ITHACA, N.Y.—The weekly Truth & Justice rallies continued on Sunday, continuing calls for defunding Ithaca Police Department and redirecting funds to community support programs and initiatives. In addition to its normal calls for an end to racist police violence, the event also saw protesters airing out inter-group grievances, which many attendees felt was healthier to do in a public forum than behind closed doors.
As the rallies have since starting months ago, the primary focus was on racial injustice and the need for radical change to attain equitable treatment by law enforcement going forward (or questioning the need for law enforcement at all). The early segment, though, continued a conversation that cropped up at last week’s rally: the use of the phrase “ACAB,” an acronym for “All cops are bastards.” The slogan has been popular among protesters nationwide over the last few months, though it is sometimes cited as unnecessarily inflammatory rhetoric that puts Black protesters in a more adversarial and risky position with police. Last week, activist Yasmin Rashid requested that the phrase no longer be used at the weekly Ithaca protests (it has only been used sparingly in recent weeks anyway) and that if she heard it, that person might be asked to leave; the latter portion provoked disagreement from some.
The conversation continued on Sunday, as Rashid and fellow activist Jordan Clemons, who helped start the rallies initially, defended their position to the crowd that the phrase be banned from the rallies. Their speeches, while intermittently contentious, laid the groundwork for further discussion among the group that seemed to actually result in more cohesion. They also said that they felt like the “ACAB” debate was a microcosm for larger problems they had with other rally attendees, mostly white people, who they felt had not been respectful towards them or their wishes at the events.
Russell Rickford, a long-time local activist and Cornell professor, highlighted during his remarks to the crowd that the conversation, while uncomfortable to watch at points, is necessary for the long-term health of the movement and creates a more transparent environment for those involved. He reminded the group, as did others, that their true enemy is white supremacy and the systems that foster its reign, like capitalism. The group seemed to reach an uneasy consensus that the phrase will no longer be used.
The rally itself continued fairly routinely: around 4 p.m., the group made a gradual trek around downtown Ithaca while singing the iconic 1930s union song “Which Side Are You On.” It ended with a series of speeches outside of the Ithaca Police Department on Clinton Street, which had been shut down by city officials earlier in the day in anticipation of the protest. Protesters also blocked the road themselves, leading to a few verbal exchanges with passing drivers but not too much hostility, at least not compared to the incidents of two weeks ago. Three men appeared late in the rally, as the protesters blocked the intersection of Cayuga and Green Streets, shouting common anti-Black Lives Matter slogans like “All lives matter,” one of whom was wearing a Trump 2020 shirt. According to those at the protest, the men had an extended verbal altercation with protesters before eventually leaving without further incident.
The weekly rallies will continue next Sunday at 2 p.m., likely on the Commons (though there has been some talk of holding one of the events at the West Village apartments housing complex).