Hands up

Protesting shooting death: is it the right response?

By Sarah Sidlow

Charlotte, North Carolina, erupted last week in response to the shooting death of a black man outside an apartment complex.

Keith Lamont Scott was fatally shot by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department officer who believed he was armed. Detectives have said they recovered a firearm Scott was holding during the shooting, but police have not yet identified the make and model. Scott’s daughter has a different story: her father was unarmed and reading a book in his car, waiting for a school bus to drop off his son when police tasered and shot him four times. She also added Scott was disabled.

In the protests that followed, at least two dozen people were injured. The protests began peacefully, with some chanting, “black lives matter” and “hands up, don’t shoot.” But as the activity extended into the night, news reports and social media began showing images of police in riot gear firing tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators. People were smashing the windows of police cars. The next morning, protesters shut down traffic on Interstate 85. As protesters opened up the backs of tractor trailers, took out boxes, and set them on fire, police used flash grenades to break up the crowd.

Police said 12 officers were injured during the first demonstrations, one of them hit in the face with a rock. At least 11 people were taken from the demonstrations and treated for non-life threatening injuries.

A Washington Post database tracking fatal officer-involved shootings reports Scott is one of at least 702 people who have been fatally shot by police so far this year at the time of his death—163 of them have been black. Scott’s shooting comes just a day after police in Tulsa, Oklahoma, released video of an officer shooting and killing an unarmed black man getting out of a stalled SUV.

Terence Crutcher, 40, was standing on the side of the road by the stalled vehicle when officers arrived and ordered him to show his hands. Police report he was tasered and shot after refusing to obey officers’ commands. But the video—taken from an overhead helicopter—shows Crutcher walking toward his car with his hands in the air. Police said they didn’t find any weapon in the car, but they did find PCP, though the police were dispatched on a traffic-related call.

In Tulsa, as in Charlotte, protests followed. Around 200 protesters gathered outside the Tulsa Police Department, many of them chanting, “Fire Betty.” But that’s where the similarities end. There are no reports out of Tulsa talking about tear gas, flash grenades, stolen property, or stalled highway traffic.

Moreover, in both Charlotte and Tulsa, all the protesting in the world won’t bring back Scott and Crutcher, make their families whole, or restore a sense of security in their communities. So, is protesting an appropriate response?

It’s certainly not uncommon for protests—violent or otherwise—to erupt after a community is touched by tragedy or injustice. Many argue that our nation was founded on protest—a uniquely American ideal of taking a stand in an effort to raise awareness (thank you, freedom of press) or act against tyranny. In fact, recent protests in Flint, Michigan, brought much needed attention to their water-crisis-by-way-of-government-corruption.

But others argue that risking more lives to protest the loss of a life isn’t a logical process. Instead, why not take a different approach, like becoming involved in local government or holding town hall-style conversations to make change? Plus, they argue, even though protests can help promote national awareness, demonstrators run the risk of laying down a rhetoric that isn’t necessarily representative of the community majority, nor an accurate depiction of the community’s wishes.

Reach Dayton City Paper forum moderator Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Do protesters’ lives matter?

by Tim Walker

Protests, quite simply, make many people uncomfortable – exactly as they are meant to do. They get in the way. Marches, banners, sit-ins, and demonstrations: there is a certain segment of the population that would sleep better at night if certain people would just stop all this rabble-rousing, disperse peacefully, and quietly return to their homes. Accept the status quo. Embrace that yoke about your shoulders, in other words, and just pipe down – get back to the work of being a calm, responsible consumer. Everything is in good hands. Obedient Lives Matter.

Never. Never. Never.

What recourse does a just man have in an unjust world, if not to protest? Do we sit silently as history plows us under, as uncaring governments impose their will upon us, as greedy and faceless corporations have their way with us?  I submit to you that anything other than protesting all perceived social injustice and protesting it loud, long, and vigorously until real change is achieved is plain and simply un-American.

You may be protesting the shooting of too many unarmed black men by police, as so many are currently doing across this great land of ours, to great consternation. You may be protesting the ongoing war in Afghanistan, or the companies your university chooses to do research for, or the fact that the township next door wants to annex a portion of your farmland. Regardless of the reason, peaceful protest is absolutely your right, and one which should be universally respected and protected by all freedom-loving Americans. Making your voice heard is why we are here.

Looting? No, I am not talking about looting, and I am not talking about violence, toward police or anyone else. I do not feel that burning buildings or breaking windows or robbing from the UDF is justified. I am not espousing the militant sentiment of “by any means necessary,” which so many seem to feel gives them a mandate to do whatever the hell they want in the name of social change. What I am talking about is the employment of successful nonviolent protests and demonstrations, the same methods employed and made famous by people like Dr. Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi.

Nearly 50 years ago, the United States was involved in an unpopular military conflict in Southeast Asia, a war in Vietnam – although war was never declared – which would end up costing us the lives of over 90,000 citizens. It was an unpopular war in a time filled with turmoil and social upheaval, and protests on the home front were myriad. Citizens clashed, with police and with each other. Jails were filled, skulls were cracked, buildings burned. People died. But did any of it make a difference? Did the protesters cause the U.S. government to change its policy or abandon the war effort? The conflict ground on until 1974, and armed servicemen continued to die overseas fighting for a cause that was dubious at best. In the end, the United States was forced to turn tail and run while the country’s hawks and doves, along with the rest of the world, stood and watched in disbelief.

Some say we’re now in the middle of another undeclared war, another armed conflict which is taking place on our local streets and parks, right under our very noses. Unarmed citizens are being gunned down by police in record numbers, it seems. Conservatives will argue until they are blue in the face that police shootings of unarmed black men are not, in fact, on the rise. They will point to statistics, they will blame the damned liberal media, they will accuse and post and whine and scream that nothing untoward is going on, and the protesters just need to stop – stop blocking highways, stop causing problems, stop questioning authority.

What are they afraid of? Change, I admit, is a difficult proposition… change is often painful and difficult to manage, especially if you are comfortable, well-fed, and satisfied with your situation and lifestyle. Perhaps you’re not worried about being gunned down like a dog in the street during a traffic stop – but many of your fellow Americans are afraid of exactly that. And, to them, silence = death. How can you deny your fellow citizens their right to protest, to demand change?

Is protesting an appropriate response to the shootings of unarmed black men in this country? I suggest that it is the only legitimate response – and I also suggest the protests continue until the situation is addressed by local police departments across the nation. Because, as Edmund Burke once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Indeed.

Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz and black t-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Body and spirit

by Ben Tomkins

The public protests that have evolved from the persecution and execution of unarmed black men at the hands of police have been a feeding frenzy for a media that dines on content that can be diced into explosive morsels of the grotesque and voyeuristic. Shootings in both Tulsa and Charlotte sent CNN to the factory to have an even larger font crafted for a dramatic one-word, all-caps headline, and the lack of tinder in Tulsa was greeted with near depression. It was as if there was a wistful reverie of days long-gone where facts were hazy and both citizens and police engaged in violent and mindless responses.

Then Charlotte blew up. Walmart was marched upon and CNN journalists were punched. All was right with the world again, and the media gristmill kicked into high gear to meet the public demand it had cultivated for spectacle. Although things have died down a bit, this potentially explosive angle has remained the narrative in Charlotte despite the development of facts that should be drawing out sophisticated, nuanced journalism. Alternatively, in Tulsa, a river of side-stories about unstable female police officers, etc., have spawned precisely because the outrageous and graphic facts on the video are as concise as they are clear, and the protests aren’t producing more graphic returns.

There is no story where the story is obvious, and voyeurism is only a valuable commodity so far as a narrative can be spun. This is a big problem when it comes to protesting racial violence: the media has treated protesting as reality TV rather than responsibly reporting agenda-driven activism, and the goals of protestors are no longer percolating through the camera lens.

Furthermore, protesting is only effective if the means and manner of a protest are in sync with the unique circumstances presented by a situation. The protests over shootings in Charlotte and Tulsa produced, respectively, one violent and addled situation, and one largely peaceful. However, peaceful outcomes are not indicative of a successful protest any more than an end to hostilities means a military campaign was worthwhile. In fact, in both cities, protesting has had very little to do with drawing attention to an issue that otherwise wouldn’t be covered in the media or swaying an outcome that would have been dramatically different otherwise.

Let’s look at Tulsa. Without question, at least one of the desired outcomes of the protestors has been achieved, if not many others, but not because of the protest. The police officer involved in the shooting was arrested and charged with manslaughter, which is wholly reasonable to almost everyone who watched the video of Terence Crutcher being gunned down in the street. In case it has been lost on anyone how superficially obvious it was that the shooting was unjust, allow me to quote a major presidential candidate who has staked a large portion of his campaign on picking sides:

“I must tell you, I watched the shooting in particular in Tulsa and that man was hands up, that man went to the car – hands up – put his hand on the car. To me, it looked like he did everything you’re supposed to do,” Trump says. “And he looked like a really good man –  and maybe I’m a little clouded because I saw his family talking about him after the fact … but he looked like somebody who was doing what they were asking him to do.”

Even the Tulsa police capitulated nearly immediately. In short, whether there were protests or not, there was no way the officer in question was not going to be charged with something. The real story would have been if the officer hadn’t been charged, and in that case, protesting in the street would have been exactly the right dish on the menu. Yes, the media would have descended upon Tulsa like locusts, but the coverage of physical unrest would have perfectly reflected the mental unrest of the citizens. The result would have been the visceral media coverage that would have given sinew to an otherwise substantial cause.

In Charlotte, the protesting has done nothing but highlight the fact that the demonstrators barely even had a body. Nobody knew or knows what happened to any certain degree, and if something manifests that definitively demonstrates an injustice worthy of public outrage, nobody is going to take the Charlotte community seriously.

In both cases, the best solution would have been to either wait or protest in a different way. Tulsa produced an illusion that protests were effective, and Charlotte is an ongoing example of what an ineffective protest looks like. The overriding takeaway is that they have both resulted in media coverage that has been numbing to the larger social movement, in a climate in which media coverage has been building up our tolerance to the extreme.

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. For more of his work, visit hillofathens.com. Reach Ben Tomkins at BenTomkins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Sarah Sidlow
Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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