Yesterday, after tough talk from the President to state Governors encouraging harsh response to civil unrest, and after violent incidents all across the country, a large group of protestors on Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis decided to march to our Governor's residence.
They started about a half-hour prior to the city's 8:00 p.m. curfew. Monument Circle, the zero point for addresses and street numbers, is right on Meridian. The official residence of the Governor of Indiana is on Merdian, too, a deceptively-small-looking and notably unfenced home at 46th Street. It's just about a five-mile walk.
With only a half-hour, there was no way a large and assorted group of people was going to complete that walk before the curfew began, especially walking up the single major north-south thoroughfare through Indianapolis.
The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Force mobilized. They showed up in full battle-rattle, helmets with face shields, armor, gloves, and armed with every modern crowd-control tool, from batons to tear gas along with their normal sidearms. They formed a deep line across Meridian and when the marchers neared the Governor's residence at 8:30, the police stopped the marchers cold.
IMPD ordered them to disperse within the next ten minutes. The marchers stood fast and chanted slogans. There was some yelling back and forth. The police were much better armed -- and enormously outnumbered.
It looked bad. Someone -- a lot of someones -- was going to get hurt.
Deputy Mayor Dr. David Hampton, a man I had never heard of before today, stepped in as a negotiator. What did the marchers actually want? There was a brief huddle between the Deputy Mayor, high-ranking police officers, and the people at the forefront of the marchers.
And then something happened. I'm not sure who started it, but the chanting changed, coalescing on one slogan, over and over, spreading through the crowd:
"Walk with us! Walk with us!"
The huddle of police and marchers dissolved into fist-bumps and shoulder slaps; the line of contact between police and marchers broke out in handshakes and even hugs, social distancing notwithstanding.* You could see the strain easing in expressions and postures. The police were still wary and the marchers were still upset, but they appeared to be seeing one another as people instead of symbols or threats.
The police and protestors marched the rest of the way to the Governors house intermingled. The protestors agreed to disperse afterward, and police walked with them back downtown to their cars.
No one got hurt. There were no riots in Indianapolis last night. There was no looting.
I'm proud of the people of my city.
Sure, nothing big got solved last night; but everyone made room to move forward. It's a start.
* We may see a second wave of infections as a result of the protests and especially the riots. If so, I'd rather have people spread it by hugging than by getting tear gassed, fighting with police and being thrown into a crowded lockup. YMMV, but the only choices are between "bad" and "much worse."
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