In early June, after the world witnessed the murder of George Floyd by police officer, Derek Chauvin, public opinion polls were running in the high 80s in favor of implementing dramatic new civil rights initiatives to improve the lives of African Americans. Republicans, Independents and Democrats were on board. In the last fifty years, there has not been an event so symbolic, so riveting, that it had the potential of moving public opinion to real change. It was the opportunity of a lifetime.
But today, public opinion has flipped, and even the African American community is disavowing much of what the movement has become. Why? Because we live in a democracy, and progress comes not through hate, violence, looting and destruction, but through reason, persuasion, compromise and cooperation.
Today, much of the truth has been obscured by politics, so let me recap some of the reality of this year. Riots, not “largely peaceful protests,” have broken out in just under 200 cities which resulted in curfews. The cost is undeterminable at this point, but estimates are well in excess of $2 billion. Of the businesses that were burned, looted or destroyed, a disproportionately large percentage were owned by African Americans. In Chicago alone, over 2,750 people have been shot this year and murders have doubled. Again, the overwhelming majority of those affected were African Americans. Over 700 law enforcement officers have been injured in rioting, and 182 have been killed in the line of duty this year. More than 150 Federal buildings have been damaged. Over 15,000 arrests have been made, and thousands more are under investigation.
That may seem all well and good to you, but not if you expect something to be accomplished. A good friend of mine in North Omaha, who has been active in her community for decades, said to me, “We know what’s going on, and yes, the police have their problems, but the idea of taking them off the streets is nonsense. We need more and better policing. We need social workers, and social justice. We need economic opportunity, but we absolutely do not need violence or burning. I was a little girl in the 1960s. I saw the burning and my Daddy protecting our house with a shotgun. The people went crazy, and in the long run, it only caused us more harm.”
I played on the streets of North Omaha with my friends as a little girl, and though today, I am the quintessential white suburban mom in many respects, I have never deserted my friends there. As I said before, I have been part of “the conversation” for decades, and the problems are a lot more complicated than just “fixing white people.” Most of us who have been active in North Omaha over the years, though horrified by what happened to Mr. Floyd, were truly hopeful that at long last something positive might come. Now, that opportunity has turned to ash, we are devastated.
I’ve watched in the last three months as dozens of liberal-minded Democrat, Republican and Independent white people have been labeled as “racists” and accosted on many different levels. I’ve watched as white people of every political persuasion have put “Black Lives Matter” signs in the windows of their homes and businesses out of fear they would otherwise become targets. I’ve watched as would-be supporters have been turned to cynical bystanders. Without question, there is a direct correlation between the angry and aggressive tactics being employed, and the loss of democratic support.
Passionate, peaceful protests are truly capable of changing the world. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, Affirmative Action and every other consequential piece of civil rights legislation in my lifetime, not to mention the end of slavery itself, came to pass through the support of a majority of our white population. None of these things could have come to pass without caring white people trying to do the right thing.
So, before you label broad swaths of white America as racists, and reduce American institutions as fundamentally racist, you’d better think first about how you plan on persuading a majority to follow your lead. In the last three months, you’ve caused more harm than good. Getting pissed-off and throwing rocks might make you feel better, but it almost assuredly will destroy the very thing you want to accomplish.
Photo courtesy of vocal.media