Cushman: We Cannot Stop Protesting the Death of George Floyd

 

In 1991, L.A. police brutally beat Rodney King on the street. After a long history of police mistreatment of people of color, this act of police violence toward a Black man led to the L.A. riots. Nearly 30 years later, the United States is once again facing massive protests over institutional racism because of police brutality towards a Black man. The death of George Floyd has sparked a movement for police reform across the nation, but in order to achieve the substantive changes we are demanding, we have to keep protesting.

Accepting Excuses

In 2015 alone, “police killed more than 100 unarmed Black people” — five times the rate of unarmed white people that same year. Excessive force toward Black Americans is often met with public outcry, but it keeps happening. The George Floyd protests have included chants of “say their names,” a reminder that George Floyd’s death is one of many Black deaths at the hands of police. Other high-profile victims of police brutality include Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Eric Garner and Michael Brown — victims across gender lines and as young as twelve years old. To stop protesting now, before substantive changes to our police force have been made, would be to move forward knowing that more Black Americans will be killed at the hands of the police. It would be accepting the excuses that we have heard for decades. We cannot stop protesting George Floyd’s death yet because if we do, we are allowing it to happen again.

The Presidential Response

The death of George Floyd is a tragedy that struck many people across the nation very deeply, but our president has not responded with empathy. Instead, he has been unsympathetic, disrespectful and autocratic. David Lauter of the L.A. Times drew a stark comparison, pointing out the contrast of Joe Biden attending and speaking at George Floyd’s funeral while President Donald Trump retweeted conspiracy theories about a 75-year-old man who had been peacefully protesting Floyd’s death when he was injured by police. President Trump has tried to establish himself as a law and order president with this national crisis, condemning violent protests, offering military aid to the states and even naming himself the nation’s “President of law and Order.”
Trump’s administration used tear gas on peaceful protesters. He disrespectfully invoked George Floyd’s name while boasting about economic numbers. Prior to his time in office, Trump led a birtherism campaign against President Obama, insinuated that Mexicans are rapists and referred to some African nations as “shithole countries.” He has developed a pattern of dividing this nation based on race. To stop the civil unrest now would allow him to become the president of law and order he aims to be. It would allow a politician who has neglected to take race issues seriously to claim some sort of victory after another incident of police brutality. To stop now would show our government that they can scare us into submission with tear gas and rubber bullets. Ultimately, to stop protesting now would be to give up on change.

A Comparison with the L.A. Riots

When riots took over the L.A. streets in 1992 after the acquittal of Rodney King’s attackers, the city burned. There was over $1 billion in damage and thousands were injured. The protests following the death of George Floyd have had a different, much more peaceful approach. However, the L.A. riots were loud. They lasted six days, less than the amount of time Floyd protests have already been happening, but they could not be ignored because they were so forceful. The L.A. riots resulted in major changes to the LAPD. In order to achieve change now, it is important that we demand it. It is important that we are loud. The peacefulness of the Floyd protests has spoken volumes. For protesters to stand up to arrests, rubber bullets and tear gas whilst remaining largely peaceful is remarkable. It is something worth respecting, but it is important that we keep protesting.

The L.A. riots achieved change because they disrupted normal life in such a strong way. George Floyd and the countless other victims of police brutality deserve to see change — we do that by disrupting what is normal, by marching and chanting, by not sitting down until the change our activists demand is being taken seriously. Activists are asking that police be defunded and that unarmed public safety officials are more widely employed. Changes like this are important, but they will not happen if we do not demand that they do.

Institutionalized racism continues to take the lives of Black Americans in this country. It will continue to do so as long as we let it, but we have an opportunity to do better. As Americans we can decide to quit accepting the excuses we have heard throughout our nation’s history, choose leaders who take racial inequity seriously and demand that substantive changes be made to the way we approach public safety. We only achieve that by doing exactly what we are doing, protesting, until we become something better.

 

k.cushman@dailyutahchronicle.com

@kcellenc

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