In more than 140 American cities this past weekend, protesters blocked traffic and marched, demanding an end to racist police violence and justice for George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin last week. The police greeted the protesters with brutality.
Police shot rubber bullets and tear gas. They used extreme force against journalists, medics, and random bystanders. They rammed their vehicles into crowds, aimed their fire at people on balconies and porches, and shoved and tackled peaceful protestors to the ground. Some police made bigoted remarks to protestors as they confronted them, while others celebrated as they hit their targets with projectiles. The police blinded at least two people and killed at least one.
On Monday, President Trump told governors, “You have to dominate, if you don’t dominate you’re wasting your time. They’re going to run over you, you’re going to look like a bunch of jerks. You have to dominate… You’ve got to arrest people, you have to track people, you have to put them in jail for 10 years and you’ll never see this stuff again.” But the governors, red and blue alike, didn’t need prodding: four and a half thousand people have been arrested nationwide since the protests began.
Many blamed the turbulence on antifa, a term loosely referring to anti-fascist activists that has become closely linked in the minds of liberals and right-wingers with the myth of “outside agitators.” Trump vowed to designate antifa as a terrorist organization, despite not being an organization at all. The pledge is legally dubious, but it indicates a desire on the part of the president to implicate a wide range of left-wing organizing as engaging in terrorist activity.
In many cities across the country, looting and arson accompanied the uprisings. These activities have become the focus of much media coverage of the protests. By contrast — with the exception of the widespread violence against the press, which was rightfully denounced by many — the astonishing brutality of police officers on display in dozens of cities has often been overlooked, downplayed, or retroactively justified as a legitimate response by journalists. Few mainstream voices are connecting the general atmosphere of chaos at the protests to the provocative, escalating tactics of the police themselves — as well as the National Guard, who have been summoned by twenty-one states to respond to the protests with full military might.
The police violence we witnessed over the weekend was systematic and surreal.
In New York City, police pepper-sprayed a black man with his hands in the air in the face at point-blank range. In San Antonio, police shot rubber bullets directly at a bystander filming with his phone. In Las Vegas, the police rushed a crowd of peaceful protestors yelling “Grab anybody!” In Dallas, police shot a teenage woman who was coming home from the grocery store in the face with a rubber bullet. In Minneapolis, the National Guard fired paint canisters at residents on their front porches after yelling “Light them up!” In Los Angeles, Boston, New York City, and Lakeland, Ohio, police plowed into protestors with their cars.
In Chicago, a police officer brandished his baton at a protestor and called him a “bitch” and a “fucking faggot.” In Philadelphia, police tackled and knelt on a black man while calling him a “pussy.” In Dallas, the police shot a black man in the eye with a wooden round, injuring him seriously and leaving him bleeding profusely on the pavement. Seconds later the officers were heard laughing and singing “America, fuck yeah.” In New York City, a police officer flashed a racist right-wing hand symbol. In Cincinnati, police officers lowered an American flag and replaced it with a “thin blue line” flag.
In Atlanta, two black non-protestors were driving home when police pepper sprayed and tased them, dragged them from their cars, and arrested them. In Denver, police shot rubber bullets and tear gas canisters at passing cars; when one man stepped out of his car and told them that his pregnant girlfriend was inside, they opened fire on the car. In Austin, the police shot a pregnant black woman in the abdomen with a bean bag round. She doubled over on the ground and screamed, “My baby! My baby!”
In Minneapolis, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and other cities across America, the police aimed their fire at journalists who were clearly marked as and had verbally identified themselves as press. In Brooklyn, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia, the police attacked medics who announced themselves as medics, some of whom were in the process of tending to protesters’ wounds. In Columbus, police pepper sprayed Joyce Beatty, a black member of Congress, who was attempting to deescalate a confrontation. Police across the country demonstrated blatant racial bias in choosing who to arrest.
In New York City, Orlando, and Portland, Oregon police posed for sentimental photographs, kneeling before protestors in a press-friendly gesture of benevolence — before unleashing violence on protestors hours later. In Omaha, the police trampled over sitting protestors. In Erie, a police officer violently kicked a sitting protestor. In Salt Lake City, the police shoved an elderly man who walked with a cane and couldn’t hear commands to the ground. In New York City, a police officer walking by a woman shoved her so hard that when she fell it caused her to have a seizure.
In Washington, DC, the police fired tear gas canisters directly at the heads and faces of protestors on multiple occasions. Denver police fired rubber bullets directly into protestors’ faces, causing gruesome injuries. In La Mesa, California, a middle-aged black woman was shot in the face with a rubber bullet; the projectile lodged deep between her eyes, sending her to the ICU.
In Fort Wayne, Indiana, the police shot a white protestor in the eye with a tear gas canister. He is now blind in that eye. In Minneapolis, a photojournalist was shot in the eye with a rubber bullet. She is now blind in that eye.
In Louisville on Sunday, law enforcement shot and killed David “Yaya” McAtee, known around his neighborhood as “the BBQ man” because he made and sold barbecue there from a stand.
“Where he was killed is the neighborhood I grew up in. He was a fixture of the community,” says Robert LeVertis Bell, a candidate for Louisville Metro Council and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. The police or National Guard, it’s still unclear which, shot into the crowd after they received incoming fire, authorities say. But “if anybody shot at the police, it wasn’t him,” explains Bell. “He was just coming home from work.”
Louisville is the same city where Breonna Taylor was killed in March. Louisville police shot Taylor, a black woman, eight times in her own home while looking for drugs. People in Louisville have been protesting Taylor’s death since before the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which sparked uprisings across the country. McAtee’s death is yet another catalyst, adding fuel to the fire.
“There have been tons of protests across the city. I’ve been at several that were peaceful, and police out of nowhere just started attacking people,” says Bell. “Everything they’ve done at every turn seems to have escalated the conflict and the violence.”
Make no mistake, the police are the ones rioting. And they’re doing so with impunity.