Teen Vogue - June 9, 2020

The social unrest we’re seeing in America is unlike any that young people have seen in our lifetime. These mass actions have spread from Minneapolis to every state in the country and across the world. The huge numbers of people flooding the streets in a mass show of rage feel like a fundamental shift. While George Floyd’s killing might have been the spark, the flame that keeps this movement ignited is the antipathy that we all feel toward not only the police but the whole system that police were designed to protect. Black people have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, economic recession, police killings and harassment, and incarceration. If anything, these riots are past due.

The past three months have revealed for many that the priorities of the U.S. government are protecting capital and private property. This has been displayed during the coronavirus pandemic through the neglect of “essential workers,” and the speed with which both Democratic and Republican governors rushed to “reopen” the economy. It’s even more obvious now through the show of military force against peaceful protesters.

It may be too soon to call this a revolution, but it has the makings to be one. That’s exactly why those in power — including the police — are shook, and are working tirelessly to destroy this wave of unrest before it becomes a tsunami they cannot control.

Know how to read the room

George Floyd’s killing by police came just a week after the video of Ahmaud Arbery was leaked, and in the same week that Amy Cooper went viral for weaponizing whiteness. The outcry was immediate, and loud. Protests began in Minneapolis and spread to cities like Los Angeles and Atlanta. In this immediate aftermath, mayors and their police chiefs across the country spoke against Floyd’s death and in support of the emerging protest movement.

In Los Angeles, where I live, police chief Michael Moore told theWashington Post, “The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge — it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country.” L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti, whose father served as an L.A. district attorney for two terms, echoed Moore's words, tweeting, “George Floyd was killed before our eyes — and we have every reason to be angry, to cry out for justice, to say never again.”

But since then, the city of Los Angeles imposed a curfew and called in the National Guard. Between May 29 and June 2, 2,700 people were arrested. Reports of excessive police force were reported nationwide by protesters and journalists covering the protests.

Politicians and police chiefs like Garcetti and Moore knew how to read the room. When they publicly stated that they supported the protests and opposed police brutality, they set the PR stage to appear as the good guys: liberal, supportive authorities in power who will allow for protests to take place as long as they stay peaceful. And this is how they set it up for the next step: Push the myth of the “peaceful protest.”

The myth of the peaceful protest

The problem with the idea of a peaceful protest is who gets to decide what is seen as peaceful vs. what is violent. A protest that is surrounded by hundreds of militarized police officers with guns, metal batons, and chemical weapons where there is no property destruction or looting is not a peaceful protest. If peaceful means that only the police are allowed to display violence, that contradicts the very reason for these protests: the violence of the police.

By creating the dichotomy between peaceful protest and nonpeaceful (e.g., riotous), we are giving the police justification to inflict violence. If property destruction happens, and the media and state powers decide that this is an act of violence, then police use-of-force is justified. Isn’t that what led us to George Floyd being killed in the first place? The cops who arrested him thought they were justified in their use of force because they believed he did something that violated the social order. 

When Donald Trump tweeted “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” people were outraged that the president of the United States would threaten violence against protesters. But this is what we’re seeing. Police have shot protesters and “looters” with metal bullets encased in rubber. You can’t say you’re against police violence and killings but then agree that protesters deserve to be shot, teargassed, or beaten by the police for attending demonstrations, breaking curfew, or even for committing illegal acts.

As long as the police exist, there is no such thing as a peaceful protest. Those who continue to push that narrative are only aiding the powers that be. In reality, it takes a lot of violence to enforce peace. ...
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