Portland, Oregon, was placed under curfew. A 19-year-old was killed in Detroit. Protestors shut down an LA freeway. Atlanta protestors defaced CNN headquarters. Minneapolis protests continued, although the violence decreased as the city spent a second night under curfew orders. There were protests in other cities including Louisville and Charlotte, where tires on police cars were slashed and stores were looted.
Some of what happened across America last night was reminiscent for those of us old enough to remember of the 1960s. America is once again at a boiling point.
The event that brought on the massive protests, which could in several cases reasonably be called riots, was the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The police officer who held Floyd down with his knee on Floyd's neck has been charged with third degree murder.
Floyd's death followed all too soon other incidents: in Louisville, Kentucky, where EMT Breonna Taylor was killed by police who raided her home in a mistaken location drug raid; the vigilante killing of a Georgia jogger, Ahmaud Arbery, who was hunted down by two white men and shot in February, but police filed no charges until May.
Most will say that peaceful protests are understandable and appropriate, but that the burning of buildings, slashing of tires, and the looting of a Food Lion in Charlotte and a nearby mobile phone store are simply criminal acts that had no place in the demonstrations. Dr. Martin Luther King, whose non-violent approach is lauded, would agree; but having live through the 1960s, I recall the words of Eldridge Cleaver, a Black Panthers leader, who said: "LBJ was willing to make a deal with Martin (MLK), because he didn't want to have to deal with me."
The truth is that the violence that occurred in racially provoked incidents in the 1950s and 1960s played an important part in changing America's attitude (officially at least) about race. The lynching of Emmett Till in 1955, the deaths of four little girls when a church was bombed in Birmingham in 1963, the assassination of Medgar Evers that same year all brought America's attention to racial injustice; but what provoked Johnson and others to action was more likely the fear they had of the rioters who burned buildings, looted stores, etc.
We are not encouraging nor condoning those who slashed the tires of police cruisers in Charlotte, broke into a Food Lion store on Beattys Ford Road, smashed the window of the mobile phone store next door. Thieves and vandals are just that, no matter what their supposed ulterior motive. But the sad truth is that without the violence that has occurred, those peaceful demonstrations would have been much like the 'thoughts & prayers' that have followed mass shootings in this country--mostly for show and accomplishing nothing.
What is sadly lacking now is a 21st Century MLK. The remaining figures who would consider themselves 'black leaders' are old. They have none of the ability to inspire of Martin or Malcolm X. The whole of the civil rights movement is now a dispersed and unorganized shambles of what once was. Perhaps in the class of 2020, who had a transition from high school to beyond different from any in history, there is a figure who can do what a young MLK did when he took over in his younger days as a pastor at a Montgomery church. He didn't start the movement; the pastor who preceded him at the church had been outspoken, and there were civil rights leaders like Philip Randolph who had been fighting the battle for years, but Martin's charisma became the focus that was needed to accomplish those first important steps.
The Pledge of Allegiance to the US flag ends, "...with liberty and justice for all." Late night tv host Jimmy Kimmel noted that it isn't true, it isn't for all--yet. I refuse to recite the Pledge without adding to that last line my own declaration: "may it someday be true."
Eldridge Cleaver wrote in his 1968 book "Soul On Ice": "If a man like Malcolm X could change and repudiate racism, if I myself and other former Muslims can change, if young whites can change, then there is hope for America."
The incidents in south Georgia, Louisville and Minneapolis demonstrate that it hasn't happened yet...but in the words of MLK, "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice." I pray that he was right.