I’ve been a member of the Huntsville community for all of my adult life, and a large portion of my adolescent and child life as well. I’ve taken advantage of our community’s opportunities to earn my daily bread, and of our city’s university to earn my degree. I’ve always had a positive view of those members of our community who protect law and order for all of us. I have never had a negative interaction with our police, and the only news I have read on the subject has been about arrests, not officer misconduct. When George Floyd was killed I was outraged at the policing practices in Minneapolis, not Huntsville.
That is, until I read accounts of police response to demonstrations on Monday June 1st.
That is, until I experienced first hand the police response on Wednesday June 3rd.
That is, until I read statements by HSVPD and your office in the aftermath of those demonstrations.
Citizens in America have a right to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom to protest. It is not a privilege. It is not something that the government can allow or deny. Citizens acting peacefully can occupy public spaces. We cannot block streets, we cannot cause damage or harm to people or property, but in public spaces, we can make our voices heard. In some cities, protests have turned to riots. In some cities, rioters have caused harm to persons and property. That did not happen in Huntsville. When the police deployed tear gas, demonstrators were assembled peacefully, our worst offense a usage of profanity. Many, including myself, were kneeling because if we were to be attacked we wanted to make sure that everyone saw we were peaceful.
I understand that the police needed to be present. I can even understand why they needed to be equipped in riot gear. History has shown that protests can become dangerous and there has been a precedent, even in our own state of Alabama, of violence. The police did not need to strike first.
I’d also like to address some of the specific justifications given by the police and yourself. You justify using force by claiming that the protesters were gearing up for a fight, citing medics, milk (water can’t wash tear gas from the eyes, milk can), and eye protection. I brought safety goggles myself. I even had a few occasions where I put them on. The triggering factor was always the same: a loud bang then what looked like a firework or a mortar shell, and a canister dispersing noxious gas landing near me. We knew that police deployed gas on Monday, we suspected (correctly) that they might do so again.
We felt strongly enough that we had the right to protest, and the obligation to demonstrate that we were there anyway. We are committed to peaceful protest, but if you know gas is coming, bring a gas mask. If you are a medical professional and you know people are going to be injured, bring medicine. No one used weapons. No one shot at the police. We suspected and were prepared for the first strike by law enforcement. That is no justification to attack us.
You also claimed that the march on the courthouse (a location was chosen for its central place in our governance as well as the disgraceful statue honoring the Confederacy) was perpetrated by “people outside of our community”. I’ll tell you right now, it was our community. The evidence you provide is unverified “intelligence” and the fact that many cars parked near downtown had out of state tags. You must forgive my skepticism on that “intelligence”, and I shouldn’t have to remind my Mayor that Huntsville is a city full of transplants here to work in our booming economy. Moreover, I am personally offended by the implication that my presence and the presence of every Huntsville citizen is somehow invalid if there were demonstrators from other regions that joined our cause.
Mayor Battle, I’m left with a troubling conclusion: that you meant exactly what you said. That you simply don’t consider me to be part of your community. That despite the majority of my life living, learning, and working in and around Huntsville, to your administration I’m an Other. The Them in an “us vs. them” scenario.
If that’s not the case then you need to come out and say it. You need to acknowledge the concerns of our community, not blame the Other, and gas your citizens.
If that is the case, then I guarantee that even if you don’t see us as members of your community, we still get to vote you out of office.
Huntsville Community Member
Gavin Miller is a Senior at UAH studying Computer Science and Communication Arts.