Disclaimer: Before I actually start talking about the title subject I want to state two things to make it clear where I’m coming from. The first thing is that I am not black(something that should be obvious if you see the picture of me in my about page) I am a light skinned Hispanic person and have never really had a bad experience with cops. Secondly this post is about understanding why people are feeling the need to turn to rioting and violence and how we need to acknowledge and work on fixing the problems that are causing the rioting and protesting before we can start asking for civility or even worse attacking the very character of the protesters and their movements. This blog post is not trying to encourage or support violence. Also this is merely my view of things as they stand along with a few sources I pulled things from if there’s any mistakes here feel free to let me know. With all that out of the way I can start talking about the subject at hand.
So if you’ve been paying to current events at all you have no doubt heard about the murder of George Floyd by police and the riots that this has caused. This isn’t the first time that police have abused their power to take the life of a person of color and I highly doubt it will be the last. The officer responsible Derek Chauvin has been charged with third degree murder and second degree manslaughter which is rare to see in a case like this usually despite clear evidence of wrongdoing the officer(s) in question would usually get suspended or retire and not receive the kind of sentence the crime they performed is supposed to get but that’s another problem entirely. The thing is that as I said police too often get away with murdering, harassing and just generally abusing their power against innocents(mostly people of color). This has created movements like Black Lives Matter and right now Justice for Floyd. Sometimes people in these groups can commit acts of violence in the form of things like rioting, smashing windows and other actions. Whenever an act of violence happens no matter the context or level of severity there’s usually calls to be civil and people accusing the people responsible and by extension the group of being thugs and ruining the message they’re trying to get across. For now I want to examine these calls for civility and how while I’m sure most of them mean well they can come across as tone-deaf and distracting from the real issues here.
So let’s start off with the fact that we are all exhausted and angry. I’m not usually one to use absolutes since there are always exceptions to them and there’s a lot of gray they don’t account for but this is one that I feel I can make in total confidence without anyone being left out. We’ve gone through disaster after disaster in this year alone and police brutality has become so sickening common that A.C.A.B( All Cops Are Bad) has become a common saying on social media. It has become bad enough to ruin the character of a job that employs 800,000 in the U.S. alone. Police Brutality has always been an issue but with Donald Trump and his ilk empowering people to become more openly racist and hateful along with social media allowing anyone with a phone and internet able to share videos of and comment on police abusing their power, harassing people, worsening situations and just generally being a danger to people instead of protecting and serving them. There is also the list of people that have been hurt and killed by police over the past decade that has not only gotten longer and it feels like the reasons and defenses of these deaths has only gotten worse. That’s the thing for years people of color have been talking about how bad police can get and how there’s systemic racism as well as systemic corruption in the police force that needs to be addressed since it keeps causing black people’s deaths but most of those concerns usually get brushed aside or are underplayed and simply acknowledged as a thing that happens sometimes but it’s not that bad. A perfect example of this dismissed concern that has led to people being exhausted is the aforementioned ACAB. It’s a statement that usually comes with an example such as police being overly aggressive to a black man who’s surrendering on his front lawn scared or attacking protesters who did nothing to them. There’s plenty of examples of cops proving why people believe they’re all bad and that there are systemic problems with the police and not individual ones. Cops have been getting away with terrible things for years and whenever someone tries to bring that up there’s responses of “there are more good cops then bad ones”, “blue lives matter”, “what about …”, “all lives matter” (when Black Lives Matter is mentioned as well), and just various other responses that either misunderstand or disbelieve the issue. After all the news articles, protests, statements by numerous people, pained pleading of people of color it’s starting to feel like the later rather than the former. The problems with police that makes people say ACAB are systemic and is not fixed by any individual good cop. I can’t overstate this enough one singular cop or the amount of good or bad cops are not the problem. The problem is the very system that allows cops to abuse their power, get away with their crimes with a figurative slap on the wrist, and makes protection and avoidance of issues from cops dependent on your skin color and how well you praise them and treat them rather than their duty to protect and serve us. When you have a broken system that gets constantly defended and has people in and out of it that not only ignore the issues but continue to do the things that are the problem and then pretend like they’re not as bad as the people who acknowledge and want to fix the system say they are then it becomes a problem that you need to solve at the root as well as everyone being held accountable till the issue is solved. Because ultimately defending or going after only a few bad apples in a corrupt, broken system only serves to slow the progress of fixing that system. People say ACAB, take part in Black Lives Matter protests and demand police reform because the way to fix the system is to demand a complete overhaul people have wanted a better system for years but have been slowed by apologetics and people simply dismissing the reasonable requests for police reform and the peaceful Black Lives Matters protests and statements so they can focus on the violence ( I’ll touch back on this in a bit). Couple being ignored and disrespected for years with a pandemic that has really exemplified all the problems of the world while we wait things out and adjust to a new way of living and something had to give. There’s also the aforementioned death of black people by police continuing even in these trying times and yeah we’re all dealing with these issues either directly or indirectly. These protests, riots and violent responses are the product of a righteously angry movement having had enough after years of trying to get people to listen to their message. George Floyd’s death as well as the death of Breona Taylor and others that I could list were just the straws that broke the camel’s back.
So I’ve given the reasons for people’s anger and exhaustion with the system which are what are causing and escalating these protests to an extent. Now let’s talk about how these were intended to be peaceful protests and the way the world works. So below this I linked an article as well as a video showing how peaceful protest is hard to maintain when you have things like police cars trying to run you over or the mayor of your city more fixated on scolding people then addressing the issue simply saying this isn’t the way to honor George Floyd and to a certain degree he’s right people shouldn’t be just looting stores and smashing. However all this protesting and chaos has led to one of the few times I can remember that a cop got a murder charge instead of a suspension or them being laid off the force. The fact that it took this long and this level of chaos to actually results when you have people who have made books about police brutality, numerous people saying Black Lives Matter and ACAB with examples of why they’re saying it as well as them saying it as civilly as they can, and years of peaceful protests that speaks volumes about how society works. When Colin Kapernick took a knee during the national anthem and got mocked, kicked off the NFL, threatened by the President, called Un-American and just mistreated for taking as peaceful a stand as anyone could it shows that it’s not the violence people take issue with but the message. When you laugh off almost every type of peaceful protest until violent protests start happening and then the message is received you shouldn’t be surprised when people start considering violence as an answer. It’s not the answer but it’s working and it shouldn’t have taken violence for change to be considered. Of course there’s also self defense to consider since along with the example I linked below of police apathetically hurting protesters there’s plenty of other examples to be found if you look for them. There’s also the National Guard and their rubber bullets. People are dying at these protests and usually it’s by cops who started attacking first. The protesters do want peace but between facing the national guard, the police, and looters who have tried to take advantage of the movement(proof of which can be searched for) it should be clear that most protesters aren’t starting the violence but either defending themselves or dealing with people who are taking advantage. Are there protesters who are overzealous and want to just get revenge through violence? Probably but almost every instance of these protests I’ve seen and words from the protesters themselves show that most want peace but it’s also hard to fight the system through peace alone when it wants to murder you. There are still plenty of people peacefully protesting despite how hard that can be.
So by now I hope it’s clear how not only are there obstacles and drawbacks to civility and peaceful protest(although that doesn’t mean we stop pursuing these things)but also how that these calls for peace and civility can down out the message of what’s being said. As shown by how the Seattle Mayor’s comments(linked below) on the intended peaceful protests he mentions “they’re showing no courage around the real issues that the killing of George Floyd highlights in our country” regarding the violence that happened amidst the planned peaceful protesting like looting, setting fires, and breaking windows. There are also comments by another official Seattle Fire Chief saying he supports people’s right to free speech and protest peacefully “but this is not they right way to do it” and how he’s trying to keep people safe and “we’re all in this together”. These are noble sentiments but notice there’s no mention of the actual issues just eluding to them in an attempt to stop the violence and then simply acknowledging peaceful protests before saying things got bad. There’s also the state of emergency being declared, the curfew, the banning of weapons, and Mayor Durkan saying “those who do not follow the order, enforcement action can be taken”. If you’re wondering why I’ve spent so much time discussing this article it’s because this is the exact kind of response that shows everything wrong with. Barely addressing the issue, focusing more on being annoyed at people committing minor acts of violence than the message and context of the situation, statements that seem noble and like they mean well but are really tone-deaf and you’ve heard them plenty of times, and then there’s the actions they’re taking which might only make things worse. Of course I get that the duty of officials like this is to defend their cities and by extension innocent civilians and buildings first and foremost but this is not only sending in the troops as well as initiating martial law against citizens most of whom haven’t done anything wrong beside protest but also ignores that this is a pretty harsh response when there have been other protests where this kind of response didn’t happen. Protests such as the one barely a few weeks ago by people going against pandemic guidelines. Those people despite being just as aggressive to the cops, carrying guns, and fighting for a much less admirable cause of simply not being inconvenienced by following proper safety guidelines in the middle of a pandemic. When you consider that a protest like that with people fighting for a selfish cause while rightfully mocked by the public got more respect from the cops and the president and while ultimately nothing was accomplished by that protest as opposed to this one it’s clear that’s more because of scale and righteous anger as well as being unable to be ignored anymore. There is a clear difference between how these two protests were treated despite being similar in terms of threat even if it’s in different ways. Ultimately the fact that a different group of protesters who were just as loud and rowdy but simply fought for a different reason along with the fact that other protests by Black Lives Matter haven’t been able to get results like this until the anger, scale, and unfortunately violence were too powerful to ignore shows that at the end of the day civility isn’t what gets results which is a painful truth. We live in a world where in order to bring change you have to reach the boiling point of your anger and show that it’s impossible to go back to the status quo. Change doesn’t happen when people are being peaceful and reasonable but when they’re being angry and making too much noise not to be heard. One of the things these last four years have taught me is that victory goes to the person who can scream their point the latest and there are plenty of examples of this. It shouldn’t be this way but it is. To fix this we need to acknowledge the point when people are saying it the best way they can and not when they’re angry and tired of explaining it simply because someone likely unknown by them got a little violent. We need to acknowledge the point and that we get it before we acknowledge the violence and that it is wrong. Everyone has been taught that violence is wrong this is not a new lesson to anyone and when “I agree with the message but can you really support x act of violence?” is said it shows that you care more about putting down some random act of violence and having the movement need to disenfranchise every mistake it makes. Yes it’s important to acknowledge the violence and mistakes of a movement so it can improve like anything else and not have festering problems but if a movement has a valid message it’s good to prioritize listening to that message before fixating on the violence that might have a context behind why it happened(is happening) and could be a very small part of a bigger movement that is needed. When you don’t it comes across like you care more about maintaining the status-quo and scolding people’s mistakes than helping solve the issue(s). That might not be what was intended by what you’re saying but with all the bad faith actors out there and the fact that you’re regurgitating a point that is repeated ad-nausem regardless of current events and that most protesters aren’t trying to be violent especially against innocent people it can across like you don’t really care especially if you’ve spent more time talking about the violence than the issue that makes people feel like violence is a possible answer.
Conclusion: So I know this is long and that I might have repeated myself a little but I hope my point has come across clearly through this whole blog post. While the violence is an issue and isn’t something that should be happening it’s proving to be an answer in a world that took years and the reaching of a boiling point to truly listen. I can’t stress enough that I don’t support or encourage the violence and in a more just world I would be truly against it but in the world we live in now. The one with systemic issues that have these protesters defending themselves from cops that will deliver the first blow, officials not addressing issues until violence becomes a part of a formerly purely peaceful response, and bad faith actors and apologists who will fixate more on the violence caused by random individuals(some of said violence done in self-defense)fighting an issue they ignored beforehand rather than fixing or even fully understanding the issue I get it and can look past it to see the issues that need addressing. We need police reform, we need to listen to people of color and their issues, we need to stop all the police brutality, and we need to make a better system. Before we address the violence in a world that makes violence and victory by screaming the loudest feel necessary we need to make a world that truly believes in civility so violence not only doesn’t feel necessary but doesn’t happen because the system let’s everyone be able to have a voice and be the peaceful, reasonable protesters the world claims it wants despite a lot of evidence to the contrary.
Brief Update: So while I was writing this the cops who killed George Floyd actually got their charge changed from third degree murder and manslaughter to second degree murder. This is an important win and something that is the result of protests that wanted this since the evidence does point to his death being no accident. It’s something Black Lives Matter was fighting for that I forgot to mention before and something that actually happened as this post was being written.