Thursday, May 7, 2015

Here’s why protesters shut down the Ravenel Bridge Wednesday

Arrestee: ‘Our actions are not to get the attention of a news crew, but to get the attention of our neighbors’

Posted by Paul Bowers on Thu, May 7, 2015 at 2:37 PM

Protesters linked arms as they blocked traffic on the Cooper River Bridge Wednesday at about 5 p.m. - COURTESY OF ELIAS LYLES
  • Courtesy of Elias Lyles
  • Protesters linked arms as they blocked traffic on the Cooper River Bridge Wednesday at about 5 p.m.

Mt. Pleasant police arrested four protesters on disorderly conduct charges Wednesday after they briefly blocked traffic on the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge during afternoon rush hour.

According to flyers that protesters handed to onlookers during the protest, the purpose of blocking vehicle traffic from Charleston to Mt. Pleasant was partly "to protest state violence against the black community of Greater Charleston." The flyer stated, "We unite with [the] community's demand for a civilian review board."

The flyer echoed a call for civilian oversight of the North Charleston Police Department that a coalition of community organizations made Monday on the one-month anniversary of Walter Scott's shooting by a North Charleston police officer.

According to an incident report from the Mt. Pleasant police department, the arrested protesters were Jasmin Hillary Wilson, 22; Jillian Sue Brandl, 24; Ansley Katelyn Pope, 21; and Chantelle Marie Lebeau, 25. Two protesters who were present at the bridge shutdown say that Pope, a transgender man, was misidentified as female in the police report.

One of the arrestees, Wilson, says the group held the protest in solidarity with a nationwide Black Lives Matter protest being planned for May 21, but "because we're all at CofC and will all be leaving soon, we bumped up that day of action." Wilson, a Columbia native, says she will be leaving Charleston after graduating from the college next week with a double major in creative writing and African-American studies.

"Our actions are not to get the attention of a news crew, but to get the attention of our neighbors," Wilson says.

click to enlarge Protesters handed out flyers explaining why they were blocking the bridge. - COURTESY OF ELIAS LYLES
  • Courtesy of Elias Lyles
  • Protesters handed out flyers explaining why they were blocking the bridge.

Asked why the group held the protest on the Ravenel Bridge and not in North Charleston, Wilson said, "It's wild that people think Charleston and North Charleston are two different places because of their demographics or because of their geographic location, but they're not two different places. Honestly, whenever I hear that argument, 'Oh, it's in North Charleston, not Charleston,' it sounds like a class argument: 'Oh, it's happening over there with those people, and it has nothing to do with me.'"

Wilson says that, in addition to a flurry of angry online comments on news reports about the bridge closure, members of the group have received death threats via text messages and emails since blocking the bridge Wednesday. "I think the response is very reflective of the state of race relations in the city of Charleston," Wilson says. "It says a lot about Charleston, this quote-unquote 'progressive' city, where we're in the 21st century now and a lot of people's attitudes on race relations are still in the 1950s, and that's something I'd really like to have a conversation about."

The act of civil disobedience was organized by members of the activist groups Southerners On New Ground and #BlackBrunchCHS (the latter group has also recently organized protest actions during brunch at High Cotton and Hominy Grill), although a SONG organizer says that the organization itself did not orchestrate the protest. The four arrestees, who have been called the Cooper River 4 by supporters, linked arms inside PVC pipes and sang the protest song "Which Side Are You On" as police forcibly escorted them out of the roadway. They were released on bail late Wednesday night.

SONG posted the following video of the bridge shutdown and ensuring arrests on its website:


Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

The tactics of the event were markedly more aggressive than those of Black Lives Matter - Charleston, a protest group that has been holding rallies in front of North Charleston City Hall and making requests at City Council meetings since Scott's shooting. Elias Lyles, a fundraising coordinator with SONG who was present at the bridge shutdown who is also a City Paper contributor (née Jenna Lyles), says that while the protest action was not organized by Black Lives Matter - Charleston, part of the intention was to support that group's agenda.

"We definitely stand in alignment with the demands of the organizations who are trying to work with city government, and I think they've been incredibly gracious with the city of North Charleston, and they've been met with mostly being ignored," Lyles says. "We're trying to make it very clear that until the city of North Charleston takes action to actually reform their system of policing, which has caused so much harm in so many people's lives, they can expect folks to be fighting back in whatever ways we can."

Asked whether the protesters were the same people who previously announced they would shut down the bridge on April 9, Lyles declined to comment. After protesters sent a press release to the City Paper and other news outlets announcing their intention to block the bridge at 4 p.m. on April 9, the protest action failed to materialize, with one of the listed spokespersons writing in an email, "THERE HAS BEEN A LEAK. PLEASE DISREGARD AND DO NOT PUBLISH THIS INFORMATION."

Muhiyidin d'Baha, an organizer with Black Lives Matter - Charleston, wrote the following statement about the bridge shutdown:

"There are many people, groups, and allies that support the change needed for accountability. While Black Lives Matter - Charleston did not orchestrate today's demonstrations, we are in full support of civil disobedience and non-violent direct action in order to stress the 'urgency' of community-based police reform. Through the protests and demonstrations today, we stand in solidarity to honor the lives of brown & black women and men and LGBTQ+ lives lost at the hands of law enforcement and vigilante violence."

The arrested protesters after their release from jail. - COURTESY OF ELIAS LYLES
  • Courtesy of Elias Lyles
  • The arrested protesters after their release from jail.

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