Civil Disobedience Over Civility

Looking into the past of the Civil Rights Movement, it’s easy to take a side when seeing the footage of peaceful protesters being hosed by firemen and attacked by police and their dogs. It’s easy to look back and have what is historically classified as hardened evidence of racism. It was written into the law, it was social code, and it was normative.

African-American leader says media coverage helped the civil ...
Protest in Birmingham, AL, 1963.

In reflection, most morally grounded people agree on what was right and what was wrong, so why is that not the case now in the midst of protests over the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor? How could these same morally grounded individuals not feel as compelled to support a fight against such injustice in the present day?

George Floyd

I work as an analyst in the news industry and because of my job I’ve seen many videos of police brutality. When the video of George Floyd surfaced on the day of his death, it was by far one of the worst I’d seen. For one, the entire incident from beginning to end is recorded from various security cameras and eye witnesses. From the moment that police pulled up to the back of George Floyd’s SUV, it’s all there for viewing and analyzing. No room for speculation on what he did that would warrant a violent reaction. More disgustingly caught on video was the utter indifference in the police officers actions and facial expressions throughout the scene. The, “You think you’re a tough guy, huh?” from Officer Chauvin was as crystal clear as Floyd’s, “I can’t breath”.

I knew what I was seeing was bad, but I didn’t expect it to sweep the nation and jump to international attention and protest. I didn’t expect it because, as I said, videos like this surface often. They usually become instantly viral but sadly, for the most part, go unnoticed by mainstream media or national attention. Floyd seemed to be the thousand-pound straw that broke the camel’s back.

The world watched the explosion of anger rampage through the streets of Minneapolis. A rage that could not be hampered by tear gas. The anger over Floyd’s death and the subsequent videos of additional police brutalities brought protests to all 50 states. Waves of people blocking streets, interstates, locking down metropolitan cities, and halting any normal function for business in the area. Even small rural towns joined in protest and support for the movement. Which brings us to where we sit now, a divide across the nation, in what seems to be a rare instance of legitimate national attention.

Rioting and Looting

I’ve had to ask myself, what causes this divide? What rational minded American citizen would be against these protests? Because I refuse to believe that my fellow American is a truly bigoted, racist, Nazi-sympathizing, condoner of murder as the far left-wing would like to make true. For that would be too simple an explanation.

One of the biggest criticisms these protests are facing is the opposition to rioting and looting. This is a major sticking point of coverage for conservative media but also a point that seems to resonate with the apolitical. I used to stand on that side of the fence because I’m a law abiding citizen, but I’m here to tell you my stance has changed and this is why.

There is a deeper meaning to rioting than the superficial criminal act. It’s the incarnation of betrayal and anger. It’s a rejection of the system that refuses to protect or serve justice the way it does to all citizens. Therefore, “they” take and destroy the things that they know “we” value as a society; this act alone demonstrates what it feels like to not have the protection the way we expect it to be. Of course, there are some individuals that take advantage of the opportunity just to commit the crime itself but it’s a waste to focus on and a blatant whitewash.

Focus should be on the morality of a police officer kneeling on an incapacitated man’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Focus should be on the eight gunshots that killed Breonna Taylor in her home. Focus should be on the many many videos of police beatings, tear gas, mace, rubber bullets, and arrests of citizens who have not acted violently. All of this already mounting the anger of violence, racism, and the disproportionate instances of deadly force used against the black population. How can you see what I’ve seen and not feel pure unadulterated anger and fear.

Protest at Barclays, NY on May 29. Shows police officer throwing Dounya Zayer to the ground. Zayer was hospitalized due to a seizure from the impact and sustained a concussion.
Police seen placing baton like object in man’s hand before beating him during a protest in Philadelphia.
Niagara Square protest in Buffalo, NY on June 4th. Shows police officer shoving 75-year-old man Martin Gugino who sustained a skull fracture.
Reporter Michael Adams pepper sprayed after showing press badges to police during protest on May 30 in Minneapolis, MN.
Brandon Saenz shot in the face with a non-lethal bullet during May 30 protest in Dallas, TX. Subsequently lost his left eye and underwent multiple face facial surgeries.
June 1, Philadelphia police shoot tear gas canisters at trapped protesters along Interstate 676.
May 31, Minneapolis. Police seen pepper spraying bystanders from vehicles amid protests.

There seems to be something deeply unbalanced in the American psyche if sympathies lie with damaged material objects over the brutal killing of a human being by those entrusted to protect us. Business owners have spoken up about their feelings toward their own looted businesses; that property and merchandise are replaceable but a life is not. Major corporations have spoken in support of the movement despite their own stores being looted and burned.

Business owner in Eugene, OR puts out statement following damage to business during protest, “Insurance can pay for broken glass but it can’t pay for dead bodies”.

Cop Killing

I feel forced to have to include a section about killing police officers and my feelings toward it. Of course I do not and will never condone the killing of police officers, just as much as I don’t condone the killing of George Floyd. I saw the video of former St. Louis Police Chief 77-year-old David Dorn lying dead on a sidewalk following an attempt to stop looters on June 9. I read the news of Las Vegas Officer Shay Mikalonis shot in the back of the head during a June 1 protest, who is now paralyzed.

This violence is equally horrendous but it’s easy to see why the national outrage over these deaths, particularly fueled by conservative media, adds fuel to the fire. The outrage that seems to gloss over the deaths for which the protests are for in the first place.

If you’re not upset about Breonna Taylor but you are upset about David Dorn, you are the problem that leads to your cities being torched. You are the one saying its okay to break into a woman’s home and shoot her to death because somehow her life means less. You are saying it’s not that bad to kneel on a man’s neck until he loses control of his bladder and cries for his mother, in broad daylight on a street in Minneapolis.

The death of a police officer is held as a higher level of tragedy within our culture because these men and women have taken an oath to protect and defend us, our proverbial guardian angels. They willingly go into terrifying and life threatening situations in order to protect the public. But how can we keep that respect alive when we see what we’ve seen?

I don’t want those men and women who abuse their power and selectively protect citizens rights and lives in office anymore; I don’t want the officers that killed Breonna Taylor on watch any longer.

Is knowing that it’s less likely to happen to me because of the color of my skin supposed to be comforting? Is it supposed to be okay that people are being tear gassed and beaten by our “protectors” for merely standing up for what is right?

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Breonna Taylor. Killed by Louisville Police during a no-knock warrant raid while she slept on March 13, 2020.

Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and the many unknown names should matter more than shoes and televisions and facades of buildings. The anger that burns down an AutoZone and loots a Target in the face of tear gas, rubber bullets, and beatings is a tangible retribution. Would you be paying attention otherwise? Would the media’s goldfish attention span still be covering the protests if buildings weren’t burning? People who choose civil disobedience over sitting silently and remaining civil are not criminals.

It’s time to reevaluate what is more important to the American people. Last time I checked, it was life, liberty, and justice for all.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. HelenW says:

    This is a good article, I really appreciated how you covered all the different sides of the issue. A lot of people seem to just selectively focus on the part they find most convenient.
    The part I found truly scary is how some people will still deny these problems exist, even after this much evidence has come out. I have several conservative white men in my family who do this. They’ll pretty much just ignore any problem with the cops completely, and blindly swear the behavior must be justified.
    How do you deal with white men who are like that? I swear I had to force myself to leave the room at one recent family event, because I would’ve ended up just kicking one of them if I’d stayed.


    1. Ali says:

      It is definitely a complicated issue and difficult to keep emotions in check when confronted with someone who blindly takes a side without acknowledging the details. I understand wanting to believe the best in the intentions of the people who are supposed to protect us, I have that tendency as well. But everything has to be judged on a case by case basis and if people aren’t willing to do that than they are not worth the effort or time to discuss it with. Thanks for the read Helen!


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