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The weeklong, nationwide protests calling for justice for George Floyd have brought about unprecedented acknowledgment from those who oppose the protests that much of the destruction caused in the subsequent riots was at the hands of white people, specifically white men. Yet, as quickly as these concessions have come, they’ve been bastardized by right-wing talking heads and feckless politicians to distract from the purpose of these protests, and deflect from the fact that police using excessive force are the main culprits responsible for inciting violence at demonstrations meant to draw attention to that very issue.
Looting by Black people, whether during the protests of police brutality or in an effort to obtain food and supplies during natural disasters, has long been a popular media narrative— further perpetuating the stereotype of Black people in America as inherently lawless. Because of this, it is significant that we’re now seeing widespread recognition that looting and unnecessary destruction of property happening at Black Lives Matter and other anti-police brutality protests are not solely, or even predominantly, being carried out by Black protestors. In fact, thanks to camera phones, we have a plethora of video evidence to the contrary.
In a now widely shared video, Tay Anderson, a Denver school board director and activist, can be seen confronting a white man spray painting an acronym for “all cops are bastards” on public property, to which the man replied that he wasn’t Anderson’s ally.
After Saturday’s protest in downtown Seattle led to the looting of the Nordstrom flagship store, a white woman was seen on the local news walking out of the store with bags full of merchandise. The anchor, however, never refers to her as a looter and even floats the idea of her possibly being an employee — a consideration that would likely not have been given to a non-white woman.
A thread by Twitter user @FreeYourMindKid reveals exhaustive documentation of these instances, including a Black woman in Minneapolis confronting two white men who’d stolen alcohol from a liquor store that’d been broken into. When she asks one of the men why he was out there and what was his name, he responds, “Definitely not George Floyd.”
Another incident from that thread shows a Black woman vehemently admonishing a group of young white people in a car who’d been driving around giving Black men bricks to throw.
“You know that s**t can get them killed?” she yells into the car, causing them to drive off.
Nashville police announced on Monday (June 1) that they had arrested and charged 25-year-old Wesley Somers with attempting to set fire to the city’s Historic Courthouse, amid protests in response to the death of George Floyd.
Over the weekend, white kids in Eugene were seen busting windows of a local business with their skateboards while protesters who’d been leading chants plead with them to stop. In fact, a simple Twitter search of “white skateboard” will currently lead you to a stockpile of videos and conversations discussing similar incidences.
A young woman in Oakland reported attending a peaceful protest with her friend and fiancé on Friday (May 29) night, when she spotted a large group of white men dressed in black, armed with hammers and carrying walkie-talkies. “Let me say something; the people breaking glass, breaking into windows & starting fires were WHITE,” she tweeted of the men who she said started fires at Chase Bank and Walgreens. “They were organized. BLM protestors did not start the violence!”
Even popular influencers have come under fire for their roles in looting, as YouTube star Jake Paul was called out for being with a group of friends at an Arizona mall with people around him destroying property, as he recorded himself in the scene for internet content. Paul later denied engaging in “any looting or vandalism.”
At the state and federal level, government officials are warning of organized agitators making their way into cities with large demonstrations, though there are conflicting opinions of who these groups are. On Saturday (May 30), Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz told reporters he heard unconfirmed reports that white supremacists were coming from out of town to stoke the violence. Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington echoed that concern, citing online intelligence.
In response, President Trump and Attorney General William Barr blamed Antifa and “far left extremists” for the disorder.
Whether they’re genuinely interested in justice for George Floyd, attempting to undermine Black Lives Matter’s efforts, or simply random opportunists, these white looters, arsonists and vandals have become centered in the discussion of anti-police brutality protests in a way that we’ve ever seen before.
But, is it in good faith?
The concession that, yes, white people for one reason or another are causing damage at these protests has morphed into a tool for conservatives and apathetic liberals to convolute the intentions of the uprisings we’re seeing across the nation and internationally. The righteous anger driving these efforts — the rage that is understandably leading to riots — is being written off as nothing more than displays of bad behavior by bored suburban youth and the GOP’s new favorite boogieman: Antifa.
Additionally, the acknowledgement of white men behaving violently so often fails to include police officers, even by a Democratic politician.
After protests on Saturday became inflamed, which most protesters have attributed to excessive force and intentional agitation by the Seattle police, Seattle Mayor Jenner Durkan tweeted, “I want to acknowledge that much of the violence and destruction, both here in Seattle and across the country, has been instigated and perpetuated by white men.”
She continued, “Thousands of peaceful demonstrators gathered to express their anger, grief, and frustration at the tragic killing of George Floyd. Their peaceful calls for reform were then co-opted by a small group who wanted only to sow chaos.”
Still, she refused to hold her police force, which is subject to federal oversight for patterns of excessive force and biased policing, accountable for tear gassing a largely peaceful crowd. Moreover, she offered a questionable excuse for officers having their badge numbers covered, one of whom maced a young girl.
As much as we can’t afford to let bad actors hijack our efforts to bring about justice and police accountability, we must also make sure not to let attention be diverted away from our message under the guise of condemning white instigators.