Vox’s Alexandria Wilson describes her experience taking part in marches held July 10 and 11 in Atlanta.
On Monday, July 11, I stood in a growing crowd of fellow protesters reading a text from my mother warning me not to get arrested, while one of the protest organizers announced that we were all at risk of arrest.
In the past, my interactions with the Atlanta Police Department have been minimal, close to none. So when the Black Lives Matter marches started in Atlanta last week, I wasn’t prepared for just how up close and personal I would get with the APD.
I participated in the Black Lives Matter march last Sunday night and was informed about the next one starting Monday evening at the Lenox train station. Although we ended at Piedmont Park at almost 2 a.m., I felt, and still feel, that it is my moral duty to march until change is made.
So, Monday evening as we started our march from the Lenox MARTA station to the governor’s mansion, we immediately flooded the street, like we had done in downtown Atlanta the past couple of nights. I felt safe, just as I had before, surrounded by white allies and other black and brown faces, only feeling a little uneasy about the overwhelming amount of police presence.
I marched in the street, arms interlocked with my two best friends, and our chants for change were amplified by the hundreds of voices surrounding us.
“No Justice, No Peace, No Racist A** Police” ringed loud through the streets. Cars honked, some in support, others in annoyance. People dining at the restaurants we passed by whipped out their phones to capture the march, and the staff stopped in their tracks to watch our procession.
It was painfully obvious from the attention we were getting that this was an unprecedented event for Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood. But in order to elicit change, we had to go to a neighborhood where money talks and we would get a lot of attention from ill-informed residents and the news.
Before we got too far into our march, we took some time to remember those who the black community lost in the past year. We occupied the space in a large intersection in front of Lenox Square mall, sitting and standing in the street as the traffic signal above changed from red to green.
As we started to march again, the police took the opportunity to make snatch-and-grab arrests. “Get out of the streets!” was the single monotone warning I heard from an APD officer before panic took over the protesters. In a split second I found myself standing surprisingly alone in the middle of the street.
I heard shouts to get on the sidewalk and people screaming out their names and birthdate as they got arrested, as we’d been advised to do before the march started so legal advisers in the crowd could have documentation of all the arrests made that night and possibly help those arrested. We were also told that there was a bond fund set up by Black Lives Matter Greater Atlanta president Sir Maejor for those who happened to be arrested.
I took off full speed toward the sidewalk where other protesters had started gathering. I didn’t look back to see if I was being chased by police for fear that I would trip and get caught or collide with other people running. When I made it to the sidewalk, I was still lost in a sea of confused and frustrated people. Thankfully, finding my friends was fairly easy because I heard them frantically screaming my name a short distance away. From that point on, the march continued on the sidewalk.
This scene was completely different from Sunday night’s protest downtown. On Sunday we marched around the city of Atlanta with absolutely no police walking alongside us. We danced, played drums and chanted “Black Lives Matter” or “If we don’t get no justice, then they don’t get no peace.” We blocked off roads and intersections.
By doing this we showed that power comes in numbers. If you weren’t with the movement, you were stuck in your car surrounded by it, you heard it, you saw it, you were forced to acknowledge the Black Lives Matter movement. Despite all that we did, the only contact we had with any form of law enforcement was when we passed by exits to get onto the interstate, because taking our march to the interstate was our only restriction.
Sunday’s lively protest transformed into what felt like a march to war on Monday. It was ridiculous to witness a gathering of hundreds of people, who were able to completely block Peachtree Road, be forced to squeeze onto a three-foot-wide sidewalk when we had so much freedom the other night.
After the first round of snatch and grab arrests, the march continued on, only losing a few people to arrests a couple times after that, we finally arrived at the governor’s mansion.
The decision to end our march at the governor’s mansion sparked a lot of controversy on social media. There were tweets condemning us for disturbing the peace in Buckhead, for failing to do our research to check if the governor was even home and mocking us when our cars were being towed.
Even if the governor were home, the protest organizers still wanted to talk with Mayor Kasim Reed and Atlanta Police Chief George Turner, and there has never been a Black Lives Matter protest to have ever taken place in Buckhead, one of the whitest neighborhoods in the city.
One major takeaway that I got from marching is that change is possible: A people united can hold those in power responsible and possibly get answers. Staking out the governor’s mansion forced Mayor Reed and Chief Turner out into the streets around midnight to address the protests. Our civil disobedience granted the protest organizers a two-hour window on Monday July 18 to discuss their concerns about the Atlanta communities with the mayor, his cabinet and the police chief.
As someone who got to experience this movement in person and not through social media, I am so proud and in awe of the people in Atlanta who came together and made a ripple of change. There were so many times during the night and early morning that I planned to leave. I was tired, hungry and I just wanted to take a hot shower, but the people around me kept me going with their kindness.
When the police refused to let food or water past the barricades they set up around West Paces Ferry Road, the protesters came together, sharing water bottles and what little food they had. When spirits started to drop, the drummers sped up their beat, and “The people united, will never be divided” gradually started to increase in volume. There was so much love and support at both of the marches that I attended, it was truly an amazing experience.
Alexandria, 18, is a recent graduate of North Atlanta High School who believes being passionate about something means truly living.
This story was published at VOXAtl.com, Atlanta’s home for uncensored teen publishing and self-expression. For more about the nonprofit VOX, visit www.voxatl.org.