Let me state at the outset that I am not equating what the police did to George Floyd with the violence of the rioters responding to his murder. Looting, burning, and breaking into stores is not as horrible as murder, and of course most of the protestors against Floyd’s murder were peaceful. But violent protest is also unconscionable. And so I’ll call out both the cops and the rioters, but am not trying to say there’s a moral equivalence—not at all. But I don’t think there is any excuse for rioting.
What the Minneapolis police did to George Floyd, with one kneeling on his neck while he was prone for a full eight minutes and 46 seconds (two minutes after Floyd became unresponsive), suffocating him to death, while three cops stood by, is unconscionable. The cop who knelt on his neck has been rightly indicted for third-degree murder. The other cops should be indicted, too, if their inaction constitutes a crime, which it should. Remember, Floyd was killed after a “forgery in progress”: he reportedly tried to pass a counterfeit $20 bill (but did he even know if it was counterfeit?). A man shouldn’t have to die for passing a bad bill.
We need investigations of racism in many police departments, as there have been disproportionately many killings of unarmed black people. You’ve seen the videos, and although lawyers will argue that they don’t show what they seem to (and we do need to listen to the defense arguments), it’s hard to argue with the eyes, especially in the video of George Floyd’s death. Here’s a Washington Post summary and commentary on the video:
I don’t want to go on and on about Floyd’s death: plenty of commentators have weighed in on the police’s amazingly lethal and unnecessary behavior. I agree.
What you don’t see much of in the media—at least the liberal media—are any criticisms of the many violent riots across the U.S., which included burning cars and buildings, shooting, looting, and other forms of violence. Much of this violence has been directed at businesses owned by blacks or other minorities, and I’ve seen heartbreaking reports of immigrants or African-Americans who had their businesses destroyed, something I can’t understand at all in a race-motivated action.
This NYT article gives details:
There has also been civil disobedience, with protestors shutting down major roads. That I have little objection to so long as protestors recognize that it is civil disobedience and they should be prepared to be arrested. Here’s where there are protests, and cities with especially violent riots include Minneapolis, Atlanta, Washington, D. C., Los Angeles, and Chicago. Over a dozen cities had curfews, including ours last night (9 p.m. to 6 a.m., which I didn’t know about until I got to work at 5 a.m. to feed the ducks. But I would have flouted it even had I known.)
A map of where there have been major protests, and the 11 states where the National Guard has been called out.
Here’s what I think, and you’re invited to weigh in below:
1.) It is not only excusable to demonstrate in this situation, but laudatory. There is a good cause here: the repeated shooting of unarmed black men and women by police or people acting as police. Floyd is just the latest, with the killings Ahmaud Arbury and Breonna Taylor happening not long ago. It’s understandable that black citizens hesitate to call 911, for they may be on the receiving act of a police bullet, as was Taylor (granted, her boyfriend fired at police, thinking a poorly motivated police action was a home invasion). This is a civil rights issue, and calling attention to it is the right thing to do.
2.) Demonstrations should be peaceful, without any violence, looting, and the like. It is not an excuse to say that the black community has had enough and has to take violent action. Here, for example is a column in today’s New York Times that, in effect, excuses the violence because, after all, enough is enough, and violence is a proper response:
Yes, protests. No, not violent ones.
The only person to decry the riots in today’s NYT op-eds seems to be conservative Ross Douthat. Although I disagree with him on most issues, what he says makes a lot of sense: what works to change society is not violent protests with looting and vandalism, but peaceful ones.
Today’s HuffPost headline (click on screenshot), is all about the brutality of police responding to demonstrators, not mentioning that they were responding to violent demonstrators:
It’s time for the liberal media to decry violence. After all, last night I listened to two black mayors decry it in no-nonsense statements: Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta. Here’s Bottoms’s eloquent statement, who calls out the violent demonstrators while referring to Dr. King. Do listen to it! It’s righteous anger about both the murder of Floyd and the rioters destroying their own community.
If you think times are bad enough to warrant violence now, think about Martin Luther King and African-Americans in the 1960s, who weren’t able to vote, who were subject to repeated and blatant discrimination, and who were assaulted by police even when they were demonstrating peacefully. If anybody had had enough, it was African-Americans in 1960. In fact, the law embodied immorality and inequity: there was far more structural racism then.
And yet Dr. King, using Gandhi as a (successful) model, insisted that his marches be nonviolent. They were, and in so doing he gained the moral high ground. It was the sight of peaceful and unarmed blacks assaulted with truncheons and police dogs, and of lunch-counter demonstrators having milkshakes dumped on their heads, that awaked America to the immorality of segregation. I see no reason why demonstrations should be different now.
Many are saying that the violence was caused by out-of-state anarchists, Antifa-like thugs who want to create anarchy or start race riots. That may be true, but I doubt it, and we’ll know from the arrest records
3.) Violent demonstrations are not only counterproductive to the cause, but play into the hands of authoritarians like Trump. The sight of rioters breaking into stores and looting jewelry and other goods is guaranteed to either harden the position of racists, or make people on the fence vote for a “strong man” President. From the NYT’s coverage:
Instead, in a series of tweets and comments to reporters on Saturday, he blamed Democrats for the unrest, called on “Liberal Governors and Mayors” to get “MUCH tougher” on crowds, threatened to intervene with “the unlimited power of our Military” and suggested that his supporters mount a counterdemonstration.
. . .Mr. Trump’s statements did little to tamp down the outrage. Writing on Twitter, he called demonstrators outside the White House “professionally managed so-called ‘protesters’” and suggested that his supporters would meet them. “Tonight, I understand, is MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE???”
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, released a statement early Sunday morning appealing for calm.
“We are a nation in pain, but we must not allow this pain to destroy us,” he wrote. “We are a nation enraged, but we cannot allow our rage to consume us. We are a nation exhausted, but we will not allow our exhaustion to defeat us.”
In the meantime, Trump is not exactly being conciliatory, repeatedly threatening to call out the military or National Guard and, in the tweet below that was fact-checked by Twitter, threatening looters with shooting. This is not the way somebody elected to be our leader should behave.
Granted, Trump is being more conciliatory than I would have expected. But he’s fanning the flames when he should be dousing them. In the end, I think that despite his tweets, the violence in many demonstrations will strengthen his base, and the sight of looters can be used to justify his authoritarianism—and re-election. (Lord, I hope not!)
That’s why Dr. King had the right idea.