well aware of the privileges I have that others will never experience. I also know I’ll never be able to fully understand the experiences of Americans who don’t look like me. But I can try, and that’s why I marched.

For me, this unnecessary violence has been a call to action for everyone, and I felt that while protesting with my fellow Long Beach citizens on Sunday.

I was also reminded of this unassailable truth: There’s a difference between good cops and bad cops, and there’s a difference between protesters and rioters.

My wife, Vanessa, and I joined the march at the corner of Ocean Boulevard and Alamitos Avenue, where hundreds of protesters had taken a knee in the middle of the intersection. The silence was jarring, appropriate and respectful. Even the cars stuck in the traffic stopped honking their horns when they realized what was happening.

The large group stood up again to the chant, “Say his name… George Floyd!” and the parade of patriots made its way down Ocean Boulevard and up Long Beach Boulevard.

The honking horns of support, the residents leaning out their windows to chant, and the people handing out free water to protesters made me feel so proud of this city. I saw people hugging strangers in the street, and one man carrying a small child on this shoulders holding a sign that simply read, “Love.”

It was emotional, to say the least.

The growing line of protesters turned off Broadway and onto Pine Avenue, where Long Beach Police Department officers, in full riot gear, were standing on the corner. Most of the protesters ignored them as they marched past, and some yelled obscenities, but I hung back and looked at their faces.

Honestly, it didn’t look like the officers wanted to be there. Would you?

When a commanding officer noticed a group of kids riding on the top of their car while others walked around it down Pine Avenue towards the Pike Outlets, this large officer at the end of the line was asked to intervene. The commanding officer pointed at the car as if to say, “Tell them to get down, that’s not safe.”

The look on this man’s face was pain. He clearly didn’t want to risk an altercation for something these protesters were going to do anyway — even if they just got back on the car further down the street.

Instead of rushing towards the car, this officer slowly moved through the crowd. I watched him let the car move further away from his unit. He looked back to see how far he was from his fellow officers, and at that point his commander called him back to the group.

To me, that’s a peaceful protest. He didn’t not do his job, he just chose to keep the peace. He used intelligence instead of force.

The same can’t be said for the idiot troublemakers who ruined the rest of the day with violence.

According to multiple local news sources, the first serious report of vandalism on Sunday happened at at approximately 4:30 p.m. at the corner of Pine Avenue and Ocean Boulevard, and I was there to witness it.

A small group of young, white males dressed in all black wearing hooded sweatshirts were milling around an LBPD SUV that was parked on Pine Avenue. One of them looked like he had something hard in his hand, and he smashed the back window out with one punch.

Almost immediately everyone who saw or heard the window break started yelling things like, “No, stop, that’s not why we’re here!” One woman stepped between the vandals and the car to limit the damage. She was quickly joined by a group of protesters who built a human wall around the car.

As a line of LBPD motorcycle officers buzzed the crowd with loud sirens, the small group of vandals moved quickly across Ocean Boulevard towards the Pike Outlets. I tried to follow them to see what they were up to, and even in the large crowd they weren’t hard to track. They weren’t carrying protest signs or chanting with the crowd. They were looking for trouble, and trying to create it where it wasn’t.

My wife and I then joined another large group of protesters that marched back down Ocean towards Bixby Park, so we didn’t actually see where those vandals ended up. However, when we got home (well before curfew) I swear I saw them, or people dressed a lot like them, looting the Pike Outlets. I wasn’t surprised.

This is just one example of radical rioters and opportunistic looters infecting these protests for social change with their own selfish agendas. Protesters and vandals are two separate groups.

I’ve seen far too many Long Beach residents online blaming the protesters for Sunday night’s destruction of our community. Those baseless assumptions are not fair to anyone, and they cloud everyone’s judgment — including law enforcement.

If you watched local news on Sunday night you saw the LBPD facing off with protesters on Pine Avenue while looters were smashing windows and taking what they wanted just a few miles away. That’s a misallocation of resources.

The recent protests are trying to make America a better place by reforming law enforcement and ending systemic racism. That has to start with us, and then continue to change the police officers themselves.

We as a society can’t sit idly by while militarized police departments rule with a heavy hand. We need more highly educated police officers on the force, and different enforcement strategies, to change the way we deal with each other. We need more guys like the one I saw decide not to create an incident where it didn’t need creating.

I honestly respect law enforcement, and I believe that any good police officer will tell you the killing of unarmed civilians or physically bullying peaceful protesters is unacceptable. We just need more good police officers in positions of power where the changes can be made.

Until then, we’ll keep protesting. And anarchists will continue to try and subjugate the message. Hopefully people and police can see the difference now.

Photo By Vanessa Fiddler

JJ Fiddler
JJ Fiddler is an award-winning sportswriter and videographer who has been covering Southern California sports for multiple newspapers and websites since 2004. After attending Long Beach State and creating the first full sports page at the Union Weekly Newspaper, he has been exclusively covering Long Beach prep sports since 2007.