He stood there, as silent as he had been for the three hours I observed him that afternoon. He looked straight forward, holding on to his flag pole, while the rest of the world screamed around him. The demonstrations of the day had waned to a few disagreements. I spent more time than I had wanted this holiday weekend with strangers behaving poorly, and I sought the comfort only my family could provide. But, this flag bearer caught my curiosity, as did many that day.
July 4 is a special day for our country. The veneer has lost its luster though. The pious words of gentlemen defying English rule declaring “all men are created equal” was not truly intended for all men, and has since been perpetuated to today. But, there are the efforts of good people who continue to define the ideals of this country. Not all of them speak.
Three hours of people volleying insults towards one another — many of them strangers, while some were not — all in a disgusting exchange of regurgitated phrases adopted from television and social media. One demonstration with the intent to show support for beleaguered law enforcement officers met another formed to continue the cry that black lives matter, too. When the tension reached its height, one side was viewed as “racists” while the other “stupid kids.” Through my camera lens, I observed the sights. When offered the opportunity, I struck conversations with members from both rallies and listened intently.
The day was marked by individuals crossing the street with intentions to confront the opposition. They commonly stood in front of signs, lifted their message in front of the other, covering the other’s words. In a quiet moment under shade from the sun, I asked one why they had done that. That person said, ‘They’ve been allowed to speak their message without opposition for years. Not today.”
Back the Blue supporters talked amongst themselves as the other side shouted “defund the police,” a sparse line of police officers separating the two. Many observed how young the other side was. “What are they teaching them in high school,” they all asked. They shook their heads and shouted back, “Get a job.”
Unbeknownst to me, my camera was a weapon. As soon as I fired a shot, one masked demonstrator shouted “no pictures.” I later observed him passing water bottles out to people. When he offered me one, I asked him why he was against me taking pictures. He shared how others have been targets on social media. Modern technology can allow people to take a picture, and with uncanny accuracy, identify the person. Nefarious people then take that knowledge and go on the offensive. Online, I later observed a video of a man whose identity was doxed within seconds, after he allegedly shouted racial slurs to a crowd of Black Lives Matter demonstrators.
This is my hometown; it has been for the better part of 40 years. I had friends standing on both sides of the street that day, and friends holding the line between them, too. Three weeks processing what I observed has tempered my anger, but I continue to hear echoes of the day reverberate through our social media channels.
There is a dire need for conversation in this town, but I don’t know if you all are ready for it. I’m curious to learn what results from the Bethlehem Public Library and its Anti-Racist Book Group. Librarian Kate Lambert is quick to share that politics are not involved. By its very structure, the library is prohibited from tackling political issues. That’s the linchpin that ties the broken discourse we have with everything today.
Now, I understand that the center of two, opposing rallies is not the place for civil discourse. Another argument can be made that Delmar is not the place for two, opposing rallies, either. It is admirable and appreciated that there is a passion on both ends within individuals to partake in a national conversation. There is a desperate need for reform in so many aspects of our society. Those voices should not be tuned out, ignored or shouted over. It is also quite plausible for intelligent and good-hearted people to believe Black lives matter and to possess a want to support law enforcement agencies under attack because of the actions of others.
In fact, I’m willing to bet most people see the world as a kaleidoscope and not through the polarized spectrum driven by a coughing, wheezing two-party democracy that is broken. Democrat. Republican. Doesn’t matter. Both sides are complicit to the charade of speaking to “my fellow Americans” while only addressing the needs of the few. Our local leaders invited strangers into our town to speak on their behalf in this national discussion. Instead of taking the podium and speaking with their own words, they invited risk. To them, you are not equipped for the repercussions of these events turning violent, and you invited this into our backyards.
Don’t mistake this as a request to keep demonstrations out of our streets. Those who participated in these recent rallies were exercising their First Amendment rights. This paper will always stand as a champion for that right. That’s the sword we will fall upon every day, whether we agree with the message or not. No. Demonstrations are not spectacles for politicians to incite the masses. The masses demonstrate to move legislators into action. You hold a seat in office, get up and speak up. If you want to defund the police, share that with your constituents. Let our police department know. If you want to continue screaming “all lives matter” and turn a blind eye to the work that needs to be done, say as much in your own voice. Don’t hide behind a rally.
“I’m a political atheist,” said that flag bearer. “I’m not a Democrat or a Republican,” adding that no one said anything to him on that afternoon. He just stood there in silence, holding up the flag. People have draped themselves with that flag, spreading words not intended for any American to say to another, under the guise of patriotism. “The system is broken.”
The man was right. In the midst of chaos, I learned a thing or two through conversation — two people listening to one another — surrounded by people who had things to say, but had no interest in listening.
— Michael Hallisey