By Lizbeth Solorzano
It has been over a week since the death of George Floyd, a black man who was asphyxiated by a police officer who pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck over a counterfeit $20 bill. The video of the incident, which has since been widely circulated, has angered and mobilized the country.
What citizens saw as injustice, cruelty, and discrimination towards black Americans sparked protests and looting across the United States even in the midst of a global pandemic. Given our long and shameful history of violence and police brutality towards black Americans, Americans of all ethnicities and ages have taken to the streets to demand justice and change.
Americans now chant in the streets the names of those black Americans whose lives have been lost as a result of our broken criminal justice system as well as the inaction of federal legislators.
“George Floyd’s murder has broken our hearts and started a fire within us. Many fight for not only his justice but justice for the hundreds of innocent black lives that were murdered in police custody,” senior Samantha Perez, a participant in the Granada Hills protest on June 1, said.
These deaths represent the injustice of those that possess authority. These deaths could have been prevented if not for the inaction on the part of police departments and the federal government. The urgency for legislation such as the proposed “Hands Up” act, for which there are almost one million signatures on Change.com, has long been present. However, legislators have ignored the plight of people of color throughout our history and allowed racially-charged police brutality to continue.
While many citizens have responded through peaceful protests, others have turned to violence and destruction through looting. On June 1, CBS interviewed a store owner who saw looters armed with duffle bags, clearly prepared for looting. Jeffrey Merrihue, the owner of Heroic Italian Restaurant, watched them load up bags, deposit them in cars parked nearby, and then go back for more. These looters are not the same as the protesters. These are people taking advantage of a situation.
Stores everywhere have now blocked off their windows and entrances with plywood to prevent more destruction.
Just as Los Angeles was beginning to reopen during the pandemic, this behavior is what forced the Mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, to place curfews in the evenings for all citizens in LA County. Some people take advantage of the large protests looting for personal gain rather than honoring the true spirit of the protest. Individuals like these ruin the image of protesters by influencing others to view all protesters as violent. However, these are peaceful protests, not riots. The looters do not speak for the protesters.
“Unfortunately, a few ruin the purpose of the protests. Some individuals utilize the situations to their advantage and raid stores. As a result, many associate the destruction of buildings and property with the protests.The blatant looting by opportunists are drowning out the message that people of color deserve justice,” Perez said.
The peaceful protesters, on the other hand, continue to demand change in a respectful manner, for instance through taking a knee before Sheriff Chad Bianco in Riverside. To demonstrate support for the protest, he and other officers took a knee with the protesters. This is the kind of community we need, the kind of respect we need.
“The leaders have to work with us to make a difference, and if this is what starts it then this is what starts it. The message to the community is that [looting] does nothing. Your voices mean everything, actions do not. Actions are contrary to what our voices say sometimes and if we all, the leaders of us, want to come together to make a difference, especially here, then the only way we’re going to do that is together, not individually…Respect gets respect…If it has to start right here in the middle of the intersection then it does,” Bianco said in a Fox 11 news report.
Peaceful protests are what will make the change because violence and destruction only creates more violence. We need to listen to the voices of change, the voices of protest.
James Baldwin’s voice rings especially true in our current climate. He wrote in “The Price of a Ticket”, “Well, if one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country, one does not question the policemen, the lawyers, the judges, or the protected members of the middle class. One goes to the unprotected – those, precisely, who need the law’s protection most! – and listens to their testimony. Ask any Mexican, any Puerto Rican, any black man, any poor person – ask the wretched how they fare in the halls of justice, and then you will know, not whether or not the country is just, but whether or not it has any love for justice, or any concept of it. It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”
So, let us ask and use that answer to guide the change we need.