Rights, Reality and Rioting

Like many Americans, I am saddened to see so much division manifesting itself right before our very eyes all over the country.

The spark that lit the fuse was, of course, the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.  Almost instantly, protests began and many legitimate grievances were aired. No one can honestly deny the claims by many in the black community about past injustices and discrimination; it existed, it was institutionalized…and it was wrong. Does such racism and bias exist today? I can’t honestly deny that either—we all know it does. The question today for us is: what can we do going forward?

Are riots the answer? While I can understand anger and outrage,  destruction of property, taking over buildings, looting and chaos isn’t the answer. When businesses are destroyed and property is wrecked at random, to supposedly make a point, I think that point is lost in the ensuing damage.  And, I say this about all riots, not just ones dealing with racial injustice: I have never understood why, for example, fans start fires and destroy entire city blocks after their favorite team has won a national championship. It’s ridiculous and barbaric. 

It should be made clear there is a significant difference between a protest and a riot, even though I sometimes believe the media tries to blur that line in order to get higher ratings. For example, we here in the Delta and across the state of Mississippi have held peaceful expressions of protest where  concerned citizens walked side-by-side with members of law enforcement without rancor. This is a perfect example of our right to free speech. My free speech, however, ends at your property line. That’s why I cannot sanction or support destruction at any level. Our country is already going through Depression-like economic conditions due to the Coronavirus and the widespread damage of property and businesses in too many of our larger cities will only add fuel to the fire—literally. 

I think it is a testament to how far we have come in Mississippi—always the butt of jokes and labeled the most racist state in the union by armchair intellectuals—that our protests and demonstrations have been peaceful. Black and white citizens have come together and exercised their freedoms in a joint cause. Because equality is a joint cause—we actually are all in this together.

If you’re reading this now, you probably own or work at a business. The free market, to my mind, is the great equalizer, the color-blind engine of fairness, profit and even exchange. In business, black and white takes a backseat to green and that’s a positive thing. This is why I believe economic growth and opportunity are a major part of the cure for any racism that still exists in our nation. We can all agree, whatever our race, creed or color, that good business is good for everyone. To see businesses destroyed in the name of equality strikes me as not only bizarre, but also disastrous and dangerous. Such wanton acts of violence will only make any problems that exist in a given community much worse. 

What happened to George Floyd was wrong—terribly wrong. Period. And the officers responsible for that heinous act are being held accountable as they should be. But, it is imperative that we not indict a whole profession by the terrible actions of one of its members or even a dozen or more. Should police officers be held accountable for their actions? Absolutely. As should we all, regardless of our profession. Will wholesale changes need to be made from here on out when it comes to policing and police tactics and protocol? Probably so. However, calls to defund police departments or eliminate them altogether is nothing short of lunacy. Our law enforcement members—black and white—are the first line of defense between order and anarchy in a democracy. Believe me, if we whittle down the resources because of our protectors just to placate some of the more radical voices crying for justice right now, we will be asking for very serious trouble in the future. 

My hope is that if changes are to be made, they will be done so calmly in the spirit of unity.  We are, after all, ONE and our blood is all red. We could not help the color of our skin we were born with—we can only control and change the content of our minds. Let us do just that, work together and restore justice, peace and fairplay for everyone in the days and years ahead.