A report from the front lines of the Los Angeles protests, where thousands rallied in the streets seeking justice for George Floyd.
There was something different about watching Geroge Floyd get murdered. We have seen countless videos of police killing unarmed Black Americans on the internet these past few years, but this one hit differently. Do you remember Philando Castile, who was murdered in his car while his girlfriend recorded from the passenger seat? How about Walter Scott, who was shot in the back as he ran from a cop who pulled him over for a tail light infringement? Do you recall Stephon Clark, who was shot at his grandma’s home in Sacramento?
The list of videos goes on and on. But watching Mr. Floyd die was different. Maybe it was the circumstances that made it feel distinctive. We are always told that police “feared” for their life. But former officer Derek Chauvin wasn’t scared. No. In fact, he was calm, cool, and collected as he peered down at Mr. Floyd croaking for help.
"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable,"
- John F. Kennedy
A militant protester expresses his emotions in front of a police vehicle damaged earlier in the day. Credit HNHH
How unbothered are you by the thought of repercussion that you would murder someone in broad daylight, on a public street, with multiple witnesses? I’m afraid to smoke a joint on my lunch break and get caught, much less kill someone. What does it say about the system if a cop was so unconcerned with repercussions that he could remain calculated while slowly murdering an unarmed man? It says the system does not scare bad cops. They aren’t afraid of breaking the law, because many of them think they are the law. Even if they uphold the law, they also uphold systemic racism.
I was on the front lines this past weekend in Los Angeles. The sign I held says it all: “If the courts won’t hold the police accountable, the citizens will hold the city accountable.” I keep hearing and seeing people say, “be more like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Be peaceful.” But those people glorify one man who remained strong in the face of absolute mayhem. Dr. King was beaten, hosed, imprisoned, and ultimately murdered. Dr. King is the pinnacle of peace and love but let’s not forget -- it was militant activists that scared the White House so ridiculously that they had to acquiesce to a peaceful Black leader to help quell the unrest. There is no Dr. King without the other side of the coin. Even women got violent when they protested for their right to vote. Both diplomacy and force have been needed to secure the rights of the historically oppressed and systematically suppressed populations. Using only force or only diplomacy doesn’t work. There has always needed to be a balance.
Protesters on Fairfax and 3rd in Los Angeles send a message. Credit HNHH
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was arguably the last piece of important legislation passed during the Civil Rights Era. It faced heavy opposition in congress upon its creation. It barely passed in the House, and was expected to be gutted and watered down by the Senate before going through the rounds and finally reaching the President, Lyndon B. Johnson. The day of the Senate vote, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It caused massive protests and riots around the nation. Over 100 cities caused nearly $50 million in damage, which is roughly $370 million in 2020, adjusted for inflation. President Johnson increased pressure on Congress to pass The Fair Housing Act. In fact, pressure mounted so heavily that Congress put their foot on the gas. In a matter of days, the bill was passed. Whenever someone tells you that only peaceful protests can be a catalyst for change, tell them that story. And there are many more where that came from.
"It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard,"
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Looters are abhorrent. They’re opportunistic and self-centered. Rioters are a different story altogether. For many, there’s only so many times you can get prodded by police batons, hit with tear gas, and run from a barrage of rubber bullets before you start to get physical. In the words of Dave Chappelle, there is only a finite amount of horrible things somebody can go through before they lose their cool and their minds. For many also dealing with the fallout of COVID-19, the atrocities that occurred with Mr. Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Amhuad Arbery were the tipping points.
That's right. These protests and riots aren’t just about Mr. Floyd. He was the straw that broke the camel’s back. This is for Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, and countless others. This is the cry of a population that pleaded and pleaded for the public to hear Colin Kaepernick’s message. Millions who stood by and watched a peaceful and very famous activist lose his job because of kneeling. I caution you to heed diplomacy next time it appears. A Dr. King or a Colin Kaepernick come along once in a generation. Will you listen next time? Things do not need to escalate to this point, and we should work together to make sure it never does. I bet you anything most of America would elect to go back to peaceful kneeling, but like the year serendipitously reminds us: hindsight is always 20/20.
"I know being a cop is hard. I know that shit’s dangerous. But some jobs can’t have bad apples. Some jobs, everybody gotta be good. Like … pilots. American Airlines can’t be like, 'Most of our pilots like to land. We just got a few bad apples that like to crash into mountains.'"
- Chris Rock
There was something about being on the front lines in Los Angeles this weekend that changed me forever. When I was pushed by police, groups of white protestors would come to my defense. They would form barriers or lines around, and in front of, Black protestors. When we were hit with tear gas, there were dozens of people rushing up with gallons of milk to help us douse our faces. Medics and EMTs showed up on their day off to tend to those who got hit with rubber bullets or who could not overcome the powerful tear gas and fainted or fell ill. There were checkpoints with food and water on every block. It was a togetherness I had never felt before. It was four thousand people that all said, “enough is enough.” We all watched out for each other. I didn’t see ANTIFA. I didn’t see “thugs.” What I saw was thousands of souls connected by a singular motive. Bound by the American Dream, which is the freedom to pursue happiness, these protestors were fighting against injustice.
Should we push for violence? No. But there must be action. “No Justice, No Peace” means there must be accountability. These judges, these district attorneys, the power of the police unions, and the fear good cops have of being reprimanded have allowed police to feel like they are above the law. They say, “It’s horrible Black men are being killed by police, but the rioting needs to stop.” Instead, try “It’s horrible riots are happening, but Black men being murdered by police needs to stop.” You don’t blame the symptoms for the disease.
What is the answer then? Stop killing unarmed and innocent civilians. There is no other acceptable answer. There are several steps we can take to make this possible. First, police in America need better training. On average, the police academy in America lasts about 6 months. In many countries in Europe --Germany for example-- they train for two and a half years. American police are severely undertrained.
Second, cops need to know they are hurting their fellow co-workers. There must be financial punishments put in place for cops that commit egregious crimes like what we witnessed with Mr. Floyd. Police are often split into divisions, groups, or squads. When one officer in a squad, or division, commits an outrageous crime, everyone in that group should be docked pay or lose a percentage of their pension. That way, cops know that if they mess up, they will be directly hurting their co-workers. Making co-workers more accountable for each other is a proven way to establish accountability in the workplace.
Third, police should be required to partake in community service in a neighborhood before they are allowed to patrol there. Pay them for their time and mandate at least 40 hours of community service. The cops should be meeting the people in their community, and vice-versa. This will reduce fear and stop destruction on both sides.
Last but not least, corrupt police need to be jailed. There needs to be a counter-culture in police departments, which the good cops must reinforce. There are good cops who are scared to speak up because their superiors are complicit or involved. They could lose their job, or worse, put their family’s lives in danger. This is the hardest part of the plan, but there needs to be a culture in police departments that explicitly works to combat the shroud of corruption and cover-ups. Remember, the official police statement for Mr. Floyd said he resisted arrest, and police happened to notice he was suffering from "medical distress." If we never got the video of his death, the official story would be that Mr. Floyd resisted an arrest and died of medical distress while doing so. These cover-ups can no longer be accepted by the good cops.
Protesters face off against the police on a nearby roof shooting rubber bullets and cops advancing on foot. Credit HNHH
This is America, arguably the greatest constitutional republic in all of history. We set an example for the world. Protests have spread to Europe and beyond, where our cries for equality have been taken up by empathetic onlookers who have never stepped foot in our country. When we as Americans demand equality, the rest of the free world watches. What will we show them? What side of history will you be on? Whether or not we have your support, we do have your attention. And that’s a start.