“The message is being lost,” a law school classmate texted me. It was four days after the horrific death by suffocation of George Floyd. The night before, the country watched as the Third Precinct police station in Minneapolis went up in flames. The text message came in as cable news was showing protesters damaging CNN Arena in Atlanta. And to my friend—sharp as a tack when it comes to politics—this was the prelude to a 1968-style law-and-order beatdown of a popular uprising.
So I sent him a pair of videos from Twitter.
“Watch this video,” I prefaced one of an NYPD officer calling a woman a “stupid fucking bitch,” while shoving her headfirst into a curb, where she ended up having a seizure and concussion. “Then watch this video,” I said, sending another video of police in Louisville, Kentucky taking aim and deliberately shooting pepper bullets at a reporter and her cameraman while the pair were broadcasting live on air.
“They can’t help themselves from stepping on their own dicks,” I added. “The riots will be forgotten; the ongoing police criminality will remain.”
Turns out I was insufficiently cynical.
In the weeks since those first protests in Minneapolis, we have seen a mind-blowing orgy of violence from America’s police. Several hundred videos across dozens of jurisdictions—from big-city departments like Los Angeles, California to tiny St. Johnsbury, Vermont (estimated population: 7,603)—have livestreamed on Facebook, Periscope, and TikTok as they document police unleashing violent force on unarmed and peaceful protesters.
At least 20 people have had their eyes shot out by police using “non-lethal weapons,” including several journalists and at least one man who wasn’t even protesting—he was walking to his car after work, when police shot him drive-by style from the back of a departing police truck. States that activated their National Guard saw Guardsmen caught on video illegally ordering people off their own porch and then shooting into their home when they didn’t move fast enough. And that was when Guardsmen weren’t killing people, as they did to at least one renowned barbecue chef.
The elderly have been a frequent target of this unchecked police violence, too. Most publicized was the 75-year-old man pushed to the ground by Buffalo police officers with such force that nearby television crews recorded the grisly sound of his skull cracking on the pavement. The cops stood by as the man bled from his ear onto the ground, focused more on chasing away witnesses than providing first aid.
But the abuse extended even to bucolic Salt Lake City, Utah, as a SWAT team’s first act after hopping out of their vehicle was shoving an elderly man at a bus stop to the ground. It was caught on camera by a news crew across the street while they were broadcasting live on air.
Old and young, Black and white, protesting or not: the police have routinely assaulted citizens from all walks of life these past two weeks. And the result of those repeated abuses and usurpations by the government was similar to 1776: rebellion.
The riots long ago died off, but the protests exploded in size. When Donald Trump ordered the Secret Service to use chemical weapons on protesters so he could have a clear path to a photo op at a nearby church, they gassed one of the largest spontaneous demonstrations Washington, D.C. had ever seen (major protests are typically planned well in advance). Even more protesters showed up after the attack, and the number has grown since.
And it turns out the message is not getting lost after all. In poll after poll, unprecedented majorities of Americans—across racial, gender, and even political party lines—express support for the Black Lives Matter movement and believe reform is needed to address racial biases in policing. In contrast to identical questions asked after the Ferguson protests in 2014, the two-week swing in public opinion is literally unprecedented on any major issue.
Those dramatic opinion shifts have prompted overdue political changes. This past week the N.C. House of Representatives unanimously passed the Second Chance Act after holding it for 10 months since it passed the Senate. Lawmakers in Colorado passed a multi-faceted police reform bill (over the weekend!) that the Governor will be signing into law by the time you read this. And San Francisco announced they will be sending unarmed medical professionals to respond to non-criminal 911 calls—something that should be common sense everywhere, as roughly 90 percent of all 911 calls are for medical care, welfare checks, or similar non-criminal matters.
Those are just a few highlights of the police reforms enacted or under consideration throughout the country. When the tear-gas cloud clears, the President and his law-and-order supporters may be shocked to discover this has turned out less like 1968 and more like 1964.
T. GREG DOUCETTE is a local attorney, criminal justice reform advocate, and host of the podcast #Fsck ’Em All. Follow him on Twitter @greg_doucette.
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