The protests resonate with me personally for several reasons. First, obviously, as an American, as we all should take notice of these events and of the disturbing reasons why they are taking place. We have fundamental flaws with many police forces across America and our criminal justice system that must be resolved.
They also resonate with me because of my birth date. I was born on April 27th, 1992, the same day that the Rodney King riots began in Los Angeles. I’ve heard the stories of how my parents were terrified to come back and forth from the hospital because of the violence around the city. I’ve heard about the smoke that was coming in through the ventilators when I was in the ICU. The Rodney King riots were one of the darkest times in the history of Los Angeles and the history of our country.
Thirdly, they resonate with me as a gay man and an advocate for the rights of the LGBT community. Although I do not condone violence and regret that the protests in Baltimore have at times been overshadowed by a relatively small group of rioters who have tried to use the death of Freddie Gray as an excuse for criminal behavior, I do think that protesting and civil disobedience is a critical part of forcing the political establishment to take notice.
Throughout the history of the gay rights movement, protesting has been a huge tool towards creating more awareness, progress and equality. In 1969, it was the Stonewall riots that sparked the beginning of the modern gay rights revolution. In 1979, when Dan White, the man who assassinated the gay rights icon and San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk, was sentenced to just 1 year in prison for the murder, the LGBT community took to the streets to express their anger in what has now become known as the “White Night Riots”.
In 1991, when Governor Pete Wilson in California vetoed AB101, a proposed law to protect gay people from employment discrimination, the community in Los Angeles marched to show their disapproval. And in 2008, in spontaneous demonstrations that marked the start of a new, renewed era of activism, thousands upon thousands of people turned out to stand against the bigotry of California’s Proposition 8, a state constitutional ban against gay marriage that has since been overturned.
Again, violence is never the right choice. But it is inspiring when you see young people who are inspired to stand up and make their voices heard, whether it be on the issue of gay rights, the civil rights of African-Americans, or any other constituency. All of our lives matter, and I hope the LGBT community will stand behind the African-American as strongly and stridently as we can to make sure justice is served. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
James Duke Mason is a Los Angeles-based writer and political activist.