Matthew Dessem writes that the above should have been the headline for the events of the past few days, not headlines ascribing the violence to the demonstrators.
The ongoing protests following the killing of George Floyd were caught up in violence again on Saturday, as police all over the country tear-gassed protesters, drove vehicles through crowds,opened fire with nonlethal rounds on journalists or people on their own property, and in at least one instance, pushed over an elderly man who was walking away with a cane. Here are some of the ways law enforcement officers escalated the national unrest.
He goes on to give example after example of how demonstrations that started out peacefully turned violent when the police arrived in full riot gear and started pushing people around, using tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and using their vehicles as battering rams.
The police in New York City have been particularly disgraceful. The scene where two police cruisers chose to run over protestors has angered many residents.
Here is the overhead… pic.twitter.com/US6Qqhkz3O
— Rob Bennett 🤠 (@rob_bennett) May 31, 2020
Mayor Bill de Blasio has been defending this behavior, saying that the police had no choice since they were ‘”surrounded” which is clearly not the case and they could have easily backed up. But of course that would have been showing ‘weakness’ which just will not do.
Andy Campbell describes more incidents of police brutality in dealing with the protests. In contrast, in those areas where the police talked with demonstrators ormarched along with them or took a knee, there was no violence.
Andrew O’Hehir points out that these riots have revealed truths about the police that the media have tended to glide over.
[S]omething has been revealed here, which even the major voices in mainstream media cannot avoid. It isn’t something about the possibly excessive, possibly regrettable protests or about their ambiguous racial dynamic, issues that until Saturday seemed to dominate the chattering-class social media discourse. It’s about America’s police, which increasingly resemble a lawless, authoritarian third force, largely unconstrained by political leaders, heedless of their own supposed rules and internally compromised by far-right or white supremacist ideology.
What we have seen in the United States over the last 48 to 72 hours is a nationwide “police riot,” a term made famous more than 50 years ago during the protests outside the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. As David Fahrenthold and Arelis Hernández reported for the Washington Post on Sunday morning, police in Minneapolis and elsewhere sought “a forceful restoration of control,” but “the effect was often the opposite, signaling disorder among those whose job it was to restore order”.
So this is a moment of clarity, when the mask has been ripped from American law enforcement as an autonomous national institution that observes no laws beyond its internal tribal codes. We must face that threat directly, rather than tiptoeing gingerly around the monolithic power of police unions while engaging in airless, hair-splitting debates about the ethical dimensions of what disenfranchised people are doing in the streets.
If you want to argue that specific incidents of random looting or property destruction are counterproductive, you may be on firmer ground. But if you want to argue that “violence” — a term that lacks a clear definition — is always pointless and never accomplishes anything, then I would suggest that you read some history about the French Revolution or the American Revolution or the ANC under apartheid or the IRA or the anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist movements of the ’60s and ’70s or pretty much every other damn thing that has ever happened. But first of all, try to tell that one to America’s cops. They don’t seem to agree.
A demonstration near the White House had been entirely peaceful until the troops moved in with flash grenades and smoke bombs just to clear a path for Trump to walk to the church for his photo-op.
This was such a blatant act against basic decency that it has led to a change in the coverage as media watcher Dan Froomkin points out. The reflexive, pro-establishment impulses to adopt both-siderism have been curbed by what we have seen.
The pressure inside our top news organizations to normalize this presidency has been intense, fueled by the misplaced belief by newsroom and corporate executives that the office demands respect and that to act otherwise would be tantamount to “taking sides.”
But the brutal storming of peaceful protesters in front of the White House by military troops and police — in order to clear the way for a propaganda-like photo op for Donald Trump — has pierced the detachment of even the most jaded journalists.
He points to how the initial typically bland headlines and coverage in the New York Times quickly changed as the outrage spread, blaming Trump for aggravating the situation.
You could watch the shift happening even at NPR, which rarely departs from both-sides-ism, as an early headline reading “President Trump Addresses the Nation and Walks to ‘The Church Of Presidents'” gave way to one proclaiming “Peaceful Protesters Tear-Gassed to Clear Way for Trump Church Photo-Op.”
There is something about the starkness of the recent imagery — starting, of course, with the video of a white cop casually snuffing the life out of a black man with a knee to his neck, and including so many scenes of journalists being targeted, harassed, sprayed, shot and arrested by police — that suggests, as I wrote on Monday, that the perspective of the press is shifting.
One gets the sense that we are entering the final phase of something — possibly of Trumpism, possibly of democracy. So it’s entirely appropriate for the press to stop pretending that it’s just business as usual.
Revulsion with the acts of the police has got so bad that ideas are being floated about disbanding the police altogether and finding alternative ways of ensuring peace in societies. Those ideas may not go anywhere but that they are being raised at all is a significant indicator of changes in the zeitgeist.