Since the killing of George Floyd by former police officer Derek Chauvin we’ve been flooded with images of rioting and looting across the country. We’ve seen nationwide and even worldwide protests against oppression and police brutality, some ending more violently than others. In some cases, we have seen blatant and overt attempts at inciting violence in such a manner that it would discredit these protests, tasking exhaustive efforts to do. We have even seen violent plants sent by extremists from both sides to hijack the movement and incite violence. But what is the truth about these protests? Who is behind them all? What is their purpose, and are the stories we see on the news true? Depending on who you talk to, you may get a different answer about the nature of these events. Many seem to have reason to believe you will only find racial division, looting, and rioting if you attend. I thought I’d see for myself and cross-compare some experiences as well as offer some insight.
Harrisburg, PA Community March
Over the weekend, I attended a community march in the city of Harrisburg, PA, to see for myself and show my support for criminal justice reform. I have blogged extensively about fixing our system and have called out a few of the injustices and flaws I’ve seen over the years. I wanted the opportunity to see one of these events for myself to make my own judgment, as well as to put my money where my mouth was and show my support.
It was a small to moderate sized, but hearty and energetic gathering of maybe a few hundred people that attracted no shortage of attention from onlookers and passersby. Drivers honked their horns to show their support while people came out of their homes to thank us, and even us show off signs they had just made in the moment. The police had a very small, but hardly noticeable presence.
The event was organized on a clear, hot summer day by a small collection of local churches representing the Harrisburg community, including my own The Rock Church, run by Pastor Josh Robertson. We began our march just outside the National Civil War Museum, where we began with a quick prayer. It was quickly followed by eight minutes of stillness and silence in honor of the eight minutes that George Floyd suffered, unable to breathe while his neck was pressed under the knee of an unruly police officer. Standing there, still as a statue, under the hot afternoon sun wearing a mask helped at least simulate the feeling, but I can only imagine experiencing the horror of the real thing. It also helped show the amount of time the police officers had to at least attempt to regain control of the situation.
The killing would seem on its face to be quite intentional.
From there, we marched to The Rock Church, about a 30-minute stroll or so away, where we gathered to hear a few speakers. Speeches were made, proposals and ideas were put forth, and there was a call to action for the crowd. I didn’t feel quite as much acceptance and racial unity as I had hoped, but there was no hostility either. Everything said was fair, and no violence or aggression developed at any point during the event. Overall, it was a positive experience and a good show of strength and solidarity among the community.
Across the country, in the state of Arkansas, a friend of mine attended a similar event in his hometown. I was particularly interested in his experiences, especially in a southern state with some history of racial violence.
Meet Tommy Thorpe
Like myself, Tommy is a registered independent. However, he considers himself to be a moderate republican with some libertarian views. He prefers to live a simple life and enjoy the simple things while spreading positive vibes to the people around him. He loves to help and get involved in his community, as well as to advocate for justice, equality, and change, thus why he wanted to attend.
Conway Arkansas BLM Protest
The protests Tommy attended in the vibrant community of Conway, Arkansas, also possessed a small, but diverse and energetic crowd of maybe 200 at most. The attendees gathered to pray and honor the lives of those lost to police brutality by reciting the names of victims. Everyone was friendly, had a good time, and the organizer commented that they were “doing it right” by protesting peacefully and without violence. The police we’re in even attendance themselves with a few officers marching side by side with other protesters.
When the event was over, Tommy could be seen giving out “free hugs” a gesture some have seen as superficial, and he admits it is not enough to fight injustice. Even so, he believes in the importance of spreading love, peace, and positive energy and has noted the power such a gesture can have for healing.
The Media’s Tale of Two Protests
Across the country, I’ve seen peaceful protesters gathering in their communities and coming together for change. On the other hand, most of us are more than familiar with the stories of riots, fires, and chaos in cities that are falling apart because of civil unrest. There’s two very different things happening in this country, but it seems there are some that only focus on one aspect. Many of those who are quick to condemn the rioters and looters have been just as quick to assume they represent the majority of protests. More often than not, these assumptions are based on what we see in the media.
The question is, has the media engaged in responsible reporting, and have we who rely on them operated as responsible consumers of the information made available to us? I suggest that by hyper-focusing on riots, we make them more likely to happen. If this continues, protests will be more likely to end in violence simply for the sake of media attention. When people try to act peacefully, but nothing is done, there is often a more deadly recourse man will consider. Perhaps this is what was meant when Martin Luther King said that “Riots are the language of the unheard”
By focusing only on violent riots and looting, we encourage it to happen more, even as we use it as an excuse to turn a deaf ear to what’s being said. We are glorifying violence and inviting it to our doorstep.
This will end in our ruin…