As RNC Speakers Denounce Protesters, Police Pepper Spray Activists Protesting RNC

Each Republican National Convention (RNC) is met with protests and a corresponding police presence. The resistance against the 2020 convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, has taken on a particularly anti-racist character, in line with ongoing rebellion following the police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and others in the spring. The RNC protests are happening amid uprisings in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and elsewhere in response to the recent police shooting of Jacob Blake.

Protests — largely organized by Charlotte Uprising, a coalition of community members dedicated to ending state violence against Black and marginalized people — began on August 21 and are scheduled to end today. The coalition called on “all freedom fighters” to resist the RNC in Charlotte and “unite against Trump & fascist Amerikkka.”

On Tuesday, the first evening of the RNC, “some people started burning a flag while talking about police violence and generally the theme was Black Lives Matter, protesting cop violence and ‘no RNC in CLT,’” said Luke, an anti-racist and climate activist from North Carolina who, fearing retaliation, prefers to use a pseudonym.

Suddenly, local police bull-rushed protesters with their bicycles while yelling “Move!” It was a chaotic scene full of screaming, captured by several local journalists, as police pepper-sprayed individuals in the face at close range. One officer rolled his bike over an individual who had fallen after being sprayed in the face. As she crawled away, people came to her aid and pulled her up.

“There were a lot of street medics on scene that administered first aid while we reformed our line to stop cops from pushing in more,” Luke said.

Police arrested four protesters, two of whom were transported to the hospital for their injuries.

Of the assault, Charlotte police tweeted: “Demonstrators push bicycle officer off his bike while he attempted to extinguish a fire lit by demonstrators. Two arrests [were] made and pepper spray was deployed.” Charlotte City Councilmember Braxton Winston, pepper-sprayed while protesting at the scene, tweeted back, “This is a lie,” which video evidence appears to support. When The Charlotte Observer asked Winston whether he would file a complaint, he responded, “to who?”

Throughout the demonstrations, Charlotte police deployed pepper spray liberally and weaponized their bicycles in what Luke described as a “moveable wall.” On August 21, an officer fell over their bicycle and latched on to a protester’s shirt in an attempt to drag them to the ground while other officers tackled, shoved and pepper-sprayed others at close range.

On August 22, Charlotte Uprising tweeted that protesters had been pepper-sprayed at least twice that evening. On August 23, police rode their bicycles directly into a crowd of individuals and knocked at least one to the ground.

Police plowed their bicycle into Kristie Puckett Williams, an activist, organizer and Smart Justice manager with the ACLU of North Carolina. “We were walking, chanting, marching, and a car tried to come through and the crowd surrounded the truck. The police yelled ‘Move’ as they pedaled full speed into people and violently piled onto the people they knocked down to arrest them,” she told Truthout.

During the daytime Resist RNC 2020 rally on August 24, police pepper-sprayed a Black man in the face while a local news station was interviewing Charlotte NAACP President Corine Mack nearby.

After witnessing the assault, Mack told the station, “We don’t know the after-effects of the spray; we don’t know the chemicals in the spray. We don’t know if it has been banned by the military. We don’t know what it is. What we do know is it should not be used on the people who live here in the city who are simply exercising their First Amendment rights.”

By the third day of the RNC, according to Puckett Williams, police tactics had become less aggressive. “When police act in particularly egregious ways, the next day they tend to have a lessened response,” Puckett Williams said. “I know that’s because of the media coverage of them running their bikes into people, them pepper-spraying people with very potent pepper spray directly in their faces as they [protesters] were trying to help people out of the street … it has to do with optics.”

At the convention, Republicans drew a clear line in the sand: “We’re gonna back the blue,” Vice President Mike Pence said during his speech. He did not reference Black lives or express compassion for Jacob Blake and his family amid what they are enduring.

Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan said, “Democrats refuse to denounce the mob, and the response to the chaos — defund the police, defund border patrol, and defund our military,” a fact the movement wishes were true. Eric Trump, Chair of Trump Victory Finance Committee Kimberly Guilfoyle and Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise made similar statements. Speaker after speaker has denounced Black Lives Matter protesters.

While some Democrats have taken more symbolically sympathetic stances toward protesters, most of them — from Bernie Sanders to Joe Biden — have supported increased police funding.

The younger generation, many of whom are more disillusioned than empowered by the upcoming election because of such reactionary stances, have seemingly paid less attention to the RNC than years past — which typically drew thousands of protesters — in favor of building power against structural racism.

“I was there generally to help defend my larger community against police brutality and rising fascism. It’s clear that the Democrats are ignorant to the facts on the ground and at worst complicit in the rising fascist violence from the cops and the GOP,” Luke said. “Riots are the language of the unheard…. When we shout ‘defund the police,’ and Biden has very visibly said that he is for giving the police more money, then what else are we supposed to do?”

Some anti-fascists and anti-racists are choosing to vote for Biden as part of a much broader strategy against fascism, while others do not see Biden as a harm-reduction candidate.

Puckett Williams joined the protests to monitor tactics and equipment used by her local police and to monitor civil liberties violations.

“The police are the gateway to the criminal legal system that is racially disparate in the kind and amount of justice Black, Brown and poor folks receive,” she said. “People are tired of not being safe in their communities despite continued investment in police and incarceration. It’s not working and people are waking up.”