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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

‘Police huggers’ put movement in a tough spot

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Police and members of the National Guard in some cities have found the perfect photo op: walking with protesters, shaking hands, hugging. The Georgia National Guard even did the “Macarena” dance with demonstrators.

Media seem to love it.

FOX 5 Atlanta ran a story with a headline that included the phrase “One perfect moment.”

But it’s those moments that many in Indianapolis were weary of recently when some demonstrators, after marching miles toward the governor’s mansion, embraced police officers who temporarily dropped their riot gear following a tense standoff.

Cameras swarmed. It was the kind of image rehabilitation police departments have been eager for.

At least one officer was then seen walking with the group as they made their way back downtown.

He stayed with them for a few minutes and then later, as he was standing by a squad car, remarked to the lively demonstrators — who were chanting “Fuck 12” and agreed police have never deescalated anything — that he was the one who walked with them earlier, as though to say justice is here.

There have been plenty of posts on social media rejecting the notion that demonstrators and police need to come together in that way.

Indy10 Black Lives Matter tweeted, “Making this real clear. We don’t shake hands with the enemy.”

They’re sometimes referred to as “police huggers” at protests.

Kyra Jay, who said she’s been to protests most nights since they started, thinks interacting with police like that is counter-productive to the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Hugging the police, when we don’t have even one demand met on our list, is a slap in the face,” she said in an interview June 4.

(The next day, Mayor Joe Hogsett announced Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department is proposing updates to its use-of-force policy, which has been one of the consistent demands from organizers.)

That was the point Mat Davis, an organizer who recently helped start a group called the Indiana Racial Justice Alliance, made as he grabbed a megaphone when demonstrators near the governor’s mansion stood face-to-face with police. He told people to pull back.

“OK, we done shook enough hands,” he said. “Let’s go!”  

In an interview June 8, Davis said those who seek out those made-for-TV moments with police are effectively counter-protesters.

“If you’re not out here to reform criminal justice as a system or make the argument to abolish it altogether and replace it with some other reimagining of public safety, then you’re not out here to push forward the struggle that we’ve been experiencing for 200 years in this city,” he said, referencing the city’s bicentennial.

Zion Smith, who has emerged as one of the leaders for protests, said hugging and shaking hands with police is “pointless.”

“We’re not trying to be buddy-buddy with the police,” Smith, 20, said in an interview June 4. “The police system needs to be reformed. That’s why we’re here. I’m not hugging the police. I’m not shaking a police hand. I ain’t doing none of that s**t.”

Malik Muhammad, one of a few people who helped facilitate the embrace between police and demonstrators near the governor’s mansion, was confronted for his tactics a few days later downtown, where he said the exchange made him uncomfortable.

Muhammad, identified by other media as an Army veteran, had a private meeting with Gov. Eric Holcomb recently. He told WISH TV they talked about specific police reforms.

Muhammad, who is Black, declined an interview for this article.

If embracing and walking with protestors wasn’t part of some staged effort in front of a bunch of cameras, the fact remains it was still highly visible, which led Crystal Wade to believe it wasn’t a genuine gesture.

Wade, 40, said there is a time and place for those sorts of exchanges, but she thought it was probably staged and actually made things worse.

“It would be nice if those gestures were made not just in front of the governor’s mansion,” Wade said in an interview June 5 by IMPD’s Northwest Precinct.

The Recorder also observed some demonstrators high-fiving police officers during a downtown march June 2, though most of those people appeared to be white.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

A protester holds a sign denouncing people who have hugged and high-fived police during demonstrations. (Photo/Breanna Cooper)

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