This weekend in Philadelphia, peaceful protests turned violent as demonstrators called for justice in the death of George Floyd, a black man who died at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
Police and civilian vehicles were set ablaze. Stores were looted. Windows were smashed. And as all this destruction took place in Philadelphia, the stark divide in the movement against racist policing was laid bare.
On one side of the movement, there are those who use peaceful protest, negotiation, and political pressure to bring about change. On the other side, there are those who believe that violence is a legitimate tool when confronting racist systems. Standing between the two groups are people who use the chaos of the moment to engage in wanton destruction, with little concern for the stated goals of the protest.
That kind of senseless violence, with no goals, no demands, and no desire for peace, is simply chaos, and no movement can survive chaos.
That’s why I’m calling for African Americans to stay focused. We are the ones whose lives are on the line. We are the ones who are being killed by police, and for us, this is not an academic exercise.
While others might see this as a political struggle pitting left against right, liberal against conservative, the old guard against the new, black folks can’t afford to limit our perspective to the philosophical. Our political views don’t protect us from abuse. Neither does labeling ourselves as progressives. That’s why, when I watch white people from left-wing groups like antifa come to protests spoiling for a fight, I’m skeptical. I don’t believe they represent the best interests of black people. Because white people routinely survive violent interactions with police. Too often, black people do not.
Black folks must stay focused on justice. We must not be satisfied with crumbs.
The arrest of Derek Chauvin, the white officer who was videotaped kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes while Floyd begged for his life, is a crumb. We saw what he did, and his arrest on third-degree murder charges is the very least authorities can do.
But the three other officers who were on the scene must also be arrested. Some videos of Floyd’s final moments appear to show at least two of them kneeling on Floyd, and every video shows them standing by while a fellow officer took actions that preceded a man’s death.
Let me be clear. In my opinion, George Floyd was murdered, and the three officers who watched it happen and failed to intercede are accessories to the crime.
As heinous as that is, that’s only part of the reason for black people’s anger.
We are angry because we are caught in the throes of a policing system that evolved from slave patrols meant to keep black people in bondage in the 1800s. We are angry because even now, in videotaped 911 calls made by white people challenging everything from our right to sleep in dorms to our right to bird-watch, police are misused to maintain an unjust racial hierarchy. We are angry because even when our deaths at the hands of police are videotaped, justice is too often nonexistent.
But in spite of all of that, I want African Americans in my city to stay focused. Because when others come in and set fires, or turn peaceful protests violent, or destroy the place where we live, they can go back to where they came from. But this is our home. And we don’t want it burned down.
So, if we want justice for George Floyd, and for everyone in our community, we must first make sure our community is still here.
We cannot set fires that destroy our own city. We cannot tear down property in the place where we live. We cannot engage in looting and chaos and ruin. Instead, we must work together for justice.
Justice demands we stay focused.