Stephen Gottlieb: What About Those Demonstrations? | WAMC

Stephen Gottlieb: What About Those Demonstrations?

Sep 1, 2020

The Black Lives Matter movement is being waylaid by provocateurs and others who want to use the opportunity to loot stores or, as one hoodlum did, shoot people on camera and then, apparently craving notoriety, tried to give himself up to police who ignored him because he’s white and they were convinced all bad things are black.[1]

That’s part of the reason Martin Luther King was so determined that his people be completely nonviolent. People like John Lewis had their heads cracked. Four little Black girls were blown up in their church. Emmet Til and lots of others were murdered, including white people working in solidarity with the African-American population struggling for freedom. How many murders, how many lynchings does it take to convince people that the African-Americans were innocent victims, not perpetrators.

Thousands of people were killed and lynched. Do we have to go through that again. We’re taught the police are brave. How brave do you have to be to shoot people in the back? How brave do you have to be to shoot a woman asleep in her bed, or a man putting his key in his door, or keep a knee on a man’s throat as he dies? None of them were armed. But seven shots paralyzed Jacob Blake. 41 shots killed Amadou Diallo – who never had a chance or a weapon. Abner Louima was attacked and sexually brutalized by police. When will it be enough? When will it ever stop?

We’re told there are good cops, that most cops are good cops. I’d be delighted if they’d act the part, if they’d stop the bad ones from committing murder, if they’d participate in drumming people like that out of the force. One former policeman in our area came here to live because he had exposed massive corruption in the New York City Police Department and, regardless of those supposedly good cops, cops drove him out of town, initially by attempted murder. Where are those good cops when we need them?[2]

Where people aren’t allowed to protest in peace, they may have to find a different way to protect themselves while making their point. Perhaps they’d do better putting Black Lives Matter t-shirts on everyone and circulating on busy streets without congregating or waving signs. Perhaps they’d do better using the time working on the election. Do Trump, and other bigots, with and without guns, have to be driven out of power, before it’s possible to deal with the real violence? There’s what’s called a ground game to be fought to win this election – letters, calls, information, rides – lots of organizations are working on it and lots of people are trying to help out. People of color need friends in high places to get what they deserve. Martin Luther King was in league with President Johnson – King was the greater man but Johnson had the power. Perhaps the demonstrators would do better to skip the streets and take the White House. Perhaps that would deny Trump and the hoodlums who support him anything to scare people with. Perhaps going for votes would outfox them and put the truly violent elements in our society in their cages.

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[1] CBSN, Chicago, reported: “As for Rittenhouse showing up with his hands in the air, appearing to turn himself in, the sheriff said officers did not realize what he was trying to do.” https://chicago.cbslocal.com/2020/08/26/kenosha-shooting-video-shows-suspected-gunman-kyle-rittenhouse-being-allowed-to-leave-scene/.

[2] The film, Serpico, was based on his experience.

Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.

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