On Monday, May 25th, 2020, George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin. The white police officer threw the unarmed Black man into the back of his police SUV, beat him, and then planted him on the ground and held him in a chokehold until he died. Protests have erupted across the globe demanding justice for George Floyd. These protests include setting fire to police precincts, looting businesses and vandalizing properties, articulating the outrage of the people.
Mainstream media has been quick to characterize the actions of protesters as violent and unethical. It’s framed as if peaceful protests would be acceptable, but the destruction of property and expropriation of goods (i.e. looting) is the problem. There has never been and never will be a protest that is acceptable to the people in power. Dykes on Bikes staged a protest during San Francisco Pride calling for an end to corporate sponsorship and police involvement in Pride. Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem and it was deemed un-American. Protestors blocked the freeway to draw attention to the murder of Trayvon Martin and that was met with police retaliation.
The false dichotomy of acceptable peaceful protests and violent ones is absurd. Protests and the tactics chosen are always in response to the circumstances. What is the appropriate response to the justice system failing to try and convict police who murder Black people repeatedly? And what should be the response to the continued economic wage gap between black workers and white workers? Make no mistake, if the police don’t kill a black person, capitalism will do it for them.
The protests for #JusticeforGeorgeFloyd happened in the midst of a pandemic. A pandemic that put around 40 million people on unemployment and millions more lining up for food assistance. A pandemic that exacerbated already existing global and US inequality. The protests happened in a nation where the minimum wage has stayed the same for over 10 years.
Don’t be fooled. This is the REAL LOOTING. https://t.co/zpmvSqwmb0
— Leslie Mac (@LeslieMac) May 28, 2020
US capitalism is an economic system built on black labor that disproportionately fails black people. It’s not broken, it was built that way. These are the conditions which led to looting and burning mostly corporate-owned businesses such as Target, Arby’s, Chase, and Wells Fargo bank.
Minneosta Governor Tim Walz, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, and Attorney General Keith Ellison all claimed that outside agitators were responsible for the looting in the Twin Cities. That turned out to be a falsehood fed to them by law enforcement officials. More troubling than the fact that Minnesota political leadership took the word of officials incentivized to obscure the local distrust in the police is the fact that it’s exactly what the Ku Klux Klan did in Alabama.
Looting is and always has been characterized as evil, lawless, and violent when black people do it, but praised when white people do it as necessary. As cited above, looting is the response of people in desperate need such as during Hurricane Katrina. Black people have been deprived of basic necessities since the day the first slaves were brought to North America. Looting is in fact the act of taking back the cumulative wealth that was stolen from workers. In times of crisis, such as this pandemic, looting and theft are the response to poverty and systemic disenfranchisement in the economic free exchange of goods and services. If anyone is entitled to loot corporate-owned businesses and then burn them to the ground, it is black Americans.
And I would like to add one major caveat to this: white people who show up to the protest have a duty to follow black community members’ lead. While it is absolutely true that white workers suffer under capitalism, it will be your black neighbor who faces severe or lethal consequences when the cops come around to disperse the crowds. It is the responsibility of every white person attending a protest to do what their black comrades are doing. There have been numerous photos and videos showing that the cops are trying to bait people into committing acts of vandalism; they will go so far as to frame black people for it. Don’t be the reason your black neighbor gets arrested. These protests are about making demands for justice. For George Floyd, and the hundreds of thousands of black lives destroyed by a white supremacist system: we demand justice.