A handful of confrontational protests in the aftermath of the police-related deaths of unarmed black men Eric Garner and Michael Brown are sparking a racially charged backlash on the Internet.
The protests, labeled #BlackBrunch on social media, began in Oakland, Calif., on Dec. 6 and have since spread to San Francisco, Baltimore, Berkeley and New York City. The goal of the actions are for predominately black and Latino protesters to target traditionally “white spaces” such as upscale restaurants, to stage demonstrations.
“Every 28 hours, a black person in America is killed by the police,” an unidentified protester said at a recent NYC Black Brunch, according to Yahoo! News. “These are our brothers and sisters. Today and every day, we honor their lives.” The demonstrations are not planned by any particular organization or individual, and are intended as a grassroots movement to raise awareness about police brutality.
Wazi Davis, 23, was one of the early promoters of the concept. When Davis witnessed a black female activist stripped of her megaphone by a white male, it was a real wake-up call. “I opened up my home to organize for us and by us,” Davis told msnbc. “We sat down and strategized for hours and [Black Brunch] is what we came up with.”
“[We] go in to communities that wouldn’t originally need to think about our pain,” Davis explained. “The original black brunch tactic was going to interrupt brunches and business as usual. We interrupt, we take up space. We march and we protest.”
While many restaurant patrons, especially in California, were supportive of the protests, the burgeoning project has also engendered a particularly heated reaction online, where some of the criticism has taken on racial overtones:
Shannon Shird, 27, a participant in a Baltimore Black Brunch on Dec. 28, said that the group began in Towson, Maryland, a predominately affluent and white neighborhood, but were threatened by police officers for trespassing, so they left and headed to Hampden. While her group was met with some resistance from police, she didn’t endure the same type of vitriol she experienced after the New York City brunch.
“People acted like it was the worst thing that happened to them,” Shird said. “It’s a peaceful protest,” she continued. “Via Twitter we’ve been called savages … ni–er. I was told I was still owned and I had no pride and dignity. I was not expecting to be attacked like this.”
Zachary Murray, 25, another lead organizer of Black Brunch feels the tactic has been effective in calling attention to what they consider white privilege amid cases of racially biased policing.
“We’re seeing where a lot of people stand [on the issue of police misconduct]. It’s being effective,” Murray said. “We’re being nonviolent and peacefully engaging but are getting really bad backlash. It shows that we’re still going to get vitriol no matter what stand we take.”
Black Brunch protesters are seemingly undeterred by the criticism and are reportedly expanding their reach.
“People need to wake up and not just be in their own bubble of reality. And that extends beyond white folks. Stop being silent and stop being complacent,” added Davis. “Expect that we’re going to keep disrupting people as usual.”