There are three stories now. Four if we count the rona. But this isn’t about that.
There are three stories right now. Three separate stories in the media.
Firstly, you have the death of George Floyd. He was killed by police for using a counterfeit $20 bill. The shop owner now says he doesn’t know if Floyd even knew the bill was counterfeit. Police came. They escalated the situation. The shop owner says video proves Floyd wasn’t resisting arrest. George Floyd was killed. We’re now wondering if there will be accountability. This isn’t new. We have the death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville just a few months ago. And thousands of others before that. This is a pattern.
Secondly, you have mass protests against…something. Some of it is against the police. Some of it is against corrupt state actors, which is why you see people marching toward Trump properties in DC, Chicago, and New York. Some of it is against capitalism, which is why you see people marching on Rodeo Drive chanting “Eat the Rich”. Some of it is just against an America that has sat by indifferently to watch working people and young people suffer to maintain the lifestyles and comfort of those in power. This is new. Not protests due to killing by police, but the size, scope and demographics of the protest is different. Ferguson protested the killing of Mike Brown. Baltimore protested the killing of Freddie Gray. Salt Lake City, Seattle, Denver, and Portland are protesting now. Salt Lake City! Half the black people in Salt Lake City play for the Jazz. They are literally 2% of the population. They are 5% of Portland. We have not seen those areas act like this before.
Thirdly, you have violence in the streets. You have windows breaking. You have beatings. You have tear gas and rubber bullets and vehicles being used as weapons. This is new. Not civil unrest. Not violence. Not broken windows. But the way its unfolding is something we have not seen before.
Those are the three separate stories we hear from the media.
“It’s a shame that man was killed.”
“There are protesters, but they don’t seem to have a coherent message.”
“These people are looters. They’re out of control.”
These three stories are one story.
I am always fascinated by policing as an institution. They use mantras like “protect and serve”. They are called “Detroit’s Finest” or “Camden’s Finest” or “Oakland’s Finest” as though they are emissaries. They use savvy PR to play pick-up basketball games or do toy drives for public support. They also murder with impunity. They see those they serve as terrorists or insurgents or enemy combatants.
Policing, as an institution, is built upon protecting and serving some communities by controlling and suppressing others. That is the way it is built. Policing is not broken. It is working as designed.
When people like me say that police are doing a bad job serving their communities and need to be held accountable, others disagree. They say it is a hard job. They say we hold them to unfair standards. They say that people kill people every day and it is hypocritical to talk about police killings without mentioning “black on black crime” or “Chicago murder” or whatever talking point is making the rounds that week.
It isn’t that I hold them to a higher standard than others do. It isn’t that I don’t give them the benefit of the doubt and others do. It isn’t that we fundamentally disagree about the role they serve and how they serve it. It’s because I care about the people affected and others don’t. I care about Latinx people. I care about poor people. I care about Asian people. And I care about the people most negatively affected by this system. I care about black people. And they don’t.
George Floyd was killed because the police didn’t see him as a citizen deserving of their protection, but as a danger to the citizens deserving their protection. Some people deserve respect and safety. Others are threats to that respect and safety. They decided George Floyd was a danger because he was black. Full stop.
People are protesting. They’re saying it’s unfair that George Floyd was killed. They’re saying capitalism is picking winners and losers and hurting people. They’re saying that the President is out-of-touch and dangerous. They’re saying that the system is corrupt.
They’re right! That’s all true. But the call to action was because of the police. Their inability to faithfully serve their citizens caused this.
When white people demanded the government “open the economy”, by which they meant make some other people go to work so there are more available leisure activities, the police were present. When they stormed the Michigan capital with guns aloft demanding the governor do their bidding there were police there. When they ordered Subway sandwiches with assault rifles slung across their back police were there. They were dressed in their standard issue uniforms. They were talking with the protesters.
This weekend people were protesting. They were peaceful. People knelt in the street in solidarity. Fists were held high. Songs were sung. Dances were danced. A people who have been in their homes for months avoiding a pandemic celebrated being together and fighting a corruption that continues to harm our country.
Then the police showed up.
This time they didn’t talk with the protesters. They didn’t dress in their standard uniforms. They didn’t de-escalate. They came with shields and helmets and batons. They came in SWAT vehicles. What message does that send? What are you telling people when you arrive in your standard uniform and speak with them? What about when you dress like a soldier and stand silently.
And I’ve seen the videos. I’ve heard the slogans. I’ve been at protests. I know the routine. People see the police as a provocation. They react. They yell at the police. They call them names. They curse them. They belittle them. They embarrass them. And the police respond by shouting, yelling, cursing, using racial slurs and, eventually, by hitting people.
If I react to a person insulting me, belittling me and cursing me with physical violence I’d be charged with assault. If I reacted to a police officer belittling me and cursing me with physical violence, I’d be charged with assaulting an officer at least which is usually a year or more in jail.
But police respond with violence and are defended for it.
So, the police came looking for war. They escalated a situation to create chaos, frustration, and anger. The came upon a combustible pile and tossed a match. Now the media is calling them savages and monsters. No, not the police. The police are police. The citizens protesting their treatment are the savage monsters, or, if they’re black, “looters”.
And I realize there are hordes of young white people dressed in black destroying things as a response. I realize that there are hordes of young black people asking them to stop since they know black people will be blamed. I get that. And that shit isn’t helpful. But that too is a response to a broken system. I haven’t seen people just breaking windows or burning up cars, even the white anarchists. I have seen people break windows and burn up cars after the police have created a riot. I do see people responding with the goal of mass destruction as a response to police causing mass destruction. I’m upset for small businesses struggling with the impact of the pandemic now rebuilding because of this destruction. But there’s enough blame to go around here. We can fault the anarchists looking to stir up some shit both when they wear a blue uniform or when they dress in all black.
This weekend I saw police shove elderly citizens to the ground in Utah.
This weekend I saw police pull down citizens’ masks to pepper spray them in the face, all while covering their badge numbers in New York.
This weekend I saw police use their vehicles to ram citizens in New York.
This weekend I saw police pull citizens out of their vehicles and tase them in Georgia.
This weekend I saw police shooting paint guns at citizens sitting on their front porches in Minnesota.
This weekend I saw police tear gassing citizens after telling them that an arbitrary 8PM curfew, announced minutes earlier, had arrived in Texas.
And most, explicitly, I saw police in Cincinnati replace the American Flag with their own bastardization of it. When black people said “our lives matter” this thing was created to say “shut up”. Police raise it high to make it clear who they serve, and it ain’t the American people.
I’ve gotten a lot of messages from white friends and acquaintances this weekend. Many are apologizing to me. Telling me they can’t understand my feelings but want to. They’re doing their best to show me that they care.
I appreciate that. I give you the benefit of the doubt. I assume your heart is in a good place and you’re doing this to be an ally. But, as smarter people than me have said, ally is a verb. Thanks for the kind words. But now what?
You’re not like those other white people. Good! What are you going to do with that?
But when this is over and the protests are done, what are you going to do?
Are you going to send your kids to integrated public schools? And I don’t mean 80% white with a sprinkling of Asian and biracial kids. I mean a school that’s got black kids in it.
Are you going to attend integrated churches?
Are you going to hire and promote black people at work?
Are you going to ask your child why his or her social circle looks the way it does?
Are you going to ask yourself why your social circle looks the way it does?
Are you going to do the work?
We don’t have a problem with “race relations” in this country. We have a problem with a white power structure that doesn’t care about black people. Black people have fought and died for rights in this country for hundreds of years. No progress has ever been made in American without black people willing to die for it. But we can’t fix this. The people don’t respect us. They don’t trust us. They don’t care about us. We need you to fix this. Platitudes won’t fix this. Action will.
Do your part.