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In response to fears that white supremacists and outside infiltrators could interfere with recent police brutality protests to escalate tensions — or just send protesters to the wrong location — activists and organizers have developed a system for vetting each event.
The system relies on transparency and preparedness.
Victor Castro, one of the organizers, said within days of the first protest, he began to see online fliers for events with little to no information about who was behind it. With every passing day, he was meeting more people who shared this concern.
One of those people was Rashanna Lee.
“There was this sort of burgeoning group of us who had a sensibility that there was a way we wanted the marches to go, and we wanted to be in charge of making them go that way,” Lee said. “And, honestly, it kind of came up organically.”
What started as a group chat — composed of local activists, medics and public relations professionals — soon evolved into a social media account where people could find protests that have been verified. The SD Peaceful Protest accounts on Twitter and Instagram quickly gained around 5,400 followers.
Castro walked me through the process.
If a protest is being promoted online, the group steps in to communicate with the organizers and find out who they are, whether they have a clear message and that they know how to effectively maintain a large crowd. Protests that pass the test are promoted through the group’s social media network, while events that seem fishy will be reposted with “do not attend” stamped over the flier.
“Don’t trust a flier that has no point of reference to redirect, because you want to ensure that there’s a person behind it that you can go to ask more questions,” Castro said.
The movement has seen an influx of young people and first-time protesters, so Castro said some organizers who seem suspicious may simply not know their way around.
This means one of the group’s other functions has become helping newcomers effectively lead a protest if they don’t know how, Lee said. That includes communicating with protesters about their rights via loudspeaker, ensuring marchers stay behind the front line at an event and coordinating with police about their intentions to try to avoid an escalation.
“Our main concern is ensuring the safety of the attendance is there, that everybody has a place to go and everybody has a person to depend on for safety, whether that be medics or leaders,” Castro said.