I understand that businesses are devastated by the damage that’s been done in an already painful time, but I also recognize the importance of the words of Dr. King who urged us to listen in times like this. In his words, a riot is the language of the unheard. I am trying to do my part to listen to those voices right now, and to be of service where I can from my position of privilege.
I also think we need to be capable of nuance right now as we evaluate the events of this week. There are numerous eyewitness accounts across the country of outsiders with unclear motives smashing windows, turning peaceful demonstrations honoring the life of George Floyd into violent clashes with police. And numerous other accounts of police initiating violence, using tear gas and rubber bullets on journalists and peaceful demonstrators and thereby stoking the flames that they ignited themselves with decades of brutality in our black and brown communities. As a factual matter, it is by no means clear that demonstrators honoring George Floyd are primarily responsible for the destruction and violence we’re seeing in our cities right now.
But more importantly, if you find yourself more outraged at the damage to property this week than the ongoing, systemic slaughter of our black and brown brothers and sisters in our streets by law enforcement and white vigilantes, then I would urge you to suspend your outrage in this important moment and take the time to listen to these voices of the unheard. Consider not only the long history of slavery, Jim Crow, and mass incarceration, but the present day reality of life in America for black and brown members of our communities, where parents wake up in fear for the safety of their children every single day of their lives. Think of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Botham Jean, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and countless others only in our immediate recent memory.
The problem of systemic racism in America is real and its roots are deep. If there has ever been a time for governments and law enforcement to take a step back, show restraint, and take the time to listen to these voices of the unheard, it is now. As a white person who can’t possibly understand the anger and fear that families and communities of color must feel right now, I will try to do the same.
– Ben Hiltzheimer