Protests against the institutionalized racist violence against blacks in the United States, most recently exemplified by the recent murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, took place in cities around the country this weekend.
Here are some photos of the events here in Columbia, South Carolina.
(See more photos here.)
There were many reports of police responding to the protests across the country with violence (“Police Erupt in Violence Nationwide“, “Facing Protests Over Use of Force, Police Respond With More Force“). There were also reports of some protestors engaging in property damage and theft. Many cities, including Columbia, imposed curfews and enlisted the help of the National Guard.
Here are some observations:
- Protestors showed a great deal of courage this weekend, risking not just the ordinary hazards of confronting law enforcement, but also the additional risks posed by COVID-19.
- If the goal of law enforcement during protests is to allow the exercise of freedom of expression while minimizing property damage and violence, many strategies they employ are seemingly irrational. I don’t like that this appears to lead to a type of “they’re either evil or stupid” conclusion, but I think the burden of argument is on them.
- I think it would be interesting to compare the efforts and expenses cities take to protect property from damage during protests of institutionalized racist violence to the efforts and expenses cities take to prevent institutionalized racist violence in law enforcement. I suspect the former is much greater than the latter.
- When protests are known to likely involve property damage and business closures, city officials end up with strong prudential reasons to take steps to make them unnecessary, by, for example, taking steps to reduce unjustified killings by its police officers—in addition to the moral reasons they have to do this.
- There are people who have heard of the murder of George Floyd only because they heard about the protests of his murder, and, to a point, more people hear about the murder the more newsworthy the protests are. One thing that makes protests more newsworthy is “bad behavior” on either side.
- Points 4 and 5 make it more difficult to believe, as some critics of the protestors do, that the protests would have been more effective if they had not involved property damage.
- While the overall picture regarding institutionalized racist violence in the United States is, in its main respects, morally clear, the morality “on the ground” during protests is, in some ways, more complicated. A business owner supportive of the protests may be rightly aggreived by the damage intentionally inflicted on his store. In Columbia, a restaurant owner was beaten by protestors for calling the police to report cars that had been set on fire; he didn’t deserve that.
There’s a lot more one could say here. I’m sure some readers will object to some things I’ve said or how I’ve put things. Discussion welcome.