When I was asked to write an essay about the current racial climate in America, specifically on police brutality and the recent deaths, I was prepared to say no. I didn’t feel comfortable writing about these issues as a white woman. Because of the color of my skin, I have never had to worry about being an automatic suspect in the eyes of law enforcement, a perceived threat to neighbors while completing simple activities like jogging, or even comprehend the unspoken rules on avoiding physical harm when getting pulled over by police. I felt that if I wrote an essay on this polarizing issue that I have never experienced and never will, I would become a target, labeled a racist or offend people who have suffered from oppression, racial profiling or police brutality.
But I agreed because the beauty of journalism is hearing the perspectives of people from different backgrounds, exposing readers to new ideas in the hopes of becoming more culturally educated. My intention is to reflect on what I have seen on the news about the protests.
My heart breaks when I hear stories about law enforcement abusing its power, profiling and targeting African Americans. My heart broke as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery were killed because of the color of their skin.
In dozens of major cities across America, people have been marching to call for an end to police brutality through peaceful protests, moments of silence, kneeling, singing and dancing. The images of thousands of people walking through the city streets with signs and chanting for justice was beautiful. These peaceful protests, however, quickly turned violent and this powerful narrative got lost when agitators set stores on fire, destroyed both big and small businesses and looted.
Peaceful protests are still occurring in cities across America. The media, however, is now primarily focused on what is more entertaining — police cars being set on fire and retail outlets being robbed. This upsets me because I think there are two groups vying for the attention of the American public. The first is the one with good intentions, exercising its freedom to assemble and peacefully protest for an end to police brutality.
The second is comprised of agitators who are involved in these riots with alternative agendas. This is frustrating because the intention and purpose of these protests is to call out police brutality, oppression and racial profiling and to remember the lives that were lost due to racial injustice. This turn from peaceful protesting to violent rioting made me upset. A Minneapolis firefighter, who invested his life savings into opening his own sports bar in June, lost it after it was burned down by agitators. Grocery stores that provide residents with essential items during quarantine and employees with paychecks to support their families now have to rebuild after being flooded and ransacked. The narrative shown on TV to viewers across America seems to be consumed only with images of violence.
One question I’ve been trying to answer is: What is the effective way to protest? I don’t have an answer. But I do want to assess several major movements rooted in protesting police brutality and racial inequality.
The 1992 Los Angeles riots were sparked by the four LAPD policemen who beat up Rodney King with batons being found not guilty. As a result, residents of South-Central Los Angeles expressed their rage by torching buildings and looting. They were angered by the unfair treatment toward African Americans in the criminal justice system. Ironically, the video of the King beating revealed more than a dozen other officers in the background watching and commenting on the beating. More than 25 years later, while Floyd was pinned to the ground with a police officer’s knee on his throat, three other officers were just watching as Floyd pleaded, “I can’t breathe.”
In 2020, Floyd took a knee and didn’t survive. Four years earlier, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee in a different way during the national anthem, igniting outrage. Now we’re all kneeling as Kaepernick’s method of peaceful protest is employed by protestors across America, demanding justice for Floyd. Officers in cities across America could be seen kneeling with protestors, an expression of solidarity that reminds us the purpose of these protests is to bring an end to police brutality and honor the lives that were lost.
I conclude there is not one right way to protest. In my opinion, violence is never the answer, especially since stories about looting, arson and vandalism are now dominating the news ecosystem. We need to channel this fiery energy, combative mentality and demand for justice toward fueling conversations and actions regarding policy change. This conversation should not stop when the news cycle moves on.
Instead, keep the conversation alive by constantly advocating for progress.