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Unanswered questions regarding current protests

Occasional Observer

Since May 26, most of the news on television has been about the nationwide demonstrations over police misconduct. It’s certainly a major story and both the print news and TV have tried to give it all the coverage it deserves. But in their urge to properly cover the various facets of the story, all of the news outlets have thus far overlooked two most significant questions: who’s responsible for the considerable looting and vandalism and why did the police “shoot to kill.”

The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis triggered the nationwide protests and the killing of Rayshard Brooks two weeks later in Atlanta, another instance of the use of grossly excessive force, raises most of the same questions. The evidence shown thus far suggests that the officers were overreacting to a drunk stopped in the drive-in line at a Wendy’s restaurant. They could have gotten the driver, Mr. Brooks, to move his car over into a proper parking space. Instead they got into an unnecessary, prolonged altercation with Brooks that turned into what seemed like a wrestling match. Brooks escaped the policemen’s clutches, got up, and started running away, carrying one of the cop’s tasers. The drunken Brooks fired the taser into the air and a second or two later was shot twice in the back by Officer Rolfe and within a few minutes was dead. Immediately after shooting Floyd, Rolfe said to his partner, Officer Devin Brosnan, “I got him,” walking up to Floyd and aggressively kicking him while his partner stood on Floyd’s shoulders. Neither officer made any attempt to aid the wounded man or to call for emergency medical assistance. 

According to the District Attorney, Officer Rolfe stood 18 feet away from Brooks when he shot him; were he shooting with his arm extended as one normally would, the distance would be only 16 feet. Presumably, Officer Rolfe was well trained in firing handguns. However, the use of a gun was clearly uncalled for in this situation since the “suspect” was only guilty of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest and was trying to put the incident behind him by fleeing the scene. 

Clearly Officer Rolfe knew how to shoot his pistol so as to just injure the “suspect” not kill him. Why did he shoot at all? Was it simply uncontrolled rage? Why have so many incidents of white policemen shooting and killing black “suspects” occurred in the last several years? Why has the press neglected to ask the question why so many police officers, skilled in firearms, are shooting to kill those suspected of minor offenses? 

Both the murders of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks by uniformed police officers set off huge waves of demonstrations. But as is often the case, orderly, peaceful demonstrations were accompanied by vandalism and looting. Typically, news stories on TV picture these destructive, illegal acts but do not cover them in any depth and fail to give the viewer much insight into who is responsible for them. Some people think that the vandalism and looting are simply the result of bands of opportunistic individuals, minor criminals who seized on the chaos of the situation as a cover to loot. 

In the case of the ransacked luxury shops in Los Angeles and New York, this seems likely. Fox News and President Trump have blamed a shadowy group of anarchists called Antifa without offering any evidence (which would not be easy since Antifa has no formal organization, membership rolls, officers or anything definite to indicate who they are). Some on the left have claimed that right wing groups such as The Proud Boys or the Boogaloo Movement infiltrated the protests to foment and carry out these acts of vandalism and looting in order to discredit the protestors and their cause. 

After the Floyd killing, a wide variety of incidents of vandalism and looting occurred in many cities across the country. After the killing of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, reporters noted that the Wendy’s restaurant where Brooks was murdered was set afire and badly damaged after the killing but have not reported on who the perpetrators were or why they chose to destroy a restaurant that was connected only geographically to the incident. In this case, the damage had nothing to do with the merchandise (no one rushed in, after breaking the windows, to pilfer hamburgers). But the reason for the vandalism remains unclear.

Doesn’t this situation call for some old-fashioned investigative reporting?

In mass protest situations where peaceful demonstrators greatly outnumber bad actors, a small, controlled amount of benign vigilantism might be welcome, where some law abiding folks made temporary citizen arrests, or at least provided careful, documented identification of the culprits to the police. 

Two important questions remain unanswered: why is police “shoot-to-kill” so freely permitted and who is responsible for the vandalism and looting that give the protests an undeserved bad name?

 

Architect and landscape designer Mac Gordon lives in Lakeville.  

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