The recent killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has had farther-reaching effects than Chauvin ever could have imagined.
Local prosecutors have charged Chauvin with second-degree murder (punishable by up to 40 years in prison), and the three officers who stood by with aiding and abetting second-degree murder (punishable by up to ten years in prison). An independent autopsy called what happened to Floyd “homicide caused by asphyxia.” Chauvin kneeled on Mr. Floyd’s neck for eight minutes.
So in Minneapolis and in many other communities throughout the United States, including Chicago and even abroad, protesters demonstrated against the death of Mr. Floyd. We have seen such protests before concerning allegations of police using excessive force.
This time, things turned ugly as protests were followed by violence and looting.
Fueling the fires with hateful rhetoric. The right-wing end of the spectrum is all too quick to blame those demonstrating against the death of Mr. Floyd on Antifa and Black Lives Matter for the looting. President Trump, who has never moved to call neo-Nazis and neo-Confederates as terrorist groups, quickly demanded that Antifa be so designated—even though Antifa is an anti-fascist movement and philosophy, not an organization like Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, or ISIS. Red meat for his angry right-wing base, but yet another Trump symbolic action that would accomplish nothing. One can’t arrest a philosophy, as much as the president would like to. Instead of this president criticizing neo-Nazis and neo-Confederates, we must once again go back to Charlottesville, VA, when Trump uttered his infamous words, “good people on both sides.”
As one could have predicted, Trump swiftly pivoted to being “the law and order president,” threatening on June 1 that he would come down hard on those who are looting our communities and causing mayhem. It got especially ugly in Lafayette Park near the White House that evening when Trump decided to grandstand in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, with a Holy Bible in his hand, and make his threats public. U.S. Park Police and National Guard Troops swooped in on a group of peaceful protesters in the park with tear gas. For what reason? So that Trump could show that he walks loudly while also carrying a big stick?
How ironic that Trump pivots to being “the law and order president” when he has unabashedly and in broad daylight ignored every rule of law that this country’s democracy depends upon for its survival. The symbolism couldn’t have been any greater than when U.S. Attorney General William Barr, walked across Lafayette Park prior to the president’s appearance at St. John’s to order the clear-out, to an extremely loud chorus of boos and derisive chants from the protestors. This attorney general—who is supposed to be “the people’s lawyer”—is nothing more than Trump’s heavy. And, it is becoming more apparent that with Barr running the Justice Department, police reform won’t move one inch forward in this country.
St. John’s Church also is the site where President Abraham Lincoln would go to pray each night as he grappled with the Civil War that was tearing our country asunder. He would sit in pew 11 in the rear of the church. Another cringe-worthy symbolism—Trump trying to show his base that he has the gumption and intellect to lead like Lincoln. Sorry, not a snowball’s chance in July. He has literally declared war on his fellow Americans and is stomping all over our First and Second Amendment rights.
As the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, the Rev. Mariann Budde, said, Trump did not pray while stopping by the church, with “no sense that this was a sacred space to be used for sacred purposes.” Presiding Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry added that Trump had “used a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes.”
If you think the June 1 Trump threat to bring Federal troops to our cities has anything to do with curbing the violence that has plagued our streets, think again. This is yet another political move by this president and his advisors to get frightened Americans, who have turned away from him as a result of how he has terribly mismanaged the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, to swing back his way. During crisis after national crisis, Trump remains focused on just one thing—getting reelected.
Leadership like this at the national level is not helping. There is no voice of reason or calm from this administration. Instead, we get what we expected: vitriolic and divisive rhetoric that only adds fuel to a raging fire.
A more reasonable public official who understands nuance, Lori Lightfoot, stated on Sunday, May 31, that the protesters and the looters are not one and the same. Lightfoot rightly pointed out that looters were exploiting the fact that police were occupied with protesters to begin looting. In this age of cell phones and social media, these criminals actually could coordinate their activities. Lightfoot noted how after looters broke into stores, cars, trucks and U-Haul vehicles immediately showed up to cart off as much as possible.
A better approach is needed in Chicago and throughout Illinois. While we praise Mayor Lightfoot and Governor JB Pritzker for rational, level-headed thinking to allow for peaceful protests and in discharging the police to quell the subsequent violence that erupted in Chicago and throughout Illinois, we also implore them to act more swiftly to arrest the anarchists and looters that are decimating our businesses and have committed senseless acts of violence upon our neighbors. Just when we thought small and medium-size business could open up during Phase 3 of the COVID-19 stay at home order beginning on June 3, many of them have been looted and some burned. It was heartbreaking to see the destruction of so many of our fellow neighbors’ businesses. Central Camera on South Wabash Street was just one of the hundreds destroyed. This family-owned business dates back to 1899. Showing the backbone that makes Chicago great, the owner, Don Flesch, vows to reopen. So many others will do the same but some never will—it’s just been too much of a “double-whammy” of the shutdown due to the coronavirus and now this.
It is not supposed to be life-endangering to go to one’s business. But a South Loop couple was attacked by looters early Sunday morning when they came to their Orange Theory fitness center to clean up after criminals had ransacked the place the night before. The husband was beaten and taken to Stroger Hospital with a serious head injury, and the wife was hit on the back with a crowbar. “The people that I saw, they weren’t protesters,” she said. “Protesters have a cause.” The couple plans to open the center again, and we wish them a full recovery and great success. They too, represent what makes our city a community of people banded together.
While we call for calm among the people, we also call for calm and respect between the Mayor and members of the City Council. This is not a time for profanity and anger among our City leaders, whose citizens are turning to them for support and to be voices of reason. Things got heated once again on May 31 between Mayor Lightfoot and one of her loudest City Council nemeses, Alderman Ray Lopez (15th Ward). Lopez and other aldermen have questioned the Mayor’s strategies on police distribution and contend that she has focused too much on saving the downtown area while the local neighborhoods have been devastated by looters and shootings. This remains a developing story and a contentious issue. We also call for better protection of our local communities and ask the mayor and governor to use every resource possible and to reassess these strategies once things begin to calm down. Mayor Lightfoot and newly appointed Police Superintendent David Brown must come up with a more effective plan to protect our neighborhoods, and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx must prosecute the looters and other criminals to the fullest extent of the law.
Then and now: the 1960s and present-day America. Those of us who were around in the 1960s see this as very different. While there was extensive looting and burning related to the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, it was generally limited to particular areas such as West Madison Street and pockets on our city’s South Side (sadly, swaths of West Madison Street still show the scars of the 1968 riots). Now, with cell phones and social media, criminals are exploiting police being occupied elsewhere to hit such areas as downtown, the Magnificent Mile, River North, the South Loop, and the West and South Sides. Even our suburban communities have not been spared the violence and looting as shopping and strip malls have been targeted by this criminal element. This is not anguish over a killing; this is highly coordinated criminal activity by lawbreakers who seize the opportunity to latch onto a legitimate protest to loot, steal, burglarize, and burn. Mr. Floyd’s brother, Terence Floyd went public on June 1 and urged the looters to stop their madness.
Another difference is far-right-wing exploitation of the situation. With social media having connected right-wing hate groups, they are showing up to protests to incite violence with the goal of sparking a race war, a second civil war, and/or an expansion of police powers to be used against the left and minorities. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz has alleged that demonstrations that turned violent in his state included provocateurs from outside the area. Minnesota officials said that a majority of those arrested in the first protest in Minneapolis were from outside Minnesota. Former FBI agent and CNN commentator Josh Campbell has noted that “authorities have been monitoring alleged criminals online, including postings by suspected white supremacists trying to incite violence.”
In Denver, for example, African-American protesters tried to keep protests peaceful and had to restrain whites from violence. Protest organizer Tay Anderson told BuzzFeed that those causing problems at the protest where “right-wing conservative individuals who just don’t give a damn about black and brown people, or want to make this movement look bad. It wasn’t black and brown folks that were antagonizing police. It was white people throwing stuff at them.”
Also, there obviously are left-wingers also using the death of Mr. Floyd to try to turn peaceful protest into violence. Chicago police did a great job arresting a man for curfew violation on Sunday and discovering several homemade bombs in his car. It turns out that this same criminal when he was in Minneapolis earlier had encouraged people to throw bombs at police, lit a building on fire, and yelled obscenities at police. How do police know he did this? He posted video of his crimes on Facebook.
We want to see bombers, arsonists, and looters from the left, the right, and with no ideology prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Peaceful protestors must also heed civil disobedience. Yes, in Chicago and elsewhere, there were some protesters who genuinely cared about Mr. Floyd who went too far, throwing items at police and starting fires. We strongly condemn such actions, which have no place in this protest.
But the vast majority of legitimate protesters were peaceful, while right-wing and left-wing provocateurs, known as “accelerationists” because they want to accelerate violence in America, and criminal arsonists and looters did the violence. We have heard quote after quote in recent days from Dr. Martin Luther King. They all are appropriate to help guide America through this latest crisis. They are thought provoking, inspirational, and in some cases, comforting. Yet, if you truly want to emulate Dr. King, heed his words and actions when he took to the streets and had bricks and bottles hurtled at him (his head was bloodied more than once), and had the bite of snarling police dogs nipping at his heels. He didn’t throw bricks and bottles back the other way and he didn’t hurl insults and objects at the police.
Is the Floyd murder the tipping point for police reform? With all the violence, it is easy to lose sight of the problem of police often treating whites with kid gloves, such as armed, white shut-down protesters showing up in the Michigan State Capitol while police did nothing, while using excessive force against minorities. Can you imagine if 200 black and brown citizens, incensed that the Michigan economy wasn’t opening up fast enough and angry with Governor Gretchen Witmer’s stay at home orders due to the coronavirus, had shown up with AR-15s on their shoulders? We shudder to think what might have happened.
Black and brown Americans have seen too much excessive violence directed at their communities by law enforcement. That is why these protests started after Mr. Floyd’s death at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, before things were hijacked by criminals.
In the past, when there were national crises, the president of the United States would try to calm Americans. Eloquent presidents such as Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan were great at it, but even lesser orators were determined to do the job. George W. Bush never had the reputation as a great speaker, but he was nonetheless successful at offering an empathetic voice and bringing Americans together after the 9/11 attacks.
As NBC’s Jonathan Allen reported, “In moments of racial, social, and political unrest, presidents of the United States have almost always sought to calm the nation. Not President Donald Trump. For him, there is political opportunity in pitting moderate whites against African Americans: They are the two groups Democratic challengers Joe Biden most needs to win the presidency.”
So instead of calming the nation, Trump talks and tweets 1960s hateful rhetorical phrases like “when the looting starts the shooting starts,” promising more violence and more division, and sounding more like the most loutish, extreme guy down at the end of the bar than like FDR, JFK, Reagan, or Bush.
Alderman Patrick D. Thompson and Commissioner John Daley in their May 31 e-newsletter assessed the situation way better than Trump. They wrote, “What was a peaceful demonstration with citizens expressing their outrage over the death of George Floyd was hijacked by criminals. When we as a nation should be coming together to work together to prevent incidents like the murder of Mr. Floyd, those efforts get lost when vandals and criminals use the 1st Amendment right to protest a wrong for their own personal criminal acts. We cannot allow these outside antagonists and criminals to disparage George Floyd’s memory. CPD [Chicago Police Department] and the lawful protesters should stand together to oppose those that are trying to destroy our city.”
Exactly. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the protesters are one and the same with the looters, arsonists, and provocateurs, and that Trump, who has failed to solve every national problem from Russian interference in elections to the coronavirus, can magically solve this one by tough talk designed to do nothing else than to get himself re-elected.
Be smarter and more caring than Trump thinks you are.