We commend those who peacefully demonstrated in Greeneville on Monday. Agree with their message or not, the scene in downtown Greenville was far different than the ones we’ve seen elsewhere in the wake of George Floyd’s death while in Minneapolis police custody May 25.
Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died face down with a police officer’s knee in the back of his neck while three other officers did nothing to help. All were fired. The officer who kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as the detained man said he couldn’t breathe — Derek Chauvin — has now been charged with second degree murder while the others have been charged with aiding and abetting murder, prosecutors said Wednesday.
They should face those charges, and an opportunity to dispute them. A video of the incident appears to clearly show what happened, but the former officers will have their day in court, a chance to tell their side of the story. Sadly, that’s an opportunity Floyd never got after being accused of passing a counterfeit bill at a corner store, the call that precipitated his arrest and subsequent death.
People, especially African Americans, have rightly been outraged. There have been far too many killings of black people at the hands of police for little or no apparent reason. This incident was so obviously heinous that even many who typically would give the officer the benefit of the doubt — including leaders in law enforcement across the country — have condemned it.
However, while the outrage is real and earned, the violence, vandalism, arson and looting that has accompanied protests across the nation further drives a wedge between people who want change and potential allies who become aggrieved when they see businesses, public places, even churches heavily damaged during protests. While the people committing those acts were obviously never there to protest the deaths of Floyd and others (and in many cases outside groups there specifically to sow chaos) they get lumped in with the people who truly are fighting for change.
The protesters in Greeneville were obviously passionate. But the closest any of them got to real unrest was when a few among the large group of mostly young people briefly lay down in the street as part of their protest. Local law enforcement officers displayed diligence in making sure the rally didn’t get out of hand, but did so in a way that showed they respected the rights of the participants to express their views. Another group who gathered near the President Andrew Johnson statue at the intersection of Depot and College streets — some expressing their own views with “All Lives Matter” signs to counter the demonstrators’ “Black Lives Matter” message and others who said they came to protect their town — showed restraint when the young rally made its way to their location and some even engaged with the young
Not all conduct was admirable. Mixed in with signs that carried messages such as “Black Lives Matter,” “Let Them Breathe” and “Am I Next?” were a few that attacked all law enforcement officers. More than unfortunate in the context of an otherwise effective demonstration, that is a wrong, ignorant sentiment and does nothing to bridge a divide between police and communities of color.
All in all, however, if demonstrations everywhere proceeded like the one Monday in Greeneville, that would not be a bad thing. In lieu of that, we’ll pray for peace on our nation’s streets and safety for all its citizens.