On May 25, George Floyd was killed during a routine arrest when former Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin pinned him down by the neck with his knee. Despite Floyd pleading, “I can’t breathe,” the officer never relented, and several other cops failed to intervene.
In the days and weeks following the murder, thousands of people took to the streets to protest, but eventually, some demonstrators turned destructive. Police officers have then, in turn, responded with more violence by using pepper spray, rubber bullets, and excessive force.
When Minnesota’s Governor Tim Walz decided to call in the National Guard to help manage the situation, he defended his decision by saying the protests were “no longer in any way about the murder of George Floyd, it’s about attacking civil society and installing fear.”
He’s right in that the protests are about more than one man’s murder, but he’s wrong about the reasons behind the destruction and violence.
First, it’s not fair to put every protester into the “rioter” category. The majority of protestors right now are not damaging property, looting businesses, or setting things on fire.
However, those who are using those methods of demonstration are doing it for a reason. Many of them have likely peacefully protested until their arms were so tired they could no longer hold up their signs. Some of them have likely seen their family and/or friends lose their lives, freedom, or dignity at the hands of law enforcement. They are angry and they have been angry for a long time.
The Black Lives Matter movement has been leading protests since the 2013 murder of Trayvon Martin, but despite all of them, nothing has changed. Black people are still being targeted, physically abused, and murdered at the hands of law enforcement. A 2019 study found that police brutality is now the sixth leading cause of death for black men. Black men and boys are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by the police than white men and boys. And while there are good cops, there don’t seem to be enough of them to stand up for what’s right and demand reform.
George Floyd is a symptom of a much larger systemic problem that continues to go unaddressed. On the surface, it looks like anger-driven riots, but what isn’t visible is exhaustion from decades, generations, and lifetimes of painfully fighting for basic human rights only to be met with accusations of “disrespect” to authority or, worse, violent retaliation.
Americans shouldn’t have to fear for their lives merely because of the color of their skin. They shouldn’t have to beg for the police — who is supposed to protect them — to stop killing them. And certainly, their right to life shouldn’t be up for debate or a political issue.
It’s no wonder some people want to burn this country to the ground.