Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Day four and the riots continue. The finger pointing is increasing as are the diversionary tactics. George Floyd’s sister has taken to the media saying that this violence is dishonoring the memory of a man of peace and love. Much like the Coronavirus, the protests and looting has spread from the Twin Cities to infect large cities across the nation.
I’ve managed to inject myself into a few social media discussions today, which is what is inspiring tonight’s post. One of my friends posted a meme about the “wasted opportunity” to bring people together and be the root for real change by turning the protest violent. But if we’re honest about this, this is nowhere near the first injustice by the justice system on minorities. In 2012, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman in Florida. Zimmerman was acquitted because of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” laws despite the fact that he was following Trayvon a significant distance, of his own free will, before shooting the seventeen-year-old. The laws are still in place.
In South Caroline (Charleston) in 2015, Michael Slager, an on-duty police officer shot Walter Scott in the back, killing him. The officer claimed that Scott was fleeing at the time after a daytime traffic stop for a non-functioning brake light, but a video contradicted the officer’s claim. The state plea bargained the murder charges away. Both of these incidents resulted in nationwide peaceful protests but people of all races, but the unchanged system that allowed these crimes to happen lead to the death of George Floyd four days ago.
Peaceful protests have been occurring for a very long time, but again, to no avail. The truth is that these riots, the civil unrest and looting is not because of George Floyd. While his death may have been the spark, the reality is that the anger has been brewing and pressure building for a long time. Attempts for equity has been tried through the legal system, but do you suppose the number of cases by the ACLU is increasing or decreasing? The peaceful “Million Man March” protest had no effect save to make money for the shoe industry. Colin Kapernick tried to bring attention to the racial disparity in our system by kneeling peacefully during the national anthem only to face fines and eventually being fired for his attempts to simply bring this racial disparity to light. I’ve heard the argument, more than once today, that people shouldn’t be trying to bring about changes through violent protests. I humbly suggest that we change that around: people shouldn’t have to resort to violent protests to bring about justifiable changes.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that I favor these riots and the destruction they are bringing. The officer most responsible for the death of George Floyd has been arrested (the quickest arrest of an officer in Minnesota history as I understand it) and charged with murder. Investigations continue on the other three officers present, and charges against them have not been ruled out. I hope the justice system will treat these charges seriously and give fair trials and proper sentences as warranted, but if these officers were the only cause for the protests, then they would have ended by now. This is the result of deeper inequities that have never been addressed.
Even in the Minneapolis riots the racist underpinnings of our system is on full and disgraceful display. A black CNN news crew found themselves incarcerated while reporting on a fire, even while wearing Press badges. A police officer arrested them, writing in his report that they refused an order to clear the area, although the film they were shooting shows no such order being given. Not far from them, a second news crew was making a similar report and remained undisturbed. The only difference is that the second news team was white. The incident was so egregious that the mayor apologized to CNN for the arrest.
The disparities are on full display in the sequence of events that have lead to these riots. Armed white men protest in front of Michigan’s capital in bullet-proof vests and military style assault rifles and are left in peace. The current riots in the Twin Cities were sparked when police elected to fire tear gas and rubber bullets at the crowds who were peacefully protesting just after nightfall. Rather than negotiating with them, or explaining the process occurring in the investigations, it was the police, not the protesters, who turned violent, and much like firing a weapon into gasoline, the flames spread throughout the city, and now, throughout the nation.
A friend’s friend posted about the Boston Tea Party. The argument was that, aside from lost product (which was, let’s be honest, the equivalent of looting) there was no harm done. In fact, that protest launched a revolution that ended up killing 6,800 Americans and an additional estimated 17,000 from disease. The end result was that the system of government in the colonies was turned over completely. Let’s hope that these riots don’t end up going that far.