In case you didn’t think 2020 could get any more perplexing, there are now uncontrolled riots taking place in dozens of American cities. From coast to coast, cars and businesses have been set alight, numberless shops have been looted, vehicles have been driven into crowds, and mob violence has broken out on city streets.
In the week since the rioting began, numerous people have lost their lives and thousands have been arrested. Many cities have imposed curfews and the National Guard has been deployed in over 20 states.
The unrest started last week in Minneapolis after a video went viral showing the death of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of a white police officer.
The officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes as Floyd struggled for breath, and cried, “Please, I can’t breathe. Don’t kill me.” After becoming unresponsive, Floyd was rushed to a hospital and was later pronounced dead.
All four police officers attending Floyd’s arrest were fired, and the one responsible for his death has since been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. The other officers may also be charged.
George Floyd’s death was an incident that shocked America and has justifiably led to grief and outrage, especially among African-American communities. Racial injustice and tension are issues that have plagued the US since the days of slavery.
America has come a long way towards justice, through a Civil War in the 1860s, and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. But over the last decade, racial injustice has returned as a major national conversation, and police brutality has been a focal point of this.
Peaceful protest is a vital part of democracy. Those protesting nonviolently over the death of George Floyd deserve to have their concerns for justice heard and acted on, all the way to the highest reaches of government.
But the violence and mayhem being unleashed on America’s streets is not the solution. In fact, even as peaceful protests continue, it is clear that radical groups with more sweeping agendas are exploiting the George Floyd protests. And in doing so, they are causing contempt for those protesting lawfully.
US Attorney General William Barr said on the weekend that “voices of peaceful and legitimate protests have been hijacked by violent radical elements” that are seeking to “pursue their own separate, violent, and extremist agenda.”
And President Trump announced that Antifa—one extremist group believed to be exploiting the protests to cause anarchy—will be designated as a terrorist organisation. He has also threatened to deploy the military if mayors don’t get their cities under control.
George Floyd’s brother has condemned the chaos and thuggery, but his pleas seem to be falling on deaf ears.
Though it isn’t widely reported, there have been scenes of African-American citizens gathering to protect stores from looters and armed black business owners guarding their properties. And for good reason, after a low-income housing estate and black-owned stores were burnt to the ground in Minneapolis.
Consider more evidence that the protests are being exploited. A black protester caught two white women vandalising a shopfront and called them out on it, furious that the black community will be wrongly blamed for their crime.
A lone white rioter had to be restrained by peaceful protesters before he smashed up pavement to create projectiles. Piles of bricks have mysteriously appeared at many rioting hotspots, though no construction work has been taking place nearby.
White vandals have been rebuked by black Americans for defacing monuments, smashing windows and vandalising police cars. Likewise, the Louis Vuitton store in Portland appears to have been looted by as many white offenders as people of any other ethnicity.
Video footage of a Nike store break-in, a bottle shop heist, and an interview with a young man under arrest also suggests that at least some of the looting has been about cheap opportunism, not justice.
Without a doubt, some are using criminal activity as a form of protest intended to highlight or ‘equalise’ injustices against African-Americans. But given the evidence, we do the black community a disservice to assume that all we are seeing is by, for, or because of them.
Behind the carnage, there are other factors that transcend ethnicity, which mainstream reporting won’t touch.
One is the epidemic of fatherlessness gripping the USA. Another is a growing entitlement complex among many youth. The mainstreaming of drug use and video game violence in recent decades are other social ills that must be acknowledged as at least part of the problem.
And don’t forget that for many of the young people breaking the law, this is the first fun they have had since their city locked down months ago for COVID-19.
What is most concerning, however, is the class of rioters who are expressing open contempt for their own nation. A love of violent revolution and anarchy and a hatred of all that America represents can only take root when people believe that America is racist from top to bottom.
And that is exactly the message being broadcast by cultural leaders, even as the fires burn.
In an expletive-laden Instagram post, pop sensation Billie Eilish let loose at white Americans, declaring, “You are not in need. You are not in danger… Society gives you privilege just for being white… We have to address hundreds of years of oppression of black people.”
Shawn Mendes likewise tweeted, “As a white person, I not only recognise that this is a problem but that I am a part of the problem.”
Kylie Jenner told her followers, “We’re currently dealing with two horrific pandemics in our country, and we can’t sit back and ignore the fact that racism is one of them.”
Viola Davis also posted, explaining, “This is what it means to be Black in America. Tried. Convicted. Killed for being Black. We are dictated by hundreds of years of policies that have restricted our very existence and still have to continue to face modern-day lynchings.”
This impulse towards justice is good since justice reflects the heart and character of God. There must be justice for George Floyd and for all black people who have suffered brutality at the hands of police. But has anyone stopped to ask if declarations like these might be causing more harm than harmony?
These sentiments actually mirror the prejudices they seek to replace. They implicate all white people—even the most open-hearted and caring—as part of America’s problem. They convince people of colour that white Americans should be assumed racist and a threat before the facts are in, and unless they virtual-signal otherwise.
They make an unbreakable link between the 1600s and the present day, disregarding the many events of American history that have righted so many wrongs of the past—even if the nation still has injustices to address now. And they resurrect old angers to enrage current ones.
They also ignore some uncomfortable statistics. Only 4% of all black homicide victims are killed by police officers—93% actually die at the hands of fellow African-Americans. And white people are at least 1.3 times more likely than black people to be killed by police.
While police treatment of black people is a serious problem, the national news media mostly draws attention to murders when they are white-on-black. This is an unwarranted slant, and it only serves to stoke racial grievances.
Honest conversations must be had, but they won’t be honest if newsmakers focus on certain tragedies while ignoring others. And they can’t be honest if all of the good in American society is ignored, and generations of progress overlooked.
Even in the midst of the riots, there have been police showing solidarity with the African-American community, like the sheriff in Michigan who laid down his helmet and marched with George Floyd protesters. Or the black protesters who protected a stranded white cop.
Protesters and police were seen praying together in Kentucky. Black and white believers were also filmed praying for reconciliation over the weekend. A black man was embraced by a police officer in Miami. Another police officer offered a young black man his shoulder to cry on.
As you read news about these riots, beware of false narratives.
Much of the anarchy and destruction isn’t about justice for George Floyd. It is people of any ethnicity exploiting the black community for their own selfish agendas. Ironically, that is exactly what the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement sought to correct.
The truth is that most Americans—of every colour—love their country and believe it is worth preserving and redeeming, not destroying. And most Americans agree with Martin Luther King Jr, who said it best: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”