Why I Protested at Trump’s Rally in Raleigh

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Commentary Politics

Why I Protested at Trump’s Rally in Raleigh

Emma Akpan

When I hear Republicans’ anti-immigration and anti-Muslim proposals, I hear, “don’t let the brown people near us.” And when I see supporters of conservative presidential hopefuls violently assault or threaten Black Lives Matter activists and others, like they did on Monday night at a Trump rally in Las Vegas, my determination to fight back against such rhetoric becomes stronger.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

As with previous Republican debates, candidates once again made inflammatory comments about immigrants and Syrian refugees Tuesday night.

Ted Cruz, for example, proposed a three-year ban on refugees “from countries where ISIS controls substantial territory.” And Ben Carson, who prior to the debate released a seven-point plan to defeat ISIS, suggested the government be more suspicious of mosques, supermarkets, and schools where “there are a lot of people … engaging in radicalizing activities,” without clarifying what he sees as anti-American behavior.

Unfortunately, it is becoming clearer that Republican rhetoric targeting a specific population is often followed by violence. Donald Trump supporters, for example, have said his racist comments against Latinos inspired their violent assault on a homeless man. Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, too, is not spoken in a vacuum, especially since it is supported by existing policy proposals from other Republican presidential candidates.

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When I hear Republicans’ anti-immigration and anti-Muslim proposals, I hear, “don’t let the brown people near us.” And when I see supporters of conservative presidential hopefuls violently assault or threaten Black Lives Matter activists and others, like they did on Monday night at a Trump rally in Las Vegas (while yelling “Light the motherfucker on fire!”), my determination to fight back against such rhetoric becomes stronger.

I got my chance to speak out a couple of weeks ago, when Donald Trump stopped in Raleigh on his campaign tour. I was not enthusiastic about participating in an action against Trump, because I can’t stomach his hateful rhetoric and I was afraid the event would get violent. Since the presidential candidate vowed back in August to “beat up protesters” daring to interrupt his events, he has seemed to support his fans roughing up Black Lives Matter protesters.

Weeks before I heard Donald Trump would come to North Carolina for an event, my boyfriend and I watched a video of Trump supporters beating and kicking a Black Lives Matter protester out of a rally in Birmingham, Alabama. After watching the video, my boyfriend went silent for the rest of the evening. The next day he said, “When Trump comes to North Carolina, I’m going to protest.”

“Absolutely not,” I replied. I didn’t want him kicked and dragged like the man I saw in the video.

“I have to stand up for what I believe in,” he told me. “I can’t talk about violence against Black people on social media then stand by and let this happen.”

But I didn’t need him to be a martyr, I told him.

After a few days of pleading, I could see that I wasn’t going to convince him to miss the rally, so I stopped arguing with him about it. Instead I said that when Trump comes to town, I would go to the demonstration with him. We both understood the risk, but in the end we felt we had to go.

At the event, I participated in the demonstration outside of the building while my boyfriend went inside of the building to protest.

I wanted to be included in the action, but I wanted to minimize the chance of a Trump fan assaulting me in the process.

Organizers planned on entering the rally and standing in small groups in different parts of the arena, interrupting Trump’s speech with different chants such as “Black Lives Matter” every five minutes. They hoped to end Trump’s rally early. The outside demonstrators chanted and held signs to make it known to people passing by that Trump’s policy proposals are problematic. I stood outside of the arena, grabbed a sign, and joined in with the chants. We chanted “Black Lives Matter” and “The people united will never be defeated.”

People I assumed were Trump supporters walked by us shaking their heads, others yelled incoherently at us, and someone shouted “Trump 2016” while passing by in a car. As we marched around the perimeter of the arena, the police escorted us, and I couldn’t help but think what would happen if one of the supporters decided to pull out a gun like those armed men who shot five protesters in Minneapolis.

I was afraid that my friends would be assaulted by Trump supporters. I couldn’t put my phone down while waiting to hear news about the protest inside. I was counting down the minutes until it was over and my boyfriend was out of there. After all, there were 7,000 charged-up supporters inside, and it could escalate.

It did. I found out through texting my friends that after the third or fourth interruption, some of Trump’s supporters started pulling on demonstrators to get them out of the room. One fan “forcefully shoved” a protester into a metal barrier. One Trump supporter told the New York Times she “would have punched” a protester if she could, after the woman ripped up signs that said, “Stop the hate. We make America great.”

Trump rally attendees grabbed my boyfriend by his neck, he said, and pulled him toward the door. The security officers present intervened, pinned his hands behind his back, and told him to stop resisting—which seems to be the last thing many Black victims hear before they are shot by the police—before escorting him out.

But demonstrators reportedly interrupted Trump just enough that he ended his rally earlier than planned.

I felt liberated looking Trump’s supporters in their faces and telling them that our lives matter. His rally was interrupted and our voices were heard.

And it was at that moment that I understood why my boyfriend and many of my friends and colleagues needed to attend that rally. Trump’s “us vs. them” rhetoric comes at a time of deep racial divides. The physical violence at Trump’s rallies, over-policing in Black neighborhoods, and discriminatory behavior against Muslims are fueled by hateful, inflammatory speech and policy proposals that stir up or validate feelings of fear and hate inside of people.

Organizers and activists continue to take action across the nation to raise awareness of escalating violence against communities of color. On Black Friday, activists prevented shoppers from entering stores in Chicago to demand justice for Laquan McDonald, a teen killed by a Chicago police officer in October 2014. The vocal demonstrations in Baltimore this April directly led to the arrest of the officers involved in Freddie Gray’s death, who are on trial this week. We know these actions work.

The country is growing impatient with Trump’s hate speech. Even the White House condemned his statements about banning Muslims from entering the United States. On top of that, several Republican leaders also denounced Trump’s proposal. But even while they publicly rejected his idea, they have continued to support policies that hurt marginalized communities in this country.

That’s why I can no longer be afraid, not when my life, and the lives of my friends, are threatened. Someone has to stand up to hateful rhetoric, and I’m glad when Trump was in my state, I let my voice be heard.