“It would have been better to have left the plate glass as it had been and the goods lying in the stores. It would have been better, but it would have also have been intolerable, for Harlem needed something to smash” —James Baldwin, (Essays on the Harlem Riots of 1943)
An independent medical examiner has concluded that 46-year-old George Floyd was murdered by asphyxiation at the hands of former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin, and the Minnesota Attorney General Michael Freeman has said he will attempt to prosecute all four officers involved.
Currently, only Chauvin has been arrested. He’s charged with third-degree murder, which has drawn outrage from a large swath of observers.
Undoubtedly spurned on by the hellacious and unpredictable events of 2020, and using Black Lives Matter as the battle cry, many cities across the globe have been rocked by protest.
Indeed, from the South Bronx, to Beverly Hills, and dozens of locales in between, the exercising of First Amendment Rights has descended into chaotic flames fanned by a multitude of factions, though Black Lives Matter will ultimately bear the brunt of blame for those already averse to the idea of Black lives.
To be certain, this bomb had been ticking for some time now. Though the fuse was lit by the rage of yet another Black body being ravaged in earnest, it predates every American alive today and affects us all as well.
Yes, the nation has exploded on the watch of an inept and seemingly apathetic president in the White House, but the bomb itself was created by broken responses, inadequate reform and the common practice of law enforcement in blaming Black men and women for their own deaths.
The cyclical nature of American race riots in which Black death at the hands of law enforcement and its proxies is static and transparent.
Breonna Taylor was killed by four Louisville police officers executing a no knock warrant for a man who was already in custody. Ridiculous, erroneous and ultimately murderous. I dare say it is a prime example of how folly can be heartbreaking, tragic and anger-inducing.
On May 6, 21-year-old Sean Reed was gunned dead by Indianapolis Police. An officer can be heard joking about the shooting. “Looks like it’s gonna be a closed casket, homie”, or something to that effect. The office didn’t realize Reed had been live-streaming. The “joking” officer? He was Black.
Last week, George Floyd became every brother’s bane, becoming a #hashtag, an abbreviated flash in time. To us, the knee of a grown man bearing down on one’s neck is a clear cause of death.
As was the case with Eric Garner in New York, a Minneapolis coroner reported that Floyd died due to preexisting conditions, not the actions of Chauvin who had been recorded striking Floyd in the backseat of a police car only moments before he was pulled out the vehicle by other officers.
Over the weekend, popular Louisville, Kentucky business owner, 53-year-old David McAtee of Yaya’s BBQ Shack was shot dead as he protested the death of George Floyd. Police and National Guard say they returned fire at a crowd where they say a shot originated. LMPD officer Officer Katie Crews reportedly fired the shot that killed McAtee. There are reports that say Crews joked about firing pepper-balls, a non-lethal but painful ordinance, at protestors on Facebook just hours before killing McAtee.
Again, our pain and death are deemed a joke.
No Matter Where We Go, Here We Are
The Harlem Riots of 1943 occurred in a time of uncertainty as American industry shifted into high gear to support the war effort, millions of southerners, both Black and White, moved north to find work. The influx of people caused housing shortages, increased price of food, clothing and shelter, much of which was the result of price-gouging—then commonly practiced among landlords and business owners alike.
Additionally, there had been a riot in Detroit two months earlier in which six people died.
That riot was sparked by the NYPD killing of an African American serviceman, who came to the aid of a Black woman being arrested for disorderly conduct.
Common themes leading up to riots are; the desecration of Black bodies by law enforcement and fake-ass cops, uncertain economic times, apathy from the White House, a feeling of hopeless among adults, and rage among the youth, they often occur in warm weather, with White opportunists and allies coming out of the nowhere, inevitably the National Guard will be called out.
The Detroit Riot was said to have been started by “Black youths around Belle Island”. Similarly, the Ferguson Riot was also said to have been started by young people, as were the L.A. riots of ’92.
Also, as with the others, some White folks used the affair to promote their agendas, and people took advantage of the chaos. Lastly, a general refusal to charge and prosecute the officers involved, who’re mostly White, is almost always the case.
In Minneapolis, the playbook is very similar to that of Detroit in 1943. You can literally create a riot checklist on the incidents of civil unrest, and multitudes of others. Though Chauvin has been arrested and charged, the likelihood that he will be convicted is extremely low.
A Small Chance of Conviction, Really Small
In 2015 an org called Mapping Police Violence reported that, of the 104 unarmed Black folks murdered, only 13 resulted in charges being filed and, of those, four ended in mistrial or were dropped altogether.
The sentences in the four cases that resulted in convictions of less than four years, some only served months or were given other special consideration, like serving time only on weekends.
Again, the current circumstances did not start with Donald Trump, but in the aftermath of the Ferguson Riot when it became apparent to many that no substantive change would occur in the death of Mike Brown. Just like the deaths of thousands of African Americans before him. However, the current president exacerbated these circumstances via poor leadership.
This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or exercise their revolutionary right to overthrow it.
What Does Revolution Look Like?
What does change look like? From a societal and historic perspective, change looks like fire, change looks like destruction of property and violent clashes with police.
Change has rarely looked peaceful, orderly and composed. So, it is of some confusion to this writer that some believe any substantive change without the subsequent and often necessary pain can be achieved. Like, these are full grown adults with advanced degrees who hold such childish views..
Revolution is fire. It is bloody faces, rubber bullets and tear gas. Revolution is dead protestors; revolution is jailed protestors and lying police officers. Revolution is confusion, infiltrators and conflicting narratives. It is red cheeked police officers sweating profusely behind layers of riot gear, it is the National Guard and curfews in major cities. So, with that being said, do you want change or not?
Punditry that professes to pain over the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, yet admonishes the fiery reactions of those on the lines of the protests as savagery, are mistaken, in my opinion.
I can fault the dog for yelping when scratched on the nose by the cat no more than I can blame him when he finally bites back. But we’re human beings living in a social construct in which one group of people believes it can lord over another without impunity, the pressure bursts forward eventually.