Protests v. Violence: Forward to the past


Last night, 5/30/2020, my daughter the cop was called out emergently with a bunch more cops, to join the National Guard in protecting the city (Pittsburgh) from roving bands of vicious destructors. Cars overturned and set on fire. Store window glass destroyed and stores looted. Four cops hospitalized, dozens of others treated at various sites. Traffic backed up for miles. All seemingly to raise the public’s consciousness about what amounts to 100 years of racial inequality and abuse. The first Amendment allows for peaceful demonstrations to complain about various kinds of abuse and one rarely hears much complaint about it. City dignitaries and various professional sports figures (here) frequently join such demonstrations.

Some history:  Back in the 60s Dr. King’s strategy was strictly non-violent demonstration to point out inequities in how the races were treated. There were good reasons for this. If protesters fought back in kind when physically abused by police, it might be construed that the protesters were assaulting the police, giving them a legal reason to beat them to a pulp in self-defense. These were the days before pocket size video that everyone now carries. In the 60s, creative photography made it difficult to prove one way or the other who was assaulting who.

This strategy lasted from the 50s into the late 60s when it was finally figured out that non-violent demonstrations were ineffective, if for no other reason than few cared and they were not carried to large audiences via what was then rudimentary TV. About the time Dr. King was assassinated, it was becoming clear to would-be protesters that getting routinely beat up wasn’t very effective in proffering their points. About this time, younger black leaders, Rap Brown, Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver, JoAnne Byron, the, The Black Liberation Army, (BLA), Black Panthers and many others began various “push-back” strategies of getting their agenda more noticed by becoming more noticed. BLA goons assassinated white police officers walking beats.

So, somewhere in this time period, protesters figured out they get a lot more attention if they started inconveniencing those who really don’t care much about their activities, aided by the visual media (CNN) whose advertisers love anything that draws viewers to their plethora of commercials. So drawing viewer’s attention to social inequities moved from visual to violent.

It should also be noted that none of this is anything new. The white population in virtually any city traditionally had a heap of contempt for former slaves who had been legally liberated but remained their previous underdog social status. White lawmakers, administrators and politicians greatly feared that if blacks gained any amount of political power (voting), this would diminish the dominion of those ensconced in power. Various very creative schemes were created to insure “minorities” stayed minor.

For want of a better term, “Whites” as a group have never liked the black population very much and that dates all the way back to Reconstruction. They are legally mandated to legally treat them as equals but that changes nothing about their emotional feelings about them. It must also be remembered that blacks are no longer “minorities” anywhere. They’re majorities or near majority in virtually any major city except in the deepest Western States. In many cities with ingrained racial problems, the local TV stations gleefully portray them on-screen after they’re picked up for various law-breaking, subjectively suggesting that most of the ills of the city are caused by roving bands of grimacing black criminals festooned with facial metal, tattoos and bulky hair braids. Aliens. Aliens caught doing damage.

So here we are.  One would think that police officers would have enough sense to do whatever it takes to stop killing those black guys, especially the ones obviously unarmed. They’ve been doing it now pretty reliably since Fred Hampton in 1968. Killing them over and over, sometimes for the thinnest excuse, nowadays each episode filmed from multiple vantages by ubiquitous cell phone video cameras. Whenever a cop appears almost anywhere, fifty cameras appear starting with Rodney King in 1991. You would think they’d learn that every time it happens it gets videoed in high resolution, followed by multi-city riots.

Why does this keep happening?

I think it keeps happening because the experience of many police officers with black citizens is pathologic and not much is being done to rectify it. A relatively few bad interactions goes a long way. After a cop gets shot at a few times, and forced to follow would-be armed criminals up dark, dangerous alleys, they start considering them not much more than vermin and stomping them out isn’t much different than eliminating cornered rats. Videos of many of these murders don’t show much emotion on the faces of cops killing other humans.

Similarly, anyone that’s viewed the killing of Mr. Floyd will not be reminded by protests. They’re quite aware of the atrocity and it’s as unclear how to solve it as it was in 1968. Mass peaceful protests usually fall on bored motorists that avoid the traffic jams shown up on WAZE. However, once protesters start burning cars and businesses, beating up cops and doing as much damage as possible, everything changes. CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and all the local stations stop everything and photograph as much as the violence as they can- close up from helicopters. Already Beleaguered downtown business owners (from COVID shutdown) pleading with looters carrying out flat screen TVs. Protesters throwing Molotov Cocktails through broken glass windows to start damaging fires in their own community.

At this point, no one remembers the original point of the “protest”. Now it’s become a Netflix special action series, cops against the bad guys. If TV viewers glued to the tube didn’t care much about the root cause of the protest anyway, they now loathe them and the entire thrust of the protest vanishes as the police and National Guard prevail because they’re more of them and they’re better armed.

So, in essence, the events of the 60s that evolved to the violent 70s is coming around again.

Published by gonzo66

I am a neurosurgical critical care physician and full professor at a major Eastern University Medical Center.

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