The year 2020 will not go down as one of America’s finest, but one of its worst. From the COVID-19  pandemic, which ruined the economy and put nearly a quarter of the working force in many states out of work, to the needless murder of two African-American men, one in Georgia and the other in Minneapolis. The latest incident shows that the dark specter of institutional racism still exists in this country and that we still have a long way to go as a nation. 

George Floyd was accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill in Minneapolis. That is hardly a crime that should have cost him his life. And as the video that surfaced after the fact clearly showed, Floyd was not resisting arrest. Furthermore, the fact the now-former police officer was shown kneeling on Floyd’s neck and shoulders, which through their training, all police officers know cuts off the ability to breathe, shows a clear and deliberate misuse of power. 

As Floyd tries telling the police he couldn’t breathe, he was ignored, and their non-existent attempts to revive him were disgusting to watch. What followed was the protests which are so familiar after each one of these incidents, but have been to a large extent ultimately futile in the African-American neighborhoods. That needs to change. 

That led to the rioting and looting of small businesses that like everyone else have been hurting due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some of those businesses were owned by African-Americans. The scene got uglier by the minute with a 71-year old woman being assaulted in a store, and reports were up to 170 businesses in St. Paul were looted or burned. 

And the rioting and looting that followed had nothing to do with the police’s accountability of Floyd’s unnecessary and criminal death. This small segment of the population turned the focus from where it should have been on Floyd, and on the destruction of property and the stealing of items from the same people in their communities that are hurting as well. 

This action, polarized opinions on the left and right, where, up to that point, had been remarkably (especially in this day and age) similar. Now commentators and average citizens were no longer talking about George Floyd but the damage being done to the communities in and around Minneapolis. President Trump didn’t alleviate the problem when he all but stated that looters should be shot. 

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Many in the African-American community reiterated the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, who in 1966 said, “a riot is the language of the unheard.” But despite the riots and violence that wracked the country back then, Dr. King remained staunchly opposed to violence to achieve change. In the same interview in 1966 with CBS’ 60 Minutes, he told Mike Wallace:

“My hope is that it will be non-violent. I would hope that we can avoid riots because riots are self-defeating and socially destructive. I would hope that we can avoid riots, but that we would be as militant and as determined next summer and through the winter as we have been this summer. And I think the answer about how long it will take will depend on the federal government, on the city halls of our various cities, and on White America to a large extent. This is where we are at this point, and I think White America will determine how long it will be and which way we go in the future.”

Misuse of power by the police isn’t a new issue, nor is it only subjected to African-Americans. In fact, a piece by the Washington Post stated that in 2019, twice as many unarmed white Americans were killed by the police as African-Americans. However, this is and has been a particularly sore issue with the African-American community. 

This was a hot-button issue a few years when many of the NFL players decided to take a knee during the national anthem to peacefully protest for change. Having had the opportunity to talk with several of them, it isn’t for me to decide whether or not the feelings they had were justified. I didn’t and don’t now walk in their shoes. But if that is how they feel, then it is a reality. It has to change, and all of the people have to have trust that the police departments across the country are there to protect and serve all of us. The vast majority of departments already do that. 

Rioting and looting, will not lead to the changes needed, despite what many on the left are espousing and romanticizing. It will lead to the opposite reaction. Dr. King saw that for what it was and stated “every time a riot develops it helps George Wallace.”

Americans of all colors should get behind the protests over George Floyd’s death, and march together …peacefully, and insist on change from their elected representatives. Protests do work, and if change doesn’t occur, then vote them out of office. Rioting and looting, however, don’t work and has the opposite effect.

Our country is frustrated with being locked down for the past several months and a criminal issue like this can put the entire population even farther on edge. We need to work…together to initiate the changes we all need.