Our hearts are on fire, our cities are on fire.
As massive coast-to-coast protests continue in the United States in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and displays of solidarity spring up around the globe, it’s safe to say this outpouring of grief has firmly switched gears.
What began as an outcry over institutionalized racism in policing has, over the last few days, evolved into a wider movement encompassing the generalized pain of the tragedies of COVID-19, the inadequate state of American political leadership, the decay of American institutions, and the toxic levels of socioeconomic inequality that have collectively led to escalating polarization and regressive standards of living for so many citizens.
On the matter of the protests themselves, the excesses of law enforcement, and the systems that support those excesses, news vlogger Phil Defranco put together a nicely balanced video summarizing the status quo, so I wanted to share that:
I’ll also point out that while he provided examples of disturbing behaviour from the protests, that content was well placed for context, emphasis, brevity, and analysis. Less is more. That’s a huge part of why I often link his news shows when something big happens, rather than bothering with the endless stream of violence porn coming out of the 24/7 cable networks. Good reporting distills facts for timely dissemination and creates an accessible dialogue.
While these protests continue and Donald Trump is openly mocked for hiding in a security bunker after yesterday’s DC demonstrations, we should nonetheless avoid the distractions and shift to a more important question: what about all the political chess that’s going on below the surface? Because, really, that’s what ultimately ends up being the most consequential and enduring part of all this.
What systemic changes will be put into law, adopted to remedy this broken system of policing, and verified with strong inspection and feedback cycles? (Will there even be any?) How will the public remain engaged? (Will they be shut out again, just as they were in the past?)
It’s easy to forget VUCA and SWOT in the midst of these constant adrenaline spikes, just as it’s difficult to create contingency plans and a functional framework going forward. Nevertheless, if it doesn’t happen now, this movement will all be for nothing. So decide — if you’re involved — what you want the endgame to look like and stick to it. If you don’t keep the outcome firmly under control, someone else will.
The protests are now being diluted by scattered messaging and hijacked by agitators, with competing interests seeking to sow chaos and perpetrate violence in order to de-legitimize the movement.
Similarly, some police departments have learned they can mollify angry mobs by voicing support or taking a knee, no doubt leaving huge questions as to the honesty of said gesture, but nonetheless averting a violent confrontation for themselves in the short term. So much the better if someone’s livestreaming the event on Facebook, or if a TV news team happens to be around.
Even if some officers are of good character and are genuine in wanting to do good for the community, the problem remains that they exist within a system which is flawed to the point of urgently needing a significant overhaul to stem the damage being caused by past missteps, ignorance, and complacency.
If you’re a law enforcement officer, the best thing you can do right now is work behind the scenes to get a movement started and effect a net positive change. Don’t come in expecting credit for your work right off the bat, and don’t even think about claiming “woke credit” on TV until you’ve done the necessary legwork of fixing any deficiencies cited in the past.
If you can’t come to the table with concrete examples of changes you’ve made to improve your community policing program and your public interactions, if you can’t show fundraisers you’ve done to give the vulnerable a hand up, if you can’t point to sweeping systemic changes you’ve made to improve your overall character and capacity to best serve the spirit of the law, then maybe you shouldn’t be kneeling alongside those protesters for publicity shots. Hollow gestures send the wrong message.
Indeed, the violent goon shows and numerous cases of journalists being deliberately targeted by misbehaving officers only reinforces the trope of police being callous and disrespectful toward others’ lives.
To anyone who sees themselves as part of the Thin Blue Line, I ask you: is this the legacy you want to be remembered by?
If not, then this is the time to step forward and rein in the power-tripping coworkers and reality-denying union bosses who are shitting all over your good name.
We’ll be watching.
All right, now back to the issue of the infiltration of these protests by people who are trying to be a pain in the ass. The phenomenon itself is not new, it’s been around as long as there have been public gatherings. It’s the shoddy handling of this situation by journalists of all stripes that’s been such a shock to me.
Based on what I’ve seen, some reporters reveal too much information by incautiously parroting manifestos / URLs / recruiting info / et cetera during unnecessarily lurid news spots. Conversely, there are at least as many offering information that’s too sparse for useful dissemination, failing to provide anything approaching sufficient details for the public to reliably spot bad actors at a distance and prevent risky interactions.
I’ve seen several instances in which members of the media unfortunately amplified the messaging of such groups by disseminating videos of them providing food/medical aid or patrolling the streets while clad in AR-15s and body armour in largely neutral contexts (or absent useful context entirely). In a handful of cases, some journalists also overtly or suggestively framed such news spots as “citizens helping citizens” or “standing in solidarity to protect protesters from violent police officers.”
The reality, of course, is quite far from such lofty slogans.
All in all, if you’re planning to attend one of these protests, it’s on you to research the various elements involved, decide how you’re going to conduct yourself, and go in wearing proper PPE (including helmets and masks along with an escape plan if entering a potential riot zone). It’s absolutely disgusting and disheartening to see how many people have been injured or killed by stray debris, less-lethal ammo, or other hazards once things turn ugly.
Don’t take your life or the lives of others for granted.