Earlier this evening, as I went for a walk with my dog, a loud chorus of bellowing car horns filled what had been a tranquil and calm Friday night. Simultaneously shocked and intrigued, I quickly walked over to the source of the noise.
As I turned the corner of Lexington avenue into 56th street, a sudden burst of intense light blurred my vision momentarily. Shielding my eyes from the conspicuous radiance, I made my way down to the middle of the block, where I began to see a train of cars parked in the middle of the street, and the gradually emerging silhouettes of several women, all with one fist in the air, standing in the way of the Mercedes convertible at the front of the train of static vehicles.
“BLACK LIVES MATTER! BLACK LIVES MATTER! BLACK LIVES MATTER!”
Hearing this chant first-hand was slightly surreal because I’ve been hearing it constantly on the news coverage of recent protests in Ferguson and protests elsewhere in the country. What struck me most was the intensity of the chanting. The three words were pounded into the soundtrack of the night like a timpani in a lullaby.
A woman passing out leaflets explained that they were blocking traffic outside a specific pizza shop on that street. It wasn’t a completely random and unprovoked act of civil disobedience. They were angry about the pizzeria’s new pizza of the month, the “PIC-A-NIKA PIZZA”, ingredients including southern fried chicken, sea salted watermelon, and a sunflower seed crust.
To be honest, when I heard the name, I couldn’t help but laugh (a laugh which quickly dissipated as the woman shot me a venomous look). Initially, hearing the name of the pizza, it seemed to me like a phonetic spelling of an Italian pronunciation of “Picnic Pizza” (it so happens that that is the reason the pizzeria gave when questioned). However, upon seeing what the ingredients on the pizza were, certainly invoking stereotypes of an African American appetite, I became less confident of the pizzeria’s reasoning.
Ultimately, I do not know whether the pizzeria intentionally called their pizza “Pic-a-nika” to insult the African American community. It seems very likely to me that they did, but yet equally likely that this has simply been an unfortunate and unintended coincidence. What I do know however is that the protesters delayed lot of people returning home from work after a long day and long week; a postal truck was unable to return back to the depot in time; parents having to calm their screaming kids who were becoming increasingly agitated as time ticked on.
It all seemed, well, rather pointless. The noise, the chanting, shouting, horns blaring etc. The pizzeria was closed and there was no one inside. What exactly was the point of stopping traffic then?
“We shut shit down!” the protesters kept shouting. “Fuck you if you don’t support us!” “You are all part of the problem!”
I have been a staunch supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement. I believe that African Americans are unfairly treated by law enforcement, and changes need to be made to ensure that they are fairly treated by the police.
However, I believe that for their movement to gain even more support and traction, they need to gain the support of all races, cultures and ethnicity. Naturally, African Americans support this movement, so what is vital is not to alienate those who aren’t African American and are therefore not personally invested in the movement, but can still be sympathetic to the cause.
What I witnessed today was a pointless demonstration that ultimately achieved nothing. No police were called, no journalists appeared and there was no news coverage of the demonstration. Yet dozens of people were made to wait for an hour in their cars, likely having their Friday night spoiled. I chatted with many people on the sidewalks watching the protests, the general consensus not being approval or support, but of dismay and incredulity. Why are they stopping traffic? The pizza shop’s not even open!
These are the types of reactions the Black Lives Matter movement needs to avoid as they seek to effect change.