Violent Protests, Killings Threaten Social Justice Movement

BY MICHAEL S. JOHNSON  |  SEP 2, 2020

The country remembers the names of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. Now the nation knows the name of Jacob Blake.

Blake and the others were all killed in incidents of alleged racial discrimination and most cases, charges of police brutality. Several of the killings were captured on amateur video. One in particular, that of George Floyd in Minneapolis depicted what was to me a horrendous and gruesome act of murder. It made you sick, sad, and angry.

There are other reasons for sadness and anger that don’t get much attention but are critical impediments to achieving the kind of national unity needed for change.

Do you know the names Italia Kelly of Davenport, or David Dorn of St. Louis or Chris Beaty or David McAtee of Louisville or Patrick Underwood of San Francisco? How about Anthony Huber of Silver Lake? Probably not.

They were among the estimated 30 people killed in incidents related to protests and riots that erupted after Floyd’s murder 95 days ago on May 25th. These deaths have been mostly ignored by the media, politicians, professional athletes, Hollywood glitterati, and activist organizations who are singularly focused on driving the narrative of social justice.

Were their deaths any less tragic or painful to their families than Floyd’s? Maybe to some degree since the murder of Floyd was broadcast what seems like a thousand times in a continuous media loop. But probably not to Angela Jacobs. She is Patrick Underwood’s sister. She sat next to Floyd’s brother at a House committee hearing in July.

Her testimony got scant coverage, yet what she said was poignant and powerful, too:

“America is in pain and she is crying. Can you hear her? My brother wore a uniform and he wore that uniform proudly. I’m wondering where is the outrage for a fallen officer that also happens to be African-American. Policy brutality of any kind most not be condoned,” she continued, but it is “blatantly wrong to create an excuse out of discrimination and disparity, to loot and burn our communities, to kill our officers of the law.”

David Dorn was a retired police captain who came to the aid of a friend whose pawnshop was being looted. He was shot and killed and the video reportedly showed the looters climbing over his body.

There have been hundreds of people wounded–police, peaceful protesters, press, and innocent bystanders–and millions of dollars in destruction to people’s lives and livelihood over the past months. A Minneapolis store owner watched his life’s work being burned to the ground on a live Facebook stream and a Minneapolis firefighter stood by helplessly while looters walked in and out of the new bar and grill he had saved a lifetime for. It was surrealistic watching him being interviewed by CBS with tears in his eyes while what looked like looters walked casually by them to steal more stuff.

Jessica Bettancourt’s Bronx, New York optical store was destroyed by looters while she watched on a remote surveillance camera video. “I was crying, hysterical, calling 911,” “We called the NYPD so many times.” She was told later the police normally in her neighborhood were reassigned elsewhere.

Some liberal members of Congress, governors, and mayors have brushed aside the “other” death count. They seem to view the victims as collateral damage, sacrifices to the greater good. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, presiding over a city whose homicides were already above last year’s total, essentially sanctioned the three-week illegal occupation of the Capitol Hill section of the city by violent rioters, originally calling it a “block party.” Two teenagers, Antonio May, 16, and Lorenzo Anderson, 19, had to die, others injured, and property destroyed before the Mayor decided the party was over. That was only after the protesters she coddled moved their protest to her home.

The Seattle city council thought Durkan was being too tough on the protesters so they cut the police budget of the city’s first black, female chief of police. She quit.

The media and politicians including Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler blamed rioting on the presence of federal security officers protecting the Mark Hatfield Federal Courthouse, even though the protests were underway before the Feds arrived. The Washington Post made the protesters sound like peaceful youngsters just exercising their constitutional rights–most were–and reported that the city was finally calm after the Feds vacated.

The Feds left, alright, but the riots just got worse and are now in their 100th consecutive night, with another murder reported on Sunday. Mayor Wheeler of course joined the liberal chorus in a familiar refrain blaming Trump for his city’s woes, even though it apparently was an antifa rioter who killed Aaron Danielson, a member of a patriot group and Trump supporter. His friends told media Danielson was wearing a Patriot Prayer hat and was hunted down in the chaos.

The violent riots have been replicated in Detroit, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Baltimore, Washington D.C., and other American cities. In D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser embraced Black Lives Matter. She cordoned off a portion of the downtown area near the White House for them, and had city workers paint in what looked like six-foot high yellow letters “Black Lives Matter” along two blocks of a major D.C. thoroughfare leading to the White House. She renamed the area Black Lives Matter Plaza.

Some of those protesters were not impressed.

They tried to burn down the historical St. John’s church inside the plaza, filled its walls with graffiti, and then made Bowser seem foolish by painting in the same-sized yellow letters, “Defund the Police” on a parallel street. She has since been faced with more violent protests, destruction of property, and rioters harassing people trying to get a meal in outside restaurants, demanding that they raise their fists in support of BLM. The video sparked comparisons to the Nazi brown shirts who acted similarly on the streets of Berlin 90 years ago. The Mayor blamed Trump.

The riots, which again and frequently need to be distinguished from the peaceful protests, are into their fourth month, in a number of cities. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledged them in May when she told George Stephanopoulos on ABC that:

“As my colleague from St. Paul has told me, 80 percent of the people who were arrested or taken in to custody following what was happening there were from out of — out of the area. So, again, let’s not — let’s be — let’s have a look at what really is happening, who is making what, taking what actions. But we should not — we should not ignore the fact that there is room for peaceful protests in all of this.”

Numerous reports do suggest that deaths, injuries, and destruction are the work of outside agitators—extremists on the far right and far left. If so, Congress should investigate. The violence and indiscriminate rioting only muzzles the legitimate voices of social justice activists who have a right to be heard.

But Pelosi hasn’t done anything since. There have been no investigations or hearings, at least none visible. Just this week we learned that the Justice Department is belatedly probing what is behind the violence. It’s doubtful Justice will blame Trump.

President Trump has been tepid, to put it tepidly, in his denunciation of police brutality but he has talked tough and acted tough on the violence. It is an issue that comes naturally to Republicans. Democrats on the other hand have been pretty silent on the rioting, until just last week, when they suddenly seemed to get “woke.”

As it turns out and is so typical in politics, their newly found Democratic abhorrence to violence coincided with polling data and survey research suggesting that the American public, regardless of party, across race, gender, and age, is getting sick of it by pretty large margins.

A recent Gallop poll found that 73 percent of Americans think the violence “hurt” the cause of social justice. More white Americans, 79 percent, said they opposed violent protest, but black Americans agreed by 59 percent. Both agreed that nonviolent protests help blacks.

CNN’s Don Lemon, a frequent amplifier of Democratic thinking said this week, according to columnist Kerry Daugherty, ”I think this is a blind spot for Democrats…the rioting has to stop.” Jordan Davidson, writing in the Federalist said “Lemon and (colleague Chris) Cuomo cited polling as the main reason why rioting should now be acknowledged as something more than “peaceful protests.”

“It’s showing up in the polling. It’s showing up in focus groups. It is the only thing right now that is sticking,” Lemon explained. He also expressed concern defunding police. Most black Americans don’t want less police in their communities, they want more, he said.

“The riots and the protests have become indistinguishable,” Lemon lamented.

I rarely find much enlightenment in Lemon’s observations, but he may have pinpointed a significant hurdle for peaceful activists for social justice that could derail much of what has been accomplished in positive public opinion over the past months, and that is the linkage being made between peaceful protesters and the violent protesters. They have all become just protesters.

This is all a long way from just one month when another CNN Democratic echo chamber anchor Brian Stelter wrote that the violence was “the right-wing media ramped up its coverage of scattered unrest in Portland, Oregon …at roughly the same time that Federal officers descended on the downtown area.”

The polling data coincides with new research from PEW, as well, which finds that violent crime in America has risen to number five on Americans’ list of their greatest concerns in this election cycle.

The day after the CNN Lemon-Cuomo conversation, Joe Biden tiptoed into the waters of the riots, opining that ‘The needless violence won’t heal us.” Then he plunged into the deep end blasting Trump for creating the problems and asserting that he (Biden) “unequivocally” condemned the Portland shooting, according to the Post. Then the floodgates opened. The Post published a flurry of pieces on the danger of vigilante justice. Politicians from Minnesota Senator Amy Klobachar to DC Mayor Browser are blaming Trump for the riots and fomenting a “civil war” over race. It is an update of the fear mongering narrative used against Trump since before he was elected. He is painted as an evil character leading an army of white supremacist trolls like the bad trolls scurrying about the underground in the animated children’s show Troll Hunters.

Few condone Trump’s behavior. Set aside whatever you think about his policy record or his approach to government, he is a scripted, deliberate agitator with a foul mouth my mother would have washed out with soap. It’s his shtick. When he walked onto the political stage it seemed like he never went out of character from his TV days and as a result he has failed to unite the country, failed to give meaning and clarity to our national mission, and failed to exhibit the character we have come to expect from our presidents. He has lowered the bar of political behavior and political character to its lowest wrung.

What is so surprising and unnerving is that some of his most powerful Democratic adversaries, particularly Speaker Pelosi, instead of going high when he went low, crawled under the bar themselves. They have engaged in the same name calling, fear mongering, gridlocking government for partisan advantage, and personal vindictiveness. Between them they have brought the government to a stagnating, frozen edifice of ugliness that accomplishes no good.

But I digress.

The presence of right-wing activists in some of the protests is well established. Somebody from a movement called boogaloo bois, was arrested earlier this year, I was told and later read about. Who in hell are the boogaloo bois and why can’t they spell? “The “boogaloo movement,” according to a June account in USA Today, is named for a 1980s breakdancing movie and characterized by violent members who carry weapons and wear Hawaiian shirts and tactical gear – looks to exploit unrest in order to start a second civil war.” But their presence, and that of other right wing anarchists and supremacists, does not justify or equalize the presence of left-wing militarists and anarchists from BLM, antifa, and other Marxist organizations. This is a senseless quarrel.

In one sense their politics don’t matter. Their destructive power and their criminal and traitorous intent does, and it must be confronted harshly and decisively.

Although a good many arrests have been made, those numbers are apparently declining since prosecutors in major jurisdictions are now refusing to take suspected criminals to court, telling police departments to back off of less serious offenses, again another manifestation of progressive overkill.

The violence is just senseless and people most affected by it, so many of the family members of those hurt or killed, abhor it the most. It is a lesson in humanity for all of us. Julia Jackson, the mother of Jacob Blake, shot seven times while being subdued by Kenosha police, would have every reason to be angry and take to the streets with the angry protestors.

Here’s what she said:

“As I was riding through here, through the city, I noticed a lot of damage. It doesn’t reflect my son or my family.

“If Jacob knew what was going on as far as that goes — the violence and the destruction — he would be very unpleased. So I’m really asking and encouraging everyone in Wisconsin and abroad to take a moment and examine your hearts. Citizens, police officers, firemen, clergy, politicians: Do Jacob justice on this level and examine your hearts.

“We need healing. As I pray for my son’s healing — physically, emotionally, and spiritually — I also have been praying even before this for the healing of our country. God has placed each and every one of us in this country because he wanted us to be here. Clearly you can see by now that I have beautiful brown skin. But take a look at your hand. Whatever shade it is, it is beautiful as well. How dare we hate what we are. We are humans. God did not make one type of tree or flower or fish or horse or grass or rock. How dare you ask Him to make one type of human that looks just like you?”

Biden, of course, is right that violence won’t heal us. It not only won’t heal us, it hurts us. It divides, it angers and offends us. The violent protests distract the nation from a difficult national conversation—these days an argument—about the core of a good many social ills affecting blacks much more than others—access to equal education and better workforce training, access to quality health care, housing in safe neighborhoods, improved and dependable child nutrition, erasing the technology deficit, and job opportunities, all chronic manifestations of systemic and chronic poverty.

It also detracts from an equally important element of human behavior that is not so easily identified and dealt with, the shadowy demons of prejudice and bigotry that still lurk in the minds and hearts; thankfully fewer than in previous generations. Prejudicial attitudes and particularly the righteous, intellectually arrogant kind, are a scourge on race, but also on religion, nationalities, gender, age, and politics.

The full integration of our society is a struggle of great complexity constantly being hijacked by politicians, mercantilists, extremists right and left, and especially the media, an institution now more the problem than problem-solver. The issue is constantly being big-footed by challenges just as daunting from a global pandemic to violent weather, wild fires, and international unrest. It may be in part that the politicians who pontificate at a papal level just don’t have the answers, and can’t find them as long as their vision is inhibited by partisan and ideological blinders.

The people who are ultimately responsible for the solutions—that would be us—need less raw and inciting information and more reasoned, illuminating knowledge and the wisdom to appreciate not just what we know, but what we don’t know, and maybe never will. What is it like to live in skin different from yours? In this age of global communities and great diversity, it is the right question to ask. The first stanza of the late 19th century poem by Michigan suffragette Mary Lathrap, Walk a Mile in His Moccasins, believed to be in reference to Native Americans of the time, goes like this: “

“Pray, don’t find fault with the man that limps,
Or stumbles along the road;
Unless you have worn the moccasins he wears,
Or stumbled beneath the same road.”

An old friend and fellow journalist and I at a small newspaper long, long ago, were having a conversation about race in those heated days not long after the Watts riots and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. He interrupted me in my feeble attempt to empathize with black anger and said something to this effect: You are not black; you never were and you never will be. You cannot understand what it is like.

True enough. I’ve never forgotten it.

But that should not deter us from engaging one another peacefully and with mutual respect. We will never reach uniform agreement on the problems or the solutions. This column will raise the ire of people who see things differently and interpret things differently.

That should not deter us from demanding an end to the violence and a separation of the issues so they are clearer and more effectively addressed. It is so important, as well, to repair and strengthen the underlying social values that have and should continue to shape the American character—family, community, charity, tolerance, spirituality, forgiveness, generosity, and mutual respect.

Editor’s Note: Mike Johnson is a former journalist, who worked on the Ford White House staff and served as press secretary and chief of staff to House Republican Leader Bob Michel, prior to entering the private sector. He is co-author of a book, Surviving Congress, a guide for congressional staff, co-founder and member of the Board of the Congressional Institute, and a participant in the Congress of Tomorrow congressional reform project. Johnson is retired. He is married to Thalia Assuras and has five children and three grandchildren.

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