Youth organizer Harley attends a Black Lives Matter protest in Columbus, Ohio
National Youth Council Harley Woods attended a Black Lives Matter protest in Ohio.

By Harley Woods

On May 25, 2020, an unarmed man by the name of George Floyd was murdered, in broad daylight, by four cops in Minneapolis. As video of his last breaths spread like wildfire in the media, America had no choice but to acknowledge the police violence against Black people in this country. With this acknowledgment came rage, sorrow, and restlessness—the all-too-familiar emotions felt by oppressed and underrepresented Black families every day. 

And so, when the protests reached Ohio on May 28th, I was out there alongside the protesters fighting for change. It was my first time joining a protest, and as a young Black person, I had no clue what to expect. 

Upon arrival, I was flooded with happiness to see  hundreds of people proclaiming that Black Lives Matter. We took over the streets outside of the Statehouse in Columbus, chanting peacefully towards a wall of police. 

Over time though, as the number of protesters grew, so did the number of cops. At one point, I looked down the street and watched vans filled with officers in riot gear drive toward us to take the place of officers in traditional uniforms. 

No water bottles were thrown. No property was damaged. But like a scene from an old Western, the 12 o’clock bell rang and the cops let off a wall of tear gas. 

I immediately froze in shock. Everyone was running and crawling and screaming like they do in movies, and the crowd started to sweep me away in a frantic stampede. Within moments, a girl whose face was extremely red caught my eye. She had been hit directly in the face with the chemical. I rushed further into the cloud of tear gas to aid her. In between my wheezing, I could hear her screaming in pain and all I could think was: ”This is America.” 

When I made it to safety and headed home, I tried to comprehend what had just taken place, but nothing made sense. We’d made peaceful noise and they made people collapse in pain. How was that right? 

Until the Powers That Be start treating us like we matter, I will not stop protesting, flooding lawmakers with voicemails, and helping my community whenever I can. 

Cops inflicting cruel treatment on Black people is a pattern that goes back for hundreds of years. Policing started as a way to control slave labor, and that legacy of racism persists today. It’s crazy how it took a pandemic and yet another graphic video to get people to see what’s happening to us and show their support in the streets.

My life matters. My family matters. My community matters. Black Lives Matter.