Placing the blame for violent protests (SAFE)

Reading the News Journal (a part of the USA Today network) this morning, we were struck by the one-sided coverage of demonstrations that are currently occurring across this country in the wake of Minneapolis, Minnesota police actions that resulted in the 5/25/20 death of an unarmed black man. George Floyd was being arrested on suspicion of passing counterfeit currency, had been placed in handcuffs, and did not appear (from the videos that have been shown) to be resisting arrest.

The general thrust was to focus on the feelings of the poor and underprivileged, be cautious in addressing the violence that has occurred in many of the protests, and blame the failures to keep the situation in check on the US president versus state and local leaders who traditionally are the first line of defense in maintaining law and order. Here’s a synopsis of the relevant content.

A. George Floyd’s last words should haunt us all, Mitch Albom (a columnist for the Detroit Free Press) – The arrest that went bad is reprised, with the following description: An officer “put his knee of the neck of an unarmed black man and left it there [for nearly nine minutes] until the man expired.” Floyd vainly pleaded for his life. His last words: “I can’t breathe – Please, the knee in my neck – My stomach hurts. My neck hurts, everything hurts – Don’t kill me – Mama!”

The natural reaction to such a story is revulsion, which has been reinforced by the videos of the action that have been aired. It doesn’t necessarily follow, however, that this was a case of “death by police,” which for “black people in this country is too often over nothing,” leaving sympathizers with no choice other than to go to the streets in a way that may lead to violence.

Wouldn’t it have been relevant to point out that the four police officers involved were fired within hours, that the officer who applied the chokehold has since been arrested on murder charges, and that the other three officers may also be prosecuted? [the other three officers have now been charged for aiding and abetting.]

B. Frustration boiled over, protests turned violent; Riots may stem from unresolved issues, unheard voices, Esteban Parra and Sarah Gammard – This front page story covers the protests that ensued in Wilmington, Delaware, including a large photo of a crowd watching a blazing dumpster. The photo was taken in the 900 block of Orange Street in an area where protestors broke into various businesses on Saturday night, April 30, and did an unspecified amount of damage.

The story speculates that the rioting resulted from the frustration of “people who are unemployed, who’ve lost their belief in education, who are afraid of being arrested or killed by a police officer because of their skin color,” and in general believe that no one is listening to them.

Various political leaders responded to the area, including presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, and their observations are reported. The general thrust is that the conversations were “uncomfortable,” and none of the leaders is reported to have expressed concern about the resort to violence as opposed to demonstrating empathy for the protestors.

For example, DE Sen. Darius Brown (D-Wilmington) is quoted about the need to address systematic [sic] issues in a real way,” e.g., talk about racism, prejudice, and different racial backgrounds. He would reportedly favor a focus on making changes happen versus “talking about rioting and looting” because “we need our outcomes.”

When will change happen? According to DE Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown (D-New Castle), not until “white communities are uncomfortable with oppression against communities of color and decide to drive change.” In other words, the oppressed classes aren’t responsible for finding ways to help themselves. (This overlooks the possibility, all too likely in our view, that programs to support the communities in question tend to preserve them in a subservient status versus helping them.)

Economic loss from the violence? A white restaurant owner is quoted that there’s no alternative because “every form of peaceful protest” has failed, and “at some point that anger and rage and frustration is going to boil over.” Surely one shouldn’t “value the loss of property more than the . . . loss of life.”

The question of whether the authorities should have taken action to keep the situation from spiraling out of control is not addressed.

C. Biden says he will create oversight board for police as president, Meredith Newman – Venturing forth for his first campaign event since March, Joe Biden met with a number of Black community leaders at Bethel AME Church in Wilmington. He committed to create a police oversight board in the first 100 days of his presidency, and also said “I don’t expect anything from the black community.” One of the points brought up by the audience was that Biden should name a black woman as his vice-presidential running mate, e.g., Stacy Abrams.

Dover under curfew indefinitely after looting, Brandon Holveck – Protestors gathered peacefully at Legislative Hall on Sunday afternoon. They marched through the city, and eventually got on Route 13 and as the sun started to set began looting stores in the Dover Mall. A 9:00 PM curfew was declared, to remain in effect indefinitely. There are various exceptions to the curfew, however, and also the understanding was that people would be asked to comply with it voluntarily.

E. National Guard now in Philadelphia, Jeff Neiberg – On Monday, a half dozen military vehicles were deployed along John F. Kennedy Boulevard, the same location where multiple police vehicles had been set ablaze two days earlier. More than 400 people had been arrested over the weekend, and the city was planning to enforce a 6:00 PM curfew. The issue on everyone’s mind: “what’s next?”

F. Trump slams governors, urges stricter crackdown, Jonathan Lemire, et al., AP – On Monday, there was a video teleconference of the nation’s governors with the president and federal law enforcement and national security officials. He read them the riot act for not responding more vigorously to violent protests, telling them that most of them were “weak” and needed to call up the National Guard and start arresting people.

There doesn’t seem to be any coverage of two national speeches that the president has given recently, one on Sunday afternoon at the JFK Space Flight Center in Florida, and another on early Monday evening at the White House (Rose Garden). Doesn’t the USA network consider such events newsworthy?

Carney calls Trump’s words complete surprise, Meredith Newman – The Monday teleconference of the nation’s governors with the president features pointed criticism by the president of the state efforts to control the violent demonstrations. This account is related from the standpoint of DE Gov. John Carney. The tone of the remarks was harsh, according to Carney, and he described it as a rant about using the national guard to dominate the streets rather than being perceived as weak. “Not many, frankly, governors spoke up,” Carney added.

The governor has apparently had conversations with the City and State police about the possible need to call up the National Guard, but to date has not decided to take this step. About a dozen businesses in Wilmington were damaged by fire or looted on Saturday.

H. Stop attacking journalists covering protests, Maribel Wadsworth et al of USA today – This column complains of multiple incidents in which journalists who had their press credentials available were subjected to pepper spray, arrested, or harassed by police officers at demonstrations in various locations around the country, e.g., Minneapolis, Detroit, Louisville, New York, etc. “This is unacceptable,” because “reporters and photographers are there to record the truth” for the benefit of the public. “We must be able to do our jobs safely.” But don’t get the idea that we are asking for special treatment, because it is equally outrageous when peaceful protestors are met with this level of force.

I. Accountability needed after demonstrations, Robert Popiiti Sr. (Wilmington) – This letter writer laments the looting of businesses that he has fond memories of patronizing over the years, notably Al’s Sporting Goods where his father bought him his first baseball glove and basketball in the 1960s. Why weren’t the police empowered to protect this and other businesses? “If I were thinking of opening a business in Wilmington, I would question the mayor and police chief’s ability to protect my business.” Looting is a crime. If the city doesn’t have enough officers, call in the state police and/or National Guard. Remember what a nice job the National Guard did after the MLK assassination riots in 1968-1969. Peaceful demonstrations are fine, of course, but “as is often the case, far-left groups and radicals hijack these worth causes, and wreak havoc and destruction.” It’s also not the fault of rank and file police officers, the managers are letting us down.

J. Justice for all, Michael Stanek (Wilmington) – This letter writer agrees that George Floyd’s death was a travesty, and all who took part in his death should be punished to the full extent of the law. But that being said, he’s hoping for a follow-up story about the arrest and prosecution of the violent protestors and looters. ALL LIVES MATTER.


As an extension of the foregoing recap, we considered coverage re the nationwide protests in the 6/3/20 issue of the News Journal, with the following results:

Negotiations, restraint and little intervention, Jeanne Kuang & Karl Baker - Lead-in reprises events on Saturday night, quoting several protest leaders in Wilmington that face-to-face negotiations with police helped keep the situation from escalating into violence on either side until nightfall, after which "the peaceful protest eventually morphed into one punctuated by looting in the city's downtown." Police were largely restrained - even at night - versus deploying tear gas and rubber bullets such as were used in some other locations around the country. And protestors credited police with allowing them to control their own crowd for the most part and negotiate an end to more heated confrontations. However, Wilmington Police Chief Robert Tracy did not make himself available for an interview despite requests that he do so to Mayor Mike Purzycki's office.

Edward Maguire, an Arizona State University criminologist, offered a series of observations supporting the negotiating/ conciliatory approach that was generally followed. He did, however, endorse "very targeted arrests" of those engaging in looting or other violent acts "while simultaneously communicating to the rest of the crowd that's behaving lawfully" that "you guys are good."

After looting activity intensified in the Shipley Street area, several business owners complained that police should have intervened or done something to demonstrate more of a police presence. One of the protestors who had been interviewed said he went home as night fell. HIs explanation, reportedly, was that he didn't want to take part in vandalizing businesses
[suggesting foreknowledge?] but did not judge others who stayed given "the crowd's outrage over police brutality." He specifically endorsed the police tactics used, saying "you can't fight violence with more violence. It just creates more turmoil."

Carney: Wilmington protestors inciting violence "not from here," Jeanne Kuang - Citing confidential "police intelligence," DE Governor John Carney blamed out-of-state actors, including one individual from the state of Washington, for the violence and looting that took place on Saturday night. There are reportedly ongoing investigations in process. Of the four people who were arrested, however, all were said to be from Wilmington.

In Carney's words, the bad actors "just want anarchy and lawlessness, and they want to provoke the police into an altercation and they suck up folks locally with the rage. It's heartbreaking, frankly, and infuriating." Similar behavior has cropped up in other areas, and was cited by AG William Barr in remarks on Saturday (May 30).

Philly police commissioner defends tear gas - Tear gas was used to disperse protestors who were blocking traffic on an interstate highway through the downtown area during the evening rush hour. Rubber bullets have been fired as well. Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw [that's her name] said there would be a thorough investigation of all uses of force. Over a several day period, there had been 696 arrests on various charges, including failure to disperse and violating the curfew that had been set, and more than 25 police officers wounded.

At the press conference, Mayor Jim Kenney condemned "armed vigilantes" armed with baseball bats who showed up on Monday night near a police station. He said he was "deeply troubled" by officers who took pictures with these individuals and gave them high fives.

9 p.m. curfew remains in effect, Brandon Holveck - At a press conference, Dover officials commented on the Sunday night protests that turned violent. Previously reported details [Item D, supra] are rehashed. Curfew from 9:00 PM to 7:00 AM will remain in effect indefinitely. Big picture of protestors "taunt[ing] the police" on US 13 in front of Delaware State Police HQ.

Trump reprises image as get-tough president, John Fritze & David Jackson - Curing a previous lapse in coverage, this story provides an update on President Trump's statements and actions re the nationwide protests.

"Over the weekend," he acknowledged the pain felt by millions of Americans [about the police treatment and death of George Floyd] and called for "healing, not hatred." This sums up considerably more extensive comments in a speech from the JFK Manned Space Flight Center in Florida on Saturday afternoon (May 30).

Then on Monday (June 1), "as peaceful protestors were cleared from a park near the White House, the president stood in the Rose Garden, described himself as 'your president of law and order' and demanded local officials 'dominate the streets' - or else."

After this, Trump reportedly "strolled though the park to stand outside a historic church vandalized the night before." Critics, including some Republicans [e.g. Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska], described the event as a 'photo-op' and a 'stunt.' Democrats were even more critical, e.g., Sen. Ron Wyden described the president's remarks as a "fascist speech" that verged on a "declaration of war" against American citizens.

There is a photo of President Trump on his way back to the White House, passing a phalanx of about a dozen police officers with riot helmets and shields. This selective shot is not representative of how the scene looked on TV as viewers watched the president walking over, standing outside the church with other officials, being pictured holding up a bible, and then making his way back. The roundtrip walk was about ten minutes. Dusk was falling, the police presence was much less obvious, and there were various unidentified persons moving through the park.

There is also a companion story entitled "Shrine visit rankles archbishop" re a visit of the president and first lady to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine on Tuesday. Washington Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory is quoted (in a statement issued before the couple arrived) that "I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated." Also quoted was Episcopal Bishop Mariann Budde, who denounced the use of force the previous evening to clear the way for the president to visit the fire-damaged St. John's Episcopal Church for a "photo opportunity."

In sum, the thrust of this coverage is to put the president's words and actions in the worst possible light.

Biden's reply: "I won't traffic in fear," Rebecca Morin - At a speech at Philadelphia City Hall on Tuesday (June 2), Biden seized on one of the president's tweets ("when the looting starts, the shooting starts") as proof that Trump is a racist who is "part of the problem." He also claimed that tear gas was used to clear protestors out of Lafayette Park, and that Trump should read the bible instead of lifting it for a photo. He would release a broader agenda to address racial inequities in coming weeks, said Biden, adding that the solution of this problem is "going to take the work of a generation."

Katrina Pierson of the Trump campaign is quoted that Biden has "used the politics of social division when that suited his needs, and he is doing it again." She also characterized Trump's statements and calls for action as constructive.

Reporters must not be detained for doing job - As recapped in this editorial, journalists have had unfavorable interactions with the police around the country, in violation of their constitutional rights. And while journalists don't condone violence or looting, "we also don't condone aggressive police tactics that cross the line and become brutality." This pitch largely overlaps a previous column, item H.

Biden needs Harris or Demings as vice president, Jill Lawrence - What better way for Biden to show that he's not a racist than to not only pick a woman as his vice-presidential running mate, as previously committed, but choose a black woman. Sen. Kamala Harris (CA) and Rep. Val Demings (FL) both have law enforcement credentials on their resume, and are characteristically outspoken. Pick one of them for VP and announce that they will be the task leader for implementing your program to address systemic inequity in law enforcement; it would be a bit like President Nixon's decision to go to China.

Police need to remove the cone of silence, Robert Hicks (Newark) - To achieve better policing, do something about the "blue code" that police officers stick together when someone complains of their behavior. Such complaints must be taken seriously and dealt with appropriately. Good point, and it's not necessarily just about racial attitudes either, so long as the review of complaints is driven by the facts versus by anti-cop sentiment.

Trump's lack of leadership stuns, William Denning (Lewes) - The writer suggests that meaningful protestors should not be upstaged by violent rioters and says the president's answer is to exploit this "wedge issue" in a bid to hold on to presidential power. He has no empathy for the pain and won't listen to the reasonable protestors, so we're going to relive the civil rights turmoil of the 1960s. That time the turmoil was necessary, this time it isn't. OK, what's the writer's solution for preventing the rioters from co-opting the action?

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