Protesting ICE: A Perspective From the Frontlines


My siblings and I left home at 11:30. We arrived in Graham after the hour and a half drive at 1. The speeches began at 1:20. The crowd marched at 2:00. The crowd was stopped by police barricades at 2:05. We sat Shiva, a Jewish mourning ritual involving song, prayer, and kneeling, for the lives lost in US detention centers in the middle of an intersection at 2:30. The riot gear emerged at 3:00. Sound cannons went off at 3:15. Tear gas was threatened at 3:45. At 4:00, the arrests began. We retreated to private property. At 4:12, a girl in front of me was pulled from the curb into the road by an officer and arrested. At 4:15 we resumed singing, louder than the sound cannon could ever blare. We faced off with the police for another hour, face to face. And they had clubs. 

This is the reality of peaceful protests in 2019. 

On November 24th, Never Again action, a Jewish organization sponsoring protests against ICE detention center across America, held its first event in North Carolina. Approximately 300 Jewish, Latinx, and black activists and their allies met at the Center for Spiritual Living in Graham to end Alamance County’s $2.3 million contract with ICE, signed by Sheriff Terry Johnson. For months, Johnson’s policies have terrorized Alamance communities, resulting in the arrests and detainments of hundreds of immigrants in deplorable conditions. One speaker recounted his detainment before we began marching. He described the injuries he received there, sexual abuse he suffered, and the complete absence of health services. Another speaker explained that when she was arrested for a traffic violation, the police took her passport and work visa. It took weeks for her to get those documents back, weeks she lived in constant fear of deportation. 

As my sister and I stood at the frontlines, facing the armed and armored police directly, we began to get a small glimpse of the all-consuming terror immigrants feel day-to-day living in Alamance County. We felt it creep up on us as police apprehended and arrested two women simply standing on the public sidewalk across from our group, watching and filming the protest. I saw it in the flash of fear in the eyes of a woman behind me, who told me I reminded her of her daughter before handing me a small mask to cover my nose and mouth when we heard the police threaten that they had tear gas ready. It gripped me in the smallness, the unimportance, I felt as we sat Shiva, the mourning prayer of my people, and the police laughed at us, trampling over our strong silence. 

November 24, 2019 was the first day I felt truly connected to my Jewish community. It was also the day I lost all trust in the police. I wish I could have experienced the spiritual empowerment of our gathering without the violence and horror of the police response. Peaceful protest should never be met with unflinching brutality and fear tactics. Especially not when the majority of those demonstrating are minority groups. My involvement in this event taught me one very important thing, a lesson clear in the stark imagery of armed police lined up before strangers hugging and crying and singing as one: violence is the weapon of the oppressor, but love creates change.    

Pictured: Bec Horowitz (in orange pants) and their sister (in green plaid) listen to speakers before marching. 

Photo Credits: Anthony Crider

Cr: Anthony Crider

Bec Horowitz (author) pictured right. Cr: Anthony Crider (above and below)

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