I'm Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired

Illustration by Unique Fair-Smith Photo by Diana Spencer
Protesters gather in front of the City of Rochester Public Safety Building on the afternoon of May 30th in a demonstration of outrage over the death of George Floyd. (Photo by Miles Hood)


Over the weekend of May 30, 2020, the nation rose up. Millions organized and marched to voice our collective frustration with the broken justice system and another killing of an African American at the hands of police officers. Simply put — we are sick and tired of being sick and tired.

George Floyd was killed on May 25, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minn. when police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for around nine minutes. Video showed Floyd begging the officer to “let him stand” and “I can’t breathe.”

Floyd later died in police custody and over the coming days we saw an uprising across the nation of peaceful protests, rioting and looting. It was all too similar to that of Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile and too many others to name. Another unarmed black person dead — another black body lay dead at the hands of those who are supposed to protect and serve.

Right Here in Rochester

Saturday afternoon, May 30 in Rochester, started like any other protest in a number of cities across the nation. There were signs addressing the systemic issues that collectively plagued African Americans; the people were galvanized by speeches from local organizers and across the lines of race, ethnicity and even age — all of Rochester came out in mass to voice our concerns.

"I can't breathe."

We marched from MLK Park to the Public Safety Building on Exchange Boulevard where more speeches, chants and people joined the rally. It was nonviolent and we continued to march from Exchange Boulevard to Washington Square park.

Along the way you could see the officers (some in riot gear) guarding off certain streets, but we would not be stopped. While we marched, we shouted “No Justice. No Peace,” “I can’t breathe” and every time we encountered a blockade, we’d hold our hands up and yell, “Hands up. Don’t Shoot!” Along the way you’d hear cars blasting NWA’s “F*** tha Police,” Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” and honking in solidarity.

Many of the protestors, black and white, raised their fist in harmony with the black community. It was in a word ... beautiful. I had a chance to see people who didn’t look like me back me up and even step in front of me when we approached a blockade.

Being inside of the protest I felt the spirit of the people around me. While shouting, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” I was reminded of every opportunity I may never get to have if I "fit the description.” I’m 22, 6 feet tall and 215 lbs. I'm light skinned, have short black hair and most importantly — I’m African American. I’m a black man in a nation where the justice system and some of its citizens don’t value my life and won’t respect my right to live.

Alongside the passion and anger and I also felt an unease as I saw some anarchist flags. I saw people looking for their opportunity to seize the moment. These imposters are like wolves in sheep’s clothing that marched with us and shouted. I even saw one approach and climb on top of a squad car; he was immediately pulled down and protestors reprimanded him.

This sort of behavior was not tolerated by the mass of people. Others corrected the younger black protestors who wanted to follow the actions of the anarchist groups. One young boy who looked to be around the age of 17 started banging on the hood of a cop car at a blockade on West Broad Street. He was immediately pulled away when an older woman was telling him, “Not this way, this is how you get your brothers killed, not this way.” Witnessing this protection of what we intended to be a nonviolent movement was exceptional and worthy of praise.  

It Was Nonviolent, but Then It Became Violent

While eating a late dinner on Saturday, I heard that rioting had started. I checked different Facebook live videos and headed back in to see it for myself. When I arrived, I saw the smoke from a flaming car in the distance and ran towards it to find out what I could see with my own eyes. What I saw, was the tip of the iceberg of the night that unfolded.

Multiple cars were flipped, one was on fire and other police cars had been vandalized and buildings were marked with spray paint. “Fuck 12” was sprayed on a container across the street from the Public Safety Building and all of the officers were in riot gear.

After I left, anarchist groups had hijacked the protest momentum and turned what had been a nonviolent moment into their own fight. With calculated precision, once the majority of the protesters dispersed, these dissenters marred what was a beautiful and impactful moment.

These agitators were not a part of the Black Lives Matter protest that took place in the afternoon. They were present but they did not come to this rally with the same energy and mindset as the hundreds that came earlier.

In the time I had left and returned, I learned the protest continued to be peaceful but then the police decided to fire on the crowd with rubber bullets and pepper balls as they approached the Public Safety Building. Eventually tear gas was shot and spread the entire crowd out. From that point on we saw the actions of those few then spread to the many, including looting, which occurred across the downtown area and spread throughout the city overnight.

As I sat in the middle of the road between the Public Safety Building and the lot across the street adjacent to the Fredrick Douglas and Susan B. Anthony Bridge, I saw two very distinct groups: a large group of angry but nonviolent protesters being a frontline defense, while those in the parking lot across the street were beginning to show signs of what would become of the evening. I saw both sides of the modern civil rights movement — I saw anger and rage used to vandalize and I saw anger and rage used to march and protest.

Later that night, Mayor Lovely Warren of Rochester and other leaders including Monroe County Executive Adam Bello, Rochester Police Chief La'Ron Singletary and Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter held a press conference on the day’s events. The mayor condemned these actions in a press conference later that night labeling these people as “outsiders, not from our city, not from our community.” The mayor also recognized that what happened was a result of the racism and bigotry that exist in America. She made a commitment to not let the outsiders destroy what the protest continued to build on.

You Reap What You Sow

“Certain conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard.” - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Read that quote and read it again, and if you still don’t get it, then you’re not listening and you don’t want to try.

To say America has always had a contentious relationship with black people would be an understatement. From the moment we first arrived in shackles, to the time we fought in your global wars and even when one of our own ascended to the highest office in the land, America has always had a problem with us.

As radio personality Charlemagne the God put it, “this is America’s karma.” America has had this coming for a while now and, like civil rights activist Malcolm X once said, “The chicken have come to roost.” If this is not the time to change, then when? There were issues when we sung with Martin, when we kneeled with Kaepernick and when we simply asked the police not to shoot us. If it’s not clear, the response to the death of George Floyd is a black-lash to the 400+ years of oppression, racism and prejudice that have plagued black people since getting here.

If you continue to criticize the protest and riots without understanding the cause of our pain and anger, you are a part of the problem.

What Now?

You may be asking yourself, “They protested, they rioted, what now?” Now we move forward — we don’t let this momentum die. All of us, especially our white allies, need to advocate for change and work to dismantle the systems of oppression that keeps black people downtrodden.

We need to keep marching, keep yelling, keep making them uncomfortable, keep being heard and to our allies, understand that the white voice is listened to more than a black death. From now until we change the way America fundamentally works for the black population, we must not stop.


A fed-up black man


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