Don’t let Rioters in Charlotte Distract from the Real Protesters’ Message

© Josh Sager – September 2016

Over the last several years there have been numerous highly-publicized cases of police violence against African Americans, many of whom were killed while unarmed and clearly not a threat to officers—the list of names is long, but here are just a few examples: Terence Crutcher (shot in street when his car broke down), Eric Garner (choked to death with an illegal hold), Tamir Rice (shot  , and Laquan McDonald. This endless stream of tragic and senseless killings has bred tremendous outrage among the African American community and fomented protests in cities across the nation.

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The most recent of these shootings happened in Charlotte, North Carolina, when a police officer shot and killed a 43 year old African American man named Keith Lamont Scott. According to police, he was armed with a gun and had refused to follow police orders, while Scott’s family asserts that he was carrying a book and was posing no threat to the officers. While there is a video of this shooting, it has yet to be released, so speculating about the veracity of either side’s story is essentially pointless at this time—there simply isn’t enough evidence available yet.

While we don’t know the specifics surrounding this shooting, the perception of the shooting within the African American community and the ensuing responses are extremely relevant. Even if the evidence is not conclusive surrounding this case, it is clear that large segments of the African American community feel as though they are under siege by the police, leading them to assume the worst whenever a shooting happens. Given the record of past shootings, this belief is rational, albeit counterproductive when actually determining what happened in any individual shooting. Already, we have seen several large protests in the Charlotte area spiral out of control into violent riots.

While the vast majority of protesters are peaceful and simply want to help their community, a small, but very active, segment of these protesters is violent and racist. This small contingent within the protesters thinks that it is okay to burn down or loot stores, smash windows, and even assault random white people on the street—they are venting blind rage in a way that gives the legitimate protesters a bad name.

Here are some pictures of the damage they caused in Charlotte:

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People who use real social issues to conceal their criminal actions—e.g. stealing sports merchandise under cover of a civil rights protest—are not only victimizing innocent shop owners, but are setting back the goals of the real protesters. When people see this type of violence in the aftermath of protests, they are less likely to support the protesters’ ideals, not to mention that this type of rioting feeds directly into the racist narrative as the protesters as “thugs” who police are right to shoot.

In addition to the property crimes committed by these criminals, there were numerous assaults that were committed during the protests. Several white reporters were randomly attacked on the street, including one who was body-checked live on CNN while covering the protests.

One incident, where a group of “protesters” attacked a random white man, beat him, and dragged him through a parking garage by his pants (which they were trying to steal) was also caught on video. This was a racially motivated hate crime and nothing could do more to undermine the black lives movement than this video circulating the mainstream media. These criminals may not realize it, but they are the mirror image, not the antithesis, of white racists who attack random black men.

At the end of the day, we need to remember that this violence, looting and racism are not the real drivers of the protesters against police brutality—they are simply the images that the media has the easiest time covering (shifting the discussion from police abuse to riots makes it simpler to cover the story and creates sensationalism). Police abuse, militarization and mass incarceration are all real issues that must be addressed and we cannot let the criminal acts of a few distract people from the real issues. The criminals who are burning down shops and beating random white people need to be arrested and marginalized so that the real protesters can get their message out to the public.

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