Photo by Justin Vogel via Flickr.
The summer of 2020 will be known for the uproar of Black Lives Matter protests all across the country, in response to almost monthly murders of Black civilians shot by white police officers. From Breonna Taylor, shot and killed while asleep in her home on March 13, 2020, to George Floyd, publicly suffocated to death under the knee of Officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, 2020, the country has seen more people peacefully protesting to fight for justice than ever before.
Ahmaud Arbery, Feb. 23, 2020: Arbery, 25 years old and an avid jogger, was followed during a jog, then illegally detained and shot dead by three white people in Georgia — one of them was a former police officer. The three white men were not arrested until 74 days after the murder, after the video sparked nation-wide protest and attention. Despite the District Attorney being indicted for showing favor to the killers, the three white men were eventually convicted of murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment on Nov. 21 2021.
Breonna Taylor, March 13, 2020: While asleep, police entered the 26 year old EMT’s home after being granted a no-knock warrant. The warrant was issued to search for evidence connected to someone who did not live there and who had not been in touch with Taylor for two years. Police fired 20 rounds into the house, killing Taylor. The officer reponsible, Brett Hankison, has a history of sexual assault and misconduct involving women he encountered on the job. Hankison has been charged with wanton endangerment, and the trial has been delayed until 2022. He is currently free.
George Floyd, May 25, 2020: Floyd, 46 years old, was murdered by Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis. As Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes, witnesses repeatedly checked in on Floyd, called on officers to get him off the ground and told officers that Floyd was unconscious. When witnesses attempted to come to Floyd’s aid, Chauvin pulled out pepper spray and other officers restrained the witnesses. George Floyd’s last words were: “I can’t breathe,” Chauvin was charged with murder in April 2021; now three other officers are awaiting trial for aiding and abetting Chauvin.
These are only a few of the Black lives that were brutalized by the police and white vigilantes.
Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man was shot seven times in the back and left partially paralyzed by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Aug. 23. 2020. Blake is said to have been outside his girlfriend’s house with their three children in his car. The woman had reportedly called the police saying that he “isn’t supposed to be here.” Blake had a warrant out for his arrest for third-degree sexual assault. He admitted to having a knife but said that he had no intent to use it. Interviewed in the aftermath, Blake acknowledged that he shouldn’t have picked up his pocket knife and was not “thinking clearly in the moment.” Blake said to NBC reporters that the officer “just kept shooting, he kept shooting.” Blake’s sexual assault charges were later dropped. No officers were charged for shooting Blake.
In response to this shooting, peaceful protesters gathered together in Kenosha two days later, to seek justice for Black Lives and respond to the heated levels of police brutality once again observed. Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old who lived towns away from Kenosha, traveled to where the protests were and became armed with an AR-15 with the idea of protecting the community properties from vandalism and fire. The night ended with Rittenhouse shooting three people and killing two, in “self defense,” as some claim.
Some would argue that protests ending with some individuals burning buildings and destroying community properties is immoral. It is difficult to defend this kind of property destruction, because we are taught to never fight fire with fire. However, I personally empathize with the level of anger in the protests. In her poem, Emma Zeck writes the line, “I would start fires too.” This concept proposes the need for the U.S. to question the reason tension is increasing. Where do we begin to place more value in property than we do in a citizen?
Many voluntary militants like Rittenhouse were proud to utilize scare tactics to defend buildings and cars from vandalization with their assault rifles strapped to their chests. Protestors, usually unarmed, did not show up with the intent to threaten or engage in violence toward people. The Rittenhouse story came at the end of the summer after months of repeated police brutality, where other peaceful protestors were killed by police. It seems the police’s attempts to de-escalate situations, usually involving Black lives, only escalate.
The New York Times created a visual investigation, piecing together clips from that night. As I watched the government troops offer water to the voluntary militia and commend their behavior, I mentally noted my observations. It was as if the police and voluntary militia had some sort of unspoken bond — an understanding that by seeing their whiteness and weaponry strapped to them, a silent brotherhood was assumed.
It appears that white men in America are fighting to uphold their freedom to have access to guns, which consequently gives them more power to kill people, and Black people in America are fighting for the freedom to not be killed by an officer. If one is going to utilize self defense as a justification for killing, it seems that line of reasoning should apply to both situations, or else the argument is subject to racism and hypocrisy.
Kristine Kearns is a second-year English major with minors in Creative Writing and Sustainability. KK947319@wcupa.edu