All over town, and throughout my social media feeds, friends and neighbors have been speaking out against the brutal murder of George Floyd (thank you), while also bemoaning the destruction of property happening across the country. We’ve heard the refrains:
“I don’t support what the police did to George Floyd, but why do protestors have to smash windows?”
“Vandalism dishonors George Floyd: by all accounts a peaceful person.”
“Violence obscures the message of the peaceful protesters.”
But what have respectful and rule-following protests achieved for the oppressed in our country? A government that fights to restrict health care for all. A government that taxes wages at a significantly higher rate than investments. A government that rigs electoral districts to protect their preferred political party. A government that enacts barriers to voting. A government hostile to unions and subservient to corporations. A government that tried to manipulate the census to undercount people of color. A government that hired Floyd’s killer and stood by him throughout his career until a video showed the world his true heart.
But for that video, we can be confident Floyd’s killer would not have been arrested. The video was sufficient to prompt criminal charges, but if the video were the end of it, no one in Central Oregon would be talking today about Floyd. No golfers on the course at Broken Top would be discussing the cold smirk on Floyd’s killer’s face as Floyd cried out for help. No anglers, fishing for bull trout on the Metolius, would tear up as they talked about how, in his dying voice, Floyd called out for his mother, a woman who had been dead for two years.
No, none of these conversations would be happening if all that resulted from Floyd’s death was a video. But that is not all that resulted. The collective voices of the forgotten men and women of our country rose like a phoenix, and they had much to say. They burned buildings, looted stores, and smashed stuff – lots of stuff. They got our country off of high center. They shook things up. They said loud and clear: No More. And we heard them. For the first time in decades, we heard them.
I’m as law-and-order as they get. But sometimes, some things are more important than a blind adherence to the rules. When the people in power have their knees on the throats of the working class of our country, and when pleas for justice and equality not only go unheeded, but are mocked, drastic measures have to be taken.
I’m proud to be a citizen of a country that was sparked by the Sons of Liberty who stood up to oppression by smashing the shipping crates of our oppressors in the Boston Tea Party. Samuel Adams, John Hancock and their patriot brothers broke the law that night in the harbor, and I’m glad they did. They were pushed to the breaking point, so they broke. Like Adams and Hancock, the youth in Minneapolis, Louisville, Atlanta and dozens of other cities had the courage and the dignity to break.
We heard them loud and clear. Now we need to respond to them. Yes, it’s time for the violence and vandalism to stop, and I urge protest leaders to call for this. But this stop cannot become an excuse to return to the status quo. This “stop” must be viewed as a pause: a pause for our nation’s leaders to open their ears, shut their mouths, and commit to being educated about the plight of the vast majority of Americans who struggle on a daily basis while not being given a fair shake.
If the violence is paused, our leaders listen, regular Americans rally around an agenda for the changes necessary to restore our middle class and provide equal opportunities, then George Floyd’s final words: “Don’t kill me” will be respected. No George, those officers didn’t kill you; they lit a fire in our country. The young protestors from shore to shore stoked it. And all of us responded. Now where are my patriots at?