When protesting becomes dangerous

Indiana tattoo artist Amber Bananafish went to the Louisville Women’s March, held on the anniversary weekend of Donald Trump’s inauguration. As Bananafish and her friends Jem and Alysia Elwood were entering the crowd, a middle-aged, white man greeted her with a question.

“He said something like: How about your feminist agenda?” Bananafish recalled.

“I just kind of laughed, because I thought he was joking. I was like, ‘Yep, mine’s intact,’” she told LEO.

That was not the end of it. What she thought was a joke quickly turned scary — highlighting the risks of protests where the goal is to push back against power and the status quo.

It is important to remember that violence at protests is not new, particularly if they involve issues of major social change. See almost any civil rights protest from the 1960s through today, or look at Charlottesville where a young woman, Heather Heyer, was killed, and a young black man, DeAndre Harris, was badly beaten.

This violence has come at the hands of officials, such as the police, who antagonize protesters into retaliation; but sometimes it comes from outside agitators who show up to provoke retaliatory behavior, or to disrupt otherwise peaceful events.

That is what Bananafish learned…

This man, who attended the rally alone, soon leaned in and whispered into Bananafish’s ear, “Why are you so hellbent on killing babies,” she recalled.

“What are you talking about?” she asked.

According to Bananafish, his response was, “I just don’t understand why you women take so much pleasure in killing innocent babies. Do you like being a murderer?”

As it is her business, Bananafish is heavily tattooed and pierced. She is vocal in her support of women’s and civil rights, attending the protest with her friends to show support for women speaking out against the abuses of men coddled in a patriarchal society. And, then, she was accosted by the type of man she came to protest.

Her friends heard his tone with Bananafish and intervened, asking him why he was there? He said he had the right to be there, and continued to aggressively engage Bananafish.

Sensing that the man was intent upon his antagonistic behavior, she walked away with her friends close beside. She went deeper into the crowd. As they moved, he moved with them. For nearly an hour the man followed them through the crowd. Growing frustrated, Jem Elwood took a photo of the man.

Bananafish felt herself growing angrier and like she should confront him, but her friends stepped in to stop her.

As the speakers ended, and the crowd began to dissipate, the man again approached Bananafish.

“He walked up to me and tapped me on the shoulder,” she said. “He had his head down and held out his hand. He began to say, ‘I want to thank you for talking to me.’” Bananafish thought he was feeling remorseful and returned the gesture. Instead of getting a simple handshake, the man grabbed her with both hands and said,

“Let me talk to you for just a minute more.”

Bananafish panicked.

“No, let go of me. I told you to leave us alone.”

The man tightened his hold on Bananafish, squeezing her arm, and then yanked her closer.

“I started screaming. ‘Leave me alone. Get the fuck off of me.’”

Her friends tried to intervene. The crowd started to notice and move toward them. The man panicked, releasing Bananafish and fleeing.

Small-scale violence at rallies may go unreported, but men like this fellow should be exposed and face repercussions.

While statistics show white men pose a bigger domestic threat than do foreign terrorists, those men are not simply extreme cases such as Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas. It is the guy on the street who will grab your arm or lash out because he feels entitled to a response.

Bananafish posted about her experience on Facebook, an increasingly common way of exposing perpetrators.

“He thinks he can go to a peaceful rally and do some shit like that. That’s not cool. That’s what made me post about it,” said Bananafish. “This guy’s wife, his family deserves to know what a sack of shit he is.”

Within an hour, she had his identification and stories from others who claimed he’d done similar things before. One person said he’d accosted her some time before at a protest at duPont Manual High School.

Bananafish was contacted by a local attorney, who advised her to privatize the Facebook posting and file a police report. Bananafish did file a police report. Because the man has not been charged with a crime, LEO is not identifying him.

Increasingly, we are being called to the streets to stand up and speak out against continued injustices that hurt our communities. It is inevitable that we will be forced to confront counter-protesters and agitators who want us to respond — who, somehow, think they are entitled to our time and attention. We should be prepared for this and, more than anything, be prepared to help someone else who might need us.

Bananafish was asked a litany of “why didn’t you” questions in response to the man grabbing her.

“I didn’t have time to react. There wasn’t time,” she said with a laugh. “I had self-defense training, but it didn’t come to mind.”

Bananafish’s attacker was like so many, mistaken of his entitlement. No one is promised a conversation because they initiate one. When he decided to confront Bananafish, he was within his rights to ask, and she was within hers to refuse. When he chose to touch and confine her, against her will, he crossed a line.

This man should not be allowed near any protest or public function in the city. The LMPD needs to firmly address this issue.

Bananafish did the right thing by alerting others and going to the police. We hope that other women who have had this experience with this man, or men like him, will also report and file charges.

We have to let them know that #TimesUp •

About the Author

When protesting becomes dangerous

Erica Rucker is LEO Weekly’s editor-in-chief. In addition to her work at LEO, she is a haphazard writer, photographer, tarot card reader, and fair-to-middling purveyor of motherhood. Her earliest memories are of telling stories to her family and promising that the next would be shorter than the first. They never were. You can follow Erica on Twitter, but beware of honesty, overt blackness, and occasional geeky outrage.


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