Q&A: Ava Riggio Discusses Being Pepper Sprayed at Protest

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The Lancer: First, tell us a bit about yourself. 

Ava Riggio: My name is Ava Riggio; I’m a junior at TOHS. I’m in Ethos and am a dancer. 

 

TL: What made you decide to protest? 

AR: As a white person I kept asking myself, “what can I do to help?” I don’t have a job, so donating was difficult, and posting on my Instagram did not feel like enough to me. So, I decided to protest as a way to actively fight and implement change, as well as show my solidarity with the black community. 

 

TL: What about the Black Lives Matter movement is most meaningful/personal to you?

AR: From a young age, it was always difficult for me to understand why some people were treated differently merely because of the color skin. As I grew older I saw that discrimination turn into violence as I turned on the TV and saw faces like Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Philando Castille and now George Floyd. Black Lives Matter is such an important movement because it actively fights police brutality while also shining light on the innocent victims in a way that honors their legacy. 

 

TL: How do you feel protesting? 

AR: Protesting was one of the most liberating experiences I have ever been a part of. It was so empowering to stand with a group of people that are so passionate about fighting for justice. It felt good to know I was making a change. 

 

TL: What, if anything, do you want people to know about protesting and the movement?

AR: The protesters and the looters are completely different groups. Many looters and rioters have taken advantage of George Floyd’s death as a way to get free things or to ensue chaos. The protesters do not endorse that. I also have seen far too many videos of police ensuing violence in situations where the protesters were acting completely peaceful. 

 

TL: Take us back to the event, what events led up to the woman pepper spraying you?

AR: I was standing on the center divider alongside 20 other people when a woman pulled up next to me, rolled down her window and yelled “All lives matter, not black lives.” Then, [she] flipped me off and rolled her window back. Us protesters then turned our attention towards her, chanting “BLM” and “Say his name,” which angered her enough to roll down her window again and try to tase me. When she saw that her threats would not stop me from exercising my first amendment right, she then maced me and others in the face. 

TL: How exactly did she try to tase you?

AR: She rolled down her window launching her arm and zapping her taser. Fortunately, since I was peacefully protesting and maintaining space, she could not reach me. 

 

TL: How did you feel at that moment? What were you thinking? 

AR: At that moment I was just shocked that someone could be so cruel. We were protesting for justice for a man who was innocently and viciously killed. How can someone disagree with that narrative so much that they would want to hurt others who believe it? 

 

TL: How are you feeling about it now? 

AR: I’ve had time to think about what happened, and I realized that I had just gotten the tiniest bit of sense of what black people have to go through. Me getting pepper-sprayed will never compare to the innocent and beautiful lives that were taken and what they had to go through leading up to their death. Now, I just want to continue to fight for those people. 

TL: Can you tell us anything about pressing charges etc? 

AR: The police saw the video on Twitter and actually contacted me. I will be taking legal action and pressing charges

 

TL: If/when the protests subside, what is your next course of action? Do you plan to keep advocating for Black Lives Matter?

AR: I am fortunate enough to have someone close to me who works directly with the actual BLM movement. I plan to work with them, listen to them, continue to educate myself and hopefully educate others as well. 

 

TL: What would you say to people that want to protest, but cannot for various reasons? 

AR: There are many ways you can help that don’t include protesting; however, a post on your Instagram is not enough. We need action! You can donate, watch documentaries, read articles, sign petitions, make calls and write letters directly to District Attorney Mike Freeman and Mayor Jacob Frey. 

 

TL: Is there anything you want your fellow TOHS students to know? 

AR: If you are white it is not your place to tell oppressed people how they should express themselves based on the bias media outlets and your limited knowledge of black history. Black people don’t owe you a pat on the back for speaking out on injustices either. We are in a defining moment of history, you do not want to be on the wrong side! Lastly, silence is violence. Choosing to remain silent and do nothing means you chose the side of the oppressor!