Like almost everyone, I watched the video of George Floyd’s murder by the Minneapolis police with horror and sadness, but unfortunately, not a surprise. I’ve often felt outraged, sickened, sad, alone, and disillusioned by racism and police abuse of power, with those two things frequently converging tragically. I’ve also been disillusioned by a lack of vocal moral outrage from much of the public and by, to quote Martin Luther King Jr., politicians who “are more devoted to order than justice.” The system often lets those who abuse their power literally get away with murder. My way of coping when too many people seem indifferent, has been to make images spotlighting these issues and injustices. I use these images to donate to organizations like Black Lives Matter, the ACLU, The Southern Poverty Law Center, the Equal Justice Initiative, and #Cut50, all of which do critical work on the social justice front lines. When protests began in Minneapolis, I was ecstatic that enough people were distressed by what happened to George Floyd, and what has happened to countless unarmed people of color at the hands of the police, to hit the streets. Unfortunately, what began as a peaceful protest and noble use of free speech, which should be protected as a civic right, escalated to include looting and fires being set. I deflate when I see a demonstration start with the moral imperative to protest injustice, only to play into the authoritarian narrative that all protesters are “criminal agitators” because a few trouble-makers misbehave. This pattern of legitimate protest mixed with unjustified vandalism has emerged in several cities, including LA and given city leaders the pseudo-justification for a heavy-handed police suppression of the protesters and implementation of curfews.
I’m heartbroken that the vandalism muddies an incredibly important message that the powers-that-be need to be hearing from the nationwide protests. A nation of conscience cannot tolerate a system that allows racism and abuse of power! Let’s take a deep breath, channel our outrage that George Floyd and Eric Garner couldn’t breathe, and realize that though street protest is a powerful, visceral, way to participate in democracy, voting is essential to change things. Politicians respond to pressure at the polls. Researching the candidates who have the best records on race relations and criminal justice is vital to putting people in government who will reform the system. We have to demand the reforms of police policy and culture in the streets AND in the voting booth. My opinion is that racism is one of the lowest forms of human behavior. Racism has no place in society in general, but especially not within the culture of those paid by the people to serve and protect. Obviously, racism and abuse of power are extremely difficult to eradicate, but individual behaviors change, and group culture changes when there are consequences for bad behavior. If there are consequences even for milder forms of racism and abuse of power, if those behaviors are punished the moment they are visible, those bad actors can either be reformed or weeded out before they can murder people. Law enforcement seems to police everyone except themselves. I accompanied this post with my image “Bias By Numbers” because the numbers don’t lie… racial bias is horribly real when it comes to policing, sentencing, and often media portrayals. We all have a legitimate reason to be outraged by this injustice, but we need to use that rage as motivation to get to the polls. Also, if you have a constructive outlet for your voice, please use it! I can tell you from experience that creative response is therapeutic and a powerful way to rally allies! Thanks for caring!