I had reached my tipping point.
After another week watching the progression of America’s implosion, with more viral videos that showed police offers killing black men for no justifiable reason, I’d had it.
Barely a day apart, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile became the latest names to be hashtagged and find new life on social media after their lives in the real world had been taken.
And it honestly felt different in the immediate aftermath. It seemed like everyone was finally on the same page, expressing anger, frustration and disappointment that we still can’t overcome this issue.
Then, July 7 happened. Micah Johnson, a former U.S. Army reservist, shot and killed five police officers during a Dallas protest in response to those deaths. With it went any chance at constructive dialogue.
Aside from seeing more innocent people die in this outburst of anarchy, the saddest part was that I could honestly rationalize this man’s thinking. That he, too, had reached his own tipping point and then chose to respond in the worst way imaginable.
I needed to get away from the desk. I needed to get off the couch. I was tired of watching polarized discussions unfold on Facebook. I was tired of seeing talking heads give reactive, emotion-based commentary on cable news networks.
I wanted to hear what real people had to say. I wanted to be around others who felt the disgust and outrage that I did, and were eager to do something in the outside world where all of this was happening.
I did what the Constitution encourages us to do and I protested.
After a brief search on Facebook, I found out about a Black Lives Matter rally in San Francisco the day after the Dallas shooting where eight local coalitions were gathering. So, I hopped on a BART train near my apartment in the East Bay and trekked down to Justin Herman Plaza.
When I got to the Embarcadero, I walked upon a mass of people — hundreds deep — with every size, shape and color you could imagine. They were facing a brick stage where a banner reading “STOP Racist Police Terror in the U.S.!” with the names Eric (Garner), Mike (Brown), Alex (Nieto) and Tamir (Rice) positioned as the backdrop for all the speakers. The Answer Coalition had clearly used this signage before.
Every association had their own method for creating change. Some sought to go through political channels; others were militant and resented all white people; some were spiritual and tried to encourage love. The rally was sending out contradictory and convoluted messages, but under the umbrella of the overarching cause, seeking basic human rights for all people.
It was the perfect metaphor for this entire conversation.
After representatives of each coalition were given time to speak, the rally went mobile and became a march that overtook every lane of Market Street, and the destination was City Hall.
With a few dozen San Francisco Police Department officers alongside the seemingly endless hundreds on the street, I attached the big boy lens to my camera and jumped out in front to take photos.
This is when everything began to feel more real.
Countless signs and fists scattered the graying sky as this melting pot of people chanted different slogans.
“No justice? No peace! No racist, police!”
Onlookers from the bustling sidewalks and shops on Market stopped to take photos and videos. Some saluted to express support while others slid in and joined the march.
I saw tears and I saw smiles. I saw frowns and stone faces. It was a collective catharsis painted by brushstrokes of individuality.
Halfway through the nearly 2-mile walk, the organizers directed everyone to sit down and clog the street even more. One of them, Frank Lara, used this opportunity to read the names of the 600-plus and counting who have been killed by police in 2016.
Every chance I got, whether it was a Muni Metro stop or a statue in UN Plaza, I got to the highest vantage point I could to try to see the back of the crowd. I let everyone pass during what felt like a small lifetime until I could actually see the final wisps of this human cloud.
Waiting at City Hall was a well-guarded front. There were barricades at the bottom of the steps and in front of the doors. Behind them were at least a dozen more SFPD officers.
Protesters rode the rails like they were at a concert, cursing, screaming and flipping off the emotionless men and women in blue.
The mood truly began to change in a palpable sort of way as different activists grabbed the microphone, shouting and pointing at the building behind them. I could feel the angst of everyone around me as I put my camera away to listen and take notes.
The more revolutionary thoughts were received with louder applause than before. And the common theme from this half of the night was simple: This is not the work. The work is what you do after this.
That’s when it kind of hit me again. What am I, specifically, supposed to do next?
I wasn’t seeking any social justice brownie points or trying to feel better about myself because I protested. I wanted to better understand how I could help everyone else who’s struggling with this around me.
My solution was to write — to use whatever voice I have for something bigger than myself; to choose empathy over apathy; to raise awareness and encourage critical thought.
Because the sad reality is that these crimes aren’t going to stop. Castile and Sterling won’t be the last, but the hope is that they’ll be one of the last.
Fleeting as it always seems to be, all we can do is hope — hope that those in power also reach a tipping point, and that tipping point helps bridge this divide.
The morning after the shooting in Dallas, Mayor Mike Rawlings spoke at a vigil a few blocks from the crime scene and said things I’ve never heard an elected politician say before, and they’ve lingered in my head since.
“We will not shy away from the very real fact that we as a city, as a state, as a nation are struggling with racial issues,” he said. “They continue to divide us. Yes, it’s that word, ‘race,’ and we’ve got to attack it head-on.
“I will tell you, this is on my generation of leaders. It is on our watch that we have allowed this to continue to fester — that we have led the next generation down a vicious path of rhetoric and actions that pit one against the other.
“We’ve got to change. And I believe in dealing with this issue, we must step up our game and approach complicated issues in a different way.”
Editor’s note: Yousef Baig is a sportswriter and columnist for The Weekly Calistogan, Napa Valley Register and its sister weeklies.