On being brutalized while protesting brutality

The rioting is, of course, terrible for the business owners and city residents but as I watched the protests develop over the first day or two, it was obvious the crimes didn’t become widespread until police responded in an overly authoritative and aggressive manner.

The whole idea that city leaders can impose curfews like 7 p.m. on a whole city of uninvolved residents and peaceful protesters because a small group of criminals are destroying property is flawed and heavy-handed. The police in those cities are more than able to stop and arrest those breaking windows and setting fire on the fringes of the peaceful protest. Arrest the rioters and leave the protestors and everyone else alone.

Ironically, those who protested being made to stay inside because of the pandemic have something in common with the BLM protestors. Both are protective of individual liberties and the freedom to be out and about and not having their freedom curtailed or their rights usurped by government.

I don’t like the authoritative feel of government-ordered curfews, police orders to stand in only the place designated, and government orders as to corralling protestors and prohibiting a protest march from proceeding through the streets.

Is it really an exercise of civil liberties if the government you’re protesting tells you when and where you may stand, walk and speak?

When I look at the mostly young protestors and hear the reasonableness of their comments I feel better about leaving this old earth in their hands. Young people get it. They’re more educated, know their rights, and know the history behind issues maybe more than some earlier generations. Somehow between the Greatest Generation and now, people (most of us) have evolved. I’m proud of the young people banding together seeking change. The fact that the protests for equal treatment and the end to the killing of unarmed black people are almost as filled with young white people as black people is a sign things are changing, although too slowly.

The protestors have indirectly addressed more than racial equality — they have brought to the forefront the overall question as to whether the people’s will is still the governing concept of the USA? Or are we going to submit to an authoritative government imposed on the people the same way that televised cop kicked a woman in the mouth, knocking her to the ground? Can we tolerate, to use Trump’s words, the “roughing up” of journalists? Are we ok with the way cops took aim and injured members of the free press? Most of us, thankfully, are not.

Fortunately all four officers who were involved in the murder of George Floyd have been charged. Hopefully that will help calm things a bit. Nevertheless, right now is when we must decide if we are going to continue to allow the slide toward a police state wherein innocent people can be killed without consequence.

I can’t help but wonder if the police were to stop forming what appears to be heavily armed battle lines against the protestors, stop shooting rubber bullets and pepper balls, and stop assaulting everyone with eye and respiratory irritants, would things calm down?

When citizens are protesting police brutality and police become brutal in response, what did they think would happen?

What if the police did their job of protecting property and people from the criminals who are taking advantage of the protest instead of inflaming the overall situation? Given the force they have shown, it would seem they could spread out and catch the culprits who are looting and burning. Criminal acts seem to happen while all the police are occupied with cattle-herding crowds of people peacefully exercising their civil rights.

Protests are resistance to oppression, not an opportunity for every cop in the country, and in some cities, even the national guard, to get their riot gear on and take up non-lethal but dangerous weapons and positions against the protestors in an effort to control even where they may walk. Is it a protest if police determine when and where it can take place? Do protestors need the approval of the police to protest? No, they do not. Not only the police, but many government officials do not understand this. Do police need to line up two or three deep and set up a line across the protestor’s path?

We should remember, as Dr. king said, that “violence is the language of the unheard.” If the oppressed can’t gain social change peacefully, and can’t see any progress toward the safety they are seeking, what choice is left to them? Violence will increase if the concerns are not heard. Nothing much has changed in meaningful ways throughout history without violence. Are we mature enough as a society to make substantial changes in our government without violence? I hope so.

Dr. King said before being a victim of violence himself, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. We know black people are victims of injustice. All of us are threatened by that no matter whether we realize it or not.

I wonder if there are any criminal justice professionals who — instead of planning how to pen up and frustrate those trying to exercise their First Amendment rights — are looking for ways to eliminate the bad cops from their ranks before they slaughter more innocent black people?

That’s what is being asked. The simple request is that the criminal justice system stop targeting and killing people of color. There should be no power struggles between police and the people they serve. Police seem unable to police themselves. Sometimes they fall into the trap of forgetting they are to be public servants, and not public menaces.

The police in this country must weed out all those — from patrol officers to chiefs — who cannot overcome racism and cannot enforce the law equally and with only necessary force.

It’s not that complex. It simply requires that police, all police, lose the idea they are the masters of the people instead of servants. They must be retrained that they are civilians hired by the public to provide a service and not soldiers in a war.

As Dr. king so rightly observed, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

That’s where we are. The oppressed are demanding that they not be murdered by their own law enforcement officers.

As a society and a country, it’s on all of us to speak up, show up, and end our silence. Racist and brutal people who are filled with prejudice and hate have no business in our police departments and cannot remain.

Black lives matter. We must make that abundantly clear to all police officers everywhere. Prosecuting those who act otherwise is a good start.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

Former print journalist, former mayor, retired law enforcement officer. Writing about politics and government along with random personal essays.

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