Following Mayor-President Josh Guillory’s executive order limiting public congregation and loitering, I felt hesitant to attend the Tuesday, Sept. 1 protest at City Hall against the recent displays of racial injustice in Lafayette.
The protest was coming off the heels of a night confrontation between protestors blocking roadways and a militarized riot squad of the Lafayette Police Department. At whichever authority figure’s whim, I sensed that this peaceful protest could end as a violent one.
It ended up being a peaceful and inspiring moment of solidarity in the community, and more so, it was a safe and well-protected protest.
The latter half of that description is what the Acadiana Advocate chose to emphasize in their reporting, citing an armed group of men describing themselves as the “Louisiana Cajun Militia” wishing to “make sure protesters are protected and allowed to exercise their right to protest peacefully.”
In reality, the protest was subject to the blatant intimidation of this men’s gun club as well as the overwhelming presence of the Lafayette Police Department. It was peaceful despite it.
Occupying a small patch of grass on the corner of St. Landry and University, protesters organized by the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) of Acadiana gathered to share a barbecue, rally support for the Pellerin family and condemn the recent actions of the Mayor-President.
For the first 45 minutes, it was a surprisingly relaxed environment. A person parked in the adjacent parking lot was playing music, volunteers were serving hamburgers, hot dogs and bottled waters to anyone that wanted one, including the Louisiana Cajun Militia. But their abrupt presence was clearly a disturbance. The crowd of protesters grew exceptionally quiet as a confident man toting an assault rifle introduced himself and stated the militia’s purpose of being there: to protect us.
With recent talks of “outside agitators” and satirical Antifa gatherings generating a disproportionate amount of attention with the community’s imagination and action from the police, their pretense of protection was almost comical. Aren’t the police “protecting us” from those same forces?
The facade here is obvious and the discourse should be led to a point where we’re combatting these narratives viciously. Right-wing militias and the Lafayette Police Department have a strongly overlapping ideology. Both of them were there to keep protestors in check, and in doing so displayed the amount of power stacked up against this current movement.
The militia receded into the shade about 100 yards away, but they stood talking and waiting, looming over the event. In addition, dozens of officers donning bulletproof vests and black fingerless gloves waited in their running vehicles or stood looking on at the protest. There was a police officer in every direction.
But the protest was laser-focused on building energy and awareness of the movement. It was a genuine expression of anger, resilience, solidarity and resolve. Organizers made demands and the crowd rallied around the words of a handful of speakers.
It’s affirming to know that the status quo is overreacting this drastically at the thought of social change. If the powers that be are willing to put this much manpower towards an almost nonexistent threat, then it’s a sign that the protests against the Lafayette government’s handling of race relations are just.