This morning residents of Madison and Milwaukee are cleaning up after a day of peaceful protests and a night of mayhem, all in the name of George Floyd.
In Milwaukee, the curfew was ignored Saturday night and small businesses on the predominantly African American north side of Milwaukee were looted. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel notes that Jet Beauty, on West Fond Du Lac Avenue, was targeted for looting just a few years after it was looted and burned during the Sherman Park riots.
The Journal Sentinel continues its bizarre penchant for understatement. “In Milwaukee, the curfew seems to have held,” the newspaper reported. “There were scattered reports of looting of small stores but no major incidents or confrontations with police.”
Somebody needs to inform them the curfew obviously didn’t hold if “small stores” were looted.
However, Milwaukee was calm and quiet compared to Madison where city officials apparently made the decision to let the rioters run rampant, at least until Midnight when the mayor finally relented and declared an emergency, according to the Journal Sentinel. A curfew was announced with another curfew for Sunday night.
“She signed the order three hours after telling reporters she had no plans to issue a curfew but would continue to monitor the upheaval in the capital city,” Patrick Marley reported for the newspaper. “About an hour after she said that, a protester set a police car on fire.”
This photo and comment by Marley sums up Madison’s response to the rioting:
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) was very direct in his response. “This is inexcusable,” Vos posted on Twitter. “Citizens in Madison and Dane County should be outraged that elected officials are allowing these acts to happen without penalty.”
The protests and riots are ostensibly about the death of Floyd, an African American, likely caused by a Minneapolis police officer using excessive force. The officer kneeled on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes as the man protested he couldn’t breathe. The incident was captured on video, sparking near-universal outrage across the country.
The officer, Derek Chauvin, has been arrested and charged with third-degree murder. The other police officers involved in the incident have been fired by the Minneapolis Police Department. U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr has announced a civil rights investigation into the death of Floyd.
Despite these steps, protests have broken out across the country, many of them violent, with deaths and destruction the result.
In Minneapolis, there was an attempt to blame “outsiders” and even “white supremacists” for the destruction of the riots. However, that attempt to deflect blame was shown to be as flawed as the claims that a YouTube video was the cause of the violent assault on our consulate in Benghazi. Reporting by Theo Keith shows that the rioters in the Twin Cities are mostly homegrown.
However, African Americans were clearly involved in the destruction as well as White Americans, making that narrative untenable.
“Rioting may not bring about the changes that would establish genuine equality for black Americans,” Steve Chapman wrote in the Chicago Tribune. “But neither has anything else.”
Chapman complains that white Americans disapproved of the protests during the National Anthem at National Football League games started by Colin Kaepernick. Of course, that misses the point about the appropriateness of high-paid athletes, living lives of privilege, deciding to disrespect the country that has given them the freedom to protest while earning such a high standard of living.
Kaepernick himself, along with other celebrities far away from the destruction, is contributing to the rioting by bailing out arrested protesters.
It’s not known at this time if Kaepernick’s next highly-compensated advertisement for Nike shoes will have the slogan, “Just burn and loot it.”
The unfortunate reality of these riots, like similar riots in the past, is that they hurt African Americans hardest by destroying businesses that help their communities, whether it’s the small grocer, the local Walgreens in Milwaukee, or a jewelry store in Madison.
The violence, and the excuses for the violence, needs to end. Peaceful protests are completely understandable. So is the anger, frustration, and maybe even a few intemperate words that politicians may regret later. The death of George Floyd was horrible, inexcusable and likely criminal. Rage is a natural reaction, as well as calls for reforms that would prevent this type of death from happening again.
After the protests, Republicans and Democrats should take a hard look at the reality of the African American community in our cities which fuels much of the anger. Our schools are failing to educate the children in these communities and the racial achievement gap is still a major problem in Milwaukee and Madison. Crime is still a major hindrance to economic development as well as regulations and high taxes.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and other white Democratic officials even chose to fund a redundant streetcar for white yuppies in downtown Milwaukee rather than support rapid transit buses that could serve the African American community’s transportation needs better.
We need to hold the public schools in Milwaukee and Madison accountable, shutting down the failing schools and allowing students to attend more charter and choice schools that provide better educational results. We need a bipartisan effort to reduce crime in those communities to encourage stability and long-term business growth.
Nationally, more states need to adopt laws like the one passed in Wisconsin under former Governor Scott Walker that requires outside police agencies to investigate deaths caused by a police officer. The law, called a model for the nation by the San Francisco Chronicle, creates more transparency and accountability.
The death of George Floyd caused almost all of us to take a second look at the problem of African Americans dying at the hands of police officers. But rioting, looting, burning police cars and violence undermine any legitimacy of the protests over Floyd’s death. Trying to deflect the blame with unsubstantiated claims and outright falsehoods only makes the situation worse.
Regardless of the party, regardless of the office, we need to expect better from our local leaders. They need to take the appropriate steps to end the rioting now and stop excusing it away.