So far in 2020 the list of things to be thankful for has been on the shorter side of average to put it mildly, but I’ll add Mobile not suffering widespread looting and destruction this past weekend to the positive side of the ledger.
We’ve watched — and are still watching — cities across America struggle with social upheaval, violence, looting and destruction each night coming on the heels of peaceful protests of the grotesque death of George Floyd at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer last week. In most instances, it looks a lot like thieves and anarchists are simply using the protests as cover for their own agendas that have nothing to do with honoring Floyd or protesting police violence.
In Mobile, protests involving roughly 2,000 to 3,000 people went off without a hitch — well, almost. Certainly the protests were predominantly what they should have been — public expressions of anger about Floyd’s death and what many see as systemic racism pervading law enforcement in specific and society in general — but there were some “bad apples,” to use the goofy catchphrase of the moment.
Officers fired tear gas at protesters who climbed onto I-10, and that was followed by a police vehicle window being smashed. After the downtown protests ended in early evening, another protest popped up along Airport Boulevard near I-65 and eventually those protesters were dispatched with pepper balls, something I’d only heard of on the Food Network before.
There were also some other small, destructive incidents involving rocks being thrown through windows at a big-box store, attempted burglaries and at least one attempted arson. But overall we suffered nothing like what happened in many other cities. Obviously Minneapolis and St. Paul have seen tremendous damage, but riots and looting have hit places like Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Philly very hard. Birmingham even got somewhat out of control Sunday night, with damage to statues as well as some news reporters.
Friends in some of those larger cities sound much more nervous about what exactly will happen. One in Chicago said Monday morning there are banks and stores all around his home that have been looted and burned, and even before noon all the city’s drawbridges were up in order to keep people from coming into town to pillage. He said destruction went on throughout the wee hours of Tuesday morning.
So, I’ll take a couple of tear gas canisters and some sporadic lawlessness versus what is happening elsewhere. Some may claim it’s just not in Mobile’s DNA to let protests turn into large displays of violence, as we were one of the few cities unmarked by such during the Civil Rights Movement and the efforts to suppress it.
It might also be noted that Mobile’s downtown isn’t particularly “lootable,” as it’s not full of high-end chain stores where one might be able to nab a 75-inch TV or some jewelry in the name of justice. I’m sure at least a few of those “dispersed” on Airport were putting themselves in a much better spot for looting up some quality merchandise. I found myself in that parking lot around 8 p.m. and there were a few people who looked to me like they had something other than George Floyd on their minds. Going to a protest dressed like a ninja doesn’t make much sense to me otherwise.
But then there’s so much of this that doesn’t make sense at all. To anyone.
Why would a police officer kneel on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes in the first place, and why would the other officers with him not do something about it? Racism and disdain for human life seem like obvious answers, right? But it still makes no sense those officers haven’t at least seen enough to know the potentially explosive outcome their actions could have.
Why do some people think stealing TVs and burning buildings does anything to fight racism or honor a victim? Doesn’t it only solidify stereotypes held by racists and bolster their fear and dislike of people who are different? It makes no sense that some people embrace this response or try to argue it is reasonable or deserved. Burning a Target and stealing some new clothes doesn’t fight the power.
I am a big fan of the protests … the peaceful ones. Mobile’s protest organizers deserve credit for working hard to keep things peaceful, even if the conversations were at times very tense. It’s absolutely great to have people speak truth to power. It’s a riveting way to bring more focus on that percentage of officers who abuse their power and abuse citizens, sometimes with deadly results. This ability to peacefully gather and demand redress from our government is one of the things that sets this country apart from many on this planet.
One of the things protestors should focus more on when demanding police accountability is the way in which most law enforcement organizations and state governments in this country work to keep body camera footage away from the public when something bad happens. We’ve all been sold on body cams as something that would put an end to brutality such as what happened to George Floyd, but 99 percent of the time it’s a fistfight to view such footage. Fortunately in Floyd’s situation there were cell phone videos available, but that’s not always the case.
More body cam footage availability might also go a long way toward allowing people legitimately harassed by officers for no reason to prove their cases and have those “bad apples” removed from the force. One of the hardest things to read in the past week were the stories of people I know and greatly respect recounting ways in which they’ve been racially profiled and harassed and the powerlessness of having no way to get any satisfaction from law enforcement organizations.
Departments should regularly review body cam footage on all officers to identify problems early, and it just shouldn’t be acceptable that officers “forgot” to turn the cameras on. Policing is an extremely hard job, and it’s only made harder by those officers who abuse their authority.
Hopefully, this past weekend’s protests are food for thought inside MPD, the sheriff’s office and Government Plaza. It only takes one horrible action to destroy years of effort. Let’s not wait until buildings are being burned to make it a priority to get rid of those “bad apples.”
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