Denver, May 30, 2020:
Protesting and Rioting.
I attended the Black Lives Matter protest at the Colorado State Capitol on Saturday. I closely observed the crowd and protesters. I witnessed peaceful protesters holding signs and listened to occasional chants in favor of George Floyd who was senselessly killed by a Minneapolis police officer. I witnessed protesters positioned face down and chanting “I can’t breathe” which was an inspiring group chant that lasted approximately 10 minutes. It was peacefully organized and implemented.
I was moved by the diversity of people who attended the protest. I saw people of many races and colors united for a cause, which was the most hopeful and encouraging part of the protest. My final analysis of the gathering resulted in a rather simple conclusion. This is a large protest and it will become violent at some point in time.
I was told by another observer at the protest site that significant destruction from riots took place the previous night throughout the immediate area of the State Capitol, so I embarked on a walk up the 16th Street Mall. I was shocked at what I saw. Dozens of stores had been vandalized, and many of the store owners were in the process of boarding up their businesses where shattered windows previously existed.
When Peaceful Becomes Violent.
It’s impossible to know whom among the protesters were responsible for the immense destruction to Denver’s businesses, the city’s library, municipal buildings, and the city’s beautiful art surrounding Civic Center Park. We’re still living in a world trying to fight a pandemic, so most of the protesters were wearing masks. Thus, recognizing someone causing senseless destruction is improbable or impossible. But the visual images of downtown Denver astonished me and provoked my personal anger.
The graffiti was ubiquitous, and the theme of the sprayed paint was clear. The protesters hate the police. In fact, they defined the aggregate of all police officers as being wholly bad people. A logical and rational person would agree that there are many police officers who are good people and good citizens. But the primary point of the protest was to raise awareness that many in our society are angry at the rogue police officers and other citizens who have killed or otherwise abused so many African Americans over the years.
This was a prime moment to contemplate the beliefs of both the protesters and the police. One thought that I considered was perhaps this will be a wake-up call for the professional and well-meaning officers who must start policing and taking charge of their own fellow officers who display dangerous behavior. The police possess the power to stop the bad actors within their ranks, but will they act to stop this unacceptable behavior? Another thought was maybe the protesters believed they had reached a point in our culture where marching and destruction were necessary to get the attention of our leaders on a national and local basis. But in the final analysis, I concluded that this whole exercise in social change was going to become worse before any viable concessions are made on either side.
Are protests meant to raise awareness, or to simply be a venue to vent frustration, anger, and hate? We all judge the outcomes subjectively, but the issues that actuate violent protests are not always properly mitigated. Thus, do they accomplish the goal, or are they simply an organized act of futility? We have witnessed violent protests around the globe for years, and I personally recalled the protests that took place in 1968 that became pivotal moments in the civil rights movement. Other memorable protests included the anti-Vietnam War movement.
I tried to weigh in my mind the necessity of protests; and moreover, the effectiveness of protesting. I considered that if no previous efforts to stop injustices have achieved any successful outcome then more extreme measures appear to be the only option for many people.
Dr. Martin Luther King: “A riot is the language of the unheard.”
Did the vast number of protesters in Denver and across America last week feel that their voices were not being heard? Given the number of times these horrific killings have happened, it should be clear to any rational person that finding a solution to this problem has not been properly implemented. Our leadership has the power to reduce and perhaps eliminate these moments of abhorrence, but they have failed to address the need for change far too often or the results would be more positive. This solution will only surface from a grassroots movement that is organized by the citizens of our country. Our current leaders are not capable of properly dealing with something this large and dangerous.
Black Lives Matter:
Has the outrage that spread across America last week been solely about the mistreatment of African Americans in our country through the years, or is there more to this story? People have been locked down as a result of a pandemic, capital inequality for many people continues to deepen, and politically we have a starkly divided country. Anger is in ample supply in America today. So it’s possible this outbreak of anger is the sum total of many Americans feeling displaced from our society in a variety of ways. Social scientists will work through these issues over time and through the future. It will be interesting to learn what that research uncovers. But I think this one is pretty clear. We watched George Floyd die in a senseless and inhumane way. These protests are about years of injustice, and many in our society gathered together and collectively said, whatever it takes, the discrimination of black people, and the killing of black people, must change now. And they will do whatever it takes to stop this longstanding injustice.
Nevertheless, it’s clear from examining the current data that as a minority group of US citizens, African American’s in our country have always experienced inequality, discrimination, and all too often have been subjected to personal physical violence. Therefore, many people in our country who provoke such despicable assaults against our black community must also be held accountable for the horrific outcome we’ve all witnessed over the past week.
A logical approach to consider is if a protest is the only option then protest peacefully. Stop destroying property that houses the livelihoods of innocent people. By hurting innocent people, rioters are exhibiting clear unacceptable behavior. But throwing a brick through a window is not the same egregious act as killing another human. Leaders won’t listen and create change unless they, too, have something to lose and if businesses close as a result of the rioting tax revenues will be lost, and elections will be lost. Large protests will always include riots. As Trevor Noah (see video below) said, “There is no right way to protest.”
Nonetheless, others who possess an innate need to hate in the same discriminatory and often fatal behavior perpetrated by the police officer who killed George Floyd are equally accountable for this destruction, even if they were not part of the rioting, they were the cause of this movement. Clear trends within our culture in recent years have resulted in certain individuals and organized groups of people somehow feel more empowered to discriminate or carry out acts of violence against blacks and other minorities. Even some religions are now the target of hate crimes. The data is clear. This problem is getting worse in America.
Langston Hughes wrote in his poem “Harlem” the following: “What happens to a dream deferred? /… Maybe it sags / like a heavy load. / Or does it explode?” That was 70 years ago. How much has changed for African Americans in our country over the past 70 years?