Those heavy questions were the backdrop for a powerful shouting match at a George Floyd protest in North Carolina on Saturday, where three generations of Black men were caught on video arguing about the right way to make their voices heard in the face of racial injustice.
“I just felt like more (Black) people needed to hear this,” a woman wrote while sharing the video on Twitter, where it has now been watched more than 21 million times.
The incident happened amid sweeping protests over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died in Minneapolis, Minn., after a police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes. “Please, I can’t breathe,” Floyd said before he died, echoing the words of Eric Garner, another Black man who died in 2014 after police put him in a choke hold.
The viral protest video shows activist Curtis M. Hayes Jr., 31, arguing with another man, 45, about looting during a protest march on Interstate 277 in Charlotte, N.C., on May 30.
“There wasn’t really any sense of direction of how to protest, of how to get your point across,” Hayes told Global News on Sunday, after the video went viral. “I just felt there was a need to have that dialogue about ourselves.”
The powerful video shows Hayes pleading with an older man to avoid violence, before turning to a teenager and begging him to “come up with a better way, because how we’re doing it, it ain’t working.”
Hayes can be seen wearing a baseball cap in the video, while the older man, 45, is wearing a white tank top and the teenager, 16, is dressed in a black tank top with a white shirt around his neck.
The video starts with Hayes and the older man arguing loudly in the middle of the march, while dozens of people surround them in a circle with their phones out to record. Hayes tells the man that he’s 31, and the man says he’s 45.
“I’m tired of seeing this s—,” the older man says, in reference to a long string of unarmed Black people dying during encounters with police. He appears to be arguing for the march to turn violent. “We’ve been standing around as the older ones, taking this bulls—,” he continues. “Always standing around for a kumbaya. Ain’t nobody coming to protect us! We’ve gotta start our own f—ing life!”
Hayes responded by pulling in the teenager, a tall, lanky boy, and saying: “I understand, but let me tell you something right here. He’s 16!”
“What’re we gonna do?” the older man says, angrily.
“You tell me, but this ain’t the way,” Hayes says. He then cites U.S. President Donald Trump‘s recent threat about shooting looters — a comment with racist connotations that Twitter marked as “glorifying violence” last week.
“The President of the United States says, ‘If you loot, we shoot,'” Hayes tells the man.
“I know, but it’s time to stand up!” the other man says. “At this point, I’m ready to die for what’s going on!”
Hayes then turns to the teenager, pulls him close, looks him in the eye and places a massive task on his shoulders.
“Let me tell you something,” he says to the teen. “What you see right now is gonna happen 10 years from now, and at 26, you’re going to be doing the same thing I’m doing.”
The boy nods in understanding.
“What I need you to do right now at 16, is come up with a better way,” Hayes tells the boy. “Because how we’re doing it, it ain’t working. He’s angry at 46 (sic), I’m angry at 31. You’re angry at 16. You understand me? Putting yourself in harm’s way is not the way.”
Hayes then starts to break into tears. “Y’all come up with a better way, because we ain’t doing it!” he sobs. “And I have a five-year-old son, and it ain’t happening.”
He adds that he marched four years ago to protest the death of Keith L. Scott, who was shot and killed by police in Charlotte in 2016. Hayes said the current marches feel exactly the same as the ones he joined four years ago.
“It don’t matter,” Hayes tells the boy. “Come up with a better way. You keep yourself safe.”
Hayes captured national attention during the Keith K. Scott protests four years ago, when he stepped in to act as a buffer between angry protesters and police in Charlotte.
He was doing the same thing over the weekend when the argument broke out, he told Charlotte Magazine.
“I was out there protesting and trying to make sure that peace was kept on both ends and that neither party from either side was hurt,” he told the magazine. He added that he knows why the other man was angry, but he felt they both had to set a “better example” for the teenager with their actions, because the racial inequalities in America are not going away, and the next generation will have to take up this same protest.
“He’s watching us,” Hayes said. “We are instilling a movement in him.”
Hayes told Global News that he saw the 16-year-old as a crucial person among the group because he was “brave” enough to join the march at such a young age. However, he wanted to make sure that the next generation of protesters is fighting for equality, not revenge.
He added that he hopes people will watch the video and recognize that the protesters are “just humans that are hurting,” and that they’re part of a fight that’s been going on for many generations. They’re just trying to be heard and felt so that things will finally change.
“That’s three generations right there that is on that bridge, fighting for the same thing that my ancestors fought for,” he said.
“Same chaos, same America … It’s the same cycle.”
—With files from Global News reporter Mike LeCouteur