On the weekend of August 8, a black man was shot by the Chicago Police Department on Chicago’s Southside. A rumor circulated quickly that the suspect was an unarmed 15 year old boy, while the facts as established by the police was that the suspect was a 20 year old man. Furthermore the police say that the 20 year old man shot at police first, and the police responded appropriately.
There’s a high amount of distrust between the police and black citizens nationwide in our country right now, and Chicago is no exception. The confusion about the specificity of what transpired was obfuscated by the events that transpired next. Caravans of black citizens laid siege to the Magnificent Mile in downtown Chicago. Dozens, if not scores of stores, were looted. Unbeknown to most, as the national media coverage was scant, stores throughout the city were looted on the South and West sides.
Black Lives Matter representative Ariel Atkins responded to the reaction, but her words may have set the movement back. As reported by the NYPost Atkins said that the looting was justified as reparations. You can hear her words as reported by FoxNews and she feels completely justified by invoking a weak argument about stores being compensated by insurance, but it didn’t stop there.
She went on to say, “The whole idea of criminality is based on racism anyway, because criminality is punishing people for things that they have needed to do to survive or just the way that society has affected them with white supremacist BS.”
Her statement has so many fallacies that it’s difficult to know where to start. Atkins has concluded that all white people are racist, all business owners are rich, and all businesses will be able to easily recover with compensation from their insurance companies. However, she dismisses the same logical fallacy that white people commit when they say that all black people are criminals by asserting that the idea of criminality itself is racist.
On Friday August 14th The Buchanan and Seaton Show discussed the issue of BLM and looting in Chicago, and the root causes of what is transporting right now throughout the country’s race relations. While I don’t usually share individual calls from the show, this one made an impression on me. Full disclosure this caller and I attended high school together, but we haven’t seen each other in almost thirty years. His call is as follows.
David followed up his call with the following that he wrote and sent to me:
Allies and Enemies – my thoughts on #BlackLivesMatter.
I called into a radio talk show for the first-time last night. My former classmate David Seaton co-hosts the Buchanan and Seaton Show on WVON 1690 AM in Chicago, and I decided to listen in after I read about a segment inviting black Trump supporters to call in and explain why they support Trump. Last night the hosts were discussing the looting in Chicago that occurred after police shot and killed a black suspect. They also played a short recording of a BLM activist describing the looting as justifiable and necessary.
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard justification for looting. I don’t think it’s is a good idea for two reasons:
- It’s counterproductive – Looting forms new enemies and alienates potential allies.
- It’s unjustifiable –Supporting injustice while demanding justice is hypocritical.
I was introduced to the Black Lives Matter movement in the fall of 2012 while taking an EMT course. The controversy around the death of Trayvon Martin was in full swing during the election cycle of Obama’s second term. Taking the course with me was Dom, a young black man who often discussed his views with me on Martin’s death, racial injustice, and other issues important to him. Dom found an ally because I understood his point of view and could relate to the issues as well as the anger and frustration he felt.
When #BlackLivesMatter started trending, with the backlash from those who felt threatened or didn’t understand it, I would advocate for the cause. In some cases I would advocate amongst supportive coworkers and friends to amplify and reinforce the need to address racial disparities in the law and how it’s applied to the African-American community. Other times, I found myself in discussions that ranged from casually dismissive to aggressively opposed to BLM where I was the only one willing to speak up. By finding a bit of common ground or asking uncomfortable questions I could usually get at least one person to acknowledge that the BLM movement had a valid point. I haven’t seen Dom since 2012; however, for the last 8 years I’ve remained allied to the cause he brought to my attention, advocating in both friendly and uncomfortable situations because we share the same concerns. I believe I’ve made additional allies since then or and caused others to reconsider racial justice in America and think about their unconscious biases.
When people loot or riot, they create enemies. A Gucci store in the Chicago business district may belong to a local franchise owner who dreamed for years of owning her own high fashion business. Breaking windows and stealing merchandise may very well destroy her dream. Even if it’s a corporate store with adequate insurance, a store manager still must clean up the mess, pay higher premiums, make up for lost revenue, and answer to leadership. In either case, the looters have made enemies that will remember the injustice forced upon them long after the stolen Gucci purse has been forgotten and thrown in the garbage.
When police engage in unprofessional or unjust conduct, they also create enemies. I’ve patched up a few suspects who were roughed up in custody. I never saw what happened, but the story of how the suspect ‘tripped’ or ‘walked into a brick wall’ was obviously false. What struck me was the burning anger expressed by the victim juxtaposed with the casual indifference of the police officer playing Candy Crush on his phone while I administered first aid and stopped the bleeding. The officer made an enemy that will remember the injustice forced upon him long after the officers involved have forgotten and finished their paperwork on the arrest.
Enemies don’t listen to each other. Enemies hinder progress because they’re hurdles to overcome. In both of my examples above, the offenders likely didn’t think about the long-term consequences of their actions. For example, the looters may not have considered how business owners contribute to the local economy and how that benefits everyone. The officer probably didn’t consider having bitter enemies of law enforcement in the community makes the job harder and more dangerous for police everywhere. We have to move on from a ‘them against us’ mentality to ‘we are all in this together.’
One of the guests said that he didn’t want allies who would abandon the cause because of looting. I get the point; however, I don’t agree with that either. Not everyone is going to care about these issues in the same way. You may need a perfect ally during a protest because you want people who are willing to face adversity, fight with you, and possibly get tear gassed or arrested. That will bring attention to the cause; however, that attention is wasted if you don’t seize the opportunity to form alliances and build a broader coalition.
The host asked me if looting is not okay then what did I think was the correct way to protest? I don’t have a simple answer and I don’t think there is a ‘correct’ way to protest. My response is that people will decide for themselves; however, they should consider their answers to the following questions:
- Am I well-informed, and have I considered all the information available to me?
- Is what I’m planning to do effective? Will it help achieve my goal?
- Am I prepared to accept the consequences of my actions?
- If I had to explain my actions to my mother, what would she think?
- What can possibly go wrong?
The battle for justice first occurs in the hearts and minds of people. Victory is achieved in the courtroom and in legislative chambers. Therefore, #BlackLivesMatter needs allies who will speak up, vote in support of the cause, and reject candidates and proposed legislation in opposition.
I was struck after reading his thoughts. Which path will lead black people and this country to the destination that we seek? Should black people loot stores and engage in antisocial behavior with the expectation of no consequences, or should we form alliances with like minded people like my high school friend David?
Ariel Atkins and people like her have every right to feel the way that they do (I feel like her sometimes), but I remember that, and as much as I hate to write this, “when they go low we go high”. I have written about reparations, black revolution, and even when riots are justified. We have to be cognizant of the fact that if we respond viscerally and tactically, then the response will be visceral and tactical. If our goal is to finally lay to rest the vestiges of racial based subjugation, then we must be strategic and thoughtful. That includes forming alliances with groups who despite their outward appearance agree with our goals and identify with our struggles. The ultimate irony is that when we don’t identify past the exterior, we are guilty of the same transgressions that we assert against the majority. Our democracy is based on one rule: 50% + 1 wins. Our victory is one of addition, and wanton looting subtracts from our cause.
I’m interested in reading your thoughts. Should black people attempt to achieve our goals alone? Do we need alliances to get what we want? Does Ariel Atkins have a point?