Last year, I asked artist Andrew Lyko to paint my old motorcycle jacket so that it would be appropriate for cold-weather protesting. I requested a tribute to Never Again Action, a grass-roots collaboration between Jewish and immigrant-rights activists that started protesting U.S. concentration camps last summer. I wear the jacket to other protests too, so the jacket made its first appearance on this blog in February, after I was arrested in the Capitol rotunda — with nine new friends-for-life — during a last-minute protest against the Republican-dominated Senate’s acquittal of Donald Trump following his impeachment by the House of Representatives.
The Senate had days earlier voted down by a 51-49 margin a move to call witnesses and subpoena documents required for a proper trial — because the only way Republicans could acquit the guy was by refusing to examine any evidence — so we knew how the final vote on February 5 would go even as we sat down on the rotunda floor. Still, I have no regrets about the protest. It would have been more painful to know I hadn’t made my best effort to send a message, even if I couldn’t change the outcome. Any single protest, like any single election, is not a cure-all for what ails society. There’s a cumulative effect and I want to play my part. Like I keep saying, if I’m going to go down, I’m going to go down fighting!
Anyway, that’s all a long prelude to the fact that my custom-painted Never Again Action jacket came to function like a security blanket and, before the winter of the impeachment turned into the spring of the quarantine, I wanted an outerwear option for warmer weather. Andrew was busy and I’m definitely not a painter myself, but it just so happens that I’ve long stalked the Instagram account of artist Iris Barbee Bonner, who goes by the name These Pink Lips.
I’d reached out to Iris a couple of years ago to ask about her customizing something for me, but I wasn’t sure what piece of clothing I wanted done or what special thing I wanted to say. By July 2019, I knew. Seeing as my leather motorcycle jacket has the name of the Never Again Action group on it, I decided that a sleeveless motorcycle style should be painted with one of the organization’s mottos — “Never Again Para Nadie.” That’s a reference to the longtime Jewish response of “Never again” to the Holocaust; now we are saying “Never again” means “Never again for anybody,” not just Jews. I bought a studded black denim vest just so Iris could do her thing. I first wore it in June at a Black Lives Matter protest in Manhattan, calling for justice for George Floyd and all the other black people killed by police.
There was a curfew in place that night as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tried to limit the visibility of the outrage while “protecting property.”
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Tricia, Lisa, me, and Laurie with bold signs by @wewillnotbesilent on the Upper East Side before things went bad. #Repost @aperture.delta ・・・ From tonight’s peaceful and orderly #blacklivesmatter #protest on the #UES. Shame on #NYPD #bicycle #cops for brutally ramming and running over protestors with no warning. It was sadism in action. #timeoutshare #justiceforgeorgefloyd #blacklivesmatter #curfew #civildisobedience #blm
This country is obsessed with protecting property instead of people. Y’all know that multi-billion-dollar businesses — including Starbucks, Walmart, and LVMH — have insurance that covers things like broken glass, right? Even my little jewelry business got an email from my insurance company affirming that any damage caused during protests would be completely covered. Things can be replaced. People can’t. I’ve literally been to more protests than I can count and I’ve never seen looting in person, but I have seen police violence in person — including that June night, when police on bicycles attacked the peaceful protestors from behind, riding into the back of the crowd at full speed while wielding their batons. My friends and I barely made it to the safety of the sidewalk in time.
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After bike cops attacked from behind. On the right side of the photo look for the bicycle down on the ground. Not sure what happened to the female protestor whose bike that was. #Repost @aperture.delta ・・・ NYPD bike cops crashed into peaceful protestors at full speed, on 3rd ave. The protest was entirely peaceful. There was no warning. They charged downhill, knocking down and running over #cyclists and people – younger and older, black, brown, and white. Men and women. #policebrutality in a nutshell. @nycmayor needs to resign, now. @jumaane.williams this was an outrage. Please speak up. #civildisobedience #curfew #nyc #blacklivesmatter
Some experts say that curfews increase the likelihood of police aggression, and I agree, considering that the police made their move moments before a heavy downpour would have dispersed the crowd anyway. After I eventually got home through the rain and the roadblocks, I found MrB in front of the television watching cameras linger on broken glass and fires in other cities; there was nothing on TV about what had just happened blocks from our home. De Blasio wound up ending his intended week-long curfew one day early, after the cops — sometimes violently — arrested more than 1,300 people for staying out too late. And while I do like to save new clothes for what I think will be memorable occasions, this isn’t the kind of memory I treasure. In fact, I’m a little shaken up just from revisiting this, so I’m going to save my second These Pink Lips piece for my next post. That painting by Iris has a fun backstory that’s about the art and fashion, and not about cops gone wild. It deserves its own space. Oh, and word to the wise: If you’re caught up in police violence while wearing something very distinctive like Iris’s art, be prepared to take the item off or turn it inside out (like I did with the vest) as you exit the scene. The cops have their facial identification software to track you down — don’t make their jobs easier with your fashion statement!