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How do we think about the George Floyd murder? Show more Show less
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On May 25 2020, George Floyd was suffocated to death by the police. Floyd had been arrested on suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill. In chilling footage that would go viral within 24 hours, officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than 8 minutes ignoring Floyd's repeated pleas for him to move. The asphyxiation led to his cardiac arrest. Floyd's death has so far inspired protests across more than 75 US cities, calling for an end to police brutality and institutional racism. The responses to these riots have included state-wide curfews, the threat of military intervention, attacks on the media and civilian arrests. The situation has given rise to a complex debate with commentators arguing over what precisely it has exposed about contemporary America. So, who are these groups, what do they stand for, and why?

Our freedom is at stake: the murder exposes a crisis of civil liberties Show more Show less

This approach believes that this crisis hinges on the relationship between the state and the individual. It focuses on police brutality and state-sanctioned violence against innocent citizens.
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Crushing protests is unpatriotic because it violates the constitution’s protected freedom of speech and ignores American culture

The problem with the police and military shutdowns of these protests is a constitutional one. It is a direct violation of the ensured right to free speech. The fact that these orders are coming from the President illustrates a dangerous shift towards a nation deprived of its fundamental rights. Once the right to protest has been taken away, our civil liberties hang by a thread; and so does what it means to be an American.

The Argument

According to Share America, the foreign policy communication platform for the U.S. Department of State, protests are a staple of American culture. The government holds permission to regulate the form of protest in order to ensure the safety of the population, but they are not to silence anyone on the basis of a protester’s ideals; this restrictive behavior is illegal and reminiscent of totalitarian regimes.[1] Protest, Vox illustrates, has always been so engrained in the American identity, that public dissent in the spirit of a better world has become part of our popular culture. The article chronicles “American protest music” from Yankee Doodle (a mocking song by the British armies which Americans reclaimed and weaponized during the American Revolution) to Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddamn” after the murder of activist Medgar Ever, to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” in support of the LGBTQIA+ community.[2] Yet, there is a disconnect in the present day United States leadership. On September 4, 2018, President Donald Trump said, “I think it’s embarrassing for the country to allow protesters.” While Trump claims to understand and support the fury of his citizens, there has been no move to actively listen and make change. The issue is deemed a fluke rather than a systemic problem.[3] Crackdown on protests has been violent and uncalled for, says the United Nations, especially for a country founded on rebellion for justice. This silencing ignores the very purpose of the protests which is to both call attention to the intersection of police brutality and racism in the United States and to call for tangible change from the nation’s leaders. Protesters want their country to be safe and true to the constitution. We cannot be free until every single person is free. Protesters refuse to suffer in silence while they watch the country that has sworn to protect them crumble by the hands of racist systems that were in place when slavery was still legal. Especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, throwing protesters into prison for a patriotic act is dangerous and unpatriotic.[4]

Counter arguments

The George Floyd protests might not actually be patriotic, and that’s okay. In 2016, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem in order to peacefully and powerfully protest pervasive racism in the United States, and the nation quickly erupted in pride for some, and outrage for others. There is debate over whether or not Kapernick’s protest is patriotic, and Mychal Denzel Smith’s 2018 article from The Guardian asserts that this is besides the point. Kaepernick’s personal feelings about the US aside, he chose to support those who have been violently oppressed rather than honor the country on the day he took a knee. Choosing to act unpatriotically is a valid and effective form of protest when people’s lives are at stake. Smith says, “Patriotism is not a higher virtue than justice.”[5] According to an article written by Sociology professor Lilian Bobea in The Conversation, the current protests in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd have a lot more in common with Latin American protest than they do with American culture. She explains that protests throughout Latin America do not have the same pop-up nature they do in the United States; they are rather more often part of “sustained movements… [that] seek regime change or an entirely new constitutional order.” They seem far less symbolic and in support of upholding constitutional ideals (although Bobea recognizes the power of this kind of protest) and are much more rooted in a desire to overthrow the system. Oftentimes, these protests last for multiple years.[6] Now, says Bobea, the United States is employing this mode of protest, which turns its back on patriotism. Bobea makes the point that while democracy is now prevalent in Latin America, authoritarianism has also survived. The United States, she says, is experiencing a very similar case with the current leadership of President Donald Trump who is bluntly contentious and demanding, whether or not one agrees with his policies. Bobea notes that George Floyd protests have outnumbered the massive women’s marches of 2017 and they have gone global. They are not in defense of the constitution, they are not asking leadership for a fix; rather, they are asking for the United States to rebuild. These protests, like Colin Kaepernick, choose the people over the state.[6]

Proponents

Premises

Rejecting the premises

References

  1. https://share.america.gov/peaceful-protests-are-protected-american-tradition/
  2. https://www.vox.com/culture/2017/4/12/14462948/protest-music-history-america-trump-beyonce-dylan-misty
  3. https://www.cnn.com/ampstories/us/americas-long-history-of-protest
  4. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25948&LangID=E
  5. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/sep/12/colin-kaepernicks-protest-unpatriotic-justice
  6. https://theconversation.com/george-floyd-protests-arent-just-anti-racist-they-are-anti-authoritarian-139932

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This page was last edited on Thursday, 13 Aug 2020 at 16:08 UTC

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