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Justified, Give Them Space to Destroy, and Go Home: Three Different Responses to the Riots

Since the protests and riots have begun in response to murder of George Floyd, there have been varying responses to the riots.

Since the murder of George Floyd, there has been massive outcry from across the nation. As Minneapolis police fired, but did not arrest, the officers involved, protests that quickly turned into riots began in Minneapolis. Soon, they erupted across the country to most major cities including New York, Atlanta, and Los Angeles, among others. From looting a Target to burning cop cars, businesses, and even a police station, these protests have been anything but peaceful. There has been a host of varying responses to the riots.

First, there have been the protesters and their allies. The most popular defense of the rioters has been to attempt to spin history in their favor and say, “See, white people riot too!” ESPN’s LZ Granderson told CNN’s Brooke Baldwin that while “there’s a lot of people who I’ve read over social media who say they understand why people are upset, but don’t agree with taking to the streets…” he believes that “the very foundation of this nation is based on what’s happening right now which is when there’s injustice and those who are in authority do not hear the people’s cries, the cries are inuated in other fashions and sometimes they are violent.” He cited the Boston Tea Party as an example. Yesha Callahan, the editorial director at Essence Magazine, wrote likewise:

Rioting and protests are nothing new in America. From White people rioting during the Boston Tea Party and looting a whole ship to Black people having to constantly protest and riot every time a Black person is killed—this is what America was built on.

Callahan continues by saying that people must “be disgusted” at Floyd’s public murder, the actions of the Minneapolis police, voter suppression, and the racial injustice of coronavirus; then, she ominously adds, “until these things disgust you, we riot, we protest and do whatever it takes to get your attention—including burning it all down.” That seems to be exactly what the protesters are doing.

History simply does not affirm that riots are part of “the very foundation of this nation.” The Boston Tea Party Museum’s description of the 1774 protest stands in stark contrast to the riots we’ve seen in recent days:

Nothing was stolen or looted from the ships, not even the tea. One participant tried to steal some tea but was reprimanded and stopped. The Sons of Liberty were very careful about how the action was carried out and made sure nothing besides the tea was damaged. After the destruction of the tea, the participants swept the decks of the ships clean, and anything that was moved was put back in its proper place. The crews of the ships attested to the fact there had been no damage to any of the ships except for the destruction of their cargoes of tea.

As the rioters and looters take and steal whatever catches their eyes and leave in their paths destruction for others to clean up, there could be no more stark of a contrast.

Next, there’s the approach of Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake from 2015, when she came under fire for her comments regarding how her administration “gave those who wished to destroy space to do that” during the riots and protests surrounding the death of Freddie Gray. This awful idea seems to be the strategy of Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey. His police department abandoned their 3rd precinct station, allowing protestors to set fire to it Thursday evening. Frey backed the decision by saying that “brick and mortar is not as important as life. The symbolism of a building cannot outweigh the significance of life.” While they didn’t stop the rioters and looters, the Minneapolis police department was able to detain and arrest CNN reporter Omar Jimenez during his live report on Friday morning.

In light of this vacuum of leadership seen in Minneapolis, many have turned to Atlanta’s African American mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D). She has received much deserved praise for her 5-minute address on Friday evening where she took the third position of condemnation. Her repeated refrain throughout the speech was “If you care about this city, then go home!” Instead of violence, she called on people to vote literally shouting

If you want change in America, go and register to vote! Show up at the polls on June 9th, do it in November. That is the change we need in this country.

Article VI of the Georgia Constitution ensures that all District Attorneys and judges of both local and state courts are elected by the people and Article IX ensures that sheriffs are elected as well. Georgia citizens are guaranteed the ability to influence the criminal justice system every 4 years, and Mayor Bottoms commended that method—reform via the ballot box—to her audience. She noted that “more than 50% of the business owners in metro Atlanta are minority business owners,” so riots and protests hurt the same black community for which they claim to seek justice. “When you burn down this city, you’re burning down our community,” she lamented. This scene was unfortunately realized in Minneapolis where black business owners, such as Korboi Balla, have been literally left with ashes of their livelihoods. She continued to bash the protesters and refute their twisting of history

You’re not honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement. You’re not protesting anything running out with brown liquor in your hands, breaking windows in this city. … You are disgracing our city! You are disgracing the life of George Floyd and every other person who has been killed in this country. We are better than this. … I can’t protect you out on those streets. You’re throwing knives at our polices officers. You are burning cars.

She concluded by telling the rioters the hard truth: “This won’t change anything. We’re no longer talking about the murder of an innocent man, we’re talking about how you’re burning police cars on the streets of Atlanta, Georgia. Go home!” If more people took Bottoms’ advice, we could focus on actually obtaining justice for George Floyd, instead of diverting our attention elsewhere.

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