There are four distinct groups out on the streets these days in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd: Cops, journalists, peaceful protesters and troublemakers. The protesters are telling us they are fed up with systemic racism and they want it to stop, and the troublemakers are seeing the protests as an opportunity to steal stuff, and have fun by smashing things.
These are not the same people. The peaceful protesters are exercising their right to express their views and ask for change. The troublemakers are seizing the moment to create chaos. Some want to loot stores, some are intentionally trying to make the protesters look bad, and some just think it’s fun to break things and start fires. Certainly not all the violence comes from “outside agitators.” Obviously, that’s not even possible. But it’s just as clear that the protesters are drawing a line between themselves and those bent on wanton destruction.
As for the other two groups, I can’t be the only one who’s noticed that the police seem more interested in arresting peaceful protesters and journalists than in catching looters and vandals. Over the weekend I saw several scenes of police roundups of protesters while stores were being robbed and trashed just blocks away. Watching TV news, basically I have a helicopter, but don’t the police have helicopters, too? They must be able to see where the real crime is taking place, so why are they busting people who are just engaging in free speech? And why are they shooting pepper balls and rubber bullets at TV and newspaper reporters?
Maybe it’s because the looters and vandals are “only” stealing stuff and trashing property, while the actual protesters are challenging the very principles under which our police departments have been operating. Maybe the police in our country are afraid of the changes protesters are asking for: better hiring, greater transparency, full accountability, more human empathy… better cops.