When thinking about black communities looting in order to protest police brutality — and I’m sorry I didn’t see it sooner - but “violence isn’t the answer” isn’t always the answer.
It’s a true statement, but it’s not an answer. Society too often uses this mantra as an excuse to blame-shift otherwise justifiable reactions to whatever violent behaviors were initiated in the first place.
We all know the old concept — our grandmothers said it, and we’ve all said it. Rather than beating that dead horse, let’s analyze the events in Minnesota regarding the death of George Floyd from a few different angles.
To be clear, not all white people are racists, violence is not the answer, and not all cops are corrupt. This is an argument for Black Americans which is severely misunderstood, which I know largely due to the fact that I myself have severely misunderstood it.
Within the past several months, 100,000 people have died from Coronavirus and our country spent several trillion dollars (an amount larger than Italy’s economy, and an amount on the same order of magnitude as the United States’ national debt), significant time, energy, and government resources in order to preserve the health and safety of all Americans in bi-partisan agreement, including expedited changes to unemployment law and providing welfare for its citizens. That’s impressive; we made it quick and easy.
Also within the past several months, more than half that amount of people have died from drug overdose. Within the past 3 years, more than twice as many deaths pushed the Opioid crisis to news headlines, where reports regularly expose the rates of death doubling or tripling quickly.
Additionally still, over the past several centuries, black communities in America have faced uncountably many obstacles and deaths at the hands of the founding fathers, the Constitution, white supremacists, civil war generals, and modern day police officers. Having started initially with slavery, we eventually developed the 3/5 compromise, to then what white people referred to as “freedom” for those who had been enslaved because we called it the “Emancipation Proclamation” (i.e. Jim Crow laws, freedom of speech for the KKK, and black lynchings) as if a document awarding people freedom from slavery needed to be provided, only for those black “Americans” to be met thereafter with continued racism — still more lynching, murders, lies, defamation, and public humiliation, and more support for the freedoms of the KKK — throughout the 20th century. To be clear, not only were my parents and grandparents born in the 20th century, but so was I. The point here is that these events did not occur “a long time ago.” This emancipation proclamation became law 157 years ago, which is exactly 2 full human lifetimes, assuming the average lifespan of 78.5 years at the time writing. It was only a few weeks ago that the last person in the country died who was still receiving a civil war-era pension.
Finally, enter the 21st century: where we claim that black Americans are free to seize every opportunity available to the white population, using this as an excuse to lay blame on black Americans’ shoulders for their problems in the modern day. We continue to support the KKK in the name of freedom of speech, and we wave the Confederate flag because we’ve decided that we changed the symbol’s meaning over time (while its meaning for black Americans has stayed the same). Black Americans still face racism and oppression by police officers, and they have few on their side because these crimes are the minority of the country’s problems from a numbers standpoint (which, since African Americans are the minority population wise, will always be the case).
White Americans will quickly point out that yes, black Americans are the minority of welfare recipients, but compared to their population, they actually comprise most of it from a ratios standpoint. Applying this same logic to police brutality, government oppression toward African Americans is then significant (and of course, a much more serious issue than being lazy).
Not only does our government or white society do very little to help with racism (aside from the occasional “oh yes, I think racism is bad!”) but we furthermore trivialize, minimize, blame-shift, and ignore black Americans, dismissing them as looters who don’t deserve a say because we already know what they’re going to say (and it must be invalid and excuse-centric because of our pre-decided assumption that they’re looters). Any relationship counselor advises an individual who is regularly trivialized, minimized, blame-shifted, and ignored to ultimately leave his or her relationship as an appropriate and rational response, but you can’t leave your society. We cannot simply walk away from, or avoid, our governments. We’ve seen how much the country can get done when a deadly virus spreads across the nation — why can’t we act on even deadlier issues that have existed for years?
We cannot treat human adults as perpetual over-reactors, irresponsible, excuse-making, lazy criminals for years, and then expect them to maintain perfect behavior thereafter that we decide is appropriate — a peaceful and respectful demeanor, sure to stay within the zones specified on their peaceful protest permits.
Additionally, let’s explore the welfare scenario (numbers are tricky things and it’s easy to make them “lie,” so I do not refer to them here):
Not only was our government blatantly and legally racist historically, before many of our racist laws were eliminated in the 18th and 19th centuries (although fun fact: to this day, it’s still U.S. law that no child in Virginia should be forced to attend racially integrated schools), but its literal existence and purpose is to fund schools, fix roads, and build other social programs in order to support communities and people who need help. Yet, it doesn’t pay half an attention span to improving public schools in black communities, supporting business development for work opportunities there, or bringing justice to the cops who commit horrific injustices in them.
Not only is this a government problem, but it’s a cultural problem. Only recently have the fashion, children’s toys, and makeup industries begun to consider black Americans. As a white woman, I have recent memories of shopping for makeup, where foundations were not available in dark colors, “nude” colored bras did not exist unless you were white, and little girls played with baby dolls that looked nothing like them. T.V. advertisements rarely featured African Americans, Cheerios ads featuring inter-racial couples were seen as wildly progressive and an attack on society, and working in a nursing home as a teenager exposed me to a lot of severely racist language that I had otherwise assumed was an “old/no-longer existent” part of history. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have truly known because I was a white child, living in a mostly-white society with relatively few catalysts for such racists remarks.
Also, as always, personal responsibility on the part of the black population is important. They need to be involved with the building-up of their own communities, and their own representation in fashion, culture, Hollywood, and in business. I don’t know how I could begin doing it myself, so it’s not up to me. However it’s a cop-out to stop the conversation there and walk away as if it’s the last word. It’s not that simplistic; there are so many deep-rooted, multifaceted issues involving many different political parties that have snowballed over time to form a much more difficult and complex scenario than that, ranging from physical limitations to psychological, environmental, and emotional distress. Black communities have largely always been poor and dangerous because they’ve never been given reparations of any kind — whether monetary, via employment opportunity, or even given the benefit of a doubt when it comes to crime, jail time, or due process (sure — affirmative action was a small step forward, but also not all-encompassing). Slaves often couldn’t read, and those in Texas didn’t know that slavery had been abolished until they were told verbally - 2 years later.
Drug dealers are business men who never stood a chance in legal business, thieves are people who spent their childhoods fending for themselves on the streets or raising children while they were still children, and prostitutes are service providers who would never be accepted in areas having a robust economy that don’t need those services in order to feed their kids.
I went to a 99% white high school (I am white), surrounding literally by an actual corn field. In my senior year we had significant improvements to our school which included the demolition and re-building into a new, multi-story complex combining multiple age groups from several school buildings, a track-and-field upgrade from gravel to asphalt, a brand new football field accompanied by scoreboards with LED displays, freshly paved parking lots, and beautiful new tennis courts (and better desks, chairs, and whiteboards).
Black-majority, inner-city, public schools will never see such upgrades, whether publicly or privately funded. They often remain decrepit and neglected, physically and otherwise for decades, where students need to fend for their own safeties, learn self protection, and who altogether lack positive opportunities (and often, drinking water) there.
At the end of the day, if the government put half as much effort into communities that need help for people who were never built up in the first place (which is their job) as they did with the coronavirus within a few weeks, then it could help children grow and learn properly, build up economies which could then have the resources to fix their own problems.
Humans often resort to violence and looting when they feel powerless and that there are no better options. (In the fewer number of cases where it’s greed or a desire to be “part” of something, we can’t and don’t need to do anything about them). Bad attitudes affect all races and they always will; the goal is not to prevent it.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a peaceful man as any white person will point out, and he was shot. George Floyd was acting peacefully at the time of his arrest, who was then layed with his face on pavement, publicly suffocated, and killed publicly.
Furthermore, it’s ok not to lump together stories of racism and it’s largely irrelevant to do so. If Michael Brown’s situation was different than George Floyd’s (i.e. that Brown reached into a cop car for a gun), that Eric Garner’s situation was different than that of Philando Castille, or that certain cases were justified and others not — that Ahmaud Arbery trespassed and was “going to be a thief” — it does not matter. Theft, plotting, and even resisting arrest in some cases (in non-self-defense cases) are not punishable by immediate death with no opportunity for trial. Our constitution guarantees American citizens a right to a speedy trial. Dylan Roof, James Holmes, Casey Anthony, Larry Nassar, and Harvey Weinstein weren’t immediately killed. Even President Trump had pending trials and rape accusations before he was elected, which white America will quickly point out is because of “innocence until proven guilty!” But George Floyd is not on trial — he can’t be, anymore.
The point is, we will never get to “decide” from a legal standpoint exactly what happened in any of Floyd’s Arbery’s, Brown’s or any other black person’s deeds who are now deceased. They will never stand a chance at defending themselves, pleading guilty or not guilty, settling a case, performing community service, being on probation, hiring a lawyer, finding legal loopholes, apologizing, saying goodbye to their families, receiving visitations or letters from jail, regretting actions, or watching the world change from the inside. Guilty of a crime or not, they were denied due process altogether, and not all in self-defense. George Floyd’s accused murderer will get to defend himself while white Americans will argue that this list of black men deserved the consequences of being criminals.
If this isn’t enough, let’s ask why cops aren’t expected to behave with a higher standard than the public — they’re the ones who go through training and schooling, and who choose to accept the responsibilities that they face. Police men and women are not perfect; they’re people with natural human instincts, and can feel afraid. But, if your disposition is easily shaken and trigger-dependent, then your career options would be in accounting, art, or IT support — not as a police officer. That’s like saying it’s fine for a plane pilot to work despite his untreated narcolepsy. Imagine trusting a surgeon to repair your heart who “accidentally” loses patients because his hands tremble when he’s working under pressure.
If this still isn’t enough, then at minimum, officers who cause the death of a black man under questionable circumstances should at least face trial, which they also often have not. Cops who watch these crimes and don’t prevent them should also face trial. Instead, few are ever investigated or fired, let alone convicted and punished. Imagine ignoring crimes like theft or murder in society because we assume there was “probably” a good reason for it.
We’ll never be perfect as a country as we don’t need to be, but we need to work toward goals and make visible progress toward them. In the business and professional world, we develop measurable “metrics” that define progress for achieving goals, even when the goals are vague and loosely defined — whether it’s in finance, accounting, data analytics, or any other industry. If we can do it, our government can do it too.
The bottom line is that rioting isn’t perpetually “greedy black people’s faults;” it’s everyone’s fault who has neglected, blamed, minimized, and trivialized black communities who have faced real, significant problems ever since the country was founded, and now are rightfully angry, hurt, and frankly sick and tired of being demonized for never having done anything right (and even when they do something right and are idolized — Martin Luther King Jr — they are still hated and assassinated).
“Looting is wrong” detracts from the original conversation by changing the subject. “Black people commit higher levels of crime than white people” is unrelated to police oppression. It’s not always intentional, but statements like these avoid the primary issue that further fuel the underlying anger associated with the behaviors that we’re witnessing. These statements are dismissive and elicit logical responses from men and women who were already angry, dismissed, blame-shifted, and ignored in the first place.
The question is not “Yes, George Floyd was murdered, but why are people looting?” The question is “Yes, looting is bad, but why was George Floyd murdered?”
Everyone wants peace, but “violence isn’t the answer” is not the answer.