The situation in Minneapolis is spiraling out of control, as Governor Tim Walz admitted they were caught off guard by the ferocity of the protests and, early this morning, they admitted that they had underestimated the destruction that the protesters were capable of inflicting.
The governor during a press conference said, “Quite candidly, right now, we do not have the numbers. We cannot arrest people when we’re trying to hold ground because of the sheer size, the dynamics and the wanton violence that’s coming out there.”
So they are admitting that a series of errors and misjudgments have led to “absolute chaos.”
A bigger question is why. The match that set this off was the death of George Floyd. It is important to understand that historically in this country, police beatings and killings have been the incendiary device to set off riots. But there is always a context.
Starting with the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in Staten Island in 2014, an incident with which many have compared the Floyd death, there were a series of high profile police killings—many of them caught on video. But there had seemed to be a lull of incidents that caught national attention, after a long series led to reform in the Obama administration and across the country.
What marked a lot of those early cases was the lack of official action—lack of prosecution, lack of conviction.
In Minnesota, this incident was different. As soon as the incident occurred, video emerged, the officers were fired. Police chiefs from around the country swiftly condemned the killing. Polling showed that 78 percent of the public believes the officer in the Floyd case should be charged.
That finally occurred on Friday—which, given the speed of these events, is relatively swift. You can argue that third-degree murder is too low. Indeed, prosecutors argue that Derek Cauvin, the police officer who kept his knee to the back of Floyd’s neck, did so for nearly three minutes after Floyd became unresponsive.
I would argue that second degree murder—behaving with reckless indifference to human life leading to death—makes more sense. And you can also argue that the other officers should be charged as well, especially with some video emerging showing as many as three officers on his neck at the critical moment.
Nevertheless, it is really hard to argue official indifference. The governor and mayor have called for calm, while at the same time expressing sympathy for the emotions that lie behind the anger fueling the riots.
What is driving this anger is hard to pin down. Is it pent up anger in Minneapolis among the black community over the lack of justice receive by Philando Castile, a 32-year-old African America who on July 6, 2016, was pulled over in Minnesota, shot and killed by the officer even as he fully cooperated? The officer was criminally charged, but acquitted.
Or is it anger over what is now a series of high profile incidents nationally? There was the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia in February that recently led to national headlines when authorities finally and belatedly arrested and charged three men involved.
Then there was the strange incident also this Monday in Central Park, when a video emerged showing Amy Cooper calling the police on Christian Cooper after he asked her to leash her dog.
After the request, the woman warns him, and in fact, threatens him, that she’s going to call the police to falsely report that “there’s an African American man threatening my life,” which she then does: “Please send the cops immediately,” she pleads into the phone.
Eliza Orlins, a public defender running for Manhattan DA writes in an op-ed in the Washington Post this week:
“A white person calls the police on a black man. The police arrive and take the side of his white accuser, refusing to believe his version of events. He is arrested and arraigned. An outrageous bail amount is set. His family can’t afford to buy his freedom. He gets sent to Rikers Island, where he sits for days, months or sometimes years.
“Eventually, his case is resolved in some way — either because the charges are dismissed or because he decides to plead guilty to a lesser charge. In the meantime, he may have lost his job, his home, his children or some combination of the three.”
The difference in this case is the video shows that she is fabricating the story, even as the audio would suggest her fear and feeling of a threat.
As Orlins notes, “Under normal circumstances, these stories from our criminal punishment bureaucracy can be devastating.
“A spurious accusation in a park could mean a death sentence,” she writes, noting the danger from COVID but forgetting the case of Kalief Browder who was arrested for stealing a backpack, taken to Rikers, traumatized, and who eventually committed suicide.
But she does recognize the nexus between Cooper and George Floyd, saying that “all of this assumes the police don’t show up and deliver the death sentence on the spot. By now anyone who chooses to needlessly report a person of color to police has heard the litany of names such as George Floyd, the African American man who died just Monday after a Minneapolis police officer was filmed pinning Floyd’s neck to the ground with his knee.”
But of course these three incidents are only proximate incidents in a long series of what has taken place in this nation—stark polarization of politics, and then rising anger that we are starting to see in the wake of a collapsing national economy and the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic and social shutdowns.
Are we simply seeing the flipside of the anger that emerged, mainly on the right, with protests against the shutdown? Is this a broader protest against nearly four years of a Trump administration marked by the rise of such polarization and rising anger in various segments?
It is hard to know.
While it seems important to separate the response from the incident that underlies it, the subtext here is rapidly becoming the text.
With yesterday’s arrest of a black journalist on live TV, the incidents have taken on a surreal quality. Things are becoming reminiscent of 1968’s events. Riots had been occurring each summer from 1965-1967 in places like Watts, Newark, Detroit and Chicago. They exploded in April 1968 after the killing of MLK. They recurred that summer in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention.
Those who suggested that riots are a long way from the peaceful protest of Martin Luther King, forget that the period between the March on Washington and the assassination saw an increase in violence in the streets.
MLK himself called the riots “the language of the unheard.”
The reaction to the those riots by white America was usually not sympathetic—even on the left. “Shoot to kill arsonists and shoot to maim looters” was the order from Chicago Mayor Richard Daley in 1968 following the assassination of MLK, and it was his police that overreacted to protesters that summer at the convention, leading many observers to characterize it as a police riot.
Where does this head? Too soon to tell. But in a year where nothing has gone as planned, this is the latest unexpected occurrence.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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