I’m mad as hell.
When protests turned into civil unrest in Minneapolis as folks demanded the arrest of the four officers responsible for George Floyd’s death, I knew to prepare for the same cycle we saw in Ferguson and Baltimore just a few years ago.
Another Black life is taken by the hands of those who are supposed to protect and serve us. The cops are fired, but not arrested despite video evidence that they’re responsible for someone’s death. Folks, mostly Black people, protest. Police bring out the riot squad and throw tear gas at the protesters. Tired of a system in which their lives are always at stake, Black protesters turn to civil unrest.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise when you see folks running out of Target — which funded surveillance cameras around downtown Minneapolis in a move that some called predatory — with carts full of merchandise. Twitter users allege that same Target closed its doors on them to prevent protesters from buying supplies. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Minneapolis Police Department’s 3rd Precinct station was set ablaze. And there’s nothing novel about political analysts and folks on social media expressing more anger about destroyed property than a lost life. Protesters aren’t criminals; they’re tired of waiting for change in a system that continues to deny them justice. And this country’s leaders continue to fail them.
Early Friday, President Donald Trump sent a tweet that used racist language and threatened those engaged in civil unrest.
“These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen,” he tweeted as protesters cheered and watched the police station burn down. “Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Shortly after, Twitter noted on the post that the president’s tweet violated the platform’s rules about “glorifying violence” but that the tweet would remain accessible in consideration of the public interest. Hours later, the White House Twitter account doubled down with a tweet repeating Trump’s earlier words.
With his phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” Trump was evoking the words of former Miami Police Chief Walter Headley. As racial tension grew in Miami in the 1960s, Headley vowed to control Black protesters and crack down on “hoodlums.”
“We don’t mind being accused of police brutality,” he said in December 1967. “They haven’t seen anything yet.” By the time civil unrest erupted and lasted for three days in August 1968, three people died at the hands of police, 18 were wounded, and 222 were arrested, according to The Washington Post.
But what Trump gets blatantly wrong is that the “shooting” — or state-sanctioned killing in general — was going on long before the incidents at Target. Black people’s lives have long been threatened by white people with more privilege and power who still manage to see us as a threat. That holds true for Floyd, who was killed by Derek Chauvin, an officer with 18 prior complaints filed against him before he suffocated the 46-year-old unarmed Black man.
Same goes for Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Philando Castile, Rekia Boyd, Michael Brown, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Walter Scott, Terence Crutcher, Eric Garner, Samuel Dubose and so many other names we may never know. And as I write this, I learn we have to add to this list Tony McDade, who was shot and killed by police in Tallahassee, Florida, this week.
This is hell.
What Trump said should surprise no one. This is the man who placed a full-page ad in The New York Times calling for the death of the Central Park Five (now the Exonerated Five). What was shocking was the fact that a president who has been notoriously quiet when it comes to Black Americans dying at the hands of cops finally said something. He was quiet after the death of Stephon Clark in Sacramento, with his press secretary at the time calling it “a local matter.”
When he finally does address a case, he calls Black protesters “thugs,” a term often weaponized against Black people to make them out to be a threat, while actively threatening their lives with the use of more state-sanctioned violence. (A totally different tone than the one he used on May 1 when addressing a heavily armed group protesting stay-at-home orders meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19.)
It is unfair to deny those who built this country the freedom of knowing for sure they will make it home safe and then call them crazy when they burn it down. I would have been more content had Trump stuck with the 10 unmoving words he uttered at a press conference on Thursday: “I feel very, very badly. That’s a very shocking sight.”
In a 1966 interview, Martin Luther King Jr. was asked about some Black activists’ departure from the peaceful approach he advocated to address racial injustice.
“The cry of Black power is at bottom a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro,” he said. In that interview, he called a riot “the language of the unheard.”
Civil unrest is happening because Black people in this country are fed up with being killed. We’re tired of watching videos of our brothers and sisters die at the hands of police. We’re tired of having to deal with racism — especially amid a pandemic that disproportionately affects Black people — while some white people aren’t even aware of the mourning taking place. And it’s utterly exhausting to live under oppressive structures that expect us to stand by idly as we watch people who look like us be killed because some cop (or civilian) sees them as a thug.
We’re mad as hell. And if you care about Black people, you should be, too.