The Julius Tate protests and joy as an act of resistance

Andy Downing
Dkeama Alexis of BQIC (Black, Queer & Intersectional Collective) dances at the beginning of a protest at Mayor Andrew Ginther's home in Columbus on June 20, 2020. BQIC were demonstrating to bring attention to racial equality and defunding the Columbus Police.

For the last two weeks, Maryam, 16, has led daily protests for her late brother, Julius Tate Jr.,who was shot and killed by Columbus police during a December 2018 sting operation. Maryam said thatthe 16 days of action  one day for each year of Tate’s age at the time he was killed by SWAT officer Eric Richards have been physically and mentally exhausting.

“Right now I’m drained, but I’ve been drained since Julius [was killed],” Maryam said by phone. “No matter how tired I get, I’m going to keep fighting so people know this isn’t a moment, it’s a movement. … There is no tearing Black folks down, because even when you do, we come right on back.”

When Maryam first conceived of the ongoing protests, which will culminate tomorrow (Thursday, Sept. 17) with a candlelight vigil near the intersection of Mount Vernon and Champion avenues where Tate was killed, she knew she wanted the events to be multifaceted, expressing not just anger and frustration, but also joy, which is a sometimes overlooked act of resistance. In recent days, events for Tate have centered on meditation and poetry, and tonight’s action, which kicks off at 5 p.m. at Mayme Moore Park, will double as a musical celebration that Maryam compared with a family friendly block party.

“I know a lot of people are hesitant to bring their kids out to a protest, or to a march, so I wanted something where people could bring their kids and not have to worry. I also didn’t want us to be doing just the same old thing every day. … We’ve had people that have been out there with us since the first day [of the protest], and that’s what I was counting on, so I wanted to do different things for us to be able to connect and relax together,” Maryam said. “[On Wednesday, Sept. 16] we’re going to play some music, and people are free to come out and share their musical talents. You can bring an instrument. You can sing. You can do whatever you want.”

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In addition to helping foster this desired sense of community and aiding in spiritual and emotional healing, expressions of joy remain an effective, underappreciated tool of rebellion. “To resist the omnipresent, intrusive and pervasive nature of white supremacy, we must also allow ourselves to be rebelliously joyous,” Chante Josephwrote in British Vogue in July. “Where society has told us to ‘be quiet’, and that we’re ‘too loud’ and ‘too different,’ it is an act of resistance to revel in the joy that they have spent much of history trying to take away from us.”

These joyous acts, whether spontaneous or planned, also serve notice that while police brutality can take lives, it doesn’t end life, which is a point Maryam reiterated near the end of our call.

“I’m trying to show not just Columbus or Ohio, but the whole world that there is joy in what we do, and we do appreciate this life and we do appreciate each other, which is just how my mother raised me,” Maryam said. “No matter how peaceful [these protests] have been, and they’ve all been peaceful, there’s always been a cop following us, watching.

"I don’t think they expected us to be so peaceful, for us to be so joyful, so happy. Because we did lose Julius. Julius did lose his life. But not only are we coming together to seek justice for Julius and to mourn his death, we’re also coming together to celebrate because Julius lives.”