Family members of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, two Black people whose deaths sparked nationwide protests against police brutality, are calling for those demonstrations to be nonviolent.
George Floyd’s younger brother, Terrence Floyd, addressed a crowd Monday at the intersection in Minneapolis where his brother died last week after three police officers pinned him down on the ground.
“I understand y’all upset,” Terrence Floyd said. “I doubt y’all half as upset as I am. So if I’m not wiling out, if I’m not over here blowing up stuff, if I’m not over here messing up my community, then what are y’all doing? ... Y’all doing nothing. Because that’s not going to bring my brother back at all.”
He urged protesters to be “peaceful” and focus their energy on reforming the government and its institutions through voting.
“Let’s stop thinking that our voice don’t matter and vote,” he said. “Educate yourself. Don’t wait for someone else to tell you who’s who. Educate yourself and know who you’re voting for. And that’s how we gonna hit ’em. Because it’s a lot of us.”
Many of those participating in the demonstrations nationwide have done so peacefully. Some have engaged in more forceful practices, including throwing projectiles, looting stores and setting fires.
As of Sunday, at least 270 businesses across the Twin Cities had been vandalized, looted or destroyed by fire amid the protests, The Star Tribune reported. Many of the businesses were minority-owned or served minority communities, including a barbershop and a Native youth center.
Reports of buildings being vandalized or destroyed have emerged in several cities across the country, including in Los Angeles, New York City and Washington, D.C.
During an interview earlier Monday on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Terrence Floyd said he felt some of the destruction was “overshadowing” what he believed to be one mission of the protests: justice for his brother.
“It’s OK to be angry,” he said. “But channel your anger to do something positive, or make a change another way. ... The anger, damaging your hometown ― it’s not the way he’d want.”
Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, warned against trying to “fight violence with violence” while speaking at a news conference Monday with Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D). Her daughter was fatally shot by police in her apartment in March. She was 26 years old.
“To know Breonna, she was full of life,” Palmer said. “This is so much bigger than her, but we can’t get justice with violence. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t help. It doesn’t help her. It doesn’t help us. It doesn’t help the world we live in. We can’t fight violence with violence.”
Palmer called on the officers involved in her daughter’s death to be fired and charged with murder. Three officers have been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation, police said. The FBI is also investigating the incident.
“There has been a lot of aggression toward protesters, but protesters are engaging in acts that we’ve asked not occur,” Palmer’s attorney, Lonita Baker, said during the news conference. She added: “We need a change in the way we police. That’s what America is speaking up on. The time is now.”
Watch remarks from Palmer and Baker below. They begin around the 1:15 mark.
There have been several shooting incidents, some fatal, amid the protests. Seven people were shot in Louisville on Thursday during a demonstration protesting Taylor’s killing. All of the gunshot victims are expected to recover, officials said.
Police say a man died Sunday after Louisville police and National Guard soldiers returned fire on a crowd they were trying to disperse. It’s unclear whether the man, identified as David McAtee, had fired shots at the police.
In an essay published Monday on Medium, former President Barack Obama issued a similar plea for nonviolence amid the protests. Like Terrence Floyd, he called on protesters to activate politically and vote in elections at every level.
″[L]et’s not excuse violence, or rationalize it, or participate in it,” Obama wrote. “If we want our criminal justice system, and American society at large, to operate on a higher ethical code, then we have to model that code ourselves.”
He added: “So the bottom line is this: if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform.”
Some activists and historians have argued that civil unrest may be necessary to spark social and systemic change. Kellie Carter Jackson, an author and an assistant professor of Africana studies at Wellesley College, wrote in a piece for The Atlantic that “riots and violent rhetoric have been markers of patriotism” since the country’s nascency.
“Those who rebuke violent responses to injustice should ask themselves: How should the oppressed respond to their oppressors?” Carter Jackson wrote. “How should the nation respond to political dissent? How do the oppressed procure power?”
“Only one thing is clear — there is no form of black protest that white supremacy will sanction,” she continued. “Still, black people understand the utility of riotous rebellion: Violence compels a response. Violence disrupts the status quo and the possibility of returning to business as usual. So often the watershed moments of historical record are stamped by violence — it is the engine that propels society along from funerals to fury and from moments to movements.”
Hafsa Islam, whose father owns Minneapolis restaurant Gandhi Mahal, which was burned to the ground during the unrest last week, said she’s OK with the destruction if it helps the protesters’ cause.
“We can rebuild a building, but we will never reclaim the life George Floyd didn’t get to live,” Islam wrote in an essay published Sunday in The Washington Post. “For years, protesters tried peace. It didn’t work. If this is what it takes to get justice, then it will have been worth it.”