The protests against police brutality, centered around the cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, have forced race into the consciousness of most Americans. Those who support the protests focus on the pattern of abuse that they represent. Those who stand in opposition of the protests tend to focus on the specific details of each killing, becoming armchair lawyers and ballistics experts. Black America sees the police killings as symptoms of systemic racism. White America, for the most part, wants to see the killings as unfortunate but isolated events divorced from racist factors. Indeed, racism isn't a thing, right?
Here's an excerpt from a blog that seems to exemplify the view of the latter group:
[T]he shooting is being used to prove a point about police discrimination in America. The means of distribution are simple: destruction of private property and interference with commerce. In other words, brute thuggery and ignominious acts of violence.
Note the assumption that all protest necessarily must be violent. What's frustrating to me as I read more about the Civil Rights movement in the 50's and 60's---and what's so sad for people who express views like this---is that this sentiment and even the specific arguments are so very unoriginal. This author probably thought that they were penning original thoughts based on sound logical arguments. But check out what I just read in The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks:
The [1963 Washington D.C. march] itself now is remembered in a nostalgic glow as an inspirational and quintessentially American event, but at the same time, it was dreaded and feared by many white Americans. In a Wall Street Journal poll taken in the days leading up to the march, two-thirds denounced the idea as "un-American." Most newspapers, as well as many politicians, predicted violence...Even when the fears of violence proved unfounded, the Wall Street Journal remained critical: "This nation is based on representative Government not on Government run by street mobs, disciplined or otherwise."
Again, Black people protesting must portend violence. Mobs then, thugs now. Back then, the Civil Rights movement terrified white America while it was happening. Very few saw the racism that drove Black people to march and protest. Very few white people saw the big deal. It's the same today as it was then.
Fifty years later, every white liberal wants to tell you they were there marching hand-in-hand with Martin. Keeping an historical perspective is useful in understanding what is happening in Ferguson and around the country, and how historical events are viewed very differently while in progress compared to later on. I've been to several Boston-area anti-racism/anti-police-violence protests and I've witnessed zero violence from the protesters. The marches are peaceful and powerful. The cars and trucks stopped honk in support more often than in anger, particularly from drivers of color. But, of course, this doesn't matter. When Black people gather in large numbers, white people start seeing violence, whether real or imagined.
It seems only logical that anyone wishing to criticize this movement should at least go see one for themselves rather than relying on second-hand accounts filtered through popular media and their myopic Twitter feeds. But as with so many arguments and world views, when racism enters the room, logic jumps out the window.
There's a revolution happening right now. How big will it be? How far-reaching will it go? What will result from it? History hasn't been written yet, but I'm cautiously optimistic as I march and join in. If you have ever thought about what you would have done during the Montgomery bus boycott, or the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL, or if you would have been in D.C. that summer day in 1963, now is your time to find out what you'd do during a Civil Rights movement. Will your role be parroting the views of Wall Street Journal editorials written by racists 50 years ago. Or will you honestly get to claim that you were on the side of social justice at this key juncture in history?