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Police Attacked Protesters After Kneeling for Solidarity Photo Op, Activists Say

Some feel-good stories of officers showing signs of unity are followed up with disturbing accounts of police violence.

Left: Two New York City police officers take a knee during a demonstration by protesters in Times Square on May 31, 2020. Right: New York City police offers clash with protesters that evening.

Some of the police officers who have been prominently photographed kneeling or praying alongside demonstrators against police violence have turned around and harmed protesters soon afterward, according to numerous accounts posted by activists on social media.

Twitter user @NeeNeinNyetNo, for example, showed an image of Orlando Police praying with protesters and wrote, “Literally 45 minutes later they maced us in the face for the crime of standing in their vicinity.”

User @starrydani described a similar about-face from the Portland Police after some of their officers used a take-a-knee moment as a photo opportunity: “IMMEDIATELY GAS MASKS WERE PUT ON AND GASSED AN ENTIRE PARK,” they wrote.

Another Twitter user in Detroit said that tear gas was authorized by the head of the police department a mere 10 minutes after they had knelt with demonstrators in that city’s demonstrations.

And user @diabliitax, who was in New York, quoted a tweet of protesters and police officers kneeling with one another. The video of the event looks almost harmonious, as opposing sides appear to be coming together, until the tweet’s author tells the other side of the story.

“They beat the living shit out of us one hour after this,” they said.

In light of these eyewitness reports, it’s no wonder that many protesters are expressing skepticism about whether the recent flurry of feel-good images showing police officers expressing supposed solidarity with protesters is in fact an attempt to provide propaganda cover for police who act nice one moment but cause pain to demonstrators in the next.

Meanwhile, some law enforcement officers are being lauded uncritically for their current statements without being asked to account for prior troubling incidents that have occurred in their departments. One notable story involves Chattanooga, Tennessee, Chief of Police David Roddy, who responded to Floyd’s death last week by tweeting out a strong statement regarding his own officers under his command.

“If you wear a badge and you don’t have an issue with this…turn it in,” Roddy said in his tweet.

Roddy’s post has been retweeted more than 165,000 times, and shared in articles on Facebook countless times. Yet community leaders in his home town have found reason to be critical of the police chief.

Roddy has defended or ignored a number of acts of violence by his own officers over the years despite community outrage, including an incident in 2018 where a 14-year-old Black girl was forcefully pulled out of a vehicle and arrested, resulting in injuries to her wrists.

Another officer formerly in Roddy’s command pleaded guilty to raping three women and tasering a fourth while in his custody — an incident that the police chief didn’t condemn until after that officer fully admitted to his crimes last September.

As photos and videos of police engaged in apparent acts of solidarity continue to circulate, some activists are calling for readers to engage more critically and skeptically with them.

Demonstrator Aleeia Abraham, who recorded video of officers kneeling with protesters in Queens, New York, said it’s important to remember the limits of symbolic acts like the one she witnessed

“What we’re really looking for is action,” Abraham explained. “I’ll be even more impressed when we’re not stepped on and gunned down. That’s the moment I’m looking for.”

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