For the first time in 20ish years, I have a curfew. That’s courtesy of Arizona’s governor, who instituted the limit to help curb “lawlessness.”
The very euphemism makes me rage-y.
What’s going on in this country is not lawlessness. First of all, the majority of protests around the country are peaceful. But even for those that aren’t, this is a very real, very understandable reaction to hundreds of years of oppression, racism and unheeded, blatant police brutality. That brutality — let alone murder — is what’s lawless.
I know some of you will say that protesters breaking the law is inexcusable, that you were sympathetic until the black people started looting. Putting aside the fact that it’s been reported that many of the people committing violence have been white — and some “protesters” may even be people who actually oppose the cause, committing violence to try to discredit the movement — I say… What do you propose they do, exactly?
They’ve tried peaceful protests; they’ve tried relying on the law and/or basic humanity; they’ve tried voting for people who represent their interests. All of that has failed them repeatedly.
Black people were criticized and demonized for kneeling, for god’s sake. A man pretty much lost his career for expressing himself in a peaceful manner.
Clearly, society isn’t listening to minorities’ peaceful pleas for justice, let alone equality. And how long can we reasonably expect minorities to put up with that indifference?
So they spoke to us in the only language this country understands: protests and, yes, perhaps even a little violence.
After all, this country was founded on riots and bloodshed. What’s the difference between damaging a private business now and dumping a private company’s tea in a river 200-odd years ago?
The skin color of the perpetrators.
Well, that and the cause. The glorified Boston Tea Party was about unfair taxation. It was about money. Not keeping people from being unfairly arrested, brutalized and/or murdered. Our nation is more understanding of riots over money than ones about people’s safety and their lives.
And what’s the difference between protesting — and even rioting — against officers of the supposed peace now, and rioting against British soldiers who were just trying to keep people obeying the laws?
Once again, the historical riots was about money. Far more understandable, it seems, than asking not to die at the hands of people sworn to protect the public.
And yes, you could argue that the pre-Revolutionary War riots were about representation. But the rhetoric was often more about representation to avoid what was viewed as unfair taxation.
And even if you buy into the “representation” argument, then how do you justify dismissing the protests today, when minorities’ voting rights are routinely chipped away through laws designed to curb the voter fraud that multiple studies have proven is virtually non-existent?
No, we haven’t listened to the very fair grievances being lodged. And even those who listened didn’t generally make it a priority to make systematic changes to prevent the suffering and inequality, let alone the deaths. We pay lip service to how awful it is, then move on to the next thing in the 24-hour news cycle. I’m guilty of it.
Meanwhile, innocent black people have been shot in their homes. Innocent black people have been shot in their cars when they reached for the license and registration requested by the police officer. Innocent black people have been shot in the broad daylight.
And even if they hadn’t been innocent? A traffic violation, even theft, shouldn’t carry a death sentence.
Yet we heard these stories, saw the footage and still did nothing. No sweeping, countrywide reforms. At best, the cities where the incidents happen make a big speech about retraining their police force. (Never, you’ll note, are cities outside the incident inspired to make changes.) If the retraining did take place, it’s surely not doing much because these incidents keep happening.
So black people are still discounted or, worse, seen as inherent threats to police officers. Nothing changes.
And when you’ve exhausted all possible peaceful means, what does that leave you? How do you protect yourselves, your children when society repeatedly refuses to ensure your rights — especially your right not to die?
You protest and, if necessary, riot. Here’s an entire article about when riots proved effective. Of course, all but the last one in the article were riots by white people. So they’re considered more acceptable.
The fact is that too many people in this country care more about private property than lives. The demand for equality under the law becomes moot the second a store gets looted. A cop car, a company’s inventory cannot be worth more than a human life, let alone multiple ones.
I was raised to believe that this country could really offer its citizens protection. But as I’ve grown up all I’ve seen is that we are failing in that spectacularly.
Racism abounds , especially in Trump’s America. Voting laws threaten minorities’ ability to have proper representation, which lessens the chances that reforms in their favor will happen. Minorities are disproportionately arrested and imprisoned. Often for non-violent offenses — sometimes on charges that a white person might just receive a warning for.
And then they’re repeatedly told that if they just model “good” behavior, things will change. They’ll be taken seriously.
Spoiler alert: It isn’t working. George Floyd cooperated He still died.
And in what other case would we possibly tell people who are dying at the hands of police to just act better? That their suffering is justifiable because they raised their voice at unnecessary questioning/detainment? Because they were sick of automatically being presumed guilty of something.
Two anecdotes I heard this past week:
A black man went to pump gas. A white woman shied away from him, and moments later the cops arrived and demanded to know what he was doing (uh, getting gas?) and where he was coming from. They claimed he matched the description of a man who had just committed a crime and fled. It took a white man intervening and saying that he saw the man coming from the opposite direction for the police to stop the questioning.
In other case, a black man’s car was vandalized. When the cops arrived, they began questioning him accusingly, even though it was his car that had been vandalized. The girlfriend angrily tried to intercede with a, “Excuse me, it was his car that was vandalized.” She was told to be quiet. How much do you want to bet they’d have told a white woman to be quiet when she was raising a valid, pertinent fact?
And of course, when she posted about this incident on Twitter, someone told her that her boyfriend’s behavior — keeping his tone quiet and level, answering all of the questions — was correct and was what would change people’s minds over time. He said that her (rightful) outrage was part of the problem and was “annoying.”
We’re telling minorities not to react to injustice. That they’re not eligible for the same protection/benefit of the doubt as white people. And that they don’t get to be angry about that inequality or else its persistence is their fault.
These types of stories are heard and dismissed as one-offs or explained away by the person’s reaction (their reaction, I’ll remind you, to being — often unjustly — accused). Yet even when they do everything “right” — ala George Floyd and countless others — things go wrong.
And really, it shouldn’t take a death for us to care about this unfairness. We should demand change before things get to that point, because citizens (supposedly equal under the law) are getting mistreated and villainized over and over.
There were armed white protesters marching on state capitols with impunity just three weeks ago. Yet the earliest black people protesting against George Floyd’s death — peaceful and unarmed — were met with tear gas. I wonder what the difference could be.
These stories of injustice and inequality have been coming out for as long as I can remember — and long before that. Yet nothing noteworthy has changed, except body cameras in some police forces. And those can be switched off.
So yeah, I understand — inasmuch as I can — the conclusion that the only way to make change is to speak in a language that actually makes us see them: yelling and maybe even some property damage. (Though I’ll reiterate that much of the violence may not be by black people.)
They’ve tried speaking to us in a normal voice. We plugged our ears So now they’re raising their voices so that we can’t keep ignoring them. And we’re blaming them even for that step.
In the end, I’m not saying anything that millions of people aren’t already saying. Yet nothing changes because just talking isn’t enough.
The first step is probably listening. Without discounting or explaining. Just listen to minorities’ experience so we get the scope of what we’re dealing with.
Next, white people should probably accept that even the most woke and equality-minded among us probably have subtle racial biases. (I’m including myself here.) We need to find and work on them.
It would also help if we all read “75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice.” (Admittedly, I’m still working my way through it.)
In the more immediate sense — especially if the pandemic already has you at your mental health limit, so you can’t do more involved work — you can donate. There are bail funds for arrested protesters in various cities. Or you can do what I did and donate to the NAACP. (Though it was later suggested that donations directly to Black Lives Matter might be better.)
Beyond that, I don’t know. I don’t know how to undo centuries of racism/insidious racist stereotypes/whites’ fears of other-ness. But I know we need to do something. Because we can’t keep going down the traditional path.
Even if you don’t believe in doing anything — and you should — these protests and riots have shown that minorities have reached a breaking point. It’s (rightfully) untenable to keep going as we were. Something has to change — especially if you believe in those crazy ideas of equality and justice for all.