I Prayed as I Was Being Arrested for Protesting in Baton Rouge

A blaring siren rang out over the chants of my fellow protesters. I looked frantically for the source of the noise. I quickly learned that this tactic is known as “weaponized sound” and it meant that S.W.A.T. teams were close behind.

I was standing on someone’s lawn peering around the corner down France Street when I saw the human wall of police. They moved toward us with shields, gas masks, and automatic weapons. I saw them slam a photographer to the ground and knee a young woman in the back.

I screamed “No!” and tears filled my eyes as started to move toward the now prostrate protesters, in hopes I could somehow protect them.

A masked officer pointed a gun at me and my legs refused to move any further. Choked by fear and the hot air of the south, I scanned the crowds of people for familiar faces. My voice became shrill as I struggled to called out to my partner. Akeem was helping other protesters get onto the sidewalks and away from the hoards of officers who were intent on grabbing and tackling us. Akeem refused to let anyone get hurt if he could help it.

HE SHOUTED, “WRITE THIS NUMBER DOWN — IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW GETS ARRESTED, HAVE THIS NUMBER MEMORIZED OR WRITTEN DOWN.”

He seemed unmoved by the weapons pointed at him concerned only with urging people to comply with the officers’ commands. My phone rang non-stop as my panicked mother urged me to leave the scene. Something in me made me believe that if I left it would be the last time I saw Akeem alive.

Once protesters were safely on Ms. Lisa Batiste’s lawn and the surrounding sidewalk, Akeem scrawled the phone number to the Nation Lawyer’s Guild on the back of a Black Lives Matter sign.

He shouted, “Write this number down — if you or someone you know gets arrested, have this number memorized or written down.”

I had not stopped crying for what felt like an eternity. I took my phone, Akeem’s backpack, and my “STAY WOKE” jacket and I brought it to my mother who had been waiting for us in the parking lot of the church where the youth-led protest has started.

I told her I would be right back — but that I needed to stay with Akeem. She understood and gave me a huge hug. I returned to Ms. Batiste’s lawn with my hijab, ID, and my mother’s phone.

Moments later, I saw additional S.W.A.T. vehicles roll in, I decided I needed to pray.

I did not stop to make wudu, to make sure I was standing behind onlooking men, or check my compass to see if I was praying in the proper direction. Wearing short sleeves and shorts, I began with the takbir. I was unaware that photographers were capturing these moments.

After these photos of me went public, I was inundated by messages on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram from frustrated (but likely well-meaning) Muslims who were furious about my shorts and short sleeves.

I DID NOT YET HAVE TIME TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE TRAUMA AND DESPERATION I FELT, AND STILL I WAS BEING CHASTISED BY MEMBERS OF MY OWN COMMUNITY FOR APPEARING TO BE IMMODEST.

One woman who lives in Toronto chastised me and told me that my prayers “didn’t even count,” since I was dressed the way I was.

I had just been arrested while protesting peacefully, tackled and dragged by armed men as I stood on private property with the home owner’s consent. I did not yet have time to acknowledge the trauma and desperation I felt, and still I was being chastised by members of my own community for appearing to be immodest.

I was so hurt by the comments and the criticism. Why didn’t my community trust me to know my relationship with Allah?

Contributed by Blair Imani

Blair Imani

Blair Imani engages with a variety of issues affecting Black, Muslim, and femme communities. Imani is the Executive Director of Equality for HER, a nonprofit organization that raises awareness for issues affecting the global femme community. Blair is a Press Officer at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She has previously worked with the Women’s Information Network, Equality Louisiana, Louisiana Progress, StuffSheLikes.com, Beautiful in Every Shade, and Baton Rouge Organizing.