Brother Jeff Fard, the namesake of Brother Jeff's Cultural Center in Five Points, has been closely monitoring the Denver protests that have followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody — but he's doing so remotely.
Last month, Brother Jeff encouraged members of the Mile High City's black community to continue sheltering in place through May and into June, if possible, because of assorted inequities that increase their risk from COVID-19, and he's practicing what he preached. While self-quarantining, however, he's been serving as an adviser for assorted activists and groups involved in the rallies, and he has strong views about the nighttime violence, largely committed by young white men, that's followed overwhelmingly peaceful demonstrations during the day.
"This is an interesting crossroads for the black community," says Brother Jeff, whose publication, 5 Star News, is available at his website; he also hosts daily live shows on his Facebook page. "Once again, we are confronted with incredible dynamics on multiple fronts. We're being heavily hit with COVID-19, and now we're again facing police violence that tends to continually go unchecked."
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He thinks that the organizers of the peaceful protests are being thoughtful about their advocacy. "You're seeing them with masks and taking safety precautions," Brother Jeff explains. "They're looking out for the well-being of protesters, and they're getting their message out. But one of the things I've definitely been telling them is to make sure that everyone down there knows that people protesting with them may not be there for the same reasons. The provocateurs among them don't have the same intent, and there are those who are using our righteous indignation as a cover for them to come in and create violence and vandalize property and break and destroy — and that part is the most troubling to me."
He acknowledges, "You have whites who are allies and are very sympathetic to what is taking place to black bodies. But at the same time, you have other whites using that same energy to carry out their own agenda. That's what's most disgusting about it. These groups of individuals won't identify themselves to speak about their own causes, but they'll use black people at risk almost as if they're using them as fodder for their violence. I say that is nothing but a shame, nothing but a sham. It's co-opting another part of black culture, black history, black pain, black sacrifice, and doing it under the cloak of darkness, and doing it while hiding. But black people don't have the luxury of hiding who they are in the midst of violence, terrorism, oppression."
As a result, Brother Jeff continues, "I've been saying, 'Don't engage people you don't know. Don't argue with them, don't tell them they must put on a mask. Don't be provoked, because that could turn into another situation where they're using black bodies as an excuse to incite chaos and violence.'"
The information that Brother Jeff has collected about rioters suggests that they largely represent two different ideologies — "white supremacist groups that see this as the perfect time to weigh in against people of color and people with different sexual orientations," he says, and "those who believe the police should be abolished and have a total bent against law enforcement regardless of George Floyd or any of the other blacks who've lost their lives." Add in "the folks who simply want justice and a society where they can live in peace, and you've got a perfect storm — a hodgepodge of all these things."
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As such, peaceful demonstrators who see people engaging in violence "need to remove themselves from their midst, because they're using them under the camouflage of Black Lives Matter," he continues. "Black people out here in Colorado aren't the ones destroying property in Denver, but they're the ones getting hit with tear gas, with rubber bullets, getting harmed, realizing the negative impacts when police respond, and they're in the middle of a conflict they didn't sign up to be a part of."
The use of facial coverings necessitated by the ongoing pandemic has complicated the situation, Brother Jeff believes. "In the past, people at protests who wore masks did it to hide themselves. But now, with so many people wearing masks, they look like everyone else even though you can tell many of them are not aligned with black people, brown people, native people, oppressed people. Look at the monuments that have been defaced: the Armenian genocide memorial, Native American statues. That's a clear indication that they're not on our side and that they're using our struggle to advance their cause."
If the neo-Nazis and abolish-the-police outfits are armed with automatic weapons like those seized by law enforcement on May 29, Brother Jeff maintains, "that adds another level of danger into this conversation well beyond our peaceful marchers being co-opted by those who would incite violence. That tells me there are people right now ready to have armed struggle against this government — that police aren't just the target, but a symbol of the entire system."
Against this backdrop, Brother Jeff advises peaceful protesters "to stay focused, not to be agitated, and to know they're on the right side of this particular issue — know that what they're doing is part of their constitutional rights and they shouldn't be driven away by fear and intimidation. They need to stay vigilant on the side of peace and justice. And justice has no skin color, no sexual orientation, no Zip code or financial level. Justice will prevail through all of this. It may be ugly at times, but at the end of the day, we will have justice."