Ralph Lopez majored in Economics and Political Science at Yale University. He has been published in the Boston Globe and the Baltimore Sun.
2020 is an unprecedented year in American history. From Times Square standing eerily deserted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic to thousands of peaceful protests against police brutality unfolding across the country, America has never seen a time exactly like this. In the midst of all this turbulence, people are standing up to defend these peaceful protests from those who might undermine their cause.
Spokane, Minneapolis, and Brooklyn
Peaceful protesters have been actively forming lines in front of stores that have been targeted by looters and window-smashers, saving stores, blocks, and neighborhoods from destruction.
When interviewed, protesters consistently say that the message of ending police brutality is lost when images of violence and destruction dominate the news. The remarkable drama has been ignored by the national broadcast media.
In Washington, D.C., video was captured of a man (who was hiding behind a group of peaceful demonstrators) loosening and pulling chunks of concrete from the street with a hammer. The man, who was white, was immediately grabbed by other demonstrators and wrestled to police lines for arrest.
In Boston, police officers actually took a knee alongside the protesters in solidarity with their cause.
Citizen Journalism and Joey Saladino
In a riveting piece of citizen journalism, Youtube personality Joey Saladino went "undercover" at a protest in an effort to understand how peaceful protests turn violent. Saladino concluded that the vast majority of George Floyd protesters were committed to non-violence, but were infiltrated by others who specifically had mayhem on their minds.
Saladino observed that after night falls and most protesters go home, more radical elements of the protest remain, this is when the escalation begins. This is when people begin to set fires and smash windows. Sometimes in direct response to police violence against the crowd, and sometimes not. During the day, peaceful protestors help to quell those tensions. It was at night time that Saladino witnessed looters opportunistically taking advantage of the chaos for mundane purposes, such as stealing a pair of expensive brand-name sneakers.
Is the Violence Spontaneous or Planned by Certain Groups?
Many business districts shut down as a result of COVID-19. Empty streets, high unemployment, bottled-up frustrations from the "lockdowns," and other factors have combined to create a perfect storm of anger at the status quo.
Of course, social unrest is not unknown in America. Many people are old enough to remember the riots that ensued after the beating of Rodney King by police in Los Angeles. Some of us are old enough to recall the unrest following the assassination of Martin Luther King. However, it's a rare moment in U.S. history when peaceful demonstrators are seen placing their bodies in front of looters and others bent on violence.
Saladino's report indicates that the violence and looting is not spontaneous, but carefully organized and planned. Saladino says instigators hide themselves among peaceful demonstrators, then emerged to commit violence, which sparked opportunistic looters. Not to be mistaken with political vandalism, which demonstrates a clear and direct message, the looting often turns into what can only be called mindless destruction, as even small, family-run businesses are ruined. This is damaging to the goals of the peaceful protestors, who, faced with overaggressive tactics by riot police, had to stop the looters themselves.
The video of George Floyd's death has been viewed millions of times on both mainstream media and the internet. Countless numbers of Americans across the political spectrum have agreed that there could be no possible justification for placing a dangerous chokehold on a handcuffed, prone man who repeatedly gasped in physical distress, calling out that he could not breath.
Neck and throat choke holds, which cut off oxygen to the brain, have been forbidden in police departments across the nation. In 2014, the death of another Black man, Eric Garner, was also found to be the result of a choke hold, with the autopsy describing it as "[compression] of neck (choke hold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police." Clearly, these awful policing tactics must be stopped.