Protests in the U.S. have escalated following the death of George Floyd, a black man. In between the pepper spray and the looting, some people are showing restraint.
There were protests in 75 cities across the U.S. over Pentecost weekend, during which four people lost their lives.* The death of 46-year-old African American George Floyd in Minneapolis as the result of police brutality has stirred the country unlike any previous violent attacks against unarmed black people, including Trayvon Martin in Florida, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, or Eric Garner in New York. These three deaths in particular were the catalyst for the Black Lives Matter movement which has been protesting systematic violence and discrimination against African Americans since 2013.
The scene of a police officer using his knee to squeeze the breath out of Floyd for several minutes while bystanders urged him to stop was captured on video. The Washington Post has now reconstructed the entire course of the arrest from various perspectives. It makes for a disturbing picture, and makes the extent of the anger that has been unloaded over the last few nights understandable.
Largely peaceful protests were accompanied by burning and looting. The police and National Guard also overstepped the boundary of what is tolerable when they fired rubber bullets at journalists and when they drove emergency vehicles into protesters. But demonstrators also attacked the press including CBS reporter Briana Whitney, as well as buildings such as the CNN offices in Atlanta. The Society of Professional Journalists published an open letter pleading for both sides to allow the media to do its job.
Anyone who scrolls through U.S. news websites or Twitter accounts on the subject finds many shades of gray, which is surprising only if you want to divide the events between justified anger and brutal authority. There are police forces showing solidarity with the protest, such as in Kansas City or Flint, Michigan. There are people who pitch in with others to remove any traces of the nightly violence.
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There are people who show great courage, like 17-year-old Darnella Frazier who filmed Floyd’s arrest on her phone and is now being vilified online. Or others who touch us, like 12-year-old Keedron Bryant with his gospel song for Floyd that has been shared countless times on YouTube.
And President Donald Trump? He threatened to set “vicious dogs” on demonstrators outside the White House, although, he did, in fact, call the Floyd family. Floyd’s younger brother Philonise said afterward, “It was so fast, he didn’t give me an opportunity to even speak. It was hard. I was trying to talk to him, but he just kept, like, pushing me off, like ‘I don’t want to hear what you’re talking about’.” Which is enough of a commentary in itself.
*Editor’s note: Pentecost is a Christian holiday which is celebrated 49 days after Easter Sunday. It took place this year on May 31.
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