The death of George Floyd was an atrocious and inexcusable act. It seemed like for the first time in a long time people were coming together in agreement regarding the horrific nature of his death and the clear guilt on part of the officer. Sadly, the outrage turned to protests and riots, which have us divided once again.
Every human being has inherent dignity and value. Each person has the capacity and the need for love, and I truly believe that most people are genuinely good. Unfortunately, there are those who seem to exemplify the worst of humanity, and the degradation of another person is the most poignant example of that. Racism is evil, plain and simple. It always has been, and it always will be. To think of anyone as lesser than another because of factors completely outside their control is something I have never understood. To desire to take someone’s life because of those factors is something I truly have no words for.
I certainly don’t deny that racist institutions have existed throughout history and that there are people who are truly racist. I’m not about to launch into a discussion on whether or not America is inherently racist, whether or not a person can be racist without knowing it, or comparing the privileges of being white against the disadvantages of being black. These are big questions, important conversations, and topics to fully explain and understand in a factual, historical context. I’m simply and genuinely asking, what is the point of these riots and what are the rioters ultimately trying to achieve?
I’ve seen social media flooded with graphics, memes, and captions over the past few days demanding that everyone take action. Quotes range from Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s “If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor” to the well-meaning “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” to Black Lives Matter hashtags to people asking for cops to be killed. Influencers, private companies, and just about anyone is being called out if they don’t “speak out” or “use their platform” to fight these injustices.
Influencers, private companies, and just about anyone is being called out if they don’t “speak out” or “use their platform” to fight these injustices.
Some of this is well-intentioned, and some of it’s cruel and hateful. I do wonder what speaking up on social media is going to accomplish. Are true racists following fitness influencers, and if so, are they going to be persuaded because that influencer posted a meme talking about their white privilege? Are those whose followers consist of their immediate friend group really doing something noble and “speaking out” in a way that affects change?
What Are the Demands?
For those who are actively engaged in doing something more, I fully respect the freedoms and privileges we have as Americans to speak freely, congregate, and protest. I question those harming innocent people and their property, looting and truly rioting, but I have absolutely no issue with those peacefully protesting and standing up for what they believe in. I’m simply asking, what are they trying to accomplish through these riots?
Are rioters demanding that we do away with all police? Are they saying that all police are bad, that America is inherently racist?
Martin Luther King specifically marched for the desegregation of buses, demanding deliberate actions and increased rights for African Americans. If the American justice system had allowed Derek Chauvin, the officer who unjustly murdered George Floyd, to walk, then I would understand a demand for justice. But the reality is different — Chauvin has been arrested and charged on multiple counts. Are rioters demanding that we do away with all police? Are they saying that all police are bad, that America is inherently racist? While they certainly have every right to believe that, those are broad sweeping accusations that encompass a great swathe of society and have serious implications for just about every American.
To be fair, the Black Lives Matter Instagram page has a petition with three demands: 1) “acknowledgment and accountability for our pain and injustice,” 2) “divestment in the police force,” and 3) “investment in the health and prosperity of our communities.” If this is what the rioters are truly demanding, I’m unsure of the means of achieving these demands or what concrete steps can be taken to achieve these vague goals. I’m not saying that every protest comes with a concrete action plan; I understand the idea behind protesting is to gain attention. I’m honestly and genuinely wondering how these demands are going to be fulfilled.
If this is what rioters are truly demanding, I’m unsure of the means of achieving these demands or what concrete steps can be taken to achieve these vague goals.
What does acknowledgment and accountability for pain and injustice look like? How does the divestment of the police force practically look? Where is the investment for the health and prosperity of black communities coming from? I’m asking these questions because if you’re going to scream “no justice, no peace” then I think it’s fair to say that you should have some idea of how the justice you’re demanding looks and whether that justice is properly defined and implementable.
What Is Justice?
Justice is a word frequently used but often misinterpreted or left completely undefined. Most definitions of justice include moral rightness, righteousness, and the appropriate administering of punishment or reward. A demand for justice can’t be situational; it must extend to all sectors of society. Some out there are demanding justice while rioting and looting. How is that justice for business owners who have already been through one of the most trying times of their lives?
Some out there are demanding justice while rioting and looting. Does justice for George Floyd mean injustice for so many others?
Not everyone out there protesting is also rioting and looting; in fact, I’m sure that many people protesting are trying to do so in a peaceful way. But that doesn’t change the fact that protests are leading to rioting, looting, and civil unrest during an already tumultuous time. Isn’t there a responsibility to realize that actions have consequences, even if the intention is valid? Does justice for George Floyd mean injustice for so many others?
Maybe all these rioters are more studied in justice than I am. Maybe they have a clear definition and specifics regarding what they demand and how they foresee those demands coming to fruition. But, if the protests have no clear objective, incite violence intentionally or unintentionally, or are just a way of expressing the anger and angst of being bored and quarantined for the last three months, what good, what justice, are they serving?
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