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AMERICANS RALLY AROUND A RIGHTEOUS CAUSE


“These are revolutionary times,” Bernice King, daughter of MLK, said during a CNN interview on Sunday, 6/7, looking back on 12 days of tumult following the murder of George Floyd. Captured on videotape, the horrific incident shocked a nation already reeling from a three-month lockdown.

In Minneapolis, Washington, New York, Los Angeles and cities across the U.S., the reaction to images of Derek Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck was swift, fueled by a collective rage. The final days of May were marked by fires and looting, as protests—infiltrated by bad actors with a variety of motives—turned into riots, televised in real time and feverishly documented on social media.

But following a weekend of conflagration, the rallies and marches have become more peaceful, focused and widespread, while they’ve continued to grow in size and scale. Efforts by local and federal authorities to disperse the growing crowds have only caused the protesters to become more resolute, holding aloft countless signs emblazoned with the words “BLACK LIVES MATTER” and “I CAN’T BREATHE.”

In D.C. on Monday, 6/1, Attorney General Bill Barr martialed federal forces to disperse a peaceful crowd that had gathered outside the White House with tear gas, mounted police and helicopters, clearing a path for Trump to have his photo op outside St. John’s Church, bible held awkwardly aloft, inspiring countless derisive memes. Subsequently, Trump finally got his long-desired wall—around the White House—which protesters proceeded to decorate. Even more emphatically, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered the street leading to the White house painted with the words “BLACK LIVES MATTER” and renamed Lafayette Square Black Lives Matter Plaza. Christo would have approved.

Interviewed on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on 6/8, Bowser described the striking visual statement as “a representation of an expression of our saying no, but also identifying and claiming a part of our city that had been taken over by federal forces to make it a place for healing, strategizing protest and redress, which is the greatest statement that we can make as Americans and black Americans who want to be recognized for human beings and have our lives matter.”

As in 1968 and 1992, this revolution is being televised, but unlike previous sociopolitical movements, it’s also playing out on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and that added dimension has exponentially accelerated its growth. In L.A. on Sunday, a rally organized by Black Lives Matter-L.A., Build Power and YG, who spread the word on social media, drew a crowd estimated at 50,000, the most massive in a half century.

Sunday was the 11th consecutive day of Black Lives Matter protests in New York—and the first without confrontations between police and protesters. As on other days, marches took place in all five boroughs, the larger ones originating in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and covered several miles. A morning rally in Union Square, for example, moved 60 blocks north into the middle of Central Park and eventually down to Columbus Circle at 59th St. without incident. Police stood watch as protesters peacefully moved through the streets.

It was a marked change from  nightly exchanges between police and protesters after the 8pm curfew had passed, prompting police to break up crowds with force and arrests. Complaints from marchers during the week were steady and consistent—officers did not wear masks or gloves during arrests; police corralled crowds with no exit points, forcing them to stay in place and violate the curfew; and a lack of differentiation being made between peaceful protests and well-organized theft rings taking advantage of mayhem from the Bronx to Soho.

Sunday, with the curfew lifted and the city preparing to enter phase one of reopening today, the protesters had targets beyond the memory or George Floyd and Breonna TaylorTrump and Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose approach to the coronavirus and the overreach of hostile police during physical encounters were reason for his ouster. Late in the day, de Blasio attempted to take the target off his back by pledging to divert a portion of the NYPD’s $6b budget toward increasing youth and social services.

After the Hollywood rally, YG posted a statement. “For anyone out there talking I don’t question your advocacy and don’t think you should question mine,” it read in part. “The real story here is me and Black Lives Matter brought out 50,000 people today to peacefully protest and unite for change. I wanted to document that so when they hear this song [‘FTP’] and think we are reckless and violent they see a peaceful protest of all different people coming together for a common cause. That is history. That is breaking down these stereotypes on our people and our neighborhoods.

“All of us protesting are on the same side here. Instead of questioning each other’s activism, we should be directing that energy at the cops and the government and helping to create the change we want to see. Stay focused and stop that social media judgment without knowing facts and hurting a cause we all a part of. We got a real enemy and it ain’t each other.”

Meanwhile, in Minneapolis, a veto-proof majority of City Council members announced their commitment to disbanding the city’s police department. 

“We’re here because we hear you,” City Council President Lisa Bender said Sunday. “We are here today because George Floyd was killed by the Minneapolis Police. We are here because, here in Minneapolis and in cities across the United States, it is clear that our existing system of policing and public safety is not keeping our communities safe. Our efforts at incremental reform have failed. Period.”

Speaking to The New York Times late last week, City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who represents South L.A., said, “I think the protests are amazing. I never dreamed I would walk up to crowds full of white people, nonblack people screaming, ‘Black lives matter.’ It’s a uniquely American moment. For the generation of people for whom this is their first big social moment, this is Boston Tea Party-level. This is the Stonewall Riot-level. The world’s not going to be the same after this. And it’s great to see people coming to their power to take the mantle.”

At last, actual change seems to be in the air. We are watching history unfold in real time—on our TVs, devices and the streets of our cities.

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