For the first time since 1992, mass protests followed by riots broke out across Los Angeles. Beginning May 29, the demonstrations were spurred by another instance of sickening police brutality that reenergized the movement against institutional racism. Here, one of our senior editors shares her firsthand experiences and perspective in an editorial.
He yelled that he could not breathe, but the officer kept applying pressure. It had been only 17 minutes since the police had arrived and George Floyd was already dead. These types of deaths are not new. On May 25, Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer. A cashier called the police, claiming that Floyd attempted to use a counterfeit $20 bill to purchase cigarettes. Floyd was pinned to the ground with an officer’s knee pressed on his neck. Earlier, on Feb. 23, Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man, was killed in Glynn County, Ga. There had been robberies in the neighborhood and two men saw him jogging. They accused him of being the culprit, chased him and shot him dead. For months, no arrests were made.
Since Floyd’s murder, hundreds of thousands have protested across America, fighting to end police brutality. The protesters include black people, other people of color and white people who are fighting for and standing with the Black Lives Matter movement. There has also been an overwhelming outpouring of support on Instagram, from celebrities and other active users. The support is incredible, but the violence, looting and rioting have created criticism from people who do not try to understand why. I want to set the record straight.
Most of the protests that turn violent do so because of police officers who use tear gas and rubber bullets on peaceful protesters. Also, many of the illegal acts are committed by white supremacists who want to discredit the movement, or by members of Antifa who want to incite chaos, according to The New York Times. They know that this will take away from the cause and that the blame will fall on the BLM protesters. In many cases, protesters have put up barriers in front of businesses to ensure that the people who create chaos are not taking advantage of the protests for personal gain.
The motivation for the riots is collective anger, sadness and loss. Black people are tired of pleas and protests failing to create change. I am tired. I am tired of lives being lost, of people discrediting the movement, of reading the news and seeing that another unarmed black man has been killed or that the police have been called unfairly on yet another black person who did nothing wrong. I am tired of being afraid. We have the right to express our anger. If you are not black, there is no way you can truly understand what this feels like. So it is unfair for you to tell us how we should react.
The media is also little help. Attention has shifted to the fact that a Target or Nike store was destroyed. We are not seeing much coverage on Floyd and the justice that we want. I truly feel for the family businesses that have been destroyed and feel for low-income people who work in these large chain stores that have been demolished, but the material items in the stores that have been looted at least can be replaced. Nobody can replace a life. If you feel powerless, I understand, but nobody truly is. If you can’t attend a protest, take other action. Being an activist does not mean just reposting a beautiful drawing or photo of Floyd to your Instagram. While that has a nice sentiment, you can do more. Please donate, sign petitions and use your own voice. For non-black allies, use this time to not only show your support but also to recognize your own privilege and the ways you can educate yourself.
Nobody wants chaos. Nobody wants violence. The Black Lives Matter movement is not about that, but we are tired. We want to see the change we talk about. We want what we are fighting for to mean something. Do not let the media coverage of the riots discourage you or distract you from the thing we seek: justice for Ahmaud Arbery, justice for George Floyd and justice for every black person who has died at the hands of a system that has never protected them. These men aren’t the first to die unfairly, but we hope they will be the last. The end goal in all of this is to create a better future. To end police brutality, to end the systemic racism and to create a better world for ourselves and for those who come after us.