We Were Wrong: A Note On Protests In America

What can I say that will make this right? What can I do? Perhaps I should wait and listen, hold off a few days until the waves begin to settle. But then won’t I be too late? Will my silence be the voice of complicity? Maybe I should attend a rally instead, do my part and protest. Maybe I should listen more. I want to speak but I’m afraid my words will fall upon deaf ears, that they will be twisted and thrown back in my face as though I am trying to undermine the very movement I seek to support.

As a white man, privileged with this social anxiety, never to have to worry about its materialization as a cop kneeling on my neck, I can’t help but feel wrong.

But I can still breathe.

Nearly two weeks have passed since the murder of George Floyd. America has seen vast protests nationwide and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement continues to grow with unprecedented participation from the international community. In recent days, there has been a powerful shift in social activism and an outpouring of sympathy and support for people of color all across social media. The projection of pain and frustration has been cathartic for those suffering under an oppressive system, uncomfortable for those seeking change in themselves and others, and difficult for individuals still stuck in an expired concept of society. For me and many others, it has been a time for important reflection and education.

‘‘We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest,’’ Roger Goodell said in the video the NFL published on Friday. As reported by Aljazeera, Goodell’s apology is in reference to when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, spoke out against racial issues in 2016 and began taking a knee during the national anthem. With other corporations enacting similar apologies and wielding BLM as though they have cared along, it is important that we do not buy into trendy marketing. While we welcome support in the moral revolution that is overturning our country, it is becoming far too apparent in political and economic spheres that black lives seemingly matter only when they are lost.

The hope, of course, is that this time BLM transcends a mere social trend and catapults to comprehensive change. Based off these past two weeks, the evidence favors the latter. Cases where innocent black men and women were killed by police are being opened back up, Confederate monuments are coming down, and historic rallies are occurring all over American cities. The words “no justice, no peace” have never been heard louder, the solidarity for black lives has never felt more sincere. Yet these demonstrations have been met with heavy-handed police tactics that include beatings, the use of tear gas and rubber bullets fired into crowds, as reported by NPR. Tear gas, though banned in warfare, is not barred from use against civilians as “riot control agents.” Never before have I seen such disgusting irony as a crowd chanting “I can’t breathe” is covered in tear gas by those who are sworn to protect and serve, all in the wake of a respiratory-based pandemic.

It is clear that the police are not helping themselves in controlling protests. According to the BBC, two officers were arrested in Buffalo after knocking over an elderly man while clearing the streets, and the rest of the tactical unit resigned in protest at their two colleagues’ suspension. Patrol cars are speeding into crowds and officers are assaulting hundreds of peaceful protestors, not to mention the riot gear and weaponry that they brandish are completely unnecessary given the threat protestors pose. Policing in the U.S need a complete overhaul, a demilitarization in training and resources, a defunding compared to other social services, and a rebuilding with integration, accountability, and education.

Some members of the current social movement are advocating for the abolishment of the police and propagate the rhetoric that “all cops are bastards.” Not only do I disagree with this sentiment, but I find it deeply troubling. The same individuals who condemn “blue lives matter” with the logic that being a police officer is a job and not a state of being, are quick to assert that all those who have this job are in the state of being bastards. Systemic racism runs rampant through precincts all across the country, but to denounce officers of all colors and creeds under one piece of propaganda is a dangerous precedent.

And that is the only thing that worries me through these turbulent times. I strongly support BLM and am mortified at the disproportionate number of black men and women who are killed and mistreated by those who uphold the law simply because the color of their skin. I don’t understand their pain, but I stand with their movement. But while such pain is important in propelling comprehensive change, it can also lead to rash behavior. I say that term with the utmost hesitation, as I recognize the importance of BLM and the complete elimination of police brutality, but I say it, nonetheless. We must be careful not to allow fervor and zeal to create precedents for behavior that contend the very nature of our moral arguments.

We, as a people, were wrong to not see and listen when the conversation began. Now we’re simply playing catch up. However, as we act quickly and adapt to these changing times, let us not forget the openness and importance of dialogue. Do not be quick to judge. Seek peace and love, but do not let the ends justify the means. Watch, listen, and learn. And when you are ready, then act, as I am doing.

Black. Lives. Matter.