Police officials fired tear gas and rubber bullets into a crowd of "I Can't Breathe" protestors, while "Reopen America" protestors got police protection.
Following the murder of George Floyd, yet another unarmed black man killed by a white police officer, majority-black protests erupted across the city of Minneapolis. Just days prior, armed white "Reopen America" protestors took to the streets in order to demand the state to lift lockdown restrictions. While one group was met with protection, the other was met with tear gas, rubber bullets, and more brutality. There are no prizes for guessing correctly which group received which. The difference in how police reacted to the protests is very telling of the state of race relations in America. It is time for our police departments to recognize this blatant form of racism.
The "I Can't Breathe" demonstrations against Minneapolis Police Department Officer Derek Chauvin - the man who murdered Floyd by choking the victim with his knee - began on Tuesday. They began peacefully enough. Protestors chanted, "It could have been me!" In response, police officers at the scene fired rubber bullets and tear gas at the crowd, Vox reports. It should be mentioned, nonetheless, that a small group of protestors vandalized police vehicles and threw rocks. Instead of handling the few miscreants, the police decided to fire at the whole gathering. One protestor told CBS News, "It’s real ugly. The police have to understand that this is the climate they have created, this is the climate they created."
Minneapolis police fired tear gas + plastic bullets at people protesting at a police station over the death of #GeorgeFloyd. Some threw back the gas canisters: "No justice, no peace."— AJ+ (@ajplus) May 28, 2020
Floyd died after police kneeled on his neck for about 8 min, as he pleaded: "I can't breathe." pic.twitter.com/Eq56nE0twG
The escalation, many believe, is an example of how police officers disproportionately use violence against people of color, especially black people. Rashad Robinson, the president of advocacy group Color of Change, said in an interview with Vox, "This is where police have to become better at deescalating. It illustrates very clearly the ways controlling, harming, and mistreating black people are an acceptable course for police in America." The reaction by police officials is especially painful because of the treatment "Reopen America" demonstrators received just a couple of weeks prior to the more recent "I Can't Breathe" protests.
The only difference between the two groups was that the latter was largely comprised of black folks and non-black people of color, whereas the former was full of white folks. The issue here is, nonetheless, that "Reopen America" protestors were visibly armed, posing a threat to both the community as well as police officers on duty. Georgetown Law professor Paul Butler, the author of Chokehold: Policing Black Men, has analyzed this stark disparity. "Unarmed people, many of whom are people of color, protest police brutality and are met with police brutality — flash grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets," he shared. "But when armed, mainly white protesters storm the Michigan state capitol, the police just let them be."
While we can get academic and data-driven and statistical about why this is, there is one simple answer: racism. This double standard is not new. We have seen this before, whether it was during the hundreds of Black Lives Matter protests across the United States that ended with officers firing tear gas at those who had gathered or the Charlottesville "Unite the Right" demonstrations. Protestors in the latter group were given police protection, while those in the other had to be defended from police. Robinson noted, "There are different sets of rules, there are different sets of consequences." America will never truly be equal if we do not recognize that the country's police force originated from slave patrols and continues to withhold that legacy.
“Please. I can't breathe.” These were some of George Floyd’s last words before he died.— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) May 27, 2020
We need an investigation into the practices of the Minneapolis Police Department. And the officers involved must be held accountable—not just fired from their jobs. #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd